A DECISION to allow horses to graze on a publicly-owned plot of land near a housing estate, school and industrial park in Newcastle West is “a time bomb waiting to go off”, Limerick County Council has been warned.
For the past number of months, the council has allowed local horse owners to use a seven-acre plot at Gortboy for grazing, in a bid to keep stray horses out of council housing estates.
The move has prompted complaints about the number and condition of the horses being kept on the land, and has seen led to questions about the site’s safety and suitability.
However, the council has warned that it needs to find a solution as its funding to seize stray horses on estates has been “severely cut back”.
Speaking at a county council local area meeting, Cllr Michael Collins said that “a lot of people have concerns” about horses being kept on site.
“Horses are walking into a council estate and the Great Southern Trail. It’s a time bomb waiting to go off”.
Cllr Damien Riedy said that there has become such a high turnover of horses on the land that ownership and responsibility for the animals has become a problem.
“If one of these horses breaks out, or does damage to a car, or knocks someone down, there’ll be no recourse... liberties have been taken”.
Gerry Naughton of Limerick County Council explained that the local authority owns two green field sites in Newcastle West which it leases out for private grazing each year.
However he said that this year, the council could not find a tenant for the Gortboy land, which was lying idle when the local housing department came seeking to move stray horses out of Sharwood and other local council estates.
Mr Naughton said that an agreement was drawn up with “different individuals” to use the Gortboy site for grazing.
However this arrangement is set to end in November, at which point the council “may have a problem with wandering horses again”, Mr Naughton said.
Cllr Jerome Scanlan said that while steps to keep wandering horses out of council estates were welcome, the Gortboy site had become “a holding area”, rather than “a grazing area”.
Cllr Scanlan added that he was concerned that a seven acre site would be too small for 20 or more horses and Cllr Francis Foley, who works in a nearby industrial park in Gortboy, said that he has seen “an awful lot of strangers there, people coming at seven and eight o’clock at night with trailers”.
He raised concerns that the site is “very unsuitable”, and that many of the horses appeared to be “starving”.
Cllr Liam Galvin said that if the current grazing arrangement ends and horses end up back on local estates, the council should take a zero-tolerance policy and seize all stray animals.
However Mr Naughton said that the council’s resources to pay for horse seizures have been “severely cut back”, and a zero-tolerance clamp down “is not feasible”.
He told the meeting that he would refer the councillors’ concerns to senior council management.