(Reading time: 8 mins.)
The sight of more than a score of people standing in the rain at the top of Dublin’s Grafton Street drew a lot of attention. And it wasn’t just the dog masks that most of them were wearing. This wasn’t near enough to Hallowe’en, nor was it a carnivale, nor a masque as such: the message projected had nothing of the freedom and joy of carnivale, none of the sexual play and mystery of masque and was darker than the usual one of Hallowe’en. The grim message was on the banners, in the leaflets, in the slogans and the amplified speech.
“You bet – they die” was one of the slogans chanted, illustrating the grim reality of commercial greyhound racing. This slogan was developed for protests outside greyhound racing stadia, notably at Shelbourne Park, near the south Dublin docklands (and, incidentally, not far from the Aviva Rugby Stadium).
The reactions of passers-by seemed to vary between amusement, interest, support, surprise and even shock. People who tend to view animal welfare protesters as cranks who are likely to be middle-class might be somewhat amused or dismissive and it is no doubt to counter this perceived image that the group organising this event is called “Ordinary People Against Greyhound Exploitation”. The support likely came from those who had watched the RTÉ documentary in June, while other reactions might have been from Irish people as yet unaware of the treatment of greyhounds by the industry or by visitors to Ireland who are not only ignorant of the issues but even of the existence of the industry itself.
One onlooker seemed to be demonstrating to his companion the pole lassoo dragging of a dog and then shooting it with a pistol, probably recounting a secretly-filmed incident featured in the RTÉ film. Popular opposition to the greyhound racing industry has been gathering since the screening of the exposure program by the “RTÉ Investigates” team of the Irish television company in the last week of June. The revelations were a shock to people who understood the dogs racing to be a harmless spectator sport with not even a live hare being pursued, a relatively cheap night out (providing the betting was not too heavy) or gambling based on a mixture of luck and previous form knowledge, or even just the communal sport of a few rural people who owned a few hunting dogs.
The industry breeds many dogs in order to ensure a constant supply of fast-running animals and flow of profits and, as a result, bitches are put to breed litter after litter. Pups showing any disabilities will be “culled” and, as the survivors grow, those not considered fast enough will face the same fate. Later, as age begins to take its toll, they will be killed also except for some that might get a few more years as stud or breeder. Campaigners claim that over 6,000 dogs are killed annually and some animal welfare organisations believe the figure may be as high as 10,000. It is the commercial drive that brings these results and the support of the betting public that sustains it – but not that alone, since the Irish State supports the industry with an annual grant of 16.8 million euro. This fact was also highlighted by campaigners in voice and leaflet, while pointing out other better uses for the funding, including relieving the homeless and housing crisis.
Few countries outside of Ireland an Britain have greyhound racing stadia but campaigners claim – and the RTÉ program revealed – that many Irish dogs are sent abroad in inhumane conditions, some at least of which will end up for human consumption.
The campaigners call for the greyhound racing stadia to be closed and, in Dublin particular, the Shelbourne Park stadium, outside of which are held regular demonstrations. They call also for sponsorship by commercial enterprises to cease, a call heeded by a number of companies fearful of a negative commercial impact upon their reputations. This drive was clearly successful when, audibly fearful of a negative impact on the tourism industry, Irish Minister for Tourism Shane Ross called for a suspension of State support in advertising which was followed by Bord Fáilte and Tourism Ireland’s1 removal of greyhound racing from their promotions for visitors to Ireland.
Tourism and Greyhound Racing
The tourist industry is of course vulnerable to the image of the country abroad, which is why campaigners for democratic rights often strive to alter precisely that image, in order to exert pressure on the ruling regimes. Tourists, as they concentrate on sun, sea and possibly Turkish or Iberian food, may be able to set aside images of Spanish police bashing Catalan voters or Turkish police jailing Kurdish campaigners. Ireland has little sun to sell and though plenty of sea, without the sun it can be too cold for most to bathe. What Ireland has for most tourists is an ambience of welcome, of traditional and folk culture and scenery – but the ill-treatment and slaughter of dogs in an Irish industry could quite possibly offset those positive points.
Ross might indeed have been, as he said he was, “shocked” by the revelations but it was clearly the financial rather than principled humanitarian objectives which forced his hand. Martin Ferris, Sinn Féin TD for Kerry, wasn’t motivated by humanitarian principles either when he confronted Ross in the Dáil (see Links below). Although his SF Dáil position is as Spokesperson for Marine and Fisheries, in his intervention he was clearly representing rural support for greyhound racing including, no doubt, commercial dog breeding and racing interests. He claimed the industry was being tarred with the brush of “the actions of a few individuals” and that he was speaking up for “the small boys and girls” (well done for getting that gender equality in, Ferris!) of the rural industry.
“A few individuals” may have been caught red-handed and exposed but the issues are clearly endemic to the industry, the governing board of which suppressed a critical report which it had itself commissioned. Ferris’ public support for that industry and criticism of the Minister’s actions in this case may win him some votes in some parts of Kerry but will hardly be a help to Sinn Féin, increasingly seeking to project itself in the Irish state as a social-democratic party leaning slightly to the Left.
And the employment figures which Ferris quoted arising from the greyhound racing industry might well be offset by possible negative impact on the Kerry tourism economy.
The dogs in the streets will be talking about what he said ….
1Bord Fáilte promotes tourism in throughout the Irish state, i.e the Twenty-Six Counties, while Tourism Ireland promotes the same but throughout “the island of Ireland”, i.e including the Six Counties. Tourism NI cooperates with the latter organisation, particularly with regard to tourism in the Six Counties and maintains an information office in Dublin city centre. The first two above are in receipt of funding from the Irish State while the third is funded by the British State.
LINKS FOR REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION:
Ordinary People Against Greyhound Exploitation: https://www.facebook.com/OrdinaryPeopleAgainstGreyhoundExploitation/
Irish Greyhound Board: https://www.igb.ie/
RTÉ documentary “Running for their Lives” (contains disturbing images): https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php
Sponsors “horrified” by RTÉ exposure of greyhound racing industry: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/sponsors-horrified-by-rt%C3%A9-programme-on-greyhound-racing-1.3942232
Irish Tourism Minister suspends promotion of greyhound racing; Sinn Fein TD objects: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/oireachtas/greyhound-racing-promotion-stopped-due-to-disgusting-behaviour-in-sector-ross-1.4039470