Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2010: Committee Stage

SECTION 1
Question, "That section 1 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 2
Question, "That section 2 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 3
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill".

I welcome the belated arrival of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

I understand that, as I was watching the Minister performing there. I also understand that he was coursing through the halls of Leinster House to reach this Chamber to follow through. He has been very busy with his animal welfare legislation in recent days.

Yes. I also have been busy with the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill and the Civil Partnership Bill.

That is correct——

On section 3, please.

—— but the animal welfare legislation is high on the Minister's priorities and he has been busy in this regard. Obviously, the Minister has been late out of the traps in respect of much of this legislation. I understand the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill was held up for two or three months while Government Deputies and Senators wrestled with their consciences and much has been heard on that as well. As has been discussed at length on Second Stage here, as well as in the other House, Fine Gael opposes this Bill because it considers it to be the thin end of the wedge, to use a phrase that has been repeated so often. While the Minister may dismiss this as much as he wishes, can he put on the record of the House today a reassurance——

Can the Minister reassure the House——

Yes, absolutely.

—— that in his tenure as the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, he will not bring forth any legislation that will affect the hunting of foxes, coursing or any other shooting or hunting pursuits that are traditional in Ireland? Can he give a categorical assurance today that this will be an end to it? Serious concern exists in this regard and while I will not engage in a slagging match, because that does not achieve anything, the Minister and others have made allegations against the RISE! campaign. I have made clear in this Chamber that it was a properly organised lobby that engaged with all the stakeholders in rural Ireland, including those involved in the Ward Union Hunt, fox hunting, shooting, beagle hunting or whatever. The campaign engaged with those stakeholders, which is as it should be. All stakeholders should engage in a debate when new legislation is proposed that will have obvious consequences and impacts on their activities. This is all the RISE! campaign did and I do not see anything wrong with it. Consequently, that group should not be criticised for so doing.

As for the section under discussion, it proposes a prohibition on hunting deer with dogs. There is a contradiction in this Bill. I have heard the Minister and others speaking on radio and elsewhere to the effect that this is not only an animal welfare issue but a safety issue. This would be fine, were it not for a contradiction whereby the Bill allows for the hunting of deer with dogs by people on foot. I also consider that activity to be fine and the Minister allows for it. A deer being hunted by deer stalkers and which goes out on to the road is still a safety issue. One is not improving safety,per se, by introducing the legislation. In sport there are many safety implications for those directly involved and spectators and the public. A most unfortunate incident occurred in Donegal during a car rally. I do not use that example to attack the Minister. The response was not to ban the sport but to increase the safety regulations and monitoring. That is one example but I could give many others. If, as the Minister outlined previously, there are genuine concerns about safety, surely he could consider ways to enhance the safety and regulation of the Ward Union Hunt? Great strides have been made in that area in recent years and the hunt is subject to licence. The Minister has the power to ensure the enforcement of safety regulations.

I will not go over the entire animal welfare debate but the Minister has used the example of a deer jumping a ditch into a school yard. That is the one example we hear about all the time but not many other examples are given. If the Minister wishes to provide other examples, I would welcome that, but I do not believe there are many others. As is the case with car rallying, the one or two high profile cases constantly appear in the media. That is because the Minister is trying to put a spin on the issue to secure support for his position. We must take a fair and reasoned approach.

The Ward Union Hunt has been a responsible organisation in carrying out its pursuits and activities. It has always complied with regulations and the licensing conditions put on it. Much of its resources and those of the State were used to ensure it carried out its activities in a proper way. This seems to be an attempt by the Minister's party, which is a niche party that has high priorities and different policies, to get the legislation through. The Minister will hold up this legislation as a trophy to his members because that is how the party operates.

I am disappointed with the Fianna Fáil Members who support this Bill. The people that elected Fianna Fáil to be the largest party in the local authorities, although they are not any longer, and who elected them to be the largest party in the Dáil and in the Seanad are the people on whom it is turning its back. Fianna Fáil Members know I am being reasonable when I say this and moreover they are getting that sense from those who were lobbying them and the councillors and so on who have been in touch with them. Local authorities, including Fianna Fáil councillors, around the country are passing resolutions opposing the animal welfare legislation, yet when it comes to the national Parliament the party's representatives are doing the opposite.

I note that the Minister makes provision for deerstalkers to hunt on foot. Deerstalkers were concerned up to a very late stage on the Bill. Will the Minister outline the process of consultation with them? I accept they have been facilitated and that they will be allowed to continue their pursuit but I wonder why they were not consulted at an earlier stage given the implications the Bill would have had prior to the Minister bringing forward an amendment.

We oppose the section because we oppose the Bill. I do not wish to engage in a slagging match with the Minister but I am interested in hearing his views on the points I have raised.

I support the section because I support the Bill. I note Senator Coffey has employed a slightly more nuanced position with the reference to car rallying and health and safety. However, that gets away from the core focus which is animal welfare. I put on record the other day an account of a stag hunt in County Down on which the BBC reported in 2005.

That is a different jurisdiction.

The journalist presented a clear-eyed and vivid account of the animal welfare issues, the fact that the quarry of the stag was predicated on the stag running until exhausted and terrified. For me, animal welfare is the core issue. Nothing can distract from that. When there are adequate alternatives to pursuing live quarry, for instance, a drag hunt that in essence retains the activity, the exercise, the relationship between the horse and rider, access to the countryside and a range of other positive benefits that come from equine and country pursuits in general, I do not see why that option cannot be viewed by rational people as a decent alternative.

I took the trouble in recent days to look at various hunt websites in the United Kingdom in particular and in Northern Ireland to see whether the banning of hunting with packs of dogs following the 2004 Act closed down or compromised the economic value of the presence of a hunt in an area. I could find no such evidence. On the contrary, I found evidence of thriving hunt clubs not pursuing live animals but involved in a range of activities, including drag hunting and other diversification that is the lifeblood of any business. We must look at hunting in business terms too. Diversifying with the changing times is a critical element in any business model. It is one the Ward Union Hunt could usefully employ in this instance. I do not accept the notion therefore that this is the death knell of the Ward Union Hunt or that it will, necessarily, lead to the kind of job losses that have been spoken about. The evidence is contrary to that. With a bit of imagination and acceptance that this is an animal welfare issue with which we need to deal and that there is life beyond it, there is plenty of scope for the hunt to continue to thrive in a way that does not terrify and potentially injure or kill live quarry.

I have a simple question to ask before the Minister replies. I raised the point on Second Stage. Approximately 80 or 90 deer are killed in the Phoenix Park and in Muckross in the Killarney National Park every year. I would classify that as an animal welfare issue as well. Is it the intention of the Minister that in addition to dogs and everything else that he would ban vehicles in the Phoenix Park and the Killarney National Park because 100 more deer are killed per year on the roads in the national parks than were killed over many years in the Ward Union Hunt? The Minister should consider that to be an animal welfare issue as well.

The Minister is welcome. I have one point to make on the Bill, which is the point made by Senator Coffey. I declare an interest, as I did on Second Stage, in that I was a member of the Ward Union Hunt for many years. I am probably the only Member in that category. I found the members of the Ward Union Hunt to be very interested in animal welfare. They looked after the animals very well, both the hounds and the stags which they took out regularly. My one point is the same as that raised by Senator Coffey, whether it is possible that this is the thin end of the wedge.

One of the other sports in which I took pleasure was fishing. It seems to me that if animal welfare is a concern then one would have to include fishing. These are the types of steps about which people are concerned. Whatever about the Ward Union Hunt and the hunting of stags and deer, if we believe animal welfare is a concern then many other practices could be regarded as unacceptable. I wonder whether enough consideration was given to the fact that sometimes those who live in a city do not understand rural activities. Is it possible that we might have considered that each of those decisions could have been made at county council level? In other words, before one could hunt in counties Meath or Dublin, one would have to obtain permission to do so in those counties. It is quite likely that a decision in this regard would have enabled those who live in the country to make decisions about the country and those who live in the city to make decisions about the city.

With regard to animal welfare topics, one will find very often that those who live closer to the animals are very much aware of the need to look after them well. On that basis, the concerns that most Senators, including Senator Coffey, are expressing refer to the thin end of the wedge. Can the Minister assure us this is as far as he sees legislation in this area going?

I concur with most of what Senator Quinn said. I respect Senator Dearey's view, which he made quite cogently. We all need to respect each other's views. However, one could apply Senator Dearey's words on the Ward Union Hunt to fox hunting and coursing. This is the reason for our concern over the thin end of the wedge.

As we all know, the Green Party's stated policy is against fox hunting and coursing. This emphasises our concern. As an Opposition party that does not agree with the Green Party's point of view, Fine Gael is quite entitled to express its opinion as forcefully as it can without entering into a slagging match. Let us base our remarks on reasonable argument.

Senator Quinn made some very good points on how country people, be they farmers or chicken ranchers, feel about their animals. Animal husbandry is accorded very high priority by country people. One need only look at how farmers rear cattle, sheep and even deer. They look after them, they walk the fields and know them intimately. They know if an animal is sick just by looking at it. The Ward Union Hunt applies the same standard of husbandry to the rearing of the deer it hunts.

I have never hunted. I was never on horseback hunting but can understand why people would like to do so. I understand the hunters in the Ward Union Hunt rarely see the deer because it is so far ahead. It may be highly excited and scared, as any animal would be in the open countryside. Wildlife itself is very cruel. If a fox catches a rabbit in a field, the rabbit is scared and is literally torn asunder. However, we do not interfere with that; it is nature taking its course.

To return to the basic argument many of us have tried to make, based on ancient times and legend, man, as the priority being and species, has a basic instinct to hunt. We are trying to interfere with nature to a large degree. We can go into this debate as deeply as we want but we must realise that country people really understand what I am saying because they have been born and reared in this ethos and with this understanding. City people do not have the same understanding of the matter.

I am not trying to create an urban-rural divide in the debate but contend there must be understanding, and that nature itself is cruel. The Ward Union Hunt, however, is not cruel. Its animal husbandry is of the highest level, and it has conservation schemes in place for the deer it rears and hunts.

What will happen to the deer the Ward Union Hunt has in stock if this legislation is passed? Will they be put on show somewhere? Will they put into a zoo? The Green Party opposes zoos also.

That is ridiculous.

It does oppose zoos.

The Senator should read our policies.

I read out the Green Party's policy.

It opposes circuses; let us be honest about that.

Zoos are probably the places where young children are educated most about animals and where they see them at first hand.

I was there a month ago with my daughter.

I am only making my point and am entitled to do so.

The Senator is not allowed to misrepresent our party.

Senators will have an opportunity to speak without interruption.

Senator Coffey had two opportunities.

I am entitled to call any Member more than once and I expressed that clearly. The Chair is entitled to call a speaker a number of times on Committee Stage.

I accept the Cathaoirleach's point.

I thank the Senator and the Cathaoirleach.

This debate can be reasonable. Let us hear from both sides. I am putting the case clearly that what the Ward Union Hunt does is not a matter of animal welfare. While the deer is scared, the objective of the hunt is not to kill it. It is very rare that an animal is killed and, if it is, it is by accident in most cases. I still have not heard of such cases other than the high-profile case that has been in the media.

Senator Dearey has outlined what he picked up on the website based on events in County Down, Britain and other jurisdictions but we have not heard of examples in this State, except for the one high profile example, of where the Ward Union Hunt has been out of bounds or out of order.

With proper regulation and monitoring and with the co-operation of the Ward Union Hunt and all interested stakeholders, the Ward Union Hunt could continue to hunt in a very organised and fair fashion in the best interest of animal welfare and with a view to protecting the rural heritage that has always existed. I am interested in hearing the Minister's points on the matters I have raised.

As a member of the Green Party, which was referred to in this debate, I believe it is unfortunate that our policy is constantly misrepresented. It is unfortunate that the items in the programme for Government are constantly misrepresented.

I keep hearing about the thin end of wedge when in fact this is the thick end of the wedge. Anybody who has read the programme for Government will realise that this Bill, the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill and the fur farming Bill are the three Bills on animal welfare therein. There are no others.

With regard to fishing, Senator Quinn should note the Green Party's issue concerns hunting with hounds specifically. I certainly have never come across hunting fish with hounds. Nobody is suggesting the Green Party is against fishing. It is not in our policy and will not be, nor are we debating it because we are not interested in opposing fishing on the banks of our rivers. It has nothing to do with this Bill.

Senator Coffey is wrong in respect of there being one high profile incident. He obviously did not hear "Liveline" some days ago.

We are legislating according to "Liveline" now.

Many people outlined on the radio show incidents that happened in north County Dublin, which is now a suburban area. It is 150 years since the British army officers, not Cú Chulainn, formed the Ward Union Hunt. The hunt is not an Irish tradition.

Senator Coffey says hunting is a great Irish tradition. While hunting is an Irish tradition, I was amused and amazed at the various views of Senators this morning on the raucous behaviour of people outside the gates of Leinster House. The Senators were acting in a very patrician and civilised manner in saying raucous behaviour outside the gates was unacceptable. I totally agree. The reality is that we are now living in a civilised society. Senators are not going out with spears trying to catch their dinner. We have a nice canteen downstairs and a farming industry.

The deer is on your plate.

Fortunately we live in a more civilised society than people did in the time of Cú Chulainn. If Cú Chulainn, who was probably a great man, were to come in here, the gae bolga and other weapons he used would not be acceptable in this Chamber. We have moved on a bit since those days.

The Senator is missing the point.

To say everybody in rural areas is out hunting for his dinner is a misrepresentation of rural Ireland. I grew up in rural Ireland and really did not see guys out with spears wearing whatever they wore in hunts in days of old. We have moved on and we are a civilised society.

There is no question but that cruelty to animals is an important issue for the Green Party. I have been looking for Fine Gael's policy on animal welfare but cannot find it. Where is it? The Fine Gael Senators are very quick to criticise us.

If we are to have decent debates in this Chamber, it is incumbent on all parties to think about the very serious and real measures that are being introduced and which have the backing of the people rather than just criticising.

They have the backing of the Irish people all right.

We have a bigger mandate that the Green Party.

It has nothing to do with the mandate of the Green Party.

Two per cent is quite a mandate.

It concerns the fact that public opinion has shown consistently that the hunt is opposed by the majority of the people.

Is this the public opinion poll that showed support for the Government? It is three years old.

In light of public opinion, it is only right and proper that the Minister has progressed this legislation. Fine Gael does not seem to be listening to the public but to a small group of well funded protestors. We are not sure from where the money is coming in some cases. A figure of €100,000 was mentioned for the RISE! campaign.

That is not true.

I would like to know from where it is getting all of its funding.

Why does the Senator not ask it?

I did, but I have not received an answer.

Senator Ó Brolcháin to continue without interruption.

He should meet RISE! and ask it.

Let us find out. We could go all over the place in this debate——

——but the reality is that the measure being introduced by the Minister is a simple one. I assure Senator Quinn that this is not the thin edge of the wedge in respect of fishing. I am sure the Minister will say likewise. There are three items in the programme for Government. This is an important one, but the matter has been blown out of all proportion. Some parties opposite are doing the people a disservice in spending so much time on this issue when they should be spending time on economic matters.

The Government orders business.

I primarily seek assurance from the Minister in the light of the ongoing debate in the Houses and nationally. I come from Drumshanbo, County Leitrim and live in what is known as the Leitrim lakeland region where outdoor pursuits have been engaged in for generations. We have relied heavily on pursuits such as gaming — many of my friends and neighbours are members of gun clubs — and coarse fishing.

I am sure the Minister, for whom I have the height of respect, will agree that in politics perception is everything. On this basis, while it may seem that this is a given, will he take the opportunity to highlight the fact that the Green Party's agenda in government is not to introduce legislation that will adversely affect outdoor pursuits? Not for one moment have I believed he is set on this agenda, but repeating this is important. Elements of this legislation are unpalatable to my colleagues in the parliamentary party, but we are loyal to our coalition partners. The safety of some Members who went through the lobbies in the Lower House was under threat and their families were being intimidated.

They are living in the heart of the area in question, but they believe in a higher duty. They were elected under the banner of the Fianna Fáil Party, took the party Whip and accepted what the Taoiseach, the leader of our party, had negotiated in good faith last autumn with his Cabinet colleagues in the renewed programme for Government. We can be accused of a lot, but we can never be accused of being disloyal or dishonourable in our dealings with any parliamentary party with which we have entered government.

Ask the Progressive Democrats.

Like many of those living near me, I am concerned. I have heard the same argument made on the other side of the House. When Senator Coffey and others enter government, they will face similar situations and wrestle with their consciences on issues agreed with their coalition partners. They will not like it, but they will have their day.

We will be well able for it.

It is ten years away.

Senator Mooney to continue without interruption.

The people involved in RISE! have not been the most helpful, certainly from a Fianna Fáil perspective, in raising the temperature across the country, but they are decent and honourable.

I am not sure about that.

Many around the country who engage in outdoor activities such as gaming and fishing are not members of RISE! or associated with it in any way. However, they and people within my party have a great deal of sympathy for the organisation. I am sure the same could be said of people in Fine Gael and other parties.

This is an important opportunity for the Green Party and, in particular, the Minister who is guiding the legislation through the House and which we are supporting as part of the programme for Government. We will honour our commitments in this House, as we did in the Lower House because more important issues must be addressed before the end of our term in office in 2012. Among other priorities, an economic challenge lies ahead——

——but this is a priority for the Green Party. As such, it included it in the programme for Government. In a spirit of compromise, which is what coalition government is about, we accept the Green Party's policy in this respect. In turn, it is accepting elements of our agenda. We are partners in government and nothing that will be stated on this side of the House will sunder that relationship before our mandate runs out.

The Fianna Fáil Whip has lost one Deputy already.

I ask the Minister to reassure the good, honourable and decent people of rural Ireland that just because he represents the leafy suburbs of Dublin 4 he is not in any way out of touch or lacking in empathy, sympathy and understanding of the importance of outdoor pursuits among the majority.

He must not have been to County Leitrim.

Has Senator Wilson indicated?

Fine Gael has its own.

I seek the Chair's protection from Senator Wilson.

Senator Mooney struck the nail on the head when he referred to this as being one of the Green Party's priorities in government. While I like Senator Ó Brolcháin, he is deluded on this issue. He keeps peddling the line that we should not be having this debate and that it is the Opposition's fault that we are spending so much time in discussing the issue. The Government orders business in this and the Lower House. The Green Party, as Senator Mooney outlined, wants to ensure this legislation is pushed through. That is the reason we are having this debate. Senator Mooney should spend more time speaking to people in rural Ireland if he believes they view the Minister, with all due respect to him, as having the interests of rural Ireland at heart. He should speak to councillors in County Leitrim about the planning and development Bill recently passed by the Lower House. They will tell a different story about the Minister's interest in protecting rural Ireland and its communities.

The proposed ban on stag hunting is the thin edge of the wedge because the Minister has already stated as much, given his comment on returning in the autumn with another animal welfare Bill. There will be further animal welfare legislation.

On fur farming.

It is included in the programme for Government.

Senator Quinn was right to raise the question, since the Minister has committed to making further changes. Obviously, the Government will introduce something else. It is committed to doing so, although I do not know what exactly it will do.

I am not hung up on the issue of stag huntingper se, but I am opposed to the idea of a small group inflicting their personal views on everyone else in respect of a traditional activity that has been carried on for many years in rural Ireland.

The Senator is discussing Fine Gael.

Even on its worst day, Fine Gael never represented less than one quarter of the population.

This legislation does not even have the entire support of the Green Party, only that of an internal clique. The genesis was not the renewed programme for Government but the NAMA legislation which the Green Party needed to pass at a specially convened conference. To get that legislation through, a former Green Party councillor went on the national airwaves to explain that certain animal welfare provisions would need to be included in the programme for Government. As Fianna Fáil needed to look after its friends in Anglo Irish Bank and seek other financial solutions, it allowed the Green Party its trophy legislation on stag hunting. That is the bare-faced——

The Senator is telling fairy stories.

Absolute fantasy.

That is the politics of the situation.

The Senator is good with fairy stories.

No, I will leave Cúchulainn and the Fianna to Senator Ó Brolcháin.

Senator Phelan to continue without interruption. We are dealing with section 3. This discussion is not relevant to the Bill.

Section 3 is the core of the Bill. It deals with the ban on——

The Senator should speak to the section.

I am dealing with section 3 and the root from which it comes is the decision of Members of the Government to have a cosy relationship between themselves. One part of the Government wants to help their developer friends, while the other wants to consolidate the most extreme element of support it has. My problem is that the people in the Green Party who propose legislation on animal rights have a far-reaching agenda when it comes to other activities in rural Ireland. I am not just talking about fox hunting, fishing, coursing or any of the blood sports, but rather about farming, agricultural practices. I am talking about people who do not want dairy farming, as we know it, to continue.

I am talking about a member of the Green Party. She was at its conference in Waterford when the RISE! protest was taking place outside.

We need to stick to section 3.

This is getting into the realms of fantasy.

I am on section 3.

Will we get the GAA as well?

I have nothing to do with the GAA at all.

What is the Senator against? Is he against motherhood?

No, the Green Party is against the people of rural Ireland.

Senator Phelan, without interruption, and stick to section 3.

This is ridiculous, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, please.

I am finished, so if Senator Ó Brolcháin wishes to speak again, he will get his opportunity, I am sure.

Like Senator Mooney, I am a countryman living in a town, I know many decent people who have been and are involved in the RISE! campaign, and I have spoken to quite a number of them. I support this section, and the Bill, for the reasons stated by my colleague, Senator Mooney. There is a great deal of misinformation about this, no question, and this is mischievous to a large extent. This is in the programme for Government. Whether people like it or not, coalition is about partnership and an agreed agenda.

I am disappointed that Senator Phelan has referred to developers. I have always been a strong supporter of private enterprise, and I do not apologise to anybody for that. We are very pleased to have entrepreneurs in this Chamber such as Senator Quinn, who had the capacity and guts to take a chance in business and make it work. Where would we be without people such as that? Long may we have them.

Nobody is challenging that. Hear, hear to developers from the Green Party.

Senator Glynn, please, without interruption.

Do not draw red herrings across the trail. It had nothing to do with this ——

I like Senator Quinn's stores. They are great stores.

Whether they like me saying it or not, people are being purely political. As Senator Mooney said, it is in the programme for Government. The Green Party as a participant party in Government is entitled to have legislation, as it sees fit. Being in Government is not about doing everything that one likes to do. People in business such as Senator Quinn and others in this Chamber have to take imperative managerial decisions, which they may not like doing, all the time, in the interests of good practice and good business.

Is this on section 3?

Yes, and whatever my views, I support it and this Bill, for the reasons stated. We have many issues to deal with. Our fish stocks are being decimated by mink.

Is this section 3?

I am talking about the whole concept of wildlife——

I do not believe any part of the debate has been on section 3.

Some people on the far side of the House never got as far as using the verb, so they make no sense.

There will be no "Second Stage" speeches.

I will support this section and the Bill for the reasons eloquently stated by Senator Mooney.

I listened earlier to Senator Coffey and he made a few points on which I will elaborate. I respect the Minister and I take the point that we are in partnership. Whether the partnership is government or business, people have to work together. That is given. The place is in bits economically, there is high unemployment and here we are talking about stag hunting. I have asked whether a stag was ever ill treated or if cruelty was ever involved, and the answer I got was "No". There are more important issues we should consider.

In my constituency and throughout Dublin, as the Minister is aware — and we should concentrate on this rather than on the activities of rural people — there are hundreds of donkeys, ponies, dogs and cats that have to be put down week by week, since cruelty is widespread. Some dead animals are dumped in fields along roads, and nothing is being done about this. That is a valid point to make.

Could one say that greyhound racing is cruelty, or horse racing? The public perception, as I know from speaking to people, is to the effect, "Where is this going to end?" I am involved in setting up a fishing club at the moment. Is fishing going to be banned? Would that be regarded as cruelty? Senator Glynn, I believe, alluded to the largescale netting of fish throughout the country, destroying our tourism, and not a thing is being done about it. Stag hunting is not doing harm to anybody, and no one has been killed as a result. No child has been killed or injured despite the exaggeration as regards a stag running into a schoolyard, which was held to be a disaster. It was no such thing. I would like the Minister to confirm whether there is anything else in the pipeline in relation to country pursuits that are to be banned. That is the fear of the general public, and mine.

I know it is part of the programme for Government and there is a perception — although I cannot verify it — that this is being done to placate and satisfy a number of people within the Green Party who are not really representative of the general public.

The Minister might like to reply to the "Second Stage" debates.

It was a "Second Stage" debate, with enormous latitude being given and that is the Leas-Chathaoirleach's choice. When people talk about wanting to get on to the main issues, however, I do not know why we stray and talk at length in a Second Stage manner, when we are supposed to address specific amendments.

There are major issues to be discussed. As far as I am concerned this is relatively minor legislation which can be got through very quickly. The Green Party is not making a big issue of this but rather Members of the Opposition who see this as a wonderful opportunity to have a go at the Green Party. People in the Labour Party, who are not here this afternoon, have done a complete U-turn because they see this as an opportunity, so it is blatant opportunism.

I have been asked by several speakers to clarify the position. I do not know why they are doing this because they know the position only too well. When people talk about "perception", why do they feed into that by even asking the question? Why do they do that when they know only too well that this is a small item of legislation dealing with one particular hunt, in County Meath? It has nothing to do with shooting, angling or anything else.

I grew up on the banks of the Shannon. When I was a kid I fished for perch, bream and eels, and as regards coarse fishing, I even caught a few pike in my time. Forget about this because there are very many people in my party who are involved in shooting and angling.

What I am trying to do as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and as a Green Party Member is to protect our habitats, ensure clean waters so fish can thrive and protect dwindling eel stocks.

However, politics enters into all of this. Senator Coffey can have his field day because no matter what I say here today he will still go to the public meeting in his constituency and put it out that this Bill is the thin end of the wedge.

It is the Minister's policy to ban all field sports.

The Minister without interruption.

There we go again.

Is the Minister denying his policy?

I have just stated what the Bill is about and we have this and Senator Coffey's colleague's claims about zoos.

Senator Coffey, allow the Minister without interruption.

Senator Coffey is smiling across there and saying this is great sport. Grand, but it is not the truth.

It is in the Green Party's policy documents.

Can Senator Coffey show it to us?

Reflecting on this in recent days, I have concluded the power of propaganda is amazing.

It always starts with the big lie.

One does not tell a porky, one tells the whopper — the big lie. One only has to go back to recent history to know who were the most successful propagandists.

Propaganda is a type of hypnotism.

The Minister is at it himself.

I have seen it out there because they are immersed in this idea. The thing about hypnotism is that one must want to be hypnotised and want to believe it. People want to believe this nonsense. One can pick on the small parties and claim it is all their fault, which is too convenient by far.

It is slightly disillusioning when one thinks politics should be about rational debate on specific polices, not about the irrational. We talk about the human and animal species. Unfortunately, human beings are not always given to rational thought. Sometimes they want to believe in the propaganda put out by the other side.

What about the propaganda put out by the Minister's side? There are those on the Government side saying what we are saying.

Senator Coffey should allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

Senator Coffey used an analogy of a motor rally in County Donegal. If a Minister had to give a licence for that rally and a serious accident occurred on it, I have no doubt the Minister would be held responsible, have to answer questions in the Dáil on it and calls would be made by the Opposition for his resignation.

Similarly with the Ward Union Hunt, which is licensed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, there are real difficulties around the issue of accidents. Senator Coffey referred to two incidents involving safety. As Senator Ó Brolcháin said, many more people in the area will recount incidents in which a stag came over a hedge into oncoming traffic and it was a close call.

They do that naturally anyway.

The point is that it is not a licensed activity. The area covered by the Ward Union Hunt used to be in the heart of the countryside but is now a built-up area. It was over-zoned and, if Senators wish, I can go into all of the planning issues involved. I must also say the planning Bill referred to by Senator Coffey was progressive. He then brought in extraneous matters such as Anglo Irish Bank. I remind him it was his party and the Labour Party that appointed Mr. Lar Bradshaw of Anglo Irish Bank to the board of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. The Greens had nothing to do with that.

The Minister should not even go there about the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

The Minister should not start digging another hole.

The Minister better put the shovel away and stop digging.

Can we continue with the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill?

Now that I have answered these questions, I will turn to section 3, the prohibition of deer hunting with dogs.

Section 3(1) redefines "deer" for the purposes of the legislation so that the term includes any deer which is not a wild animal. This expanded definition of deer has been incorporated into the Bill to ensure there is no argument and that the hunting of captive bred deer might not require a licence under the wildlife Acts. It must be remembered the deer used in the Ward Union Hunt is a domesticated animal. Would the Senators opposite like to see their pets hunted in that way? I do not believe they would.

No one spoke about someone's pets being hunted.

The Minister is using propaganda now.

What nonsense? Who is hunting pets? These are not pets we are talking about.

The Ward Union Hunt.

The Attorney General's advice in September 2007 was to the effect that section 26(1) of the Wildlife Act applied to all deer whether wild or domesticated. This advice was similar to the previous advice given by the Attorney General in February 1999.

Did the Minister listen to the Attorney General's advice on the Poolbeg incinerator?

The Minister without interruption.

In section 3(3) I have included a provision to ensure licensed deer stalkers may continue to use dogs where appropriate.

That is a last resort.

It is not unusual for a deer stalker to bring a dog out while hunting deer. In cases where several hunters were stalking deer on a property and each had a dog or if they were bringing two dogs for training purposes, it could be construed they were somehow breaking the law based on the original wording. It was never my intention that the Bill should place any restriction on lawful deer stalking.

Accordingly, the provision provides that it would not be an offence for people on foot stalking deer and with a deer licence under section 29 of the Wildlife Act or with permission under section 32 to have two or more dogs. More than 4,000 such licences were issued by my Department in the 2009-2010 season. The open season for most deer species extends from 1 September to the end of February. However, there is a 12-month hunting season for Muntjac deer as they are considered an invasive species which can cause much damage if allowed to spread.

Again, this gives the lie to this idea that we will stop shooting. I have given out more licences than any other previous Minister. I understand the necessity of doing this because of the number of deer causing destruction to habitat. I already said this in the Dáil. However, it will not be told out there because it is convenient to say the Greens want to stop all of this. That is arrant nonsense.

Section 42 permissions are issued outside of the open season and offer a facility whereby a person can obtain permission on a case-by-case basis to take action against a protected species including deer which can include the scaring, capturing or killing of the said species where serious damage is being caused to agricultural crops, forestry, and so on. There may be occasion when it may be necessary to bring dogs to assist moving deer. I am satisfied the provisions in section 3 will address the concerns of licensed deer hunters.

We have spent considerable time on this section. I call on Senator Cummins.

Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I thought you were going to stop me from coming in on this.

I would not dare but we have had many Second Stage speeches on this section. We need to stick to the section.

I do not intend to make speeches. I just want to quote the Green Party's welfare policy:

The Green Party does not promote or support the live export of animals; campaigns for an end to the intensive rearing of cattle, sheep and poultry; campaigns for an end of the use of wild animals in circuses. When in government the Green party will introduce an end to bloodsports with heavy penalties——

On a point of order, that is totally irrelevant to the Bill. The Leas-Chathaoirleach should rule the Senator out of order.

That is not a point of order. I am trying to establish where Senator Cummins is coming from. Has this something to do with section 3?

It certainly has and it refers to several items which have been raised on this section to date whereby people are making incorrect assertions and comments.

The Senator is doing so.

Allow me to continue to quote. The Minister should read his own propaganda. I am giving it back to him and he does not like it.

That is because it is not true.

As I stated last night, the Minister can give it but he cannot take it.

Is this relevant to section 3?

I will continue because I have only two lines left. It is not worth listening to the Green Party anyway which has only 2% of the vote. The party claims it will introduce an end to blood sports with heavy penalties for organisations and participants. It does not promote or support traditional zoos in the longer term and will continue to work towards a completion——

That has nothing to do with section 3, Senator Cummins.

It answers some of the spurious comments made on the other side.

The debate has moved away from section 3.

I wish to ask a question.

Is it on section 3?

What is coming in the next wildlife Bill which the Minister proposes to introduce?

That has nothing to do with section 3.

I am happy to answer that because there should be clarification. Senator Cummins is reading from a document which is 20 years old. If the Senator wishes to do so, that is fine.

The Minister has quoted the Attorney General from years ago.

The Minister to continue without interruption.

As it happens, I am Leader of the party.

It is fair to say I would know what is in that document. The Senator is completely wrong.

I am only reading from it. Is the Minister suggesting the document from which I am reading is wrong?

Senator Cummins, please. The Minister to continue without interruption.

I wish to answer Senator John Paul Phelan, who put a question. The animal welfare legislation to be introduced in the autumn will deal with animal welfare legislation dating back some time. It is a consolidation measure. One revision relates to the question of fur farming. In essence, that is what is contained in the legislation.

Is that the only new measure?

There will be higher penalties and it will address standards. It is not worth commenting further.

Question put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 16.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 4
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

There has not been much debate on this section which deals with the licensing of firearms and those who carry legally held shotguns. This is a serious matter.

Why would the Senator oppose this section?

Let me have my say.

Can Senator Coffey speak?

We know he can speak, but we——

Senator Coffey is in possession and no one else should interrupt.

When the firearms regime was amended in the Criminal Justice Act 2006 and the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, there was an omission in dealing with the law relating to the granting of licences under the wildlife Acts. The Minister will acknowledge that is the reason for the inclusion of this section. Separate from the criminal justice legislation dealing with firearms, section 29 of the Wildlife Act provided that, where an applicant made a declaration to a Garda superintendent that he or she would use the firearms to hunt exempted animals under the wildlife Acts, the superintendent was obliged to endorse the firearms certificate. This constituted a concurrent licensing regime for firearms. The criminal justice Acts amended the form of licences available and set out a new licensing regime. Licences would be granted by a superintendent and issued for three years instead of one, as is the case under the wildlife Acts.

The amendments had an effect in two ways. People who thought they had a licence to hunt birds during the last hunting season were acting legally because of a lacuna in law, about which the Government was made aware. They understood the licence and certificate were legal, but they were acting illegally in carrying a firearm. They were exposed because of this. The State did not inform them about the new regime and allowed them to continue under a misapprehension, despite having been warned there was this anomaly. In addition, the new licensing system is totally inconsistent, with each Garda superintendent effectively acting as an individual licensing authority. The effect of this is complete inconsistency in the issuing of licences for sporting purposes.

Will the Minister explain how this happened? Law abiding, hunting people understood they had certified legally held firearms but they were, in fact, not legal. This exposed them to the law. I understand a number of cases could come before the courts in this regard, which could result in serious exposure for the taxpayer. This lacuna or anomaly in the law dates back to the Criminal Justice Act following the shooting of Shane Geoghegan. That was rushed legislation to legislate for the possession of firearms. However, that rushed legislation led to this omission and seriously exposed people who were carrying firearms to hunt game. This could have serious repercussions for the State and the taxpayer, due to the costs that could accrue in future court cases. Will the Minister give his view on that?

I wish to express my amazement that this section is being opposed. We have an opportunity on Committee Stage to discuss each section and to put down——

We did not say we are opposing it.

According to the Order Paper it is being opposed. Every section is opposed.

We oppose the Bill. We will vote on that shortly.

We are discussing section 4.

A Chathaoirligh, this is my first contribution and I am speaking on section 4.

Speak to the section.

My point is that any Member is entitled to put down amendments to a section. That is their right. I want no interruption while the Senator is speaking.

I do not question the right of anybody to put down amendments but I question their sanity in making such an argument. That is the point of Committee Stage. The Members are saying they oppose a section that corrects an anomaly which they say exists.

Please, no interruptions.

This is opposition for the sake of opposition.

It will cost a fortune for the taxpayer. It is poor legislation.

This is at the heart of why Fine Gael is so badly suffering. If you believe——

If the Senator says we are suffering, the Green Party is dead on the bed.

——there is an anomaly, have it corrected.

If we are suffering, I do not know where you are.

Senator Boyle without interruption.

If there is an anomaly to be corrected, it is corrected by the section in the Bill. It is that simple. It is legislation for dummies. If the Members wish to make a cod of the legislative process——

The Government made a mess of it, and it is trying to correct it now and at a huge cost to the taxpayer.

Senator Coffey, I want no interruptions. You will have an opportunity to intervene again if you wish.

We have had a Committee Stage debate that has been characterised by half truths, mistruths and utter lies. When I point out a truth and certainty that the Opposition is opposing a section that corrects an anomaly which it says should not exist, it is up in arms about it. I do not pardon the pun.

The Senator should relax. He is hyperventilating.

That is the reality.

The Senator should not let himself get exercised by this Bill.

It is legislative nonsense.

The Senator will take off in a minute.

Members can look at the transcript of the Second Stage and Committee Stage debate, as well as whatever Report Stage debate there will be——

The Senator interrupted and heckled everybody who spoke.

——and look at the number and length of the contributions. They will then see who has made this debate go on for an unnecessary length and who has made an unnecessary issue of this Bill. The finger will be pointed at Senator Coffey's party.

We will deal with it. We will deal with the Senator's party too at the next election.

When we are at 2% we will worry.

We will put you out of business.

Members, please, no interruptions.

I will conclude. I look forward to this point being argued further and having a vote on opposing a section that must be included to correct the anomaly.

We are not voting. We have more things to discuss.

That is the role the Opposition is playing. We are grateful as a Government for having such a circus voice that is called on to oppose.

You have been whipped in over the last few days.

The Senator's party is at 2% in the polls.

I call Senator Mooney on section 4.

I welcome the amendments that were passed in the Dáil and I look forward to the Minister explaining this amendment for slow learners. The questions raised by the Senator regarding what he referred to as anomalies that might have some continuing cost for the taxpayer are plainly nonsense. I will explain some of the background and I hope the Minister will confirm and expand on it. Under the original legislation one received a paper certificate. This was endorsed on the reverse side, which gave one the right not only to hold the firearm or shotgun but also the right to hunt. Following changes last year, that piece of paper became a piece of plastic and it was impossible to put an endorsement on the back of a piece of plastic. I also understand, and the Minister will clarify this, that these changes took place under the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

I agree with the Senator that the lacuna he referred to is unacceptable on the face of it. There was a hiatus between the changes in the certificate's form and the introduction of the amending legislation. It meant that from last August some 100,000 people who hold firearm certificates that gave them the right to hunt were technically illegal. I do not believe any prosecutions have been taken since last August, and I cannot see any other reason that the Senator would suggest there is a financial imposition on the taxpayer. I will be interested to hear how he came to that conclusion. I am sure the Minister will clarify the matter.

The amending legislation has been passed by the Dáil and is part of the Bill before us. The regional game councils of Ireland, which were involved in this debate, welcome this legislation and the amendment, even though it is late in the day. They have no difficulty with the wording or the message contained in the amendment. Like Senator Boyle, I await with great interest the justification the Opposition will offer the House as to why it will oppose this enlightened amendment and section, which corrects a legal anomaly. It is now in a holding pattern that can continue up to 2015, even though the amendment states the licences can stand until 2012. Again, the Minister will clarify this.

If the new regime has not been put in place and new legislation is not introduced by August 2012, and I am confident that it will be, anybody who takes out a licence in July 2012 will continue to have the right to bear arms and to hunt for a further three years. There is a significant amount of time available to the Minister. Having corrected the legal anomaly, I am sure he will give an indication to the House, which I would welcome, of when he hopes to bring forward the amending legislation to ensure the new regime is permanent.

I will clarify why I raised this important matter. Can the Minister confirm if it is true that leave for judicial review has been granted against the Minister for this error in law? How many judicial review applications have been lodged with the Department with regard to this matter? It is a matter of concern that we have passed laws which contain lacunae and anomalies that could give rise to serious exposure for the taxpayer in the courts and which have also exposed those who carry licensed firearms.

It is extraordinary that Senator Boyle can get so exercised and hyperventilate over what he considers to be a minor Bill.

It is the hypocrisy I do not like.

It is a pity we did not get the same passion from the Senator——

It is hypocrisy.

No interruptions, please.

——on behalf of the old age pensioners, those on social welfare, the education cuts and all the other cuts he supported in Government. The Senator has not shown the same passion about that.

Lies, damned lies and hypocrisy.

The Senator will take his medicine now.

I wish to express my utter astonishment that Fine Gael would oppose this section. I do not understand why it would wish to do so. The section makes sense and irons out an anomaly.

We are highlighting the Minister's errors.

I will try to answer the Senator's questions. I informed Senators during my Second Stage contribution on Wednesday that this provision addresses the issue that has arisen with 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 wild fowl and hares, and I made provision that this would be obtained as an endorsement on the hunter's firearms certificate. Both the hunting licence and the firearms certificate were issued, as the Senator said, by the Garda Síochána in the form of a shotgun licence with the appropriate endorsement for hunting. However, when new computerised procedures were introduced in 2009 for issuing a three year firearms certificate, the facility for issuing the endorsement as a wildlife hunting licence was omitted. As a result, new firearms certificates do not provide for a hunting licence attachment and therefore do not meet the legal requirements of the existing Wildlife Acts. That is the factual position. Therefore, hunters who have the new firearms certificates would not be able to hunt legally. When this oversight was identified I understand it was not practicable to recall the certificates issued nor to change the licensing process in train. The Garda Síochána only started issuing the new licences last August and therefore the number of hunters affected in the 2009-10 season was very few. That is important to state.

My provision in this legislation provides for the amendment of section 29 of the Wildlife Act by the insertion of a new subsection (5)(a) to ensure that a firearms 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 wild fowl and hares. I should point out that this new amendment does not give hunters unrestricted permission to hunt protected birds and hares on a year-round basis. The hunting season for game birds under the open season is restricted for most wild fowl to a period from 1 September to the end of January, while the open season for hares is from the end of September to the end of February.

As I mentioned on Second Stage, arrangements will be made in the interim between my Department and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to revert to a position where the hunting licence is endorsed on the firearm certificate.

The Senator asked about judicial review. I understand that is on hold pending the passage of this Bill. It is important we understand that this is an anomaly that must be ironed out. It is encouraging that the Game Council of Ireland is supportive of this Minster trying to do his best for hunters throughout Ireland.

I can see the Minister is trying to do his best for hunters in one element but he is not doing his best in many other aspects of this legislation and many other laws he is bringing forward.

The Minister has not answered my question on the judicial review. Is it true that leave for judicial review has been granted against the Minister? He said it was on hold but I understand the Minister might be aware that over 100 applications for judicial review have been granted. Is that true? If it is true it has implications and we would like to hear about it.

I think I answered the question. Everything is on hold until we pass this Bill, so let us pass the Bill quickly.

Are there applications before the Minister?

He will not answer.

The Minister will not answer.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 5
Question, "That section 5 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 6
Question, "That section 6 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 7
Question, "That section 7 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 8
Question, "That section 8 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 9
Question, "That section 9 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendments.

A Chathaoirligh, we have tabled an amendment for Report Stage and we ask that time be taken to consider that.

I ask the Acting Leader to suspend the sitting until 4.14 p.m.

Why not leave it till later? Why not deal with it next Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday?

It was agreed that all Stages would be taken today.

I propose that the House be suspended for 30 minutes following which we will take Report Stage.

Question put: "That Report Stage be taken at 4.15 p.m."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 28; Níl, 13.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carroll, James.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Dearey, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Regan, Eugene.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins.
Question declared carried.
Sitting suspended at 4 p.m. and resumed at 4.15 p.m.

I call on the Acting Leader to move the suspension of the House until 4.30 p.m.

I propose the suspension of the House until 4.30 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 4.15 p.m. and resumed at 4.30 p.m.