Tuesday, 29 June 2010
Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)
I thank Deputy Sherlock. My two colleagues on either side want to speak for a minute or so and therefore I will cut short my time. I have no difficulty doing that if it is agreed. Deputies O'Rourke, Penrose, English and McCormack can speak and I will cut my time to the minimum, setting an example.
I have been known to deliver orations in 30 seconds, as has the Ceann Comhairle, I am sure.
What concerns me most about this Bill is the attack on rural life. In recent years we have seen the gradual erosion of the rights and entitlements of people living in rural areas. For example, one can no longer cut turf, smoke or drink. One cannot drain land because all land must be a natural flood plain which eventually will rise and lift boats. One cannot build in rural areas. One is discouraged from building there because it is bad for society, and in general. One cannot shoot. If one applies for a gun licence, one must get a character reference from a reputable person who is not a member of the Garda Síochána - an extraordinary situation.
One cannot keep dogs. One cannot hunt. One cannot fish for eel. There is an extraordinary point related to that which greatly troubles me. When the European Commission issued a directive to the effect that individual member states should introduce conservation measures for the protection of eels, every other European country did just that. The Joint Committee on European Affairs repeatedly tried to encourage the relevant Minister, the colleague of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to bring the measure before both Houses and the committee before he made a decision but the Minister treated the committee with contempt and refused point blank to have anything to do with it or to listen to members' views. He went ahead and banned eel fishing throughout the country, arbitrarily and in a fashion I shall leave to Members to describe.
There are many who hunt because the tradition existed in this country. Times will change as time passes but at this moment what worries me most is that this is an illustration of what happens when a small group of people within Government seize power and their bigger brothers in Government do nothing to arrest their progress. They then decide to hold society to ransom. This is what is happening. It is grossly unfair and, without a shadow of doubt, it is undemocratic. Ordinarily, I would not be so exercised by this but I strongly oppose the attempt by this Government in this legislation to do what it proposes.
I shall take a few seconds to register my opposition to this Bill and my support for the Ward Union Hunt and hunts in general. I have spent all my life living beside the Meath Hunt and have watched it in operation. I watched how its members treat their dogs and run their business. I do not get a chance to follow or watch the Ward Union Hunt and its business but I know many of the people involved. They treat animals and operate in exactly the same way as the Meath Hunt. They have respect for animals and know what they are doing. They care for them and everything is done under proper conditions. From monitoring the hunt, I am glad to say it has reacted to urban living. It has made adjustments to how it does its business.
This is a misguided attempt to end something that is part of rural life. It is an attack on rural Ireland and is causing an unnecessary divide between rural and urban dwellers. The Minister is putting the fear of God into people who just want to be left alone to go about their business as they always have done, whether stag hunting, fox hunting, fishing, shooting or whatever interests them. Most people believe this is only the start and that the Minister fully intends to go further. He already has another wildlife Bill on the way in some months and God knows what will be added in that. It is unfair and wrong and is an abuse of power-----
This is supposed to be a wildlife protection Bill; it is anything but. In his address the Minister referred to domestic deer. If he were really serious about wildlife, in which I am as interested as he is, he would take steps to eliminate the escaped mink that are destroying every aspect of wildlife throughout the country. The poor old deer never destroyed anything but I do not know why the Minister wants to protect them to the exclusion of protecting other species of wildlife which are being destroyed throughout the country.
In the past week or two, I have become suspicious about the mad rush and anxiety of the minor party in Government to get its Bills passed, including this one, and those on development and dog breeding. I warn Deputies this is a sign of an election. This party wants to clear the air and have its slate clean, having got its policies through even though Fianna Fáil is lying back, doing nothing.
I am not one bit impressed by the two Independent Deputies who today declared they would vote against this Bill. They made that declaration when they knew other Independents were supporting it and there was no chance of it being defeated. That is hypocrisy of the highest order.
I speak as a Deputy who is deeply in touch with rural issues and a rural way of life and I strongly oppose the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2010, as proposed by the Minister, Deputy Gormley. Some of his amendments have actually added to the complexity. It will be a lawyers' paradise.
The Bill before the House is historic in at least one respect, in that, to the best of my knowledge, it is the first occasion since the foundation of the State that a Government has brought a specific Bill before this House to outlaw a country sport. This is not a good day for rural Ireland. I respect the views of the many people who contact me to express their different views. That is part of the democratic participatory process but I do not bow to people in an orchestrated campaign. I will not be bullied, harassed or intimidated by extraterritorial e-mails and so on from outside the jurisdiction. I am well able to make up my own mind.
This is a misguided Bill, in any event. Deputy English stated clearly there was no issue of welfare because of the detailed supervision of the Ward Union Hunt. This arose from the licensing regime which was put in place by my colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins. That was our policy at the time and it remains such. We will not allow the Green Party or any small segment of a party to misrepresent our policy here or anywhere else. Name-calling and vulgar abuse is what one is reduced to when one is on the losing side. We do not call anybody Father Ted but we could call an odd person Father Jack.
That is where the welfare issue lies. It is clear in any event that were there any such issue it could be addressed by means of the licensing conditions. No such issue arises. From an interview I heard the Minister give on radio last week it was clear he suffered a defeat in the High Court, in a judicial review. If people feel aggrieved by any matter they are entitled to bring it for review. That is why the courts are there and I laud the openness of the courts to deal with issues. The Minister said he had not gone away but that court determined the licensing conditions he had imposed were crazy, in any event. Now he is back with this blunt legislative instrument which illustrates a vengeful streak. That is what this amounts to and arises from the Minister not getting his own way in December 2007. If he felt there was an issue that needed to be addressed, why did he not consult with the key stakeholders in order to ensure the best approach was pursued? There is plenty of precedent for that. He sent his officials. I heard people on the radio say that the Minister was supposed to talk to them but I understand he did not do so. The Minister can say whether he did so.
When all else fails and the Minister's argument does not stand up, he resorts to vulgar abuse and misinterpretation of the Labour Party policy. I will not allow him to do that for his own narrow gains, just because he is in a corner. He referred to such people as the "tally ho" brigade. Many people involved in hunting or country pursuits are like me. They were born in cottages in the heart of rural Ireland, with no land, no horses or hounds, no silver spoons, only a grá for country sports and the rural way of life. As young people we hunted rabbits in order to secure food or sell it at two shillings unskinned or half a crown skinned. That was what we had to do. We hunted foxes because of the damage they did to farmers when they raided hen houses throughout the country and picked out and killed lambs. This was lauded and actively encouraged by the county committees of agriculture. One got half a crown for a fox's tail when one brought it in. That was another way we had to raise income. The Minister knows nothing about rural Ireland and nothing about the rural way of life.
This is a serious issue in rural areas, and the real target of those promoting this Bill is not the Ward Union Hunt, but other countryside activities and pursuits. The Minister should look at his own party's welfare policy, which states:
The Green Party does not promote or support the live export of animals ... The Green Party campaigns for an end to intensive rearing of cattle, sheep and poultry ... The party campaigns for an end to the use of wild animals in circuses ... When in government, the Green Party will introduce to end blood sports, with heavy penalties for organisations and participants ... The party does not support or promote traditional zoos in the longer term and will continue to work towards a complete reformation.
Does the Minister want to get rid of us altogether? Will he take our blood and get rid of us altogether?
This Bill will hang around the Minister's neck for a long time to come. Rural people will not forget. This is the thin edge of the wedge. I have heard from people representing him that the Minister wants to get rid of coursing proposals implemented by a previous Minister, which were excellent. The Green Party was not satisfied and wanted to get rid of them. We say "No" to this today.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak and I thank Deputies Durkan and Sherlock for providing me with this time. I have participated in four coalition Governments, and many others in this Chamber have done so as well. When a party goes into a coalition, it signs up to a programme for Government and it sticks with it because that is its signature on the document. I remember being with the Labour Party in Government and I worked well with Deputy Quinn when he was Minister. There is give and take when a party is in a coaltion, and there is no point in saying otherwise.
We have all been receiving e-mails from RISE, or Rural Ireland Says Enough. I am here today because I come from a part of Ireland which fishes, hunts and shoots. I came with a mandate from there and they want me to say today that they understand if we signed up to a document, but that they will not entertain - nor will I nor will Fianna Fáil - any further inroads into rural pursuits.
We will not entertain it and we will not have it. I want to know exactly what could possibly be wrong with fishing, hunting or with the gun clubs whose members have approached me. They go about their normal pursuits as well.
While we recognise that we must stick with the programme for Government if we signed up to it, I do not know if there is any way the Minister can assuage those of us in the backbenches who do not believe that if he gets this under his belt he will be free to roam again among the hedgregrows, the fishing loughs and the streams where harmless pursuits are carried out. We believe in those harmless pursuits - as well as other pursuits which might not be as harmless - and the Minister will have to give a guarantee on the floor of the House that this Bill and the Bill to be taken next week - which he inherited from the former Minister, Deputy Dick Roche - will be the end of his ramblings in rural Ireland.
I thank the Deputies for their contribution. I will try to be as brief as possible because we want to get onto the various amendments, but I want to start by saying that the position of the Labour Party is completely hypocritical. It is a fact, as we have the signatures and we know-----
The Labour Party leader put down a question to me in this House in 2007 and asked me specifically to ban the Ward Union Hunt. The party has an entirely different position tonight. That is what I call a U-turn.
I have looked at the commitments given by individual members of the Labour Party, including Deputies McManus, Costello, Quinn and others who have stated clearly that they want the Ward Union Hunt banned.
Thank you, a Chaithoirligh. The misrepresentation that has taken place this evening has come again from the Deputies opposite. We have heard the phrase "the thin end of the wedge" used time and time again.
Everybody who uses that phrase has misrepresented things. Chairperson, you will have to do something here because it is impossible to speak in this Chamber. I ask you for protection, if you do not mind.
The most important part of the Bill is on Committee Stage, when people can put forward amendments and so on. The Deputies are eating into the time for Committee Stage and they are not allowing their own spokespersons to deal with it. I ask Deputies to allow the Minister to finish his summation and we will then move on to Committee Stage. They can all speak then if they so wish.
One of them was on the radio today. It is entirely disingenuous of the Deputies opposite to conflate all of these issues. We are trying to bring in a fairly minor Bill that is only a few paragraphs long.
We are trying to deal with this because not only are there animal welfare issues at stake here - it is clear that this is a domesticated animal that is being hunted - but there are also public safety issues.
I would not expect anything from the Deputy anyway because his party is in disarray. This party is supposed to stand for something but it stands for absolutely nothing. It is sitting on the fence and Deputy Gilmore is a complete and utter coward. The man does not stand for anything.
It might interest the Deputies opposite, although it may not, to know that there was a similar debate in the House of Commons in March 1825. The British House of Commons debated a Bill-----
-----which sought to bring an end to the practices of bear baiting and bull baiting. From a quick read of the Hansard report of the debate, Members should note that the following arguments were used. It was stated at that time that this was a traditional rural pastime, that it was a trivial Bill, that the bears subject to the baiting were well cared for and that it would lead to a ban on hunting, shooting and fishing. Some 180 years on we can see that exactly the same arguments are being dusted down and taken off the shelf in the debate on stag hunting-----
What we have here is a complete throw-back. This is an anachronism. The Deputies opposite represent the past. They represent an uncivilised mindset,-----
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 73 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Bobby Aylward, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Conor Lenihan, Martin Mansergh, Tom McEllistrim, Finian McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Maureen O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)
Against the motion: 69 (James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Joe Behan, Pat Breen, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Jackie Healy-Rae, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Michael Lowry, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe
Question declared carried