The actor writes that there’s been a “coordinated attempt by animal activists and a certain Queens council member to ban the industry from the city.”
City Councilman Tony Avella’s bill to put an end to the city’s horse & carriage trade will be discussed at a hearing on Jan. 30. At the same meeting, the horse & carriage workers’ proposal for a fare increase — the first in 19 years, if it’s agreed — will also be debated.
Neeson’s letter continues: “As a horse lover and rider, I am deeply disturbed by the unnecessary and misguided political and extreme rhetoric against the horse-drawn carriage industry and feel obliged to counter this action.
“The horse-drawn carriage business is an iconic part of this city, employing hundreds of dedicated, hard-working men and women, caring for well-bred, well-trained horses and attracting tourists to New York City for over 100 years.
“As a proud New York resident, I have personally enjoyed the beauty of Central Park on a daily basis for many years, and these horses are an undeniable integral part of that experience. The notion that a well-nourished horse pulling a carriage through Central Park is considered cruelty may fit in with animal activists’ extremist view, but not with the rest of us,” writes the star who played Michael Collins, the founder of the Irish state, and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey on screen and is slated to portray Abraham Lincoln and Ian Paisley in upcoming film projects.
He frames his closing argument in economic terms: “Surely we have a responsibility to protect commerce, especially one with such history, and one I truly feel helps define this city. May pragmatism prevail.”
The Ballymena, Co. Antrim-born star, who has dual Irish and British citizenship, signs the letter “Liam Neeson OBE.”
Stephen Malone, a New Yorker who followed his County Louth-born father into the industry, also made the economic argument in an interview with the Echo.
“Two and half million people lost their jobs last year and it’s mind-boggling that he [Avella] wants to take away more jobs,” he said.
Malone said that the industry is bringing forward a legislative package with its demand for an fare increase, even though it’s already closely regulated. It wants the veterinarian’s checkup of horses to be twice yearly.
It wants to improve record keeping, too. Under the proposals, each owner has to keep a logbook on the premises for his set of horses with information on shots and worming.
Malone and his colleagues aim to “upgrade, improve and protect every aspect of the industry.”
However, the biggest obstacle to improved pay and conditions is the vociferous animal rights group that harasses the industry workers. Carolyn Daly, a spokesperson for the horse & carriage industry, said that allegations of cruelty are absurd. “People talk about the horses’ ‘instinct to flee,'” she said. “We’re dealing with domesticated animals; they’re not wild stallions. They’ve never had to hunt for food.”
“They’re trust fund horses,” Malone said. “Born with a silver bit in their mouths.”
As for safety concerns, the “record speaks for itself and our insurance record speaks for itself,” Malone said. “We wouldn’t be here if it didn’t.”
More than 100 pedestrians died on New York’s streets in 2008, he said, and his industry took in hundreds of thousands fares without incident.
Malone said that despite the downturn in the economy, the industry, which employs 400 people, had a good Christmas season.
But the current cold snap is keeping the horses and drivers off the streets.
“We’ll work one or two days this week,” Stephen Malone said. “This is our time to spend with our families that we don’t have during the rest of the year.”