A HSE-run centre for people with disabilities has caused outrage by involving vulnerable service users in the controversial sport of hare coursing.
The controversial activity has been facilitated by Ballina Training Centre, which provides therapeutic programmes and services for people with intellectual disabilities in Co Mayo.
It has emerged that staff and service users have been involved in training greyhounds for hare coursing and have even attended coursing events.
The HSE, which funds and runs Ballina Training Centre, has confirmed that the service has been supporting the activity for clients but added that this support did not constitute an endorsement or approval of hare coursing.
Minister for Health Simon Harris will face questions about the matter in the Dáil this week from Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan, who said that she was “appalled” that public resources were being used to expose vulnerable individuals to the controversial activity.
She added: “The coursing events they attended are the very places where independent documentary evidence of cruelty has been collected. It is absolutely outrageous.”
A recent issue of an internal publication called Mayo Mental Health News contained an article outlining the involvement of staff and service users of Ballina Training Centre in hare coursing.
The article stated that two greyhounds had been purchased and were being trained for coursing by staff and service users. It also referred to hare coursing as “the interesting new pastime offered by the Centre” and provided details of two “outings” to coursing meetings last year in Liscannor, Co Clare and Loughrea, Co Galway.
A spokesperson for the Irish Council Against Blood Sports called for the project to cease immediately, adding: “The idea of bringing vulnerable people to hare-coursing meetings to watch hares being used as live bait for greyhounds is outrageous. It is a totally inappropriate project for the HSE to be involved in.”
The HSE initially denied that the activity was being facilitated at the Centre and claimed that it “does not and has never run a hare coursing activity for its service users”.
However, when evidence of the Centre’s involvement in the activity was presented, a HSE spokesperson confirmed the described activity was supported by the service.
The spokesman said: “The activities described were identified and developed solely by service users…The nature of such community-based activities are the prerogative of the individual(s) and is supported by the service only in the context of fostering recovery and promoting mental health.
“The support of clients by staff in their wellbeing and recovery does not constitute an endorsement or approval of any such activity.”
To take action, email or sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/stop-health-service-project-involving-people-with-intellectual-disabilities-in-hare-coursing