New bylaws aim to restrict the much debated horse market in Smithfield. Councillor Mannix Quinn said in an interview with The Epoch Times that they where unconstitutional and were written in the words of the apartheid.
Horse trading in Smithfield has a long tradition, dating back into Norman times. Nowadays, however, the place has developed into a modern square that does not have the typical look of a horse fare. Today there are modern glass store fronts, downtown apartment blocks and supermarkets. Due to an ancient right, however, the fare was held every first Sunday each month since centuries.
Proposed bylaws, which are open for public consultation for another two months, include changes that would hit the fair quite hard. The number of horse fairs would be reduced from 12 to 2 per year. The traders also would need a casual trading license and a huge
public liability insurance. However, the City Council who drafted it is all but united on this question.
According to Councillor Mannix Flynn the by-laws, if imposed on the whole area and all horse traders, are unconstitutional. The fare is protected by a constitutional right. “That’s why the central government won’t interfere,” he said. However he hopes that the public debate will lead to the resolution of the problems so that judicial review can be avoided.
The true problem, according to him, lies in the wording of the by-law. “The whole document is about casual trading. It is not about the rest but they [Dublin City Council] still managed to infuse all the old issues into it,” Mr. Flynn said.
The old issues most prominently are those put forward by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), namely that horses being traded there are often in bad shape and not treated properly. Jimmy Cahill of the SPCA welcomed the proposal and said: “The bylaws are for the benefit of all involved in the fair. We are not against the fair taking place, we just want it to be properly policed and controlled.”
Animal welfare concerns are not the only reasons for the recent move, however. The market has also come to sad prominence in March last year, when a shooting occurred, leaving three injured—a high point of the many public order concerns making high Gardai presence necessary. In a statement supporting tighter regulations, Emer Costello MEP also stated the operation of “criminal elements operating at the horse fair” as one of her reasons.
“The language is demonising, stigmatising and labelling. This is the language of apartheid”, Mr. Flynn said. “People get demonised for a group within a group -- this doesn’t present a balanced picture.” He draw a comparison with phoenix park: In Smithfield criminality and violence lead the City Council to closing down the horse faire. However nobody would dream of closing down phoenix park -- despite the incidents happening there.
For him the same this is the same for the animal welfare issues: He admitted that there are problems with underfed horses that are being traded at the fair. However, the downturn of the economy in Ireland is responsible for the animal welfare issues, Councillor Flynn said: “Many horse owners around the country simply don’t have the money to feed their animals properly -- not just in Smithfield.”
Councillor Anthony Connaghan said that the “by-laws were very draconian and the knee jerk reaction to deal with a problem that could be sorted with good communication”. According to him the harsh measures are the wrong approach since the vast majority of people there are law abiding people. They would not punish the small minority of criminal elements that have brought attention to the fair in recent years. “I believe this to be a retrograde step and would punish the decent law abiding citizens as well as tourists who would regularly visit the Horse Fair,” he said.
Some voices in the public debate have called for the fair to move outside of Dublin.
While councillor Bill Tormey also said that the by-laws are overly restrictive, he said that he the Horse fair may be better off somewhere else: “Kildare at a horse facility or a at a new site at the M50,” he suggested.
Emer Costello said: “While there is a long tradition of the horse-fair at Smithfield, there are a number of reasons why Smithfield is not a suitable venue. Animal welfare is one of the primary considerations.”
Likewise Councillor Dermot Lacy also said he is not convinced that Smithfield is the right place for the fair.
Mr. Flynn however said that if the fair was moved, Dublin City Council had to provide a the space at the new location. However Dublin doesn’t own a place bog enough. “There is no option to move,” he said.
While there are may voices criticising the proposed changes, there also those who strongly support them. First among second is Jimmy Cahill of the SPCA . He welcomed the draft and said: “The bylaws are for the benefit of all involved in the fair. We are not against the fair taking place, we just want it to be properly policed and controlled.” Also Councillor Padraig McLoughlin admitted that while the by laws may be too strict “the fair simply cannot take place in a city centre location without some form of control.”
Some Councillors feel that those measures aimed to police and control the fair are way over the top. For example the requirement that only horses that are to be traded can be brought to the fair. “It defeats the purpose of a faire,” Mr Flynn said. Councillor Brid Smith said that people are not only attracted to the fair because of the horse trade but also for example by the display of the skills of a blacksmith. Mr. Connaghan said that if the strict regulations were enforced it “would take away from the character of the faire.” The required trading license, which Mr. Tormy called ridiculous, attracted a lot criticism. The same might be true with the public liability insurance: Many traders might not be able to afford it.
The bylaws are open for public consultation for another two months. The public now can participate and express their views and concerns. Regardless of their stance toward Smithfield, all involved called on everyone take art in the debate. That way the public may have their say in the next chapter of the ancient horse fair in modern Dublin.
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