I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley.
Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage
I am pleased to table the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2010 before the House and I look forward to an informed debate during its passage through the Seanad.
The renewed programme for Government includes a commitment to introducing legislation to prohibit the practice of deer hunting with packs of dogs. This short Bill provides for the banning of that particular hunting practice. In addition, I have taken the opportunity to increase the maximum fines for wildlife-related offences, which were last increased in 2000, and to resolve an issue that arose recently in regard to licences to shoot wild game.
Section 26(1) of the Wildlife Act 1976 provides that I, as Minister, may grant to the master or other person in charge of a pack of hounds a licence authorising the hunting of deer by that pack during such period or periods as specified in the licence. However, the 1976 Act does not provide criteria for awarding or refusing a licence.
There is only one stag hound pack in the State, which operates in County Meath. Since becoming Minister, I have had concerns from an animal welfare and public safety point of view relating to the operation of the hunt meetings operated by the hunt club in question. These concerns were shared by some of my predecessors. The hunt club maintains a herd of domesticated red deer in purpose built deer parks that adjoin their hunt kennels and normally holds approximately 50 meetings between October and March. I do not consider it acceptable in this day and age to allow a hunt with hounds and horses of what is essentially a farmed animal. We do not consider it acceptable to set dogs in pursuit of any other farmed animal.
Public safety issues are also involved, as it is not possible for the hunt to prevent deer in flight from leaping through hedges onto public roads. Senators may be aware of an incident last December during one hunt meeting when a deer needed to be put down after leaping onto a road and colliding with a car. While there were no injuries to the occupants of the car, this incident was unacceptable. This is not the first such serious incident. A few years ago, a deer being chased by hounds leaped into a school yard just as the school day was finishing. At the time, there was a great deal of disquiet about this type of hunting, with much adverse media coverage given to the incident.
These are not isolated incidents. I have much anecdotal evidence of further incidents. Were there to be an accident with serious implications, there would be political repercussions. The Opposition would be asking serious questions of the Minister because he or she is the one who licenses the activity. There have been suggestions that I should impose further conditions in the licence to address these issues. I attempted to take this route, but concluded that solving the animal welfare and public safety issues was not possible under the Wildlife Acts. Therefore, the Government decided the animal welfare and public safety concerns relating to stag hunting could only be addressed by banning this hunting practice.
The Bill is short and simple. Section 2 provides for the deletion of the section in the 1976 Act that allows me, as Minister, to grant a licence for the hunting of deer with a pack of hounds. Section 3 of the Bill redefines "deer" for the purposes of the legislation so the term includes any deer that is not a wild animal. This expanded definition has been incorporated into the Bill to ensure there is no argument that the hunting of captive bred deer might not require a licence under the Wildlife Acts. The Bill makes it an offence to hunt deer with two or more dogs, but makes an exception for licensed deer shooters hunting on foot or persons with a specific permission under section 42 of the Wildlife Acts.
Section 4 of the Bill addresses a problem that arose recently in regard to licences to shoot game during the open seasons. The Wildlife Act requires a hunter to have a licence to hunt certain birds, such as wildfowl, and hares and made provision that this would be obtained as an endorsement on the hunter's firearm certificate. The hunting licence and the firearm certificate were issued by An Garda Síochána in the form of a shotgun licence with the appropriate endorsement for hunting. However, when a new computerised procedure was introduced in 2009 for the issuing of three-year firearm certificates, the facility for issuing the endorsement as a wildlife hunting licence was omitted. As a result, new firearm certificates do not provide for a hunting licence attachment and do not meet the legal requirements of the Wildlife Acts. Consequently, hunters who had been issued with new certificates would not be able to hunt legally. I understand that, by the time the oversight was identified, it was not practicable to recall the certificates issued nor to change the licensing process then in train.
This matter should be borne in mind. As Senators know, it has been suggested that this legislation is somehow the thin edge of the wedge and that we will stop shooting etc. The Bill contains the provision to allow the shooting of deer and wildfowl. I ask people to bear this in mind when making allegations across the floor, which were flying in the Dáil yesterday evening.
To address the certification problem, the Bill amends the Wildlife Acts so a new section 29(5)(a) is created whereby a firearm certificate issued for a shotgun between 1 August 2009 and 1 August 2012 will be deemed to be a hunting licence for game species such as wildfowl and hares. In the interim, arrangements will be made between my Department and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to revert to a situation in which the hunting licence is endorsed on the firearm certificate. This will not affect the current system of issuing licences for shooting deer.
Sections 5, 6 and 8 of the Bill are technical consequential amendments to section 4.
I will turn to the part of the Bill relating to the increase in penalties for wildlife-related crime. Section 7 provides for increased penalties for offences under the Wildlife Acts. I have decided to increase these penalties, as they have not been increased since 2000. I am increasing maximum fines so that, on summary conviction, the maximum fine is increased to €1,000 from £500 for a first offence, to €2,000 from £1,000 for a second offence and to €5,000 from £1,500 for a third or subsequent offence. In addition, the maximum fine for conviction on indictment is increased to €100,000 from £50,000. There are no changes in maximum times of imprisonment. It is important the State should use every means at its disposal to ensure our natural heritage, including our wildlife and habitats, is protected. The new penalties proposed in the Bill are proportionate and I am sure the House will support the increased fines.
Turning to the general reaction to the proposed legislation, I reject the notion that the Bill is an attack on country pursuits or will lead to an urban-rural split. The legislation's passage will not impact on other country practices. There are a great many people from and living in the countryside who wish to see an end to carted stag hunting. Propaganda has been put out in an effective campaign on behalf of Rural Ireland Says Enough, RISE. It knows well that the hunt in question is a small one, so it must scaremonger and try to get as many people on board as possible. It has been successful in this regard, but the propaganda has been put out in an irresponsible way and I hope Senators will not continue with it. Let us have the truth in this debate.
Some hunting organisations have cited the Bill as a clear sign of an all-out attack on the hunting fraternity. As the Bill will affect the last carted stag hunt in the country, this hardly constitutes an attack on what are known as "traditional field sports and rural pastimes", as claimed by a recently formed organisation. The vast majority of people involved in legal hunting in this country will have nothing to fear from the enactment of this Bill. My Department will still be issuing licences for deer hunting and fox hunting is not affected by the Bill.
Turning again to the hunt, some of the debate in the Dáil concerned its economic contribution to the economy of Meath and north Dublin. This was examined in the regulatory impact analysis which accompanied the Bill. While I appreciate the hunt has been in operation for over 150 years, the banning of stag hunting does not mean its members will give up equestrian or hunting activities altogether. Accordingly, the study carried out recently on the economic benefit of the hunt pointed out that it was not possible to say what economic impact, if any, would arise from the cessation of stag-hunting. Furthermore, it is nonsense to suggest the cessation of this one activity will have an impact on Ireland's bloodstock or horse racing industries, or indeed on the supply of national hunt jockeys, of whom Ireland is rightly proud.
It has been said this Bill along with the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill is evidence of an attack on rural Ireland. This charge is being levelled all the time. I am aware that Members of both Houses have concerns with regard to certain aspects of the dogs Bill and as I stated in this House on Report Stage, I will be bringing forward amendments to this Bill during its passage through the Dáil to address these concerns.
In conclusion, I reiterate that the Bill has three main purposes: to ban the practice of hunting deer with packs of hounds, to increase the various fines for wildlife related offences and to resolve the issue of licences to shoot wild game. The vast majority of people engaged in hunting activities will continue to enjoy their pastimes following the enactment of this legislation and most will in fact benefit from it.
I look forward to engaging in productive debate on this legislation and I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Along with many people in this House and beyond, I have been closely watching the debate in the Lower House. Neither I nor my party, Fine Gael, welcomes the Bill because we believe this is, essentially, trophy legislation which the Minister's party has won as part of its programme for Government. We see this as the thin end of the wedge as regards banning stag hunting, initially. We are very concerned this trend will continue and the debate will go on. Senator Ó Brolcháin, who I admire and respect, has referred to the power of lobbying and the Minister has mentioned the power of the RISE lobby.
The RISE lobby engaged with stakeholders right around the country. It did not do anything illegal. It brought the terms of this, and indeed other legislation such as the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill, to the attention of the stakeholders who are directly involved and on whom this legislation will impact. I certainly do not see anything good, bad or indifferent wrong with that. The Minister should note also that ten local authorities resolved to oppose the legislation. That resolution encompassed members of diverse parties and I remind Members opposite that those same local authority members vote for Senators to elect them to Seanad Éireann. RISE was not engaging in anything illegal, but rather engaged in the debate in a fair and competent manner, which it is entitled to do. In any debate one is entitled to hear opinions from allsides.
Criticism has been levelled at the Minister from many quarters to the effect that proper consultation and engagement with stakeholders did not happen. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and I have heard agencies involved in deer stalking express their concerns at the lack of engagement and the consequences of this Bill for their activities. Only very late in the debate, when the Minister was literally forced into amending the legislation, has he allowed deer stalking to continue. This is just an example of the lack of consultation to date on this legislation.
I admire much of the Green Party's ideology and principles as regards renewable energy, climate change and many other areas. However, I do not agree with the path it is pursuing as regards animal welfare. There are ways of regulating and monitoring in the event of genuine concerns about animal welfare, without affecting traditional rural and country pursuits. Indeed the Ward Union had a good monitoring and regulatory system in place in which both it and the State invested large amounts in resources to ensure stag hunting was a safe and proper practice. It is legitimate to say this is the thin end of the wedge if the Minister wants to ban that style of hunting. What is to stop the Minister from widening the debate further to introduce bans as regards fox hunting and other areas? That is a real concern.
The Ward Union has been around for more than 150 years and all these points have been made clear to the Minister. Many Government Deputies spoke in Dáil Éireann in a very passionate and emotive manner on how they are opposed to the legislation. Unfortunately, the Whip of Government reined in most of them, apart from one or two, but that is the way of politics.
Hunting, I remind the Minister, is the stuff of Irish legend and folklore. It is the stuff of Irish rural tradition. I mentioned the other day the stories of Cúchulainn as well as Fionn and the Fianna. The Minister might smile, but that is our legend and our heritage. That is where much of our basic human hunting instincts come from. I do not see any reason why, if they are properly regulated and monitored, those hunting practices should not continue. I include stag hunting by the Ward Union in that.
We have legitimate questions to ask as regards why the Government is prioritising legislation such as this in very difficult recessionary times. These are times of rising unemployment, with families in distress with mortgage repayments, redundancies, lack of supports in social welfare, and in care and respite packages. We have heard the outcry among the public as regards why so much time and effort is being dedicated by Government to ensure legislation such as this is being prioritised, when other areas such as the last item on the Seanad agenda tonight, on incentives for employment, are not being given the same priority, compass and muscle they deserve from Government. People cannot understand why this is the case.
The Green Party has a narrow focus, to which it is entitled, but also a very limited support base that is out of kilter with the party's strength in Government as regards legislation. It is getting enormous support from Fianna Fáil, very reluctantly I suggest, for such legislation. I want to put on the public record that there is real concern in rural Ireland that fox hunting, greyhound racing, coursing, shooting and fishing and indeed, horse racing will be the next targets for many of the lobby groups and people the Minister listens to. It seems to be Green Party policy too to oppose live animal exports. That is another area which farmers are very concerned about.
I should not be fulfilling my obligations as the representative of a rural constituency and carrying out my responsibilities if I neglected to highlight these genuine concerns to the Minister at times of legislation such as this. We shall be engaging next week on the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill, when it comes back from Dáil Éireann. Again, I want to put on the public record the fact that Fine Gael submitted very reasonable amendments to that legislation, concerned as it was about the impact it would have on the future of greyhound racing and hunting. It was an insult, and I do not say this lightly, that the Minister was not willing to accept any of those amendments, and yet he was willing to take them into Dáil Éireann in one form or other and accept them there. That is an insult to Senators and I ask the Minister not to carry on such a practice in future legislation. It is a slight on this House and it should not happen.
As an example of how the debate has widened, I draw the Minister's attention to a letter inThe Munster Express which is circulated in Waterford, around the whole area of firearms and guns. The Minister has mentioned that this legislation will put right some of the wrongs and slackness that has been introduced by Government with regard to firearms. Many legitimate users of firearms for hunting and shooting did not have correct firearm certificates for the past year which section 4 will rectify. It is a disgrace the Government introduced earlier legislation which exposed genuine and legitimate firearms-users in such a way.
I referred earlier to a letter published inThe Munster Express on 18 June 2010. While I will not give the writer’s name and the attendant publicity, it was from one of the anti-bloodsports brigade which has lobbied the Minister and has his ear. The letter stated:
While the tragic shooting in Cumbria is upsetting, the reality is that there are thousands of people in this country of the same ilk who carry out the same homicidal tendencies but instead of a human target direct their lethal firepower towards animals and birds.
It is not a great leap from aiming at a live animal to aiming at live human[s]. People who are violent towards animals rarely stop there. Constant exposure to animals and birds been abused destroys the viewer's moral barriers. Those who hunt and kill animals for recreation are a viable danger to society.
These are the crazy crackpots the Minister is listening to and about whom we in rural Ireland are genuinely concerned. Letters such as this, comparing legitimate firearms-users carrying out age-old traditional rural pursuits of hunting and shooting to insane criminals, display the twisted logic of those who claim they are anti-bloodsports. As an Oireachtas Member I will certainly be standing up against such twisted logic. Letter-writers such as this are the insane ones. I must caution my Fianna Fáil colleagues that these will be their bedfellows when they will vote for this legislation.
That is outrageous.
Fianna Fáil Members are chasing with the hare and hunting with the hounds.
That is outrageous.
Senator Dearey will get his chance to respond.
The Senator should try and be factual. He should be truthful.
The Minister had his chance and he should not interrupt me.
The Senator should take it up with the editor ofThe Munster Express.
If we continue with this type of legislation we will have a sterilised rural Ireland. That is the Green agenda. Letter-writers such as this toThe Munster Express are who the Greens support. We will be opposing this at all Stages.
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chuir roimh an Aire.
The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill has generated quite an amount of debate over the past several months. Initially, there was some fear about the legislation, which I understand as a countryman living in a town. Unfortunately, in this debate there has been much fanning of these flames of fear by some. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, has given reasonable and sincere assurances, however, to assuage these fears.
I received much correspondence from many sources, such as the RISE organisation and the reasonable people involved in rural pursuits, outlining their concerns about the legislation. I accept, however, the undertakings given by the Minister which he reiterated tonight.
The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2010 was published on 20 April. The ban on stag hunting with hounds has been introduced as an amendment to the existing Wildlife Act. The Government has decided this particular hunting practice should cease for animal welfare and public safety reasons. The Bill's purpose is to give legislative effect to the commitment of the renewed programme for Government to ban the practice of stag hunting with a pack of hounds. The Bill also provides for increases in penalties for breaches of various provisions of the Wildlife Acts.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has made it clear that this legislation will not have any implications for other country pursuits such as fox-hunting, hare coursing, deer stalking or angling. The Taoiseach also made it clear when he commented on some indications that the legislation represented a wider issue inThe Irish Times on 13 April 2010:
There isn't an issue between the coalition partners on the fact that there is a Bill, as you know, coming forward in relation to stag hunting, which in no way affects the wider issue of country pursuits generally. I'd like to make that clear.
The Bill provides for the repeal for section 26(1) of the Wildlife Act 1976 which enables the Minister to grant a licence to the master of a pack of stag hounds to hunt deer.
Section 3 provides for a new provision making it an offence to hunt deer using more than two dogs. This provision includes the hunting of deer by any holder of an appropriate hunting licence or permission granted under the Wildlife Acts. For the purpose of this section, deer includes deer which are not wild animals. It shall not make it an offence where the person has been granted permission under section 42 of Wildlife Acts to use dogs to drive deer off lands in which they are causing serious damage to tree plantations or crops, i.e. deer stalking.
The Minister referred to several incidents involving public safety and deer hunting. On one occasion, a deer found its way on to the R152 Kilmoon to Duleek Road and was hit by a Mercedes car. It had to be put down soon after. In November 2008, a pair of stags were released, one of which lay down on the Trim road for seven minutes while the other crossed the unopened M3. There was also an incident in which a pursued stag entered a schoolyard during a school break and in which children could have been seriously injured.
In the past several years urbanisation has increased in east Meath and north County Dublin, areas where stag hunters operate. Opponents of stag hunting argue that hunting domesticated animals is irreconcilable with animal welfare legislation and that satisfactory alternatives exist.
Some of the greatest conservationists are members of gun and angling clubs. Some species of wild bird would be extinct in this and other countries if it had not been for the actions of gun club members. I always remember gun club members in the Mullingar area rearing pheasants and releasing them into the wild to ensure stocks were maintained. Angling clubs did much work in protecting flies' habitats to enhance fish stocks.
The Minister earlier said:
Turning to general reaction to the proposed legislation, I reject the notion that this Bill is an attack on country pursuits or will lead to an urban-rural split. I will state here again that the passage of this legislation will not impact on other country practices. There are a great many people from the countryside and still living in the countryside who wish to see an end to carted stag hunting.
I want to see more people living in the countryside because its population is being denuded. I will be supporting the legislation and I am delighted by the assurances given by the Minister.
I wish to put on record that I would appreciate if Ministers took on board the views expressed by Members when they come to the House. While I welcome the tabling of amendments in the other House, and better late than never, this House should have been considered in the first instance given the Bill was initiated here.
I am glad of the opportunity to support the Minister, who has sometimes fought a rather lonely battle on this issue, but I believe it is a battle of principle. I acknowledge my own background. My mother loved the idea of the hunt. As a result of arthritis she was unable to hunt herself exactly, at least not foxes. However, she was a pretty good woman for hunting mice and rats in the back garden. I eat meat, fowl and fish. As long as they have a reasonably natural life and do not meet their end cruelly, that is fine by me. However, I deplore factory farming and the obscenity that has been revealed, especially in the United States, where the people engaged in this noxious practice are so ashamed of what goes on that they will not permit proper and impartial inspections. I am a meat eater but I also eat lettuce. I am quite entertained by some of the slogans that are fired around about sandals and lettuce and so on. I wish I had long hair but, alas, I can no longer sport it. These are the stereotypes bandied around.
With regard to crackpots and cranks and with due deference to my good friend on the Fine Gael benches, Senator Paudie Coffey, their existence in support of an idea or principle does not discredit either the principle or the idea. Otherwise, there would be no religions or political parties because there are crackpots everywhere and we must separate the crackpots, cranks, extremists and fanatics to one side and then look clearly at the issue.
On this point, I have been lobbied. I have seen the posters outside and I have spoken with those involved. Some of them expressed disappointment with my position and some of them are friends of mine. They behaved in a thoroughly gentlemanly fashion, to me at least, quite unlike the real crackpots, lunatics and fascists who belong to organisations such as Cóir. Although one or two of these sport family names such as Greene, they cannot bear to belong to the Green Party. That is where there is a real situation of a threat to freedom of speech. For example, last week the five spokespersons on health from the principal parties were violently assaulted and had a poster about AIDS, which they were trying to publicise on behalf of all the parties in this House, violently taken, ripped up and thrown back at them. I have not met such behaviour from the hunting fraternity.
I understand a certain sadness when a tradition apparently comes to an end such as the Ward Union Hunt, which is a very famous hunt. However, having listened to them, it seems they could achieve their objective just as well with a drag hunt. They maintain the release of the stag is not actually seen by the hounds and that there is no physical contact with the hounds. If this is the case, if they do not see it, smell it or otherwise observe it, what is the point of frightening the poor thing to death? The stag must be frightened.
I have the greatest respect for Senator Hannigan, who sits in front of me and who represents the Labour Party. However, he astonished me when I heard him say on the radio recently that they might be "a little tired". He has shown a remarkable gift for litotes or understatement for the sake of emphasis. They are a good deal more than "a little tired". Of course, there is a political dimension to this. There is a scent abroad, to use the hunting metaphor, of a possible election. People are doing Swiftian somersaults and other acrobatics to position themselves as well as they can for the next election. Some of them are trying to satisfy both sides simultaneously which is why there is a lot of negotiating here in the lobbies getting pairs for this, that and the other, such that they do not actually have to come out and make their position clear one way or the other. RTE made its position fairly clear on the news yesterday. I heard no less than three people speak, all on the same side. They were all against the Minister's position. It seemed to me even the interviewer appeared to have a certain favouring of that side but perhaps that was because he was emotionally overwhelmed by the fact the three people speaking were all committed against the Bill. This begs the question of where lay the balance in the debate.
I understand this Bill is narrow and the Minister has said as much. There has been some squawking about why we do not address the real economic issues. Why do those people who squawk not take part in the major economic debates that take place here sometimes? There was a notable absence here during the debate that has just concluded on employment. Those of us who spoke were rather disappointed that those who were concerned that we were wasting too much time on animals did not see fit to waste some time on this economic debate.
It is not a very wide-ranging Bill although I wish it were. However, it is important to address the principle. There is some case to be made for fox hunting and I will explain why. There are occasions when the fox population reaches maximum density and, therefore, a cull becomes necessary. This is always practised, no matter where. There are various methods of killing foxes. One can shoot them but the problem is due to the biology of the fox and a difficulty with the composition of its blood, it is an extremely painful death. Another alternative is gassing them, a pretty nasty way to go. If one runs a hunt, first, the fox has a chance to escape and second, it operates on the Darwinian principle of the survival of the fittest. It means the weakest, stupidest or slowest of the foxes are taken out of the population pool. It is an open question.
I refer to the emotional association with the prints of Surtees and the stories not only of Somerville and Ross but also the late, wonderful Molly Keane. Even in her novels, there is an acknowledgement of the horrible cruelty of some aspects of hunting which should be removed such as cubbing, digging out and so on. I have an open mind with regard to fox hunting. However, stag hunting is wrong and dangerous but I wish the Bill was broader and I will explain why. I realise I will lose votes for this view. I will shed them, like the hairs I have already shed, all over the countryside by saying this: coursing is a nasty and inexcusable practice. Those people, including members of the clergy, who indulge in the practice should listen to the wise words, first printed in 1516, by St. Thomas More in hisUtopia written first in Latin but not translated for 50 years. Referring to hunting and hawking in his ideal State of Utopia, he stated:
Or what delight can there be and not rather displeasure in hearing the barking and howling of dogs and what greater pleasure is there to be felt when a dog follows a hare than when a dog follows a dog? For one thing is done is both, that is to say, running, if thou hast pleasure therein. But it is the hope of slaughter and the expectation of tearing in pieces the beast doth please thee. Thou shouldst rather be moved with pity to see a silly, innocent hare murdered of a dog, the weak of the stronger, the fearful of the fierce, the innocent of the cruel and unmerciful. Hunting is the basest part of butchery among the Utopians and yet this is now the exercise of most noblemen.
We are aware of course that reaching right up to our soon to be anticipated visitor, Queen Elizabeth, the royal family slaughtered thousands of birds and other animals very happily.
The greyhounds are muzzled.
I am glad to hear it but it is still fairly frightening. Although that is an improvement, they are sometimes killed. I will leave the rest of St. Thomas More, except that he suggests an alternative, which is burning frankincense, lighting candles and dressing up in scented robes, a wonderful alternative.
With regard to the Ward Union Hunt, we know it does not use wild animals. These are domestic animals. Few people would allow their own domestic animals to be hunted in this manner and there are examples of packs of stag hounds accidentally coming across such animals and hunting them to death. The accident that occurred where a frightened and terrified stag was being pursued by hounds and escaped by jumping over a wall into a school car park precipitated many complaints to the Joe Duffy show and, ultimately, this legislation.
Much is said about public opinion, the country versus town divide and so on. I listen to many programmes on the wireless and the balance seems to be in favour of the action the Government is taking. I am absolutely unconvinced that the overwhelming majority of people either in the country or in towns are in favour of continuing these practices and, particularly, the practice of hare coursing, which is cruel and unjustifiable.
I refer to a number of the more outrageous and wayward assertions made by Senator Coffey in his contribution where he invoked the ranting of the "crazies" as he described them and tried to pin them on the Minister as a philosophical backdrop to what the Bill is trying to achieve. It was utterly dishonest of him to try to do that. Just because the comments were reported inThe Munster Express does not in any way mean the legislation or any thinking within the Green Party regarding animal welfare is informed by such extremism.
That is the agenda.
Some might take the invocation of the traditions of Na Fianna as a justification for the continuance of the Ward Union stag hunt as a crazy argument. Na Fianna was a brotherhood that for initiation required the throwing of nine spears at an individual, according to legend. If injured, one did not qualify to join. I do not do down the myth or the legend but to drag that into a modern debate in a parliamentary democracy, of which the Senator is a proud member, is ridiculous.
Various other canards uttered over the past few days regarding this issue also need to be debunked. The first is that we should deal with more serious matters. This is routine legislation, which ought to have required a few hours debate, given its basis is in the agreed programme for Government between ourselves and Fianna Fáil. Any unintended consequences could have been flushed out in the debate. The fact it has dragged on and dominated the airwaves has nothing to do with the legislation or the programme for Government but it has everything to do with lobby groups, predominantly RISE, which have been readily joined by Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin. That combination has led to this becoming the dominant issue. We should have moved in public discourse days ago on this issue but instead the debate has been stoked by untruths and wild exaggeration and it is time to finish it. It is curious that Members want it both ways.
The second canard is this is the thin end of the wedge, which is dangerous. RISE and others have attempted to drive a wedge between urban and rural dwellers and between conservationists and bird watchers and hunters who get on with each other on the ground. Conservationists, bird watchers and so on recognise the important role played by the fishing and hunting communities. Their members walk the rivers and so on and they witness pollution, illegal dumping and coastal erosion, which they report to heritage officers and local authorities. As a Green Party councillor in County Louth, I received as many calls from members of those communities as I did from members of BirdWatch Ireland because they knew we shared a common interest, which is the preservation of the countryside. Their involvement is different from mine, as hunting is not my interest, but we have common cause regarding a healthy countryside that sustains wildlife and the attempt to portray the supporters and proponents of the legislation as being at one end or another of a crazy gang is disingenuous and dishonest.
With regard to the banning of other rural pursuits, the programme for Government lists three items in the animal welfare section. Nothing else can or will happen in the lifetime of the Government in the context of the changes the people who oppose the Bill say will happen. This is scaremongering, which I resent. I also resent the wild exaggerations about the removal of guide dogs, which was the most offensive comment by a leading member of RISE. I took exception to that comment, which does nobody any good. It was an attempt to prolong and politicise the debate and to score some class of a political victory. It has not, and will not, work.
On the issue of animal welfare, I refer to an extract from a report on the BBC website by a journalist who observed the County Down stag hunt in 2005. I am removing the issue from this jurisdiction to take the heat out of it. It is a factual account by a relatively disinterested party. As a BBC journalist, we must take it he is reputable. He describes the hunt on a frosty day near the Dromara hills in County Down, stating:
If it is to escape the hounds, it must use this early speed to give the dogs the slip. And indeed its early speed is too much for the pack.
Head raised like a steeplechaser, it clears a tall hedge cleanly. The deer gallops across a grass field, opening up a gap with the chasing pack.
But the advantage proves short lived.
Ten minutes later and the stag is already flagging.
The pack is running it down and once again the deer tries to out-jump the dogs, clearing [this time] a fence into a garden.
But the pack pours over and through the wire as it continues its pursuit.
Now there is the bizarre sight of stag and following pack running across a lawn, within. . . yards of someone's front door.
Back into open fields now and the stag's early speed has gone. The hounds arerelentless . . .
Exhaustion of the quarry is their primary hunting strategy.
Surrounded, the deer forces itself through a narrow gap in the thorns [on to a road].
The spectacle draws crowds of onlookers — the narrow roads are jammed as people vie for the best view.
The stag was not injured but was brought back exhausted. There is an animal welfare issue, which we are addressing in this legislation. I am happy and proud to be involved with a party that is championing this issue. I do not want it segued into a variety of fanciful fears that have been stoked up around the country and that serve nobody any good. Let us deal with the truth. I commend the Bill.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to debate the legislation. I welcome the Minister of State. There has been much debate about the need for this legislation. The Ward Union Hunt has been around for more than 150 years. Over the past few decades, people have rightly asked whether the practices of the hunt were fair to animals. When my party was last in government, we examined this issue. Bloodsports are abhorrent to many of my colleagues and we sat down to find a way forward, which would ensure the continuance of this rural tradition and which would be fair to animal and human alike. Rather than unilaterally impose a fatwa on one group of people, we recognised that the best way to deal with this issue was by involving all the relevant stakeholders. We sought to strike a balance on the issue which, I agree, is difficult.
At the time, our Minister with responsibility for this issue was Deputy Michael D. Higgins. He sought to find a workable, sensible solution to the issue and he introduced a series of regulations, which meant the WUH had to seek a licence for its activities. The licences governed the operation of the hunt and included limits on the amount of time the animal would be let run, the amount of free-running time the animal would have and the checks in place to ensure the health and fitness of the animal. Most importantly, it took the kill out of the sport, in the process removing the blood sport element from this rural pastime.
Since then, the hunt has operated very well. Others will no doubt mention the various services the hunt performs. It has a benefit to the local economy in Meath of over €1 million every year. It provides a fallen animal service and ensures the continuance of the Irish red deer, a species that would otherwise be threatened with extinction. Of course, there have been some instances that have caused irritation to local dwellers, for example, stags being hit by cars and the like. I agree that is very worrying but the way to deal with these issues is through regulation, not an outright ban. I will use the analogy of a car accident. If we decide a crash has been caused by faulty brakes, we replace the brakes or we introduce regulations to specify a better braking mechanism. We do not ban driving.
The current Minister operated under the existing system until last year, when the revised programme for Government was introduced. At that time the senior partner in Government, Fianna Fáil, needed to get its bank bailout, the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, through the Houses so it agreed to give the Green Party trophy legislation, a ban on the Ward Union Hunt. Let us recall those days of last autumn for a moment. At that stage there were worries that the Government was about to implode. There were concerns that the Lisbon treaty referendum would not pass, that the budget would not get through or that NAMA would be voted down. This triple whammy of legislation worried Fianna Fáil so much that it decided to pay any price to keep the Green Party on board.
Does that cover your embarrassment, Senator?
Of course, the Green Party of late 2009 is very different from the Green Party of early 2007. Many people who canvassed for the Green Party, who were members of the Green Party, are long gone since the party leaders joined Fianna Fáil in Government. Many now say quite openly that the rank and file membership contains a disproportionate number of the type of people mentioned by my colleague, Senator Coffey. It is shocking that such a small, unrepresentative minority of our country can have such a grossly disproportionate impact on the laws of the land. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, has given them trophy legislation to keep them on board and to keep his political career in intensive care for another few months. This is no way to run a country.
That is undemocratic in the extreme, Senator Prendergast.
The proper way to manage the Ward Union Hunt is through regulation.
Please, no interruptions. Senator Prendergast without interruption.
She does not understand the nature of democracy when she says such things.
If legislation is considered necessary, the Minister should legislate around the existing regulations, and do it in conjunction with the stakeholders because he cannot dictate to them. I heard him say on the radio last week that his officials have been talking to the stakeholders. That is not good enough. He must talk to them directly. Perhaps then he would understand their concerns, learn about the fallen animal service they provide and understand that without the Ward Union Hunt there would be no obvious way to ensure the continued existence of the Irish red deer. He might also learn something about deer stalking and about how his legislation fails to take account of the justified concerns of dog owners, deer stalkers and the like.
This is rushed legislation. It contains many errors. It has not followed best practice of involving key stakeholders. It is the use of a hammer to crack a nut, and it is deeply concerning to rural Ireland. On balance, it does nothing to improve the welfare of Irish red deer. For those reasons, we will oppose this Bill.
Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,
Any legislation has a context and, of course, a subtext. Much of the debate we have heard surrounding this modest legislation, comprising five paragraphs, has been vastly over-blown. I recall my early days as an elected public representative in Cork city, where the novelty of having a Green Party representative was felt not only in the city area but in the immediate surrounding area, from which I received many representations seeking a response to incidents of pollution and the like, which had not been responded to adequately by other political parties or their representatives.
One such representation was from a gun club in Watergrasshill in Cork. It was one of the more surreal experiences of my life as I walked around the grounds of the gun club. It was a woodlands that was located near a river and a meat processing plant. The club's difficulty was that the hunting grounds were being contaminated by pollution from the meat processing plant. I responded to this and the incidence of pollution was ameliorated, with the meat processing plant subsequently paying a fine. I wonder how that would play out as a rural-urban debate in modern Ireland. A hunting club had asked that a pollution incident be resolved. It involved a meat processing plant, which has an economic relationship with the farming community. Who would be right or wrong in such situations? The idea that there is a black and white vision of Ireland, and a black and white vision of rural Ireland, is one of the biggest myths to emerge from this debate.
It saddens me. In its 80 years of statehood this country has changed from being 80% rural to 80% urban.
Yet, regardless of where one lives in this country, there is a rural link in the folk memory or within the generations of each family. My father was an islander. Not only was he rural in that sense, his family and community were cut off from the wider world by a body of water. The idea that somebody can have a monopoly on the concept of rural values and life is offensive.
In addition, rural life has changed in Ireland because of what we have created through the unco-ordinated planning policies of the last 40 years. Ireland has an urban, suburban, mini-urban and rural context. What is now defined as a rural community is not a mass of people who have a single-minded view of the life they lead or the communities in which they live. Whether that is a good or bad development must be addressed in a wider debate but one of my better experiences in my employment life was when I worked as a community development officer for Muintir na Tíre, a body founded by Canon John Hayes in the 1930s in Tipperary. My area took in east and north Cork, one of the biggest geographical areas in the country. I learned much from that particular experience, including the difference between community involvement in an urban and a rural context. As a volunteer I had experience of organising public meetings in a city and if 30 people turned up in a community of 5,000, one was delighted with oneself. Working for an organisation like Muintir na Tíre I found that if 30 people turned up in a community of 600, people would ask what was wrong and the reason people were not attending and interacting with each other.
The idea that there is another Ireland that is not understood or that should be fossilised somehow is something this debate, in a positive sense, is helping to crystalise. Many myths, untruths and half truths have been uttered in the name of defending something that in the 21st century is beyond defending. It cheapens the idea of rural life.
I wish those who are participating in this debate would think of a context 20, 30 or 40 years from now when they are trying to explain to their grandchildren the reason they put up such impediments and made such strong arguments about minor legislation that needed to be changed.
In terms of the legal context, the existing legislation gave the right to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to issue licences to hunts involving carted deer but it did not give the Minister the right not to issue the licence. What is the point of having legislative power if it is not also a power to say something should not be issued? The concept is as simple as that. It is the House putting trust in the Minister of the day to decide whether this particular activity can be continued and condoned in modern Ireland.
In its activities in the past four to five years the Ward Union Hunt has given ample reason such licences should not be issued. I refer to the incidents in the school yard. Anyone who listened to the RTE "Liveline" programme the other day——
Yes, "Liveline", and I will quote from it although it is far from my favourite radio programme——
That is what we have come to now.
——because it usually represents the type of demagoguery we have heard in this debate and the lies and half truths about which I have already spoken. However, if the Senator listened to the parents of the children who were affected by the visit of the unwanted stag that day, which was pursued by hounds, he will understand that this is a public safety issue. If we consider the stag killed recently having run into traffic in what is increasingly becoming a built up area, the Senator will understand there is a public safety context to this issue. That is before we get to any philosophical argument about blood sports and the concept of animal against animal.
Would I like other legislation to be introduced? Yes, I would. Do I believe it will be introduced? Increasingly, probably not. Getting this type of agreement in a programme for Government has been difficult enough and listening to the performance of both main Opposition parties tells me that further progress in this area is nigh on impossible.
I hear the canards about the reason we are debating an issue like this instead of adoption or some health related issue, and we are told about the great economic problems we face as a country, but in a preceding debate in this House members of the Labour Party did not even turn up to participate in or vote on a debate on an economic issue.
I heard the ráiméis from Senator Phil Prendergast earlier. I challenge her to make the same speech at a Labour Party convention when next that party meets nationally and to have it televised. I challenge her to have the question asked of every Labour Party member in the country and see whether the game they are playing is one they are prepared to play for generations to come for cheap political point-scoring and capital on a Bill that has been magnified out of all proportion which seeks to change something the majority of people believe should have been changed a long time ago.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy White. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I want to take up a number of points made by Senator Boyle, who always manages to bring out the worst in me. I am not sure I agree with his analysis that the vast majority of people want stag hunting to be banned. There may have been some opinion polling on that question but there has not been a declaration by the public that stag hunting should be banned. I am not aware that a plebiscite was ever put——
The poll in the newspaper last week indicated a different view.
People responding to a newspaper poll say a lot of things.
We could make that argument too but——
A newspaper poll last week indicated that 2% of them would vote for the Green Party.
Senator Phelan believes that aspect of the poll but he does not believe the other aspect.
I did not say it. I am just saying that was what was in the newspaper.
The Senator either believes polls or he does not.
The Senator, without interruption.
A poll is a poll. It has got nothing to do with what the general public might do if they were asked a direct question on a specific issue and asked to vote on it. That is the point I am trying to make. Senator Boyle should be a little less defensive. I do not disagree with everything the Senator said; I just disagree with most of it.
There has been an abject failure in this discussion on the part of the Government to consult with people who are concerned about this issue. I understand that people from throughout the State are entitled to have views on every issue and I am delighted that Senator Boyle's father is from an island, but I live in a rural area in south Kilkenny. I am a rural person. Senator Boyle lives in a city. He is a city person. That does not mean that Senator Boyle should not comment on rural issues or that I should not comment on urban issues. We are all free to express our opinions on those issues, and I have not heard anything from the people opposed to this legislation to the effect that people should not be allowed express their opinion. However, there is a very vocal group of people in the animal rights movement in this country who have dangerous ideas about the future of farming in particular, and they are driving Government policy in this area.
I believe it is true.
Does the Senator really believe it is true?
No, he does not.
The Senator spoke about lobbying. There has been extensive lobbying for and against this issue but most of it has been regular lobbying. Compared to some of the lobbying that went on outside the gates today and yesterday on this issue, the lobbying I saw was very reasonable.
It is my responsibility to represent the views of the people in my part of Ireland, and I have no doubt the majority of people who live in Kilkenny do not see this as a significant legislative advance, and would like to see other issues debated in the Seanad and in the Dáil.
There is a central error in many of the animal rights arguments one sees taking place outside this House. I believe many of the people involved in those movements would prefer to see more rights given to animals than human beings. I have read some of the comments posted by people on websites, some of whom are involved with the Green Party but some of whom are not. I have seen comments on the Internet by people who are opposed to beekeeping because it is cruel to bees.
Does the Deputy's party members not wear shirts of the same colour to identify themselves?
They are opposed to dairy farming. One of the leading activists who attended the Green Party conference in Waterford — I think she is a member of the national executive but I am not certain of that; she is certainly a member of the party — opposes dairy farming because it is cruel to the babies, meaning the calves.
I have never met such a person on my national executive.
That person's comments exist on a website——
Senator Phelan should put up or shut up on that one.
That person's comments exist on the Internet.
There are people in the Senator's party who seem to organise militarily——
They are on a blog that was printed by——
How about that? The Senator's party——
Her name is attached to it.
Senator Boyle, Senator Phelan has the same amount of time as you.
Senator Boyle should not be so defensive. This exists. The Senator can look it up. Her name is Bernie Wright. Senator Boyle should look it up and read some of the comments she made over many years.
Senator Phelan, you cannot name people here.
Senator Dearey asked me to put up or shut up.
She has never been a member of our national executive.
I said I was not sure whether she was a member.
The Senator thought he would put it out there anyway, even though he was not sure.
I ask Senator Boyle to please allow Senator Phelan to continue without interruption, as he only has three minutes left.
I have a right to speak, despite what some Members opposite seem to think. I agree with Senators Boyle and Dearey that, in the overall scheme of things, this issue is very minor. However, the Bill was not presented by the Opposition but by the Government. We did not make it into something big. We have been lobbied extensively from both sides and our in-boxes are clogged with e-mails on the issue which is obviously one that is close to the hearts of people on both sides of the argument. However, the notion that the Opposition is responsible for bringing the Bill before the House is just ridiculous.
I listened to the debate in the Dáil yesterday. Deputy Tuffy spoke about the culling of deer at certain times of the year — something of which I was not aware — and the potential damage this inflicted on young deer. The Minister of State might be able to outline what, if anything, will be done about culls. Senator O'Toole made one of the best speeches that I have heard on the issue. He lived in north Dublin for over 30 years and said that, to his knowledge, two deer had been killed during Ward Union stag hunts — it might have been more but he remembered two instances only. One was killed by a car, while the other was shot when it went into a farmer's yard. Far more deer are killed on the roads throughout the year, whether it be in the Phoenix Park or certain other parts of the country, than by the Ward Union Hunt or any other hunt.
I am sorry to say but I subscribe to the view that this legislation is the thin end of the wedge. I have never hunted or got on a horse to follow anything in my life. I have never fished or fired a gun, but I absolutely believe in people's right to hunt.
Will the Senator introduce it when he is in government? Is that the thin end of the wedge?
Senator Dearey has mentioned the attempt made by the RISE! campaign to drive a wedge between urban and rural people. In many cases the people involved in that campaign are from urban areas. Many people in towns and cities have dogs and hunt. I have met many such people in my constituency who believe in hunting and are hunters. Senator Boyle said that this was a myth and contradicted what Senator Dearey had said. The rights of human beings are superior to those of animals. I have read extensively from other sources on the Internet on the issue of speciesism. The day we enact legislation to give equal rights or equality to animals will be a very bad day.
Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom fáilte a thabhairt don Aire Stáit. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy White. It is a pity the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is not present, but I understand he will return to bring the debate to a conclusion.
This is a very contentious issue. I represent a constituency which is both urban and rural in character, that is, Louth-Meath East. Contrary to the perception held in parts of rural Ireland, this legislation will have no implications for other country pursuits such as fox hunting, hare hunting, hare coursing, deer stalking and fishing or for gun clubs. It is not the thin edge of the wedge, as Opposition speakers have claimed. It draws a line in the sand that no other country pursuits will be targeted. That is the view of many Members on the Government side of the House.
I also listened intently to the contributions made in the Dáil last week. Many speakers from north Dublin and County Meath constituencies spoke very passionately on the issue. I ask the Minister of State to comment on the animal welfare and public safety reasons this legislation has been introduced and reiterate the point made that no other country pursuits will be tackled in legislation in the future.
This legislation deals with a specific hunt in one part of the country. It is true the Minister will not be popular in rural Ireland for introducing legislation which is feared. Fear is a dangerous emotion in politics and it is dangerous to hear talk of governments collapsing. However, as Senator Dearey said, in the grand scheme of things, this is not a critically important measure. Therefore, the Government needs to be united. We must get the economy back on a stable footing and put in place the foundations to avoid future collapses.
I spoke this morning on my local radio station, LMFM, about the stance adopted by many other groups. The Labour Party's U-turn, a complete 180 degree turn on the issue, is truly extraordinary. I listened to Deputy Broughan speak on "Morning Ireland". He absented himself from the vote in the Dáil last night. I am horrified that Deputy Gilmore, the wannabe alternative Taoiseach, who actually submitted a parliamentary question to the Minister on 26 September calling for, in effect, a ban on stag hunting, last night voted for its retention. He could be called "U-turn Gilmore". He needs to show credibility and some backbone if he wants to put himself forward to the people as an alternative Taoiseach. If he stood for something two years' ago and now stands for something the complete opposite, one has to ask if he is for real.
I refer to the statements made by Deputies Broughan, Costello, McManus, Higgins, Jan O'Sullivan, Rabbitte, Quinn and Stagg opposing stag hunting. When Deputy Stagg was last in government, he said it was imperative that the Irish Council Against Blood Sports continued its campaign, yet the flip-floppers who make up the Labour Party in 2010 now say they see nothing wrong with stag hunting. They chickened out in voting on the legislation last night, just like they chickened out in voting on other legislation. They said they wanted to smash gangs, but they did not vote in favour of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009. I also refer to the stance of the Labour Party on education, transport and the new €1 billion jobs fund. It cannot tell us how this fund would operate and how it would be implemented. It seems it is prepared to abandon long held policies for short-term gain. The media and other public representatives should shine a spotlight on it. I regret that there is no Labour Party Senator present in the Chamber because I would like to hear the party's response.
I accept that it is in the nature of coalition Governments that sacrifices have to be made. Fianna Fáil is making this sacrifice for the Green Party, but I know the Green Party has also made sacrifices on other issues. That is the nature of coalition Governments, there is give and take on both sides. Neither side can take the other for granted. There is a perception that some were not fully listened to or that their views were not taken into account. This needs to be heeded because it is very important that the Government continues for the next two years. We all want it to continue and to achieve its aims as a mature, robust coalition Government.
This legislation is a line in the sand that hunting, fishing and gun clubs will not be attacked by the Government. The Government focus is on the great issues of the day. In the budget in December it will aim to take €3 billion out of the economy. That will be a tough challenge because, as someone described it earlier, we are not dealing with as fat a cow as we were 12 months ago.
Or a deer.
Dealing with that will be a major issue that will lead to many contentious matters. Deputy Mattie McGrath voted against this Bill but we were presented with the toughest budget in history last December and Members voted for it. We must keep our focus and keep our mind on where we are going as a community and, above all, as a society. This Government has not made enough of the virtue of taking grossly unpopular decisions for the good of the country. We could play the game the Opposition played when in government in the early 1980s and mid-1980s of avoiding and continually deferring tough decisions. This would not be of service to the country, whether we are here for two years or five years. For Members on the Government side, it is imperative to take the tough decisions because it is the right thing to do for the country. That is why I support this Bill.
I am delighted to speak on this issue although it is an embarrassment that we are dealing with it and that this issue divides the country and political classes in two. There are more important things to be done. There are always issues to be dealt with but I wish I saw the same depth of feeling, concern and involvement in other issues. I do not have a problem with parties doing a U-turn. My biggest problem with politics is that people cannot change their minds often enough. I do not know whether the Labour Party is right or wrong.
What about consulting its members?
Senator Boyle should not get me wrong, I have no problem with a Government party making political capital out of this. From an intellectual point of view, it is not necessarily a bad thing if people change their minds.
They collectively changed their minds.
I note the Government side is making a great sacrifice of supporting the non-sacrificial nature of stag hunting. I have held my view consistently on the matter, that stag hunting, fox hunting or harriers should be dealt with at a subsidiary level. We should pass legislation enabling decisions at local level by local authorities. Decisions should be taken by local authorities and landowners.
I have lived on the border of Meath and Dublin for the past 40 years. Senator John Paul Phelan referred to what I have seen over the past 40 years. Nobody will hunt on my paltry three acres. I would not allow them on my land but if the guy next door wants to allow them it is not my concern. I have gone through different phases in the argument. Recently, I was looking at eight pheasants behind my house and if someone had come to shoot the pheasants, I would have throttled the person. However, there was a time when I shot pheasant and I still eat pheasant so there is a complete contradiction in my position. The arguments for and against hunting are imperfect. One can demolish arguments on both sides. The arguments are imperfect in many ways. What concerns me is that there is an element of the urban view of the world imposing itself on rural society. I do not believe that to be the position of the Green Party. I have great time for Green Party policies and politics. I disagree with them on this issue but I do not think they buy into that view. They are taking their position from a considered viewpoint of the world and they are entitled to do so. I do not attempt to demolish the reasons for coming to their position, which is not unworthy. However, it reflects a view, although not necessarily a Green Party view, that the centre of Dublin can make decisions for the centre of County Dublin. This does not wash with me.
I have lived in the middle of this for 40 years. I have never followed the hunt or hunted on horseback in my life. I am always uncomfortable taking a populist view. The populist view among those who vote for me would be to support this Bill.
I do not honestly believe cruelty is involved in stag hunting. The stag does not get caught by the Ward Union Hunt. We are talking about a young, healthy stag with a half hour start followed by 20 stone men on small horses. If there is an element of cruelty involved, I suggest that the Green Party looks at the horses involved. If one was to examine the number of horses that have had to be put down in a hunt over the number of years, it would amount to dozens.
I presumed Senator O'Toole was arguing against the Bill.
I must continue the argument. Senator Boyle will not like any of this. He should relax, calm down and listen to my argument. If it was an issue of cruelty, we would examine the horses rather than the stag. This is the case, no matter what statistics are examined. That is not the case so we will consider the stag.
The other aspect of this that bothers me is the doctrine of attractivism. Stags are beautiful animals, deer are gorgeous, Bambi on wheels, lovely antlers and we can hug it, run after it and admire it. However, no one cares about rats or mice or other animals like that. Nobody cares that we are still selling rat traps. Rats spend all night dying with a leg stuck in a trap.
Come on, that is the bottom of the barrel.
I knew Senator Boyle would not like the argument. Should we ban rat traps?
That will be in the next wildlife Bill.
People are still selling rat and mouse traps and we should examine this. People are culling deer. That is part of what we are. I have been living in Dublin for over 40 years and I lived near the Phoenix Park for a good number of years in the early part of my life. The deer there are culled in all sorts of ways and I do not see the difference. My colleague, Senator Norris, is opposed to stag hunting but in favour of fox hunting. That is an intellectual position that I fail to accommodate.
What about drag hunting?
Over the same ground the Ward Union Hunt chases a stag it never catches, the Fingal Harriers chase hares they regularly catch. We differentiate between the gorgeous little red squirrel and the horrible grey squirrel. This is a case of attractivism. Nobody cares about crows, everybody cares about robins and other animals we need to protect.
There is an issue to be examined but the game is not worth the candle. We should not pass this Bill. All it will do in my area is create unemployment and more difficulty in respect of knackery services and get rid of people but it will not save the life of one stag. People will find the following aspect contradictory but it is part of the imperfection of the argument. In my experience of game associations, those who go out hunting and shooting tend to be the most caring towards the environment.
More pheasants, woodcocks and grouse are released in north Dublin every year by game associations than are shot. I was paying particular attention when this debate began during the last shooting season. The season begins, as Members will be aware, on 1 November and continues until 31 January. Normally, one hears quite a number of shots on 1 November. However, the weather was particularly bad on 1 November last year and consequently, I did not hear anyone out shooting. I heard a few shots that weekend and while I believe I heard a few shots during Christmas week, I heard very few thereafter.
I cannot argue with the position the Minister of State has put forward in the sense that I acknowledge, respect and support her right to hold that position. However, my experience leads me to believe this is a bad decision to which there are no upsides, except for a perception to the effect that this is doing the right thing for certain people. Nevertheless, there are no winners from this legislation. It gains nothing for the countryside and does not protect it in any way but will remove from active involvement with the environment people who care about wildlife and put more into it then they take out of it.
I do not understand the reason the Bill refers to wildlife if the deer in question are stall-fed in the first place. Moreover, I do not know how this will be implemented. If 30 people decide on the same day to go out hunting separately with a dog each and happen to meet in a field along the way, there will be great fun in the High Court if someone must decide whether that is in breach of this legislation.
This has been done in Northern Ireland.
I think they should do that. They should do a Daniel O'Connell on it, if I may take a County Kerry view on this issue, and test every piece of this legislation. I do not believe it will stand such a test.
I wish to share time with Senator O'Reilly, with three and a half minutes each.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I have a few points to make. I was greatly taken by Senator O'Toole's speech because he has put his finger on many key points in this regard. This is a pathetic excuse for a Bill because there was no need for a Bill of this nature. This undoubtedly is a Bill directed against rural activities, not because of its intrinsic contents but because of where it can lead. I reiterate that the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill is directed against rural activities. Moreover, the Green Party has gone for it and has fallen for a Fianna Fáil trick in this regard, because ultimately this is a political issue. This is a political ploy to give the Green Party political impact.
Does the Senator suggests that Fianna Fáil asked the Green Party to put forward the Bill?
The renewed programme for Government that was agreed in October 2009 includes a commitment to end deer hunting by stag hounds. However, it appears from the renewed programme for Government that this goal originally was envisaged to be part of the forthcoming animal health and welfare Bill. However, the proposal to prohibit stag hunting now has been introduced as the stand-alone Bill that is before Members. Moreover, further amendments are due to be published later this year and consequently, in response to Senator Carroll's remarks, I do not believe for a minute that this constitutes a line in the sand. He should not fool himself because Senator Boyle has let Members know that the Green Party is not finished yet.
Surely that is for the next Government to decide.
I thought the Senator wanted to be part of that.
Perhaps we will be in government with Fine Gael.
Sorry Senators, I will not allow interruptions.
The Government keeps asking the reason this Bill is so important. The Government has made it important.
No, the Senator's party has made it important.
The Government is steering through this legislation. Fine Gael is defending rural activities and rural Ireland. I heard Senator Boyle state that Ireland was 80% urban. I really question that assertion. First, his statistic is wrong.
That statistic comes from the Central Statistics Office.
No interruptions please.
Second, does he suggest that rural Ireland is not important? Might I remind the Senator that he comes from one of the greatest point-to-point and horse breeding areas in the country and he should think about that. The entire role of Members as public representatives is to serve the public well. Ultimately, Fianna Fáil is responsible for this Bill. This is because both the Bill under discussion and the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill that will be taken next week both emerged from the programme for Government.
It is a cynical sop.
It is a cynical sop to the Green Party Members, who now are political fodder for Fianna Fáil, once again.
I did not see Senator O'Reilly's hands move there.
The Senator should stop interrupting.
The Fine Gael Members should stop interrupting too.
Of this there is no doubt but the Green Party Members must wait to see this. I reiterate this is an attack on the freedom of country people to partake in rural pursuits that have been in existence for more than 100 years. Would the Green Party Members prefer us to be involved in the urban pursuits of boy racing or perhaps gangland crime?
What about cockfighting or badger baiting? They once were traditions.
Members should think of the young people who are productively engaged in such rural pursuits. In tandem with the comments made by Senator O'Toole, I refer to the benefits derived from learning about conservation, care of the environment and natural culling. This is the way of nature and the way of the world in a natural way. The Ward Union contends that hunting with hounds is part of Irish culture and that the proposed legislation will result in the loss of "a unique flagship sporting event". The prohibition also will undermine the capacity for many jockeys to develop their riding skills, for example. As I mentioned this morning, whips have been removed from Senator O'Donovan and Deputy Mattie McGrath. Next, it will be whips taken from our jockeys. This is the kind of ludicrous path the Government is taking and it is forgetting about the benefits of horse racing to Ireland and about its great tradition and reputation.
They have horse racing in England.
Yes, but guess where they come to buy their horses. They come here.
They have horse breeding in England too.
I will hand over to my colleague, Senator O'Reilly, but I remind Green Party Members that they are fodder for Fianna Fáil, which is using them on this issue.
At the outset I completely endorse the wise and sagacious remarks of my colleague, Senator Healy Eames.
The Senator put her up to it.
The Senator knew exactly what she was talking about.
The Senators will have their moments.
I suggest that the Members opposite take on board and seriously listen to the points made by Senator Healy Eames. They should be aware they are being given this pig in a poke, this supposed flagship legislation, at a time when getting this sop entails complicity in so many actions against the poor in a Government that is doing nothing about unemployment——
——and that is throwing €22 billion to Anglo Irish Bank. The price of Green Party support for this is an acquiescence in the most monstrous policies in the history of this State.
The Members opposite should reflect on Senator Healy Eames's cautionary comments to them in this regard.
I will revert to the issue by noting that I come from and represent rural Ireland. There is a way of life in rural Ireland that is part of what we are as a people and my submission is that it is as legitimate as any other way of life or subculture in this country. There are a number of integral parts of rural Ireland in which I passionately believe, value and will defend. Among those parts are the Gaelic Athletic Association as Gaelic football games are central to rural life. They were central to the childhood in which I grew up. Also central to my childhood was sport, by which I mean people going out to shoot in November, people going coursing or various forms of outdoor sport with beagles. Regardless of whether one likes it, the Ward Union Hunt is an integral part of rural society and rural life. The deer is not at risk in the physical sense. It should be noted that if the hunt is got rid of, there is a risk it will lead to the loss of a herd of pure-bred Irish deer. These unique red deer may become extinct by virtue of the departure of the hunt.
That is nonsense.
No, this is the case because they form part of the hunt's assets. If the Senator wishes, I will read out the brief on this subject.
That is ridiculous.
The Senator will have his chance in a moment.
Allow Senator O'Reilly to continue.
Fine Gael considers this to be the thin end of the wedge.
Fine Gael believes this is because if one accepts the inherent logic of this Bill, which I do not as I am in favour of the Ward Union Hunt and have no quibbles about that, by extension one moves on to coursing, shooting, fishing and angling.
It is an illogical position to stop at the Ward Union Hunt.
That is illogical.
It is not illogical. If one starts here one will have to continue logically down that road until one denudes rural Ireland of a way of life.
So one should not start because one cannot stop.
It will deprive the people of rural Ireland of their pastimes, hobbies and heritage that go back to the days of the Fianna——
What Government is introducing that legislation?
——and to ancient Rome. It is a disgrace that at a time when we have mass unemployment——
Tá an t-am istigh anois.
——and poverty that a political party would propose this type of legislation. It is an abomination.
I admire passion. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mary White, a member of the Green Party who comes from a lovely rural part of the country. I grew up in a rural area.
No. I grew up across the road from a GAA ground. Fine Gael is absolutely correct in what it says. The Green Party is very much using this as the thin end of the wedge. We will introduce all manner of fantastic legislation. We will ban the GAA, horse racing, motherhood and apple pie. I am being slightly facetious when I say that. The reality is that ridiculous nonsense is being spoken. The only conclusion I can come to on the message coming from Fine Gael is that the Green Party will be in Government for a long time to come because otherwise I do not know when we will introduce all that fanciful legislation. It is clear that the Fine Gael Party believes we will be in government with Fianna Fáil after the next election because it will not accept all that wonderful legislation itself.
Deputy Phil Hogan has made it clear that the Labour Party and Fine Gael will repeal the legislation come the next election. I do not understand why Fine Gael members are getting so animated. They seem to think it is acceptable to go against the vast majority of public opinion. It is extraordinary that we do not seem to take public opinion into consideration at all in the debate. We do not seem to focus on cruelty to animals. That is what we are talking about. We are talking about a deer whose antlers have been lopped off, who has been farmed, which is being chased around the countryside by not only a pack of hounds but by a pack of middle-aged men on horses. I do not know where the wonderful young people to whom Fine Gael referred are coming from.
I previously used the analogy of a rugby match where Brian O'Driscoll is playing against England and Wales at the same time. One man, the stag, up against the pack of hounds, let us say the white of England and the red coats of Wales, 30 men running around. The object of the exercise is to play the man and not the ball. I find that barbaric. It is outlandish. I accept animals cannot be confused with people but it is the most unfair and abusive pursuit I can imagine to hunt a deer that has been raised on a farm. It is incredible that people can justify that.
What I find most incredible of all in the debate is that a large number of public representatives have very much misrepresented public opinion. I listened to "Liveline" with Joe Duffy the other day. The callers were four to one against stag hunting. What I found incredible about the show is that those who were in favour of hunting were people from Dublin and those against it, almost to a person, were from rural areas. That is not coming across in the debate. People have been lobbied by an extremely expensive PR campaign being run by a recently formed group called RISE!. The debate is being determined by the Countryside Alliance. We are allowing that UK group to determine the agenda here. We need to debate the issue seriously, which has not been the case to date. The Green Party has brought the issue to the table seriously. We did not believe this would turn into the big circus that has ensued. It is sensible legislation.
Senator Bacik introduced sensible legislation on female genital mutilation, which the Green Party considered and on which we worked with her to try to find a solution to the problem. I commend her enormously on introducing that legislation.
I thank Senator Ó Brolcháin.
We must work together to come up with decent compromises. I am disappointed with the Labour Party which I consider is running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. I am sorry to say that but I am surprised at what has happened.
Oscar Wilde described hunting as the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible. There is a long history here of animal welfare and people who care about good animal husbandry. I have heard people refer in the debate to Cúchulain but when one uses phrases such as "Tally ho", that is nothing to do with Cúchulain; they are from a different tradition. The country where it is traditional to use such phrases has banned not only carted stag hunting but also fox hunting. No jobs have been lost in the parts of the United Kingdom where carted stag hunts have been closed down. Those hunts are thriving as drag hunts. Why can we not use common sense, grow up and come into the modern era? We are not living in the Stone Age. We are not barbarians. Can this country get out of its adolescence?
We made many mistakes in the Celtic tiger era. The Bailey brothers were to the fore in the Celtic tiger era. The Bailey brothers are to the fore again in this debate. The Fine Gael Party supports the Bailey brothers and their friends to whom the Bill applies. They are a bunch of very rich people who love to go from their nice comfortable houses and run around what is now suburban north Dublin in chase of a deer which has been raised on a farm and has had its antlers lopped off. Not only does the deer run into schools, it runs into people's back gardens. We have heard all about it. Some of the deer are unfortunately killed. We hear that no deer are killed. I have heard of a number of instances. There is a record of deer being killed, drowned and jumping on top of people's cars in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I find the debate incredible. I do not believe in cruelty to animals. Some of the people in this Chamber and in the other Chamber need to grow up.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mary White, to the House. I also welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It has become obligatory to say at the outset that one did not grow up in a city. I grew up in rural Cork where many people in the village followed the fox hunt on foot. I hope when I speak it is not perceived to be from a position of urban sentimentality or an attractivist-type of argument, as outlined by Senator O'Toole who suggested that some of those who support the ban are coming from that perspective.
This is not an urban-rural issue. Many people from rural backgrounds are very much against the idea of stag hunting. I am very much against it. Like Senator Ó Brolcháin, I believe we should not treat animals with cruelty. I am not a vegetarian. I accept that animals must be killed for all sorts of reasons but where necessary we should kill them in a humane manner that is not purely for sport without regard to the effect on animals, particularly domesticated or farmed animals. A strong issue of animal welfare arises but it goes beyond that. As a criminologist, I am conscious of a great deal of research on the treatment of animals as a measure of the way in which people treat other people. For example, children who carry out cruel practices on animals are more likely, in certain cases, to be cruel to humans later in life. How we treat animals and other humans is a measure of human decency.
Other issues are involved in any debate on hunting, be it fox hunting or stag hunting. There are class issues, which are perhaps more relevant in England than here where that has really been a dominant focus of debate. There are public safety issues, to which the Minister, in introducing the Bill in both Houses, referred. I have friends and colleagues from the Meath area who have had their lands trampled upon and their livestock scared by the Ward Union Hunt. I accept that is an issue but perhaps a lesser one. I do not like the tactics of RISE and find them scare-mongering. The organisation has whipped up a certain reaction to the Bill that is unwarranted and suggests it goes beyond its actual scope.
I have worked for some years with groups and individuals opposed to stag hunting. I have provided assistance for them and have a long record on this issue. For that reason, I cannot vote against the Bill. The arguments made against the ban suggest there is only one hunt involved. Perhaps that is all the more reason to be supportive in tackling the issue. There is a clear distinction to be made between the Ward Union Hunt and the much more widespread practice of fox hunting. The fox is a wild animal and very different issues are at stake.
I have read much of the background information on the legislation, including the report of veterinary inspector Kane in 1997. He described domesticated red deer as being completely unfit for a prolonged chase by hounds. He also described the handling of the stag as terrifying and stressful to the animal. He stated the stag became distressed and was exhausted towards the end of hunts and described various aspects of hunts as inhumane. At the same time, he pointed out in a balanced way that there was no intention to engage in cruelty and that most people involved in hunting did not have such a conception. He outlined fairly the issue of disturbance to farmers and others tended to be exaggerated. The report is fair. I accept that since 1997 some of the criticisms of the hunt have been addressed.
I am conscious that my good friend and colleague from the law school in Trinity College, Professor William Binchy, has taken a public stance on this issue. He stated recently the hunting of carted stags was a gratuitous act causing unnecessary suffering. He and a colleague have written on the interpretation of the Wildlife Acts and whether the deer is a wild animal. That issue is being addressed in the Bill. For these reasons, I will not be voting against the Bill. Having said that, I will not take lectures from the Green Party which is taking the moral high ground over the Labour Party on this matter because the Labour Party has a strong record on animal welfare.
The Senator should be consistent. Her party is behaving shamefully.
The Kane report of 1997 was produced on behalf of the then Minister, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, who introduced the licensing regime that controlled the Ward Union Hunt for many years and which the current Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, has been operating. The Green Party is the party which has been propping up Fianna Fáil for the past three years. Fianna Fáil is the party whose unholy alliance with builders, speculators and developers brought the country to its knees.
The Senator was doing so well. That is sad.
The Green Party needs to be asked about the political context of this legislation, which I find troubling. It was not included in the original programme for Government but the revised one. It is clear to one who examines the political context that the Bill, perhaps together with the one on dog breeding, represents the price we are paying for NAMA. It is the price of Green Party support for the NAMA legislation.
That is not true.
To anyone observing from the outside, it looks very much like Green Party Members signed up to NAMA on the promise of legislation on animal welfare.
Is the Senator going to back up NAMA?
We are discussing the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2010 and must listen to Senator Bacik.
The Labour Party is the only party which took a stance against the bank guarantee scheme.
The Senator was very wrong.
Order, please, Senator Boyle.
It has been proved that the wrong decision was introducing the unconditional guarantee of the dodgy transactions engaged in by persons such as Mr. Seán Fitzpatrick.
Such as the Bailey brothers.
Yes, the Bailey brothers.
I hope the Senator holds onto the Whip after this.
There are to be no interruptions.
If this Bill is the price to be paid for supporting NAMA, it is extremely high——
The Senator knows it is not.
——considering the billions of euro our children and their children will most likely have to pay for NAMA and propping up zombie banks such as Anglo Irish Bank.
All the NAMA money will be put back, as the Senator knows.
That is wishful thinking. One should think of the thousands who are unemployed, including the many thousands of young people who have just gone on the live register. People are in negative equity and having trouble paying mortgages and debts.
This is the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill.
For all those people in debt and affected by NAMA, this legislation will be regarded as a price that is too high.
There is a parallel to be drawn, perhaps flippantly, in that Fianna Fáil is like the Ward Union Hunt in this matter, while Green Party Members are like the domesticated deer, the farmed animals that have been very much brought along by Fianna Fáil. They have bought into economic policies that are deeply damaging and destructive to the economy and society.
I usually preface my remarks on Second Stage by saying I am glad I have an opportunity to speak on the legislation in question, but it is rather difficult to do so on this occasion because we have turned a fairly straightforward Bill into a complex and emotional argument. It is disappointing that it was initiated in the other House. Had the debate commenced in the Seanad, there would have been a much more positive, inclusive, non-partisan and unemotional debate. The Dog Breeding Establishments Bill which is to be returned to the House towards the end of the week and which is much more complex and has more anomalies is an example of how we should do business. It was debated fairly and calmly in this House and we were able to make our points without political point scoring. Sadly, the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill has been chopped to bits — excuse the pun — in the other House for political purposes and we are now left with the consequences.
I regret that I was not present for the Minister of State's initial contribution. It is important that he outline clearly, if he has not done so sufficiently strongly, that this is once-off legislation. It stems from the renewed programme for Government but is about one hunt and one issue. It must be clarified that it is not a generic, broad-spectrum attack on country pursuits. Many of my constituents are genuinely concerned and fearful that it could lead to an attack on sports such as coursing and even fishing. Every opportunity the Minister of State has to clarify the matter should be taken, as it would be helpful to the broader argument. The legislation has been passed in the other House and I presume the Government side in the Seanad has sufficient numbers to put it into law by a vote, thus making it legislation with which we must live. Members on all sides travelled down acul-de-sac in the debate, particularly in the other House, which was irrelevant and unhelpful.
I contrast the debate on the Bill with the debate today on animal welfare at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Members dealt with the issue of unwanted, undernourished and stray horses and were trying to put in place a regime of animal care and management to solve the problem. Whenever we approach the issue of animal welfare, be it from a hunting or cattle welfare perspective, we must try to do so as fairly and reasonably as we can.
The vast majority of representations I received on the Bill were not from people concerned about the Ward Union Hunt but from those concerned about other hunts across the country. I referred to fears regarding coursing, fishing and other country pursuits. Spending a significant amount of Oireachtas time on this legislation and the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill at a time when there are very many economic and social problems facing the country can lead to public cynicism and complaints. I appreciate that a matter included in the programme for Government must come before us for deliberation and that time must be allowed for it. I hope that once the Bill is passed and there is a final political adjudication on the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill, we will return to the issues most of our constituents hope we will spend most of our time discussing, including job creation, the health service and the broader state of the environment. I do not see this as a Green Party Bill. This is a Government proposal which is before us. There is no colour of any political party on it. It was agreed by the Government parties.
That is true.
There is no point in Government members trying to make a name for themselves by going solo at this stage. My understanding is that it was voted through the two parties of Government at their respective party conventions or conferences, and it is very much Government policy. We are debating Government, not Green Party, legislation. We must deal with that political reality.
While it is simply dealing with the Ward Union Hunt, it is important that the Minister and his Government colleagues, across both parties, re-confirm as strongly as possible that on the hunting of wildlife etc. the Government has no further plans to ban hunts or rural pursuits.
I also hope that by the time all of us finish for the summer recess common sense will have prevailed on the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009. In this House we made sensible and substantive amendments, which the Minister went down some part of the road to address. I hope he will travel the rest of the road in the other House during the coming few days.
My party has taken a view on this legislation, that it could be a precursor to more damaging attacks on rural Ireland and the rural way of life. That is the Fine Gael position. I hope the Minister will be able to persuade us that there are no such further plans.
I hope we will conclude this debate, in particular the Committee Stage, in a calm fashion in this House and do some degree of credit to Seanad Éireann. I heard some of the debate across the airwaves this morning from different parties on one side of the House. I thought quite pathetic and childish the level of shouting and roaring between Members who had lost the party whip in order to make a political point. That does not do anybody any good. It certainly does not do the body politic any good. There is plenty of space and time in both Houses for reasoned and calm political debate.
The position of Fine Gael is our overall concern about where this legislation may lead us will cause us on this occasion to oppose the Bill but we must try to deal with it in a rational and reasonable fashion.
I am voting against this legislation. I am not doing a U-turn because I have not taken a position on stag hunting previously.
Senator Ryan's party has.
Order now for Senator Ryan. Senator Boyle has spoken already.
I am making my statement here tonight. I have not taken a position on stag hunting previously. The Labour Party has not taken a collective position on stag hunting in the past three years since I have been a Member of this House. We have taken a collective position on this legislation and we are opposing it.
I am not voting against this Bill because I have been whipped into it. I happen not to agree with it. I believe the legislation and licensing arrangement that currently governs the area is quite adequate to deal with the animal welfare issues. Indeed, had the Labour Party taken a collective position which was in favour of this legislation I would have had to be whipped into supporting it.
The promoters of this legislation are putting a spin on it that those who oppose it are somehow in favour of cruelty to animals. I am not in favour of this legislation and I am not in favour of cruelty to animals, irrespective of whether Senator Ó Brolcháin nods his head or not.
I am not in favour of cruelty to animals. I do not accept there is cruelty to deer in what the Ward Union does. Personally, I have no interest whatsoever in hunting but, unlike other members of the House, I respect those who do.
The Bailey brothers.
Order now. Please allow Senator Ryan to develop his own points.
There are two good reasons I might want to support this Bill, that is, those two persons to whom Senator Boyle referred, but that is not my way.
I married into a farm family in County Dublin, in Oldtown, near Garristown. None of that family engaged in hunting. They loved and cared for their farm animals. They followed the hunt though on St. Stephen's Day every year in cars, as many people in the area did and still do. I have been visiting that farm family for well over 20 years and in all of that time I have never heard any tale after the hunt about a death or injury to the stag.
There is a licensing arrangement and there are 35 well set out conditions in three categories: general, animal welfare issues and control of the hunt. Are the animal welfare issues not being addressed adequately in the licensing arrangement?
Is there a power not to issue the licence?
Can the Minister tell us what the advice is? Has he been advised by his officials that there is a problem, that there are animal welfare issues and that this legislation is a response to that? I have not heard that.
This legislation is based on a narrow ideology. Why should that narrow ideology be imposed on so many people who do not agree with it?
The Minister, Deputy Gormley, stated he is not going after other hunting pastimes, but why not? Why leave it at stag hunting only? Why is the Green Party happy to demand an end to stag hunting and not go after the other hunting that goes on? There is no logic to that.
We will wait for the next Government for that.
There is no logic to that.
Maybe Labour will change its position.
Be clear on it. Be up-front and tell people what the Green Party wants.
Our policies are quite clear.
What we have agreement for is a different matter.
Senator Boyle, please.
I am not of a cruel disposition towards animals. In my view, neither are the people who engage in hunting.
Animal welfare is well catered for in the current licensing regime and it can be further tightened.
There is scope for further tightening of it. The Bill is not necessary and for that reason, I am not supporting it.
I listened with interest to the debate. Certainly, Senator Bradford must have a soothing effect on Members on the other side because he is the only one who they have not heckled during the debate. They are quite good at giving it but——
We take it too.
——obviously, they cannot take it.
Senator Bradford did not speak much nonsense like the other speakers.
Good, Senator Boyle is heckling already. I note it.
This Bill is another step by the Greens and, indeed, Fianna Fáil to undermine rural life and to erode the rights and entitlements of people living in rural areas.
The Green Party campaigns for an outright ban on all forms of hunting and traditional pursuits, and even opposes Dublin Zoo. I read this from the Green Party's website. Indeed, I read the Green Party's 2005 policy. The Green Party's welfare policy states the Green Party does not promote or support the live export of animals, campaigns for an end to intensive rearing of cattle, sheep and poultry, campaigns for an end to the use of wild animals in circuses, when in government the Green Party will introduce an end to blood sports with heavy penalties for organisations and participants, and the party does not promote or support traditional zoos in the longer-term and will continue to work towards a complete reformation.
Would Senator Cummins like to read out the rest of our policies? This is great.
The Green Party Senators tells us that we exaggerate their policies——
I do not disagree with any of that.
——that we are guilty of gross hyperbole.
It does not stop raising animals. It does not stop the live transport of animals. It does not stop zoos.
Senator Boyle continues to heckle because he does not even like to hear what is in his own party's policy.
They do not even like to hear what is in their own policies.
I am quite happy to hear it.
Senator Boyle states that this will not be a progression.
Who will introduce it?
Let the Fianna Fáil members listen to what is in the Green Party's policies.
Who will introduce it?
Order, please. No crossfire.
Let the Fianna Fáil members listen to what is in the Green Party's policy. That is what it is. If that does not advocate a progression into all types——
It is not in the programme for Government.
We know what the Green Party stands for, but——
But we do not know what Fine Gael stands for.
——what I cannot understand is how it managed to con and drag Fianna Fáil into a position in which it is viewed as assisting the Green Party in attacking rural life and rural pursuits. What evidence have I to suggest there is a sustained attack on rural life? One can no longer cut turf in rural areas.
It is a fact.
The Senator should come down to Connemara with me. He could see people cutting turf tomorrow.
People can no longer fish for eels because of a 90-year ban imposed by a Green Party Minister. It is the only 90-year ban in the whole of Europe. This is an attack on rural pursuits.
The Green Party wants no one to build houses in rural Ireland. It is trying to decimate communities and force people into cities and towns where they are unused to living and do not want to live. Now we have an attack——
We do not want them to grow higher than 5 ft. 5 in. either. What nonsense.
Keep it going. I can continue, but I can give it as well as I can take it.
Senator Cummins without interruption.
We now have an attack on hunting, in particular the Ward Union Hunt, which is licensed. No issue of welfare has been raised because of the detailed supervision of that hunt. I understand that two stags have been killed in the lifetime of the hunt.
Can the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, or anyone on the other side of the House tell us how many deer were killed in Killarney National Park last year?
Many more than that.
How many deer are killed in road accidents every year?
Is that a sport?
How many deer are killed in the Phoenix Park every year?
Does that justify cruelty?
Will the Green Party suggest we ban cars because so many deer are being killed? That is the type of ludicrous policy it would devise.
That is Senator Cummins' interpretation.
Many people have been badly injured because of collisions with deer,——
Cars kill people, too. What about those?
——yet legislation is before the House to ban the Ward Union Hunt. It makes no sense and only satisfies the needs of a party that commands 2% of public support. That is what we are doing——
Does the public support stag hunting?
——by introducing this Bill.
The public is against stag hunting.
The Bill satisfies the needs of 2%——
It satisfies the needs of 17% of the population.
What did that poll say about stag hunting?
Can we have Senator Cummins without interruption, please?
Lies, damned lies and statistics.
I might ask for extra time because of the injuries being sustained tonight and those that people are trying to inflict on me.
No cross-fire. Senator Cummins should continue.
When canvassing during the last general election, I encountered many people in rural Ireland who refused to vote for my party because they believed we might have gone into Government with the Green Party.
Was it not because of Fine Gael's leader?
It was Fianna Fáil's tactic to fan those flames. Ironically, Fianna Fáil ended up in bed with the Green Party, but look at the state the former is in as a result.
Did Senator Cummins defend us?
Those very same people in rural Ireland are still there, waiting in the high grass for Fianna Fáil. I assure the House that the Green Party will not go into rural Ireland. Its Members would get a proper reception, as should be the case.
Surely people in rural Ireland are nice.
They are waiting for Fianna Fáil at the next election due to its abandonment of rural Ireland.
The Senator has one minute remaining.
Is that all? What about all of the heckling?
Give him another minute.
He needs more rope to hang himself.
It is a great speech.
Fianna Fáil has sold out the people. They are certainly waiting in the high grass. Last week, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, mentioned on the news three times that the Dáil and the Seanad want to return to discussing jobs and the economy, but he is the Minister who introduced this legislation. He is preventing the Houses from dealing with the banks, jobs and the economy. What a hypocrite.
By advocating these policies, the Green Party is fanning the flames of division, not just within parties, but throughout society. I listened to Senator Ó Brolcháin discussing being in Government for some years to come. The Green Party has three councillors who could hold their meeting in a telephone box. After the next general election, a telephone box might be too good and too big for the party's Oireachtas representation. I could say more, but I shall restrain myself.
Is that the Senator restraining himself?
It is a disgrace that we are discussing stag hunting when the Government has dragged the country into an abyss.
Should we put the motion? We are quite happy to finish the debate.
I ask Senator Cummins to conclude.
Senator Dearey, discussing another subject, decried what Fianna Fáil and the previous Government did and stated that the Green Party was trying to bring the country back. Fianna Fáil will get the same message from the people when it goes at the next election.
I must ask the Senator to conclude.
When rural Ireland finds out what the Green Party is doing, 17% might be too much.
I will try to be calm. I was surprised when this matter appeared on the revised programme for Government, given the state of the national economy, not to mention the other ailments afflicting every Department. I am entirely pro-deer. I am a member of the Kerry Deer Society, which is a conservationist body. Our primary concern is protecting the gene pool and increasing the number of Kerry red deer, that native strain. We are delighted that numbers have increased significantly in latter years. Unfortunately, the number of Sika deer has also increased significantly and they now outnumber the native Kerry red greatly.
I am also a member of the Irish Deer Society and am familiar with colleagues in County Wicklow and throughout the North, most of whom are hunters. That is fine in its own way if it is properly licensed and controlled. However, as Senator Ryan and others have stated, no cruelty is intended in this instance. Only one hunt is involved. Senator Cummins mentioned how my part of the country loses a number of deer on the roads closest to me, including the Ring of Kerry and the primary Kenmare road. Sadly, deer jump on to them at night and get hit by cars.
We should stop that.
They want to ban cars. I knew that was coming next.
They kill people, too. Does the Senator not realise that?
We will look after the deer.
I knew it was coming next.
This occurs on other roads as well, including the Killorglin road. Deer enter my garden because I am fortunate enough to live on the edge of Killarney National Park on the Killorglin road.
Does Senator Coghlan hunt them?
Not at all. I told the House we were conservationists. We protect the herd and see that it increases in size and grows stronger. Thanks to a former Taoiseach, we have populated Inishvickillane with native red. We have also populated Letterfrack and Doneraile.
And the Ward Union.
We have reached the stage where, to avoid a serious cull, we need other areas in which to place the native red. This is important, as there could be a TB attack or so on. Protecting the strain against possible future attack by placing them in different locations would be a welcome idea.
I do not understand this issue, as cruelty is not intended. One deer ran into a school yard and another jumped out in front of a car. Those are two instances and perhaps there are a few others I am not aware of. What about it if there are? It is not intended, and I do not believe we should get over-excited about it. I am not a hunter and do not understand the kick people get out of it in the Ward Union. However, we are a "live and let live" society. We are respectful democrats, and it is licensed and controlled. I cannot, for the life of me, see the objection to that or any harm that it is doing. I am led to believe it projects a good, favourable image of us when visitors come from abroad. As I know from my part of the world, as do the Senators opposite from Cork, Galway and other places, we do not have enough British visitors. We do not have enough visitors from anywhere at the moment and that is unfortunately the way it is.
It would be frightfully sad if, as has been said, this was in any way a forerunner — I am not saying it is and I sincerely hope it is not——
Everyone else is saying it is.
The Senator knows I would take his word on that.
There is only one that the Senator did not take.
We must protect rural customs, traditions and pastimes. These country pursuits are worth protecting and we should not do anything that might be injurious or harmful to them. For all those reasons I am happy there is nothing untoward in this pastime. It is a pity given our traditions and history that we are now, through Government policy, directing a closure of one hunt. I find that hard to credit and that is basically my position.
I am glad to be in a position to respond to some of the Senators who have spoken and to bring Second Stage to a conclusion. I know there are heartfelt views as regards the legislation, but I honestly believe there has been so much misinformation on this Bill that it is quite disturbing. People have been fired up and put into positions as a result of this misinformation. I have a job in hand to explain to people in my constituency that what they have been told is incorrect, inaccurate and needs to be corrected.
Is the Minister referring to both sides of the argument in this regard?
The important point is that there is no interference with any hunting. This Bill addresses a particular hunt in one location and that is the complete substance and content of the legislation. I know there has been an attempt to say this is the thin end of the wedge. That is being promoted, perhaps by political parties, and the Opposition is entitled to do that.
It is a question of seeing what are the policies.
I say to Senator Cummins that policies are one thing, but the programme for Government is another.
They have succeeded with the stags and the dogs already.
That will be admitted by our partners in Government. We have An Agreed Programme for Government, as we all know. Safety issues have arisen as regards the Ward Union hunt and we are well aware of that too. People who are not in the political spectrum have found a very solid platform for their perspective as regards this legislation. They have used offices of the House and other areas to promote their case. They have created massive fear among people as regards an attack on rural life. I know this is not the case, however, and indeed I presented the case to the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party on the issues involved, where there was a need to address section 3 of the Bill. That was done, following consultation with my Cabinet Minister, Deputy Gormley.
The issue, as regards an attack on rural Ireland needs to be absolutely discounted from the argument here.
Let the people decide.
It is inappropriate to continue to harp on that particular matter and to fuel the discontent and worries. Over the summer and autumn, the public will realise there is no interference with any aspect of hunting or rural pursuits in any location other than one, and that has to do with the Ward Union Hunt. There is no interference with any aspect of rural pursuits anywhere in Ireland as a result.
What about dog breeding?
I happen to be dealing with the wildlife Bill this evening.
The Minister of State, without interruption.
I just wanted to put that on the record. I have listened to some of the comments here. There are people who believe that the world is going to end tomorrow, as they are entitled to do. If one goes to Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park one will hear all types of people making pronouncements as well. As a student I used to go there on a Sunday morning and entertain myself when I had no money. I would stand listening to people on their soap-boxes proclaiming the end of the world.
Did the Minister of State ever give it a lash?
I got on the soap-box in 1979 when I was elected for the first time, and I have never been rejected by the electorate since.
I used the soap-box effectively. The basics are very clear. This Bill is very specific in its content and involves the delivery of legislation in relation to one particular pursuit in one specific area. That is the bottom line. Any attempt to go beyond that and fuel the flames of worry and discontent in rural areas or in any area is incorrect and to say that it is an attack on——
Fianna Fáil did that before the last election.
——rural pursuits is incorrect.
I am glad to have had the opportunity to say that in the House. That said, I accept the Opposition's entitlement to oppose and that is all right too. People have said the Labour Party has changed its mind on it. Perhaps it has. I respect the comment made by Senator Ryan to the effect there were no changes in his time, in two years. I respect people's right to say what the position was in their time. However, I have been in the Oireachtas 21 years and in that time I have heard fairly solid statements from the Labour Party as regards blood sports. However, I respect Senator Ryan's situation, and I knew his brother, who preceded him as a Member of the House. When somebody says something like that I will not contradict and say it is different from what has been said.
Having said that I want to ensure that my party's position and the position of our partners in Government is understood. We have a Government policy and it is the programme for Government. For safety reasons we are removing the difficulties that arose as regards the hunting of red deer by a particular hunt in one location. That is what this Bill is about and I commend it to the House.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carroll, James.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Dearey, Mark.
- Ellis, John.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Prendergast, Phil.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- White, Alex.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
We will order it for tomorrow.
On a point of order, surely we will have a chance to table some amendments to the Bill. It cannot be taken tomorrow.
It is scheduled to be taken on Friday.
It has been scheduled for Friday.
The debate will take place on Friday.
We seek time to table amendments to the Bill.
The Leader to continue without interruption.
Senator Cummins is correct. It is being taken on Friday, but, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach is aware, I must order it for tomorrow.
The Leader misled the House.
No, I did not. It takes some time to get used to it.
Is that agreed?
Will the Leader give an assurance that it will be taken on Friday?
I will oppose the Adjournment, unless I can make this point. Is Committee Stage being ordered for Friday?
Yes. It is being taken on Friday.
When it is proposed to sit again?
Amárach ag 10.30 a.m.