A new location for the monthly horse fair which has been held on the same site in Smithfield, Dublin, for several hundred years is expected to be announced shortly by Dublin City Council.
The council has been seeking to move the fair out of the city for several years for health, safety and management reasons, but has been blocked by an ancient market right of horse traders to hold their sales on the land.
The manger of the central area of the city, Charlie Lowe, said the council had now identified an area to the northwest of the city, understood to be in the vicinity of Ballymun and Finglas, which would be a suitable location for the horse fair. He hoped to make an announcement of an exact site in the near future.
The current Smithfield horse fair is not managed or governed by any particular body, although the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does monitor its activities.
Scores of regular traders attend on the first Sunday of every month to sell horses and sometimes caged birds at Smithfield square, and, according to the council, leave behind large amounts of horse manure and other litter which the council is forced to remove.
The council attempted to close the fair in 2002 after a horse bolted and ran on to the quays, where it crashed into a car occupied by a woman and a child. However, the traders defied the ban and continued to attend.
The council has received legal advice that it would be unsuccessful if it sought a court order to discontinue the fair until an alternative suitable site was available.
"We cannot extinguish the 'market right' at Smithfield under the particular legislation unless we find alternative facilities which are reasonably proximate to those already there. Similarly, there is no scope at this time to close it under health and safety regulations," Mr Lowe said.
The council has had an additional difficulty in negotiating with the traders because "it is not clear to us exactly who runs it", said Mr Lowe. However, he added that once the council had established a new permanent location for the fair, it would be in a position to seek a legally-enforceable injunction that would prevent traders from continuing their activities in Smithfield.
The relocation was essential, said Mr Lowe, because even if the council had charge of the Smithfield event, it had become a completely impractical location for the fair in terms of traffic management, event management and due to a number of health and safety issues.
"At the moment it is complete mayhem. What we intend to do is give it a suitable location on a greenfield site - with appropriate bedding and facilities for the horses - that can be used safely on a permanent basis."
The proposed new site will be put out to public consultation next year, and will require planning permission.
Closer look: history of the fair
Smithfield was laid out as a market area in the mid-17th century and retains that provenance in its Irish name, Margadh na Feirme (the Farm Market).
From 1664 onwards the site was used primarily as a cattle and hay market, but horses were also sold periodically.
Horses were sold on a regular basis in Smithfield from the late 1800s onward, but the horse fair in its current incarnation dates from the early 1960s, when the area, one of the poorest in the city, was in a state of considerable dereliction.
Following the redevelopment of Smithfield in the late 1990s and early this century, Dublin City Council did become involved in the management of the fair, but withdrew in 2004 on health and safety grounds.
The Irish Times