Irish actor Liam Neeson has slammed Mayor Bill de Blasio for his attempt to end the carriage horse industry in Central Park, claiming a “land grab” could be underway.
In a strongly worded letter Neeson states, “I was appalled to learn of your intent to obliterate one of the most deep rooted icons of our city!...
“The horse drawn carriage industry is an integral part of this city and has been since the early 1860s. It has been serving New Yorkers and tourists alike for generations. I have heard you declaring it inhumane and not fitting with the fabric of our city. I am compelled to strongly challenge these declarations.”
Neeson goes on to say that the horses are well looked after, “These horses are well cared for, provided for and, perhaps, most importantly of all, have a job, in one of the world’s most bucolic settings, Central Park.”
He also voices the suspicion shared by many in the carriage industry that some of the animal rights advocates calling for the ban are more interested in making a land grab for the properties the stables are built on than they are in the welfare of the horses they house.
Many of these advocates are members of NYCLASS (New Yorkers for Clean, Liveable and Safe Streets), and a number of them, such as chief supporter and real estate mogul Steve Nislick, have deep professional roots in New York real estate and development. They contributed $1.3 million to the mayor’s campaign.
Neeson asks “Why don’t you come to the stables, meet with the business owners and see the conditions first hand?
“History teaches us that land grabs can manifest themselves in various ways. We all know the land on which these 4 stables sit is most valuable. Please do not become complicit in this type of practice.”
Neeson would seem to have public support on his side. A recent Quinnipiac Poll shows that 61% of New Yorkers want to keep the 150-year-old tradition going.
The Ballymena-born actor has lived in New York City for a number of years and has been a supporter of the horse and carriage drivers for a long time.
Neeson is a close friend of Colm McKeever, a long-time veteran of the industry, who spoke with IrishCentral about what the “Taken” star’s advocacy means to their cause.
It was McKeever's wife, Fiona, who intoduced the two. When the actor was in Dublin filming “Michael Collins," his late wife, Natasha Richardson, was pregnant at the time with their first child, and Fiona was her midwife at Holles Street Hospital. They bonded so strongly that Neeson and Richardson offered to hire Fiona, prompting her move to the US, where she and McKeever met.
Neeson has also befriended a number of the other drivers independently of McKeever. “Liam spends a lot of time in Central Park, and many of the people in the business are Irish, so he’s developed a friendship with them over the years,” he explained. “He knows the park better than anyone. He’s also been to our stables many times and is so impressed with the conditions.”
Carriage horses in New York can only work a set number of hours each day, and never in extreme heat or cold. Their stalls must be at least 64-square-feet (enough room to fully turn around), and both the condition of the stables and the health of the horses are subject to regulated inspection. For at least five weeks of every year, the horses leave the city for farm rest.
“Liam seems to be the only one with the courage of his convictions to come out in support of us,” McKeever said, when asked about the number of celebrities who have spoken out against the industry. “People do support us quietly, but they’re afraid to put their necks on the line. Liam is a real courageous guy. He sees an injustice being done here and he feels really strongly about speaking out.”
The injustices Neeson names include: de Blasio’s rejection of an invitation to visit the stables, the hasty disregard for an iconic New York tradition, and the total impracticality of the proposed plan to simply send the 200 horses currently working “to pasture” and replace them with old-timey electric cars.
McKeever called this plan completely unrealistic, especially since the horses are the property of their owners.
But McKeever is hopeful that with the help of Neeson and the support of New Yorkers they can successfully fight the ban, though it looks more and more like the battle will be legal rather than political.
Shortly before his inauguration, de Blasio vowed to make banning the carriages one of his first priorities when in office. The City Council first has to pass legislation, but that motion looks likely as new Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito sponsored a bill in favor of a ban in 2010.
“Liam has his finger on the pulse of what’s going on with the business and he sees how vulnerable we are,” McKeever said. “Most of us are owner-operators of our own carriages. As a result, it’s really a David and Goliath story, and nobody is more aware of that than Liam.
“It’s all on his own behalf, you know. He called me and said ‘I want to write a letter, I feel this is borderline criminal.’ And the words he put together are amazing.”
Read them for yourself here:
Dear Mayor de Blasio,
I was appalled to learn of your intent to obliterate one of the most deep rooted icons of our city!
Why would you turn down an invitation to meet with the industry? You are prepared to make this iconoclastic move based purely on hearsay??
The horse drawn carriage industry is an integral part of this city and has been since the early 1860’s. It has been serving New Yorkers and tourists alike for generations. I have heard you declaring it inhumane and not fitting with the fabric of our city. I am compelled to strongly challenge these declarations. These horses are well cared for, provided for and, perhaps, most importantly of all, have a job, in one of the world’s most bucolic settings, Central Park.
We have already lost our riding horses with the closing of Claremont Stables resulting in the riding trail on the West Side lying dormant, all under the guise of “progress”. In actuality, what is happening is our park is being stripped of her connections to the past. To quote Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis... “Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud moments, until there is nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future?”
I also find it troubling, Mr. de Blasio, that your campaign promise was to fight for the common man and, yet, with the first stroke of your pen, you are willing to put 300 families on the breadline. These hard working men and women have been very conscientious in maintaining a healthy and safe environment for their beloved horses in an ever changing urban setting. They have succeeded in maintaining an impeccable safety record. There are more health checks now than ever, more vacation time now than ever, there are very stringent laws in place to protect the wellbeing of these animals in this environment.
Your plan to replace these animals with electric cars is incongruous at best, the very last thing our city and our park needs are more cars!! And where will these horses go and the horses to follow that are bred for this? You expect us to believe they will all be put out to pasture?? Why don’t you come to the stables, meet with the business owners and see the conditions first hand?
History teaches us that land grabs can manifest themselves in various ways. We all know the land on which these 4 stables sit is most valuable. Please do not become complicit in this type of practice.
Mayor de Blasio, this is an internationally renowned industry. Tourists come from all over to experience a horse drawn carriage ride through Central Park. The world is watching!
The horse drawn carriages belong to New York, Mr. Mayor. They are not yours to take!