Smithfield horse fair: Dublin City Council is seeking to end the inner-city market after allegations of cruelty

LEGAL advice is being sought by Dublin City Council in an attempt to shut down a notorious horse fair, which was at the centre of allegations of cruelty last week.

The horse fair in Smithfield in Dublin's north inner city has been held for more than two centuries but in recent years has become the subject of claims that many of the horses are sick and malnourished. Some 95% of horses rescued around the city are found to have been originally sold at the market. Last week, it emerged that a badly injured horse was sold to a young boy for just €8. The horse is now expected to recover but will need a year of treatment.

Dublin City Council has said it cannot "extinguish" the right to have a market at Smithfield unless it provides an alternative location. However, it has confirmed that in the past month it has asked for a report from its law agent on ways to get around the legal catch 22.

Plans had been afoot to create an alternative horse market further from the city, where proper facilities could be put in place.

However, that initiative has fallen victim to budgetary pressures and is not now considered an immediate priority by Dublin City Council.

A statement said: "In order to extinguish the market right at Smithfield, Dublin City Council must find an alternative location for the market with reasonable facilities for carrying on the form of trade that goes on there at the moment. Realistically at this point in time this is not an option.

"The city council would have to acquire land, design a facility, obtain planning permission and create an operational budget line all of which in the current financial climate is not achievable.

"The city council does not believe that Smithfield represents a suitable location for the fair. For those reasons, the matter has been referred to the council's law agent to examine what alternative legal remedies may be available to the city council."

Dublin City Council has also ruled out temporary measures to keep the horse traders from the area on market day, the first Sunday of each month. It said the use of bollards or other obstacles would ruin Smithfield Square and could also prove just as expensive in the long run.

The possibility of organising raids at the market to seize all mal-treated horses has also had to be ruled out on safety grounds.

A source in the city council said: "It is an area of very high footfall with vehicle traffic at one end and Luas traffic at the other end.

"It would be chaotic to go in and try and get involved in enforcement and could ultimately lead to members of the public getting injured. "As it stands, it is a totally unsuitable place for a horse fair but it looks like we are going to be stuck with it for the time being."