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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 13°C
# cruelty to horses
'They sleep beside the burnt-out cars - we don't know why. Maybe they get a bit of shelter from them'
There’s been a spike in cars being burnt-out and horses being mistreated at an expanse of land near Clondalkin. / YouTube

I’m over sixty and it was the most frightening experience of my life.

— ANIMAL WELFARE VOLUNTEERS have been putting themselves in harm’s way to care for a group of abandoned and neglected horses on an expanse of unused land in West Dublin in recent months.

There have been horses on the Clonburris lands for years – but more recently the problem of young men driving cars, quads and scramblers in the area has worsened. Locals say other types of crime, including drug dealing, are also taking place on the land.

The horses, according to one volunteer, are “living on their nerves” and being forced to endure mistreatment each night.

Groups of young men are driving at speed at the animals – many of which are sick or lame. At least one heavily pregnant mare was grazing at the site when visited the lands, which border the Clondalkin, Ronanstown and greater Lucan areas.

“Here’s where the car came at me, here,” Anna Dolan, who volunteers with the My Lovely Horse Rescue group, explained, pointed at a dirt track running into a shallow ditch.

It was 7 o’clock in the evening – we were shocked, we’d never seen the cars down here that early.

This was during a dry spell of weather towards the end of May, she explained. Along with two other women and one male volunteer, she had made her way onto the land from the car-park of the nearby Fonthill train station to bring water for the horses.

“We were over there putting down the water… They saw us and they came after us.”

The car drove directly at her – the four young men inside laughing at the volunteers and telling them to “fuck off”.

They came right up beside me so I put my phone away gently… I had been trying to ring Ronanstown guards…
Then they reversed back, and drove away.

Said Dolan:

I’m over sixty and it was the most frightening experience of my life… It frightened the life out of me.
They were roaring laughing – sunglasses and hoods up, you’d swear they were the mafia gone wrong.

‘Smoke rising’ 

The problem of cars being rallied and burnt out on the land has worsened considerably this summer.

Francis Timmons, a local councillor who has been pressing for action on the issue, said locals could “see smoke rising from off the main road” every night.

The land – full of overgrown hedgerows and scattered with trees – presents obvious obstacles to authorities, and is difficult to police. Most of the vehicles being driven at the site aren’t stolen, Timmons said.

We’re finding most of the cars are bought cheaply from people trying to get rid of cars – so that’s another problem that has to be dealt with.
At the site, he pointed out how boulders placed by the Council to block entrances had been moved the previous weekend. A few metres past the entrance there was evidence that attempts had been made to drive over a ditch that had been dug recently to deter trespassing vehicles.

clon2 South Dublin County Council The Clonburris lands cover 280 hectares and are zoned for housing. Up to 8,000 houses could be built there over the next few years. South Dublin County Council

Ironically, the worsening of the situation at Clonburris – much of which is in private ownership – is partly as a result of successful efforts to tackle cars being driven and burnt-out at the nearby St Cuthbert’s Park.

Eoin O Broin, Sinn Féin TD for the area, said the community had come together to tackle the issue at St Cuthbert’s. As a result, some of the worst activity has migrated to the disused land – parts of which are isolated and out of sight from roadways.

The area, which covers 280 hectares, is zoned for housing. Most of it is owned by developers. It’s one of the last large expanses of land in the greater Dublin area that still lies undeveloped.

Progress on that front is expected in the autumn – but locals say they want something done about the immediate problems at Clonburris as soon as possible.

South Dublin County Council has sealed up entrances to the land several times, O Broin said. And there have been a number of Council-led operations to remove vehicles.

20170802_144712 Daragh Brophy / There were around a dozen horses on the site this week. Daragh Brophy / /

Even with those efforts, there were more than two dozen burnt-out cars and vans on the site on Wednesday afternoon. We counted around 12 horses. There were no owners in sight. Several of the animals had obvious infections.

“It’s very difficult to access for the Council-employed contractors,” O Broin said. Due to the nature of the activity taking place, Garda back-up is often needed to provide cover for the workers tasked with capturing horses – and resources in the area are already stretched.

The land, he said, was being used to store the animals as they’re bought and sold.

While there’s a tradition of horse ownership in parts of West Dublin, O Broin said, “these people aren’t horse people in my view – they aren’t people who care about animal welfare”.

They are basically just dumping the horses there without adequate safety or adequate feed and coming and going.

20170802_142456 Daragh Brophy / Daragh Brophy / /

‘They’re left there abandoned’ 

My Lovely Horse Rescue’s Anna Dolan, who walked the lands with us alongside Councillor Timmons, said that horses were left there even when they were no longer of use to their purported owners.

It costs money to put them down. They’re left there abandoned, for us to look after.

Dolan, one of around sixty volunteers with the charity, fields calls to deal with neglect or cruelty cases in the West Dublin area every week.

Last year, she was part of a team who helped sedate and capture a severely neglected horse suffering from a maggot infection. A headcollar had been left on the animal for years as he grew – it became embedded, and cut through to the bone.

On that occasion, an expert from Dublin Zoo was called in and the horse was captured with the use of tranquiliser darts before being taken away for treatment by the rescue group (see video below).

In June, Dolan witnessed two men dumping a pair of severely malnourished horses from a vehicle at one of the entranceways to the Clonburris lands.

One was in such a bad way it had to be put down. The other was taken into care at the DSPCA’s rehoming centre in Rathfarnham.

My Lovely Horse Rescue / YouTube

And while shocking acts like the above make local or national headlines every few months, she says cruelty and mistreatment is a constant problem.

“They’re terrified,” Dolan said of the horses.

They’re here at night and they can’t rest because there’s cars driving around.

Her organisation’s mission is to rehabilitate and re-home horses. In some cases, however, there’s little that can be done for the injured animals.

“They tried to catch one,” she said of one recent case at Clonburris.

“They got a rope around his leg and they kept pulling it and pulling it and they cut the tendon in his foot.

We eventually caught him and we had to put him to sleep. That was a very young horse. He wasn’t even a year.

The volunteers often come across injuries to animals, but infections are a more common problem. Dolan explained:

Most of the ones that we’ve had to put asleep have had an infection that’s gone right into the bone because it’s untreated.

Blackened shells of cars and vans were dotted all over the land – but most were clustered in one field, close to a mucky track in one of the more remote areas.

“They sleep beside the burnt-out cars – we don’t know why,” Dolan said.

Maybe they get a bit of shelter from them… Obviously this is when the youngfellas have gone to bed.

20170802_150752 Daragh Brophy / Daragh Brophy / /

266 horses were seized by South Dublin County Council last year - the largest number of any local authority in the country. 250 were put down. Only three were reclaimed by their owners and twelve were rehomed. Two years ago 469 horses were seized and 435 euthanised.

Dolan said increased activity by My Lovely Horse Rescue was having a positive impact on the figures. The setting up of the community-focused Clondalkin Equine Centre earlier this year also means that more young owners are being taught to care for their horses and ponies.

For a horse to be considered legally-owned it must be microchipped and have ID documentation known as a horse passport. However, as a SDCC spokesperson highlighted in a statement, few of the horses seized by their contractors are chipped, “with the result that most owners cannot be identified and held responsible”.

The Council said it also endeavours to be “proactive in the management of, and promotion of responsible urban horse ownership”.

Councillors will be stepping up efforts to get on top of the problem at Clonburris at their next meeting, Francis Timmons said – aiming to bring the gardaí, the horse rescue groups and other community organisations together in a more coordinated way.

He said immediate action was needed, however, to deal with a spike in activity in recent days.

20170802_145001 Daragh Brophy / Daragh Brophy / /

O Broin, who said he was due to meet local gardaí to discuss the problems at Clonburris, highlighted the issue of policing resources.

There were only a limited number of patrol cars on duty on any given night, he explained, meaning the force’s capacity to respond to problems on the land was similarly limited.

“If gardaí get a call and there’s a serious crime in Ballyfermot, then the patrol cars are gone.

If a single car does arrive at the scene though – a single car is no use. Someone has to stay in that car at all times. An individual guard isn’t going to put themselves in the danger of going into an area where there’s cars being driven around at speed or there could be a large gang of people who might be involved in other criminal activity.

The TD reckons that a crackdown on the activity and “a number of high-profile prosecutions” would help send a message that the community is serious about eradicating such behaviour.

Cars removed 

Gardaí didn’t provide us with a spokesperson or a statement to address what’s being done to tackle problems at Clonburris. However, Francis Timmons confirmed on Thursday night that 27 burnt-out cars had been removed from the lands that day, and that the entrances had been blocked once again.

20170802_150136 Daragh Brophy / My Lovely Horse Rescue's Anna Dolan at Clonburris this week. 27 burnt-out cars were later removed from the lands. Daragh Brophy / /

The Clonburris lands, as they’re part of a Strategic Development Zone, have been deemed to be “of economic and strategic and social importance to the State”.

As part of the Rebuilding Ireland housing project, then-Housing Minister Simon Coveney announced in 2016 that he expected around 2,000 homes could be build there in the medium-term, with some 6,000 more to follow in subsequent years.

A consultation process on how the development will take place starts this autumn. By mid-2018, the developers who own the land should be in a position to apply for planning permission as part of a fast-tracked process.

The Council said that in recent months it had “intensified its actions” to deal with abandoned vehicles on the land as it remains vacant.

My Lovely Horse Rescue said anyone who witnessed mistreatment of horses or other animals in the area should contact them and call gardaí. The charity is also appealing for volunteers interested in helping out, and donations can be made via its website.

Read: ‘Vulnerable, scared, overworked and underpaid’: A day in the life of an Irish stable worker >

Read: Over €1 million spent to destroy 2,000 horses in Dublin >

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