Sunday 26 February 2017

We need a referendum on 'rural pursuits' to tackle animal welfare issues

Fiona O'Connell

'In an era when species are becoming extinct and climate change is a terrifying reality, is it appropriate to continue hunting animals for so-called fun?'
'In an era when species are becoming extinct and climate change is a terrifying reality, is it appropriate to continue hunting animals for so-called fun?'

Posters of assorted politicians assuming people-pleasing poses are plastered everywhere around this country town. You never hear the various parties debate animal welfare. That isn't important compared to other issues.

Yet last year the bill for putting down horses - in Dublin alone - was more than €1m. Animal rescue centres around Ireland continue to be overwhelmed and underfunded.

But aside from the financial cost is the very real damage to our reputation. Sweden, which plays saviour to thousands of dumped Irish dogs every year, has expressed dismay at our lax laws. In their country, a dog is part of the family - not a fad to forsake when it no longer suits.

And the chasm is widening. A sentence of 20 years was recently handed down to a man who organised dogfights in the US. And many Spanish municipalities are banning bullfights.

Plenty in this country share their changing attitude to our fellow creatures - as demonstrated by the Letter of the Week in this newspaper on February 7 that praised Joe Kennedy's excellent piece on the pleasure we get from observing foxes.

Yet despite this, we are one of the few countries in the western world that condones bloodsports - or 'rural pursuits', to use the euphemism that conveniently couches the cruelty involved in these perverse pastimes. It's ironic to note, this centenary year, that hare coursing and fox hunting originate with the Black and Tans and the British ruling class respectively - a fact that doesn't seem to bother Sinn Fein. It's true we hunted in ancient Ireland. But we also respected animals, in the manner of Native Americans. As the legend of The Children of Lir shows, we honoured our connection to other species. That is a long way from modern-day commercial claptrap.

Surely bloodsports are only 'rural' in the sense that they happen in the country. Where is the evidence that either 'sport' shows any appreciation or respect for our wildlife?

Predictably, only the Green Party gives a damn about animal welfare. So-called 'new' party Renua actually wants to increase bloodsports to cash in on a particular type of tourist. Why not bring back dogfights too, Renua? That'd be a profitable solution to all those abandoned pets.

In an era when species are becoming extinct and climate change is a terrifying reality, is it appropriate to continue hunting animals for so-called fun?

What about the rest of us, whose genuine rural pursuits involve catching a glimpse of a fox or hare when out hiking?

Last year, we updated our morals when it comes to marriage. Isn't it time we held a referendum about the way we treat animals, especially in so-called rural pursuits?

Sunday Independent

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