Parliamentary Questions and Answers
Adjournment Debate - 4th March, 2004
Tony Gregory: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me time to speak on this issue which I consider to be a flagrant breach of the Protection of Animals Act. I refer to the granting of licences to the Ward Union hunt to use packs of hounds to hunt tame domesticated deer. I raise this matter in the context of what I consider to be the appalling record of disregard of animal welfare in this State.
We recently saw exposed the so-called puppy farms, with their dreadful conditions, operating here in the absence of any legislative restraint, an activity not tolerated in Britain or other EU countries. We also have the unregulated growth in fur farming of Arctic fox without veterinary supervision and operated in a callous and cruel manner. This has been banned in other EU countries.
This State still tolerates the barbaric treatment of timid animals in live hare coursing, which was recently outlawed in the North, yet here the responsible Minister refuses even to countenance the humane alternative available in drag coursing using a mechanical lure. The hunting of foxes with packs of hounds is in the process of being banned in England but continues unrestricted here when drag hunting with a scented lure could easily remove the cruelty aspect.
Perhaps most blatant of all is the issue I raise now, that of tame captive, farmed deer used to supply the Ward Union hunt which cruelly terrifies and hunts them with packs of hounds in clear breach of the Protection of Animals Acts 1911 and 1965 which explicitly state that it is an offence to terrify or cause unnecessary suffering to any tame animal and expressly provide that a domesticated animal may not be treated in this manner.
It was for that very reason that, in 1997, the department of agriculture in the North took legal and veterinary advice and concluded that deer tamed by their semi-intensive rearing system must be regarded as domestic animals and hunting them would be an act of cruelty and in breach of their welfare of animals Acts. The authorities in the North ceased to issue hunt licences and outlawed the practice. What happened in the Republic? The Attorney General's advice was sought but never revealed. It seems it is top secret, for whatever reason, and licences continue to be issued.
Incredibly, that same year, 1997, our Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry's veterinary inspector, Mr. K.W.S. Kane, was authorised to compile a report on the activities of the Ward Union hunt. Mr. Kane's report is a damning indictment of that hunt. He states: "As the Red Deer herd presently kept at Green Park by the Ward Union Hunt has been maintained in captivity for something in the region of 150 years and is augmented regularly by stock from captive herds farmed solely for venison production, it is hard to see how they avoid falling into the category of "domestic animal" for the purposes of the Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 and 1965". He further stated that stags are terrified, distressed and exhausted and that the hunts must be terrifying and stressful for the animal, that domesticated red deer are obviously unfit for a prolonged chase by hounds, and concluded: "It could be argued legally ... that the stags are domestic animals and do not fall within the ambit of the Wildlife Act, 1976 and thus that the hunts contravene the Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 and 1965." Mr. Kane's report was ignored and was even refused by the Department concerned under the Freedom of Information Act when it was requested by animal welfare groups.
I know the Minister of State will read his prepared script but I urge him to ask the responsible Minister to have this matter re-examined. It must be a scandal that the Government should connive in the manner I have outlined to subvert the protection of animals legislation in this State. This matter demands action and a resolute stand against the vested interests involved in torturing helpless animals.
Pat the Cope Gallagher (Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government): I thank Deputy Gregory for raising this matter and giving me the opportunity to clarify the position. The statutory responsibilities of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government are for the protection and conservation of wildlife species, including deer. Responsibility for implementing legislation on animal welfare rests with the Minister for Agriculture and Food.
Section 26 of the Wildlife Act 1976, as amended, which governs the licensing of the hunting of deer by stag hounds, refers generically to deer, and the question of whether deer are domestic or wild is not an issue in that section.
On foot of a question raised by the heritage council in December 1997, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, then responsible for nature conservation, sought the then Attorney General's advice on the legal status of the deer used by the Ward Union Hunt Club as wild or domesticated animals and on any implications for the exercise of her powers under the Wildlife Act 1976 to license carted stag hunting by the Ward Union hunt, having regard to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts 1911 and 1965 .
The substance of the legal advice was that section 26(1)(ii) of the Wildlife Act 1976 had consistently been applied to license carted stag hunts, which are carried out only by the Ward Union stag hunt. At the time of the enactment of the 1976 Act, the only form of stag hunting within the State was a carted stag hunt and the section as enacted covers that; to interpret the Protection of Animals Acts 1911 and 1965 as prohibiting the carted stag hunt was to ignore the clear and emphatic language of section 26 of the Wildlife Act 1976. Deer maintained in the Ward Union Hunt Club deer park come within the clear scope of section 26(1)(ii) of the Wildlife Act 1976. The inclusion of deer in section 26 of the Wildlife Act 1976 was sufficient to empower the Minister to licence the Ward Union hunt. If the Minister refused to consider an application for a licence, the hunt could apply for an order of mandamus.
Issues concerning animal welfare in the conduct of the Ward Union carted stag hunt were comprehensively addressed in the hunting code of practice of September 1999 agreed between the Ward Union Hunt Club, the then Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the Department of Agriculture and Food. A condition of the hunt club's annual licence requires compliance with this code of practice.
Compliance with the conditions of the licence is monitored by conservation officers from my Department and, in an advisory capacity to my Department, by veterinary officers from the Department of Agriculture and Food. Their reports are considered in the context of issuing a licence for the following year. There is an annual inspection of the deer at the park at the end of the season to ensure that the deer are healthy and sound and that hunt records are complete. The last inspection was at the end of the 2002-3 season and showed no grounds for concern.