Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys has told the Dáil that unregulated hare coursing meetings could prove to be of greater danger to hares.

Heather Humphreys was responding to Independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan's Private Members Bill to ban live hare coursing.

Ms Humphreys said there was no "current" evidence that coursing has a significant effect on the hare population.

Introducing the bill, Ms O'Sullivan said that despite the injuries and deaths of hares, licences continue to be issued for meetings.

She said she brought breaches of the Wildlife Act to the attention of the minister however, she said, Ms Humphreys continued to issue licences.

The minister said the licences granted to the Irish Coursing Club include "strict conditions which have been developed and defined over the years". 

Ms Humphreys said since becoming minister, she has been active in ensuring that the conditions of the licences have been enforced.

She also said banning live coursing could economically impact on some rural Irish towns.

The minister said there are many people against hare coursing, but equally, for many communities, the activity is an integral part of their heritage.

She assured the Dáil that the conservation of hares was not under threat and she would ensure the welfare of the hare at coursing meetings would remain paramount.

The minister recommended that the bill be rejected.

Fianna Fáil's Junior Spokesperson on Sport Kevin O'Keeffe said he will not be supporting the bill as it was a matter of conscience and he had also consulted with his constituents in Cork East.

Mr O'Keeffe said there is a strict regulatory framework in place to ensure that the highest animal welfare standards and protections are in place. 

He said the role of Government in protecting hare coursing has been consistently condemned in an attempt to ban regulated coursing. 

He said the groups who are against coursing rely on exaggeration, misinformation and fabrication to gain attention from the media and appeal to politicians.

He also said he and his party colleagues take the issue of animal health and welfare seriously.

Sinn Féin's Martin Kenny said while he respected the heartfelt views of Ms O'Sullivan, his party would not be supporting the bill. 

He pointed out that there was a passionate debate at the Sinn Féin Ard Fhéis in 2010 both for and against hare coursing, but the party voted for it to remain part of rural life. 

Independent4Change TD Clare Daly described as fact that hare coursing is a brutal, barbarous, wanton cruelty and has no part in a modern society.

She said the contribution by Mr O'Keeffe was "astounding".

Ms Daly said there is no hysteria from those supporting the bill and their information was based on facts.

Independent deputy Dr Michael Harty told the Dáil that hare coursing was a significant part of rural Ireland and was very prevalent in his county of Clare. 

Meanwhile the deputy leader of the Green Party, Catherine Martin, has described the practice as barbaric.