THERE was a huge improvement in the welfare of horses at this year’s Lammas Fair in Ballycastle, an animal charity told Moyle Council.
The Council banned trading of horses on actual Fairhill Street in the town this year but allowed trading in the Fair Green area.
In previous years there here had been concerns about the welfare of horses and also about the risk of horses being run along Fairhill Street colliding with and injuring members of the public.
A track around Fair Green had been designated for running the animals this year.
A huge operation - costing over £30,000 - was put in place this year to oversee the new arrangements by Moyle District Council.
Now, it has emerged in official council reports, that the Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary - which monitors the health of horses at the Fair - was pleased with this year’s events.
A Council report showed that Crosskennan stated: ‘Crosskennan are pleaded to report that the improvements implemented by Moyle District Council have completely transformed the horse sale.
‘We were delighted to see all the horses enjoying the excellent new facilities - all necessary checks were carried out including each horse being examined by a vet before entering the sale area.
‘Those horses without microchips were chipped by the attending vet and will therefore be registered enabling their owners to be traced if necessary.
‘The unwanted element that had fuelled the lawless behaviour and hostile atmosphere in previous years were notably absent and the traders that we spoke to all praised the much needed improvements.
‘Members of the public were able to view the horses safely and they also commented on how the improvements had made their experience at the Fair much more enjoyable compared to previous years.
‘Traders reported an increase in sales to the general public which in turn increased their revenue as they weren’t trading amongst themselves at trade prices.
‘We also spoke to members of the public who had bought ponies - all reported they would never have considered buying from the Fair before due to the poor quality stock and upsetting scenes they’s witnessed in previous years.
“We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who ensured this major operation was a success - in particular Esther Mulholland (Moyle Council) for overseeing/implementing the improvements and Grace McMullan (Moyle Council) for supervising the sale area whilst directing Council personnel to top up straw, hay and water when needed.’
Crosskennan also thanked the traders for complying with the new arrangements.
The Equine Council for Northern Ireland wrote to Moyle Council and said: “We would like to commend Moyle District Council on the new arrangements for the horse trading area at Lammas Fair this year. As an organisation we received positive feedback in terms of both animal welfare and safety issues from within the equine industry.’
A Council report also stated there were no reports of ‘near misses’ between horses and the public and no reports of ill-treatment of horses.
The official number of horses and ponies catered for by the Council was 49 which was “considerably less” than previous years.
Other animal welfare officials said the chipping/passport system for horses resulted in an improved control and quality of stock and a Department of Agriculture & Rural Development official said that generally all horses were in good condition.
Grace McMullan from Moyle Council said the traders seemed happy with the arrangements and that horse trader liaison was very useful and that residents in the Fairhill area generally felt more reassured with the presence of a CCTV van and security staff.
However, Moyle Council officials also noted the public were petting horses which could potentially spread disease and hand washing facilities would be required or public access should be restricted.
The PSNI said no horses on Fairhill Street made a big difference to public safety but they said security staff should be confined to the Fairhill area as they were ‘attacked in other areas of the town’.
Also as part of the post-Lammas Fair de-briefing by Moyle Council it was noted that the feedback was generally very positive but there were concerns that horse traders were in the Fairhill area over the weekend before the two official days of the Lammas Fair when no controls were in place at that stage and one horse was found with a suspected case of a very highly contagious equine disease called ‘Strangles’.
It was reported that on the Sunday traders were smoking near hay/straw.
It was also noted that on the days of the Fair that trading did not stop at 6pm when staff went off duty.
The Council says they may now have to increase staffing requirements in future as the Council could have insurance issues should an accident occur or there is the option of adequately securing the area so the public cannot access the Council-controlled area outside the hours when staff are present.
* Regarding the Fair in general the police said it was “excellent” from a policing perspective and that the entire Fair ran smoothly with very little crime.
* It was also stated that during the Fair there were 12 consumer protection inspections at stalls and six traders voluntarily surrendered unsafe goods which were on sale. 26 Yo-Yo balls and 233 mouth whistles were removed from sale.