Limerick City and County Council is on track to spend over €400,000 putting down unclaimed horses this year, according to the council’s veterinary officer.
The scale of the problem with uncontrolled horses in the city was described by Cllr John Gilligan as “frightening”.
“We spend as much time talking about horses as we do about people. It is a huge problem in the city,” Cllr Gilligan said at a recent meeting of the council’s environment Special Policy Committee (SPC).
He made his comments in response to a new set of draft bye-laws for the control of horses in the city and county.
The independent councillor pointed out that the council “shot” 400 horses last year at a cost of €1,000 each and that it intends to put down 600 this year.
However, veterinary officer John McCarthy said that they were on track to put down 400 horses this year rather than the 600 claimed by Cllr Gilligan.
Mr McCarthy told the meeting that 15% of these horses were put down for welfare reasons, with the remainder being destroyed because the council was unable to identify the owners.
Outlining the draft bye-laws, Mr McCarthy pointed out that horses must be under the control of a person over the age of 16. Where this was not the case, the gardai had powers to issue anti-social behaviour orders. “In this area, there are issues with sulky drivers on the public roads. The gardai have many powers under the road traffic acts to deal with these issues,” he added.
The bye-laws also set out the requirements for obtaining a horse licence and Mr McCarthy pointed out that unlicenced horses found in a public place could be seized.
He also explained that the proposed bye-laws required that there be “adequate lands” for grazing in order for a licence to be issued. According to guidelines from the Department of Agriculture, this meant 1-1.5 acres for a full grown horse, though it would be less for a small pony.
The bye-laws also set out a number of exemptions from the requirement to hold a licence. These include animals owned by farmers, members of a hunt club, riding school operators or those who bring horses into the area for shows, gymkhanas or other equine events.
Thoroughbred horses that are registered in Weatherbys Studbook are also exempt.
The laws also stipulate that a horse cannot be kept in a house or within the curtilage of a house. Mr McCarthy pointed out that a licence could be got for €32 once the various eligibility conditions were met.
SPC chairman Cllr Michael Hourigan said the levels of traceability that apply to farm animals should apply to horses.
“We seem to have more horses than any other local authority,” he said.