Parliamentary Questions and Answers
Question 57 - Answered on 9th February, 2005
Tony Gregory: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the status of the deer hunted by the Ward Union Hunt; if these deer are wild or domesticated; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Priority Question. Ref No: 4095/05
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. Batt O’Keeffe: Section 26(1) of the Wildlife Act 1976, as amended, provides that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government may grant to the master or other person in charge of a pack of stag hounds, a licence authorising the hunting of deer by that pack during such period or periods as is or are specified in the licence. Under this provision, licences have been issued annually to the Ward Union Hunt on a long-standing basis, subject to appropriate conditions.
Legal advice was obtained through the Office of Attorney General in 1999 which confirmed the long-standing interpretation of section 26 that it provides for the licensing of carted deer hunting irrespective of the status of the deer, wild or captive. In view of this, it is not relevant to the exercise of this licensing function to determine whether the deer are wild or captive and it would be inappropriate to seek to administer licensing on the basis of this distinction.
Mr. Gregory: Will the Minister of State answer the question tabled? What is the status of the deer hunted by the Ward Union Hunt? In the view of the Minister of State, his advisers and officials, are they domesticated farmed tame deer, as we all know them to be, or are they wild? As the Minister of State has referred to section 26(1) of the Wildlife Act, does he not agree that the Long Title of and the Preamble to that Act specifically state that the legislation deals exclusively with wild animals? If the Minister grants licences to the Ward Union Hunt to hunt farmed tame domesticated deer, does the Minister of State not accept he is in breach of the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which expressly forbids terrorising or causing unnecessary suffering to any domesticated animal?
Mr. B. O’Keeffe: In its 1998 report, the Heritage Council recommended that the legal status of the deer be determined in accordance with section 26(1) of the Wildlife Act 1976. The Department sought the advice of the Attorney General on foot of that recommendation. The effect of the advice was that the Act applies to the hunting of deer by the Ward Union Hunt and that the Minister should interpret the legislation to mean that he has the right to issue licences. Section 26(1) of the 1976 Act, which refers to the hunting of deer, does not mention wild deer. If one examines the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, one will see that far from weakening the force of the advice given to the Department in 1999, it seems to corroborate it. Section 6 of the 2000 Act amends section 2 of the 1976 Act by providing for a new definition of “wild animal” as follows:
”’wild animal’ includes an individual of a population which primarily lives independent of human husbandry but does not include——
(a) wild birds, or
Although the part of section 26 of the 1976 Act that deals with the hunting of otters was amended by the 2000 Act, no change was made to confirm that point. The Department considers that its interpretation is the correct one.
Mr. Gregory: I will not repeat the three specific questions I asked that the Minister of State did not answer, but I will ask a further specific question, which I hope he will answer. Does the Minister of State accept that his officials, who have direct responsibility for operating and enforcing the Wildlife Act 1976, advised in a memorandum that was made available under the Freedom of Information Act 1997 that licences should not be granted to the Ward Union Hunt to hunt deer from Greenpark, County Meath, because they are domesticated and tame animals? Does the Minister not realise that he is in breach of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 because he has licensed a group to hunt tame deer? This matter will come before the courts sooner or later. Is it true that the Ward Union Hunt is being granted such licences in clear breach of the 1911 Act, as well as the 1976 Act, which deals exclusively with wild animals, because it is controlled by some of the richest, most powerful and most influential developers and businessmen in this country? I hope that is not the case.
Mr. B. O’Keeffe: The Minister and the officials in the Department do not know who is involved in the Ward Union Hunt.
Mr. Gregory: They must not read the newspapers
Mr. B. O’Keeffe: There is certainly no suggestion that they are interested in who is involved in the hunt. The Deputy raised a valid question about the series of questions asked by officials within the Department. I accept that the officials from the Department’s wildlife section were carrying out their responsibilities in a conscientious manner by asking such questions and expressing their views.
Mr. Gregory: Unlike the Minister.
Mr. B. O’Keeffe: The questions they raised were carefully examined within the Department. The conclusion that was reached was that because the term “wild animal” was not found in section 26 of the Wildlife Act 1976, the operation of that provision could not be considered to be affected by the definition. When considering the issuing of licences, the Minister has no choice but to grant licences when it is considered that an application is within the terms of the Act, as long as those involved operate within the terms of their licence.
A section within the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government monitors such operations, in effect. That monitoring is done by rangers employed by the Department and veterinary officials employed by the Department of Agriculture and Food. Both groups are satisfied with the operation of the hunt in question. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is satisfied that it is operating within the terms of the 1976 Act. If there is a challenge, the courts can make a decision. The Department, armed with the considered opinion of the Attorney General and its interpretation of the Act, is satisfied that it is acting within the remit of the 1976 Act.
Mr. Gregory: May I ask a final supplementary question? If the Minister of State believes everything he has said, why has he consistently refused to answer Question No. 57 on the Order Paper? The question asks him to outline “the status of the deer hunted by the Ward Union Hunt” and to state whether they “are wild or domesticated”. Why has he refused to answer that question? The implication of his statement that there is no mention of wild deer in the Wildlife Act 1976 is that the deer are tame and domesticated farmed animals. His comments imply that the deer in question are tame and domesticated. The Minister of State is shaking his head now. Will he answer the original Question No. 57 on the Order Paper? Are the animals wild or tame?
Mr. B. O’Keeffe: The first thing I will say is that the Deputy will not interpret for me. The question he has asked, whether the animals are wild or tame, does not arise——
Mr. Gregory: It is on the Order Paper.
Mr. B. O’Keeffe: ——within the 1976 Act. If the Deputy had listened to my initial response, he would have——
Mr. Gregory: I know the Act back to front.
Mr. B. O’Keeffe: So do I.
Mr. Gregory: Why does the Minister of State not answer my question?
Mr. B. O’Keeffe: It does not arise within the terms of the 1976 Act. The Attorney General has expressed the clear opinion that the Ward Union Hunt is entitled to apply for a licence and the Department is entitled to issue a licence. There is no problem if the hunt stays within the remit of the licence under the Act, as it has done. It is important to note that the hunt has been monitored and it has been verified that it has stayed within the remit of its licence. The licence has been granted and renewed on the basis of a series of conditions. The Ward Union Hunt has complied with all such conditions on all instances to date.
Mr. Gregory: I would like to make a brief final point.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That concludes Priority Questions.
Mr. Gregory: If the Minister of State had answered the question——
Mr. B. O’Keeffe: If the Deputy had listened to the earlier statement, he would have heard his question answered.
Mr. Gregory: I did not ask any of the questions the Minister of State seemed to be answering.
Mr. B. O’Keeffe: If the Deputy wants to be deaf to the actual answer, that is fine.
Mr. Gregory: He did not respond to any of the points I made.
Mr. F. McGrath: What about the Ward Union Hunt’s prisoner connections?