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Hunt ban legislation will be published "as soon as possible"
14 January 2010

Environment Minister, John Gormley, will publish legislation to ban the Ward Union "as soon as possible". The Minister made the statement in response to a Dail question from pro-hunting Fine Gael TD, Shane McEntee.

"I continue to believe that this particular hunting practice should cease for animal welfare and public safety reasons," the Green Party leader told the Meath TD. You can read the full text of the Dail question and answer below.


Please email "I support the banning of the Ward Union" to

If you live in Shane McEntee's constituency, please remind him that you are one of the majority of Meath residents who want the Ward Union banned. Contact him at or Tel: 01 6184447

The Ward Union drag an injured, exhausted deer through a yard at the end of a hunt. Fine Gael TD, Shane McEntee believes the hunt is "an iconic representation of rural life in Ireland"

Dail Question and Answer

Adjournment Debate
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Hunting Licences.

Shane McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael): I am delighted to get a chance to speak on this subject, which I honestly did not think would arise again. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and I had some heated debates about stag hunting two or three years ago. The Minister insisted that certain regulations be put into place. For example, it is now necessary for three officials from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to monitor stag hunting. The Minister is aware that this system has worked well. Has he received any complaints about anything going wrong in this regard? While I accept that every party has its own programme for Government, I do not understand why the hunt is being targeted. Attempts are being made to ban a sporting activity that has contributed a great deal to this country.

The Ward Union Hunt has been in existence for 155 years, which makes it 30 years older than the GAA. People like Paul Carberry, Philip Carberry, Nina Carberry, Peter John Carberry, Ross Geraghty, Barry Geraghty, Robbie Power, Adrian Maguire and Norman Williamson, who are household names in this country, are among the progeny of the Ward Union Hunt. New names like Andrew Duff, Charles Greene, Keith Donohue, Megan Carberry and Donie Fahy are also among the progeny of the hunt, as are horse trainers like Noel Meade, Tommy Carberry, John Carr, Gordon Elliott, Tony Martin, Pat Rooney, Kieran Cromwell, James Halpin and Ronan O’Dwyer.

The Ward Union Hunt is the last stag hunt in the world. It is an iconic representation of rural life in Ireland. It has in excess of 200 members, more than 170 of whom ride out. Its premises, including its kennels, are regularly inspected by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which ensures the health of the pack and the deer is maintained. An official report has confirmed that hunting does not affect the short-term or long-term health of mature male deer. The hunt provides an essential knackery service, including a collection facility for fallen stock, to local farmers. The knackery is licensed by the Department, which visits it every day. The Ward Union Hunt raises between €50,000 and €100,000 for charity every year, even in bad times. The hunt maintains a carefully monitored breeding programme to protect and preserve the Irish red deer. It has been suggested that the hunt should be allocated funding to preserve and guarantee this aspect of Ireland’s heritage. It is estimated that the hunt contributes up to €1.6 million to the Exchequer every year. It costs the hunt approximately €6,700 per annum to keep a horse. That money is spent in the local area, benefitting vets, farriers, feed merchants and saddlers, etc. The hunt directly employs four full-time staff.

The Minister, Deputy Gormley, has made it a personal mission to target the Ward Union Hunt. In all his years in government, however, he has never taken the time to sit down with representatives of the hunt. Why is this the case? It is certainly not for the want of opportunity. Every rural Deputy in this House understands the importance of hunting and rural sports for local communities. Hunting is worth €111 million to the Exchequer every year. If it is not the case that the Minister is trying to rush an amendment through the House, why have the members of the Ward Union Hunt received a letter requesting a regulatory impact analysis? I suggest that has been done in advance of the introduction of legislation banning stag hunting. Why would the Minister ask for the opinion of the only remaining stag hunt in the world, when he has already guaranteed his party that a ban will happen? He has added insult to injury. The Minister’s letter of last week asked for a reply by Friday, 13 December 2009, but there is no such date. Perhaps someone will rectify that.

The Minister seems to be obsessed with the plight of the red deer in Leinster, but why is the same courtesy not being afforded to the red deer in Connacht? Can the Minister confirm that a number of complaints have been received by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to the effect that authorised officers from the Department are involved in the commercial exploitation of wildlife in the west? I have it on very good authority that red deer in Connacht are being hunted and shot for up to €5,000 per head. This is well known to the Minister and the proof of it is in his Department.

Why has a commencement date not been set for section 36 of the Wildlife Act during the past nine years? Such a commencement date would preclude any citizen from engaging in the commercial exploitation of wildlife without a licence, but a date has never been set. This means that anybody can host hunting parties for profit in Ireland.

With things the way they are, I do not know why the Minister is doing this. What he did two years ago has worked very well and he knows that, although I did not like it at the time. The Ward Union Hunt was the first to admit the new regulations put in place by the Minister and the people he appointed have worked very well.

As a Deputy, I will oppose this. It took the Labour Party in England 600 hours in the Houses of Parliament to get its anti-hunting ban through. It took it ten hours to get approval for the invasion of Afghanistan. If it takes 600 hours in this House, I will do everything to protect rural life in Ireland.

John Gormley (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dublin South East, Green Party): I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The renewed programme for Government includes a commitment to ban the practice of stag hunting. I should explain that under existing wildlife legislation I can, as Minister, issue a licence for the hunting of deer by a pack of hounds. As the Deputy is no doubt aware, there is now only one hunt club in the State which continues to hunt deer using a pack of hounds and horses. I have issued a licence to this hunt club to hunt deer with a pack of hounds for the 2009-2010 season which ends on 31 March 2010.

However, I continue to believe that this particular hunting practice should cease for animal welfare and public safety reasons. I believe a large proportion of the public consider such activity is no longer acceptable. The Deputy may recall an incident a few years ago when a deer pursued by a pack of hounds entered a school yard during the school day. I find an incident like this totally intolerable. Since then, there have been other public safety incidents involving deer in flight leaping through hedges onto public roads. Therefore, I recently obtained Government approval to the drafting of legislation to prohibit the hunting of deer by a pack of stag hounds. This legislation will not have any implications for other activities such as fox-hunting, hare coursing or the shooting of deer. This new legislation will also allow for regulations to control recreational activities, to address invasive species and to increase the penalties under the Wildlife Acts.

There is a need to regulate certain recreational activities in ecologically sensitive areas. This is in response to a judgment of the European Court of Justice which found that Ireland had failed to transpose adequately Article 6(2) of the habitats directive in the field of recreational activities. Certain, currently unregulated activities, such as the use of quad-bikes, scramblers or jet-skis in inappropriate locations, have resulted in serious ecological damage, including degradation and erosion of upland habitats and the destruction of the breeding sites of protected water birds. This problem must be urgently addressed if Ireland hopes to avoid further litigation at the European Court of Justice and the imposition of heavy fines.

I refer to what are termed “invasive alien species”. These are plants and animals which, if released to the wild either by accident or on purpose, have the potential to cause substantial economic damage as well as damage the natural biodiversity of the country. Examples we all know include the grey squirrel, muntjac deer, zebra mussel and the African pondweed, which is choking Lough Corrib. Increased powers are required to enable us to take the necessary steps to regulate the import, sale and dispersal of these undesirable animal and plant invasive species and to take appropriate steps, if possible, to eradicate them or minimise the threat that they pose.

The legislation will increase the maximum fines that could be imposed on a person following a conviction for an offence under the Wildlife Act. The penalties were last increased in 2000. For example, the current maximum fine of £500 will be increased to €1,000 while the £50,000 will increase to €100,000. It is my intention to publish the legislation as soon as possible.

The Facts About Carted Deer Hunting

Carted deer hunting is a cruel “sport” which causes horrific suffering to defenceless red deer. It subjects the deer - captive bred specifically for the abuse - to a distressing ordeal, leaving them exhausted, injured and severely at risk of dying from heart failure.

The red deer used are taken from a herd which is privately owned by the Ward Union hunt. This hunt is based in Dunshaughlin, County Meath.

Every Tuesday and Friday between November and mid-March, two deer (stags or hinds) are taken out in a cart to a hunt location. They have their antlers sawn off to prevent injuries being caused to the dogs and the manhandlers who wrestle them to the ground at the end of each hunt.

Exhausted and injured: At the end of the hunt, the deer is dragged back to the hunt's trailer. It will be abused again in a future hunt.

One deer is turned out of the trailer, and forced to run. The other is kept as a spare in case the first deer is caught too soon.

During the hunt, the deer is at risk of sustaining injuries as it frantically tries to outrun the horseback riders and the pack of dogs. Being in unfamiliar terrain, the deer has an extremely hazardous route ahead.

Crashing through hedges, over walls, across busy public roads and even into lakes and rivers, the terrified creature does everything it can to stay ahead.

A Department of Agriculture Veterinary Inspector who monitored a Ward Union hunt wrote: “One stag was seen attempting to jump a very high fence and getting his front leg caught on a top strand of barbed wire and hanging, thus suspended, for some seconds before his struggles and/or weight tore him free.”

He also outlined how a stag “having run at least 8 miles in 90 minutes showed extreme physical distress, panting through its mouth and with a lather of white foam around its muzzle.” Reported fatalities highlighted how one deer died of an aneurism while another was “accidentally” choked to death during capture.

Desperate to escape, a deer slips and falls as the hounds close in.

In a suppressed 1997 document (only obtained by ICABS in Autumn 2003), another Department of Agriculture Veterinary Inspector concluded that the deerhunt was “inhumane”.

Yet, no action was taken to stop the hunt which, we contend, is in breach of the 1911 Protection of Animals Act.

ICABS continues to call for a complete ban on this barbarism which surely should have no place in a civilised society.

We have appealed to the Minister for Agriculture, who is well aware of the cruelty involved, to follow the example of her counterparts in Northern Ireland who outlawed a similar hunt, the County Down Staghounds, in 1997. It was ruled that the deer used by that carted deer hunt were domestic animals and thus covered by animal welfare legislation.

A deer with its antlers cut off nervously waits for the hunt to begin.

Video: Carted deer hunting cruelty

View More Videos exposing the cruelty of carted deer hunting and other blood sports.

How can I help end this blood sport?

Please appeal to Minister John Gormley (he licenses the Ward Union deerhunt under the Wildlife Act) and Minister Brendan Smith (he is responsible for animal welfare and the Protection of Animals Act) to end carted deer hunting.

Minister John Gormley
Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government
Custom House, Dublin 1.

Tel: 01 888 2403.
Fax: 01 878 8640.

Minister Brendan Smith
Department of Agriculture
Agriculture House,
Kildare Street, Dublin 2.

Tel: 01-607 2000 or LoCall 1890-200510.
Fax: 01-661 1013.

The cruelty of carted deer hunting

The following list conveys just some of the cruelty of carted deer hunting and the suffering caused to the deer.

"In January 1999, Irish Council Against Blood Sports monitors obtained the first ever photographic and video evidence of the cruelty of the Ward Union carted deer hunt. Available to view in the videos and gallery pages of, it shows a terrified and exhausted stag, having been pursued across countryside for one and a half hours and cornered in a field by a pack of hounds. An ICABS cameraman raced to the scene and managed to film the terrified stag under pressure from hounds and being bitten. A number of hunt supporters manhandled the stag to the ground, and the exhausted animal with blood on its mouth and its tongue hanging out, was dragged away down a laneway through a farmyard and pushed into a cart." (Irish Council Against Blood Sports report, 1999)
During a Ward Union hunt in December 2009, a hunted deer jumped on to a road, was struck by a car, smashed into its windscreen and suffered a broken leg. The animal was put down. The occupants of the car were left badly shaken according to a relative speaking on RTE's Liveline radio show. The Irish Times of December 19, 2009 reported on the collision as follows "An incident occurred last Friday week which will only strengthen Gormley’s view that it should be banned. At 1.30pm a stag collided with the windscreen of a car on the Slane-to- Ashbourne road near Ashbourne. The animal broke a leg and was put down."
On 25 November 2008, a National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger monitoring the Ward Union hunt reported that he was forced to "brake hard" to avoid a collision with a hunted deer. The ranger said he "narrowly avoided killing" the animal.
In a veterinary report submitted to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, a veterinary surgeon monitoring a hunt at Scurlogstown, County Meath during the 2006-07 season, reveals that a deer "died as a result of 'dry drowning' having fallen into a quarry." The vet mentioned other deer that suffered injuries during the season. Five deer had "slight lameness" and two had "skin abrasions", he said.
In an official report dealing with the 2004-05 Ward Union season (obtained by ICABS under the Freedom of Information Act), details are provided about an 8-year-old deer that dropped dead after trying to escape. The death occurred after the creature was hunted for approximately one and a half hours. The following provides a harrowing glimpse into the deer's final minutes of life... "the stag...jumped over a 5 foot in height wall into the cottage garden, following which 3 nominated handlers entered the garden through a side gate. The stag, in full view of two of the handlers then attempted to escape from the garden by attempting unsuccessfully to scale a higher wall (approximately 8-9 feet high) before being captured on his feet by the three nominated handlers...The stag was held for approximately five minutes by the handlers as they waited for the deer cart to arrive, following which he suddenly dropped dead...The cause of death was due to a ruptured aorta."
A report in the Irish Times revealed that a stag being pursued by the Ward Union hunt was forced to swim across the River Boyne in a desperate bid to escape. The stag went into the river near Navan during a hunt on December 30th 2008 during a chase involving "50 huntsmen and huntswomen on horseback, in addition to some Ward Union staff...and a pack of hounds". (from "Stag escapes from Meath hunters by swimming river", Irish Times, December 31, 2008)
A farmer who phoned in to RTE's Liveline show following the chasing of a Ward Union deer into a school playground, said he had never before seen "an animal so shook looking". "I pitied him," the farmer said. "He was covered in a lather of sweat and his tongue was hanging out." When he questioned the hunt about their behaviour, he said they told him to "F*** off." (Liveline Radio Show, RTE, January 2007)
A Ward Union deer was choked to death in a wood, the Irish Farmers Journal has revealed. The death occurred at the end of a hunt and is one of the fatalities caused by the Ward Union "over the last few years", the newspaper reported. (From a report highlighted on the Irish Council Against Blood Sports website, 2007)
Two deer were hounded to their deaths by the Ward Union hunt during the 2004-05 season. The deer deaths were recorded in a Department of Agriculture report obtained by ICABS under the Freedom of Information Act. A veterinary inspector from the Department highlighted in the report how one deer died from fractured ribs while another died from a ruptured aortic aneurism.
According to a Department of Agriculture report obtained by ICABS, a deer hounded by the Ward Union Deerhunt died when recaptured at the end of a hunt. Following a post mortem, it was found that the deer had died from a ruptured aneurism. The report concluded that it was "most likely that the physiological stress of hunting led to the rupture". (From an article in ICABS newsletter, Animal Watch, Issue 1, 2003)
A report from a Department of Agriculture Veterinary Inspector revealed that a deer "accidentally choked" while being captured.
"As a young Irish man living in Dunshaughlin County Meath in the 1950's as a groom, I saw many a deer put down after breaking his back as a result of having to make a jump because the hounds were at its heels. I can honestly say it was not a pretty sight. Whilst at home a few years ago the hunt came by and to see the reaction of the huntsmen on the Dublin / Navan road galloping up and down was unbelievable." (From a comment on the Irish Times website, Joe Dowd, United Kingdom, December 2009)
The quotes in this section are extracts from the Kane Report on the Ward Union The conclusions of Veterinary Inspector, Kieran Kane are utterly damning of the Ward Union...

"The transportation of the stags in the cart is inhumane in its manner and in the design of the cart. The enlargement of the stags is inhumane in that they are ejected suddenly into a strange environment and alone. A stag which has been hunted previously appears, before the hunt starts, to be distressed and aware that he is about to be hunted again. Stags being hunted appear to be terrified of the hounds. A stag is aware when he is being hunted and continues to flee even when the hounds are far behind. Stags are sometimes wounded or injured during hunts by physical incidents or by the hounds. Stags are terrified by people and motor vehicles during the hunt. Stags are apparently distressed and exhausted towards the end of hunts and will hide and lie down at this stage. At the end of the hunt the fact that a man can catch and hold him would seem to be adequate evidence of physical exhaustion by the stag. The handling of the stag when taken at the end of a hunt must be terrifying and stressful to the animal." (Kane Report)

"Nervousness of stags in the cart prior to hunts was variable...with some appearing very nervous or stressed. At one hunt it was notable that of the two stags in the cart, one which had been hunted previously was showing body tremors, excessive salivation and panting."

"A farmer who saw, at very close range, the stag at bay on 7th February told me that it was bleeding from one leg; also I was informed by Hunt staff that some stags are given antibiotic treatment after hunts if they have injuries such as wounds or swollen limbs." (Kane Report)

"On two hunts on which the route of the stag was traced well on a half inch map, it was calculated that one stag had run at least 8 miles and the other at least 12 miles." (Kane Report)

"A stag which has been hunted before is, presumably, aware that he is about to be followed by hounds and runs from fear: indeed it is notable that the stag runs although the hounds are not yet on his trail. In the early stages of the hunt the stag runs constantly but as the hunt progresses he may stop running and hide or even lie down and it is at this stage that the hounds may catch up with him." (Kane Report)

"A major hazard encountered by stags is barbed wire. One stag was seen attempting to jump a very fence and getting his front leg caught on a top strand of barbed wire and hanging, thus suspended, for some seconds before his struggles and/or weight tore him free." (Kane Report)

"Stags are frightened by people and motor vehicles when they cross public roads, which they frequently do during hunts.

"A stag observed, down to 30 yards range through binoculars, having run at least 8 miles in 90 minutes showed extreme physical distress, panting through its mouth and with a lather of white foam around its muzzle." (Kane Report)

"I was informed by two eye-witnesses that hounds, although chary of a stag at bay, will attempt to bite him." (Kane Report)

"Stags are hunted until about 9 years of age at which time they may get "stiff" or fail in condition and I was told that they are then sold or exchanged with commercial deer farms or slaughtered for venison." (Kane Report)

"Domesticated Red Deer are obviously completely unfit for a prolonged chase by hounds. A recent scientific report in England has concluded that wild Red Deer are physiologically unable for a prolonged chase by hounds." (Kane Report)

In December 2003, ICABS monitors filmed and photographed a Ward Union deer at the end a hunt. The injured animal was seen panting for breath. There was blood on its head. Photos taken on the day can be viewed in our Gallery Page, including this one showing an injured deer with blood on its head
"Of course the stag suffers. I saw the hounds attack the hind quarters of the legs of the poor, unfortunate animal. It's horrific to see the end of the hunt." (Fianna Fail Meath Councillor, Noel Leonard, on his opposition to the Ward Union hunt, Meath Chronicle, 9th January 2010)

More information about carted deer hunting

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