Thursday, 1 February 2007
In the first instance I am referring specifically to the Ward Union Hunt treatment of a deer at Kildalkey village school just over a week ago. In full view of a number of witnesses, including parents, children and local people, the stag was hunted into a school yard. A pack of savage hounds was set on the stag. The stag was clearly terrified and exhausted. It was then hunted out on to the public road and was finally pursued by men in a jeep until it collapsed. I pay tribute to RTE's "Liveline" show for drawing attention to the issue in great detail. The Minister and those responsible for issuing licences to the Ward Union Hunt would prefer if it got as little publicity as possible.
There is considerable significance in this incident. The reaction to Joe Duffy's radio show demonstrated that the majority of people were outraged, including those who saw the incident and those who heard direct local accounts of it. There were no agendas here — these were local people who simply saw what happened. People were outraged that this type of activity is licensed by a Minister and is regarded as acceptable law and practice. Anybody listening to the account of the treatment of the unfortunate deer knows it is not an acceptable practice and it is time it was brought to an end.
The event as it was described by those who saw it must be considered in context. The deer hunted by the Ward Union Hunt are well known to be tame domesticated animals. For that reason, departmental wildlife inspectors have sent memoranda to the Minister telling him that these deer should not be hunted and that licences should not be granted to anyone to hunt them.
The Protection of Animals Act 1911 expressly forbids terrorising or causing unnecessary suffering to any domesticated animal. That is the law. There are many witnesses available if the Minister wishes to have this matter properly investigated. The Ward Union Hunt is the only hunt, North or South, with a licence to supposedly hunt but, in fact, to terrorise domesticated animals. Hunting is outlawed in the North of our country. There is clear evidence that this causes unnecessary suffering to those animals. The Protection of Animals Act expressly forbids that to happen.
Some of us believe that this practice has not been outlawed in this part of Ireland despite being expressly forbidden in the 1911 Act because the Ward Union Hunt is controlled by some of the richest, most powerful and influential developers and business men in the country. Lest I be accused of not declaring it, I had better say that I have the honour to be the national vice president of the Irish Council against Blood Sports. With that organisation I have monitored the Ward Union Hunt and its activities. I have raised this issue several times in this House. I have seen at first hand that an unfortunate animal, a deer, raised on a farm, treated like any farm animal, is taken from that farm by people who claim to be some sort of huntsmen and set loose. A pack of hounds, people on horseback, others in jeeps and on quad bikes and so on then terrorise that animal by chasing it through barbed wire fences and ditches until it is covered in a lather of its own sweat and blood from cuts and scratches received from the barbed wire and fences, and is pursued to exhaustion. If that is not causing suffering to a domesticated animal I do not know what is.
I do not expect any sympathy for this issue from the Minister of State present in the House but I hope that the matter I have raised will be properly and thoroughly investigated and the licence withdrawn until that investigation is complete.
I am taking this debate on behalf of my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, and I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.
Section 26(1) of the Wildlife Act 1976 as amended——
——provides that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government may grant to the master or other person in charge of a pack of stag hounds, a licence authorising the hunting of deer by that pack, during such period as specified in the licence. The current licence held by the Ward Union Hunt expires on 31 March 2007. This licence and all licences issued since 1999, incorporate, among other things, a requirement of compliance with the code of practice agreed in 1999 between the Ward Union Hunt Club, the then Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the Department of Agriculture and Food.
It is not open to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to refuse a licence application for a hunt on grounds of principle. Through the wildlife Acts, the Oireachtas has determined that this activity is, in principle, licensable.
Given this legal position, the Department's proper focus in addressing licence applications is on the hunt's compliance with licence conditions during the term of the previous licence. Veterinary reports, prepared by the veterinary inspector engaged by the Department to inspect the hunt and its compliance with the conditions of the licence, are also taken into account, and as necessary, the Department meets representatives of the applicants to review these matters. The matters referred to by the Deputy, together with public safety concerns, will clearly require discussion with representatives of the hunt shortly.
The question of any further licence for the Ward Union Hunt will be considered in the light of these various factors and of the veterinary inspector's report. Issues relating to animal welfare are the statutory responsibility of the Minister for Agriculture and Food under section 2 of the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1965 and section 1 of the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes Act 1984. In light of what the Deputy has said I will bring his comments to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.