Health and safety in Irish animal circuses

– Part 5

The following examples show the serious risks animals in circuses can create.

2005 – Worker injured by elephant

In June 2005, a 35-year-old worker at Circus New York was gored and seriously injured by an elephant when he entered the tent housing the three elephants at the show.

Paul Dineen was struck in the side and back by the tusks of a 26-year-old African elephant named Mausie. A spokesperson for the circus said Dineen should not have been in the elephant tent and that he had ‘provoked’ the animals to perform.

Dineen spent time in intensive care in hospital but the extent of his injuries were not made public. Freedom for Animals is not aware of any comments made by Dineen about the incident.

The circus said that the elephants were not dangerous and were just defending their territory. The day after Dineen was injured, circus staff took the three elephants walking on the local beach and into the sea.

In August 2005, Freedom for Animals wrote to the Health and Safety Authority, the body overseeing health and safety in the workplace in Ireland. We asked if they had investigated the incident and what measures were being put in place to prevent incidents of a similar nature, given the large number of dangerous animals in Irish circuses. The HSA finally replied, stating that they had investigated but, under the provisions of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, were prevented from providing us with details of the investigation.

While the other two elephants, Maya and Baby, are performing at the Royal Russian Circus in 2006, the whereabouts of Mausie are unknown.

Circus New York closed down in 2005, although the main proprietor set up Circus Ozzz in 2006, which has now changed its name to Circus Sydney.

2005 – Children bitten by monkey

In July 2005, a five-year-old girl was injured by a monkey at Circus New York while it was in County Kerry. The macaque monkey was kept on a lead and brought into the ring for people to pay and have their photo taken next to him. The girl’s mother claimed the monkey jumped on her daughter’s back, scratching and biting her before a circus worker beat the monkey off with a stick.

The circus said the girl had entered an area off-limits to the public, although the girl’s mother denies this.

The monkey was apparently used again in the next show.

Following the media coverage of this incident, three more people came forward claiming the monkey had also attacked them, on different occasions in 2005.

Freedom for Animals contacted Kerry County Council to ask if it was investigating. It told us that any investigation was the responsibility of the Health and Safety Authority, but when we rang the HSA it claimed it was the council’s responsibility. The council continued to deny this and eventually suggested we ring the local Garda. Five months after we contacted the Garda it responded, stating that it was not pressing charges in relation to the incident as the parents of children injured had not made formal complaints.

There are often stories in the Irish media concerning the escape of animals from circuses touring the country. Below are just a couple of examples:

In July 2006, a wallaby from Circus Sydney escaped as the circus was about to leave Kinsale, Co Cork. The circus left without him, moving on to Wexford before he was found almost a week later. In press interviews, a spokesperson for the circus claimed that the wallaby had escaped after children visiting the animal in his pen at the circus left the gate open.

In 2004 three camels escaped from the Daredevil Circus (which, in 2006, toured under the name the Royal Russian Circus), holding up rush hour traffic while they were recaptured. Camels are classed as ‘dangerous wild animals’ under UK law (the Republic of Ireland does not have similar legislation).

Inadequate health and safety legislation

Recent incidents have exposed the inadequacy of legislation in Ireland to protect members of the public at public entertainment events.

While the Health and Safety Authority has responsibility to investigate cases where workers are injured or killed in the workplace it does not cover public safety issues.

What was called by one newspaper as “a serious gap in the regulation” was brought to light in late 2006 by two separate incidents. In one, an acrobat at the Royal Russian Circus was killed in County Clare in late October. Two days earlier, a 22-year-old man died after falling under a ghost train at an amusement park in Tramore, County Waterford.

In the case of the acrobat’s death, HSA officials launched an immediate investigation, but not over the death of the man in Tramore, although Gardai were investigating the latter death.

The incidents have renewed calls for either the HSA to enforce health and safety standards to protect people rather than employees, or for a separate Public Safety Authority.

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