'We're so deflated about the whole thing," bleated millionaire property developer and master of the Ward Union Hunt, Michael Bailey, following the delightful fiasco that unfolded on St Stephen's Day as the hunt adhered to new restrictions to its licence. "It's all about the thrill of the chase and that was lost here today."
The grinch who stole Christmas for the hunters is Environment Minister John Gormley, my new hero, who took a step in the right direction in relation to this heinous "sport" by issuing the hunt with a restricted licence. This meant that instead of pursuing a live animal, the hunt had to follow the scent of a deer, who was to be recaptured alive before the hounds were released.
Alas, it all went pear-shaped in Bellewstown, Co Meath as they lost the stag. As they sobbed into their pints afterwards, Bailey lamented how John Gormley was ripping the heart out of Ireland's rural community by "taking all our rural values away".
"He hasn't a clue," he lamented. "He's trying to create a city/rural divide."
No, Michael, it's actually a humane/barbarous divide, and what the minister is trying to do is create a situation whereby innocent creatures are not terrorised, maimed and destroyed as a result of the despicably cruel hobby in which you and your crew engage twice-weekly.
Your principal defence is that the stag is rounded up and captured, but as Aideen Yourell from the Irish Council Against Blood Sports recently said, incidents of cruelty have been documented following hunts where deer have died of aneurisms, were choked on capture, drowned in a quarry, sustained fractured ribs, were rendered lame, and were found trapped by barbed wire.
But sure not to worry, because as jockey Paul Carberry, who says he "lives for hunting," and indeed wrote an impassioned plea to the minister on that subject in this very paper last September, justifies it: "Deer have accidents -- three deer have been killed in the last few years -- but you'd get that in a weekend in the Phoenix Park. It's ridiculous really."
Ridiculous, indeed Paul, and all I can say is that if you or any of your pompous, gutless brigade of hunters were to tumble off your lofty mounts and break your callous necks in the pursuit of a terrified innocent creature, that'd just be an accident too.
And by the same reasoning as you've applied, loads of people get killed crossing the street every day, so none of you would be any loss, in my opinion. Anyone who derives pleasure from terrorising a defenceless animal, when you could all just as easily switch to cruelty-free drag hunting, is, I believe, an absolute disgrace to the human race.
All I'm longing for now is for us to follow the UK's lead in bringing in an outright ban on the even worse blood sport of fox-hunting, where the "thrill of the chase" so beloved of Carberry and his ilk ends with the poor animal being torn apart by hounds.
According to a recent opinion poll carried out by Millward Brown, 68 per cent of those surveyed said that foxhunting is cruel, and 64 per cent want to see it banned outright in Ireland. If two out of three people want it banned, what are you waiting for, Minister Gormley? You have the support of the majority of people, whatever the pro-hunters would want you to believe. I also believe that those involved in coursing, "lamping" rabbits, shooting and all the other forms of sports that involve killing and maiming animals are equally reprehensible. It should all be outlawed.
And Coillte, you could help by refusing to have blood on your hands, and do not allow hunters to chase and kill foxes on your property. Many of you will disagree, but I abhor animals being used in entertainment, including horseracing and circuses. Orla Bird of the DSPCA says it is in full agreement with me on that point.
The other disgraceful practice of animal cruelty in Ireland is the reprehensible fur-farms, which exist to give spoilt Irish women the opportunity to wear real fur. According to National Animal Rights Association, there are six mink farms and at least one fox farm in this country, where a total of 150,000 animals are trapped and killed annually. Wild animals are captured by leg-hold traps, which painfully bite into the animals' legs, until the trapper eventually returns to kill them by clubbing or suffocation.
For the animals bred in captivity, their fate is no better, as they are imprisoned in tiny cages with no freedom to carry out their natural behaviour. NARA claims that 40 mink at a time are put into the killing box to be gassed, which often doesn't work, so many are skinned alive. Foxes are killed by electrocution, electrodes are clamped to their mouth and rods inserted into their rectum. An extremely painful death ensues, all so that the greed of thoughtless Irish women, who won't wear fake fur, is satiated. The cruelty won't stop until demand ceases, and to create awareness, NARA campaigned last week outside stores that sell real fur, including Sydney Vard, Pamela Scott, Richard Alan and Rohu Furs.
The thing is that while most rational, humane people have a conscience, and abhor cruelty in the form of hunting and fur-farming, many of us choose not to think about where the food on our plates comes from. Channel 4 has begun a groundbreaking series of programmes that aim to change the way viewers think about food.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver's poultry programmes last week demonstrated the real cost of the cheap chicken that we buy in supermarkets. These intensively farmed animals are produced in abysmal factory farm conditions. Similarly, 86 per cent of the eggs consumed in Britain come from battery caged hens.
According to Jamie Oliver, the most shocking aspect he uncovered was that supermarkets are paying so little that farmers have to sell approximately 100 chickens to make stg£3-4. How on earth could there be any hope that chickens and hens could have a decent life, under those conditions?
I recently had to dine in a seafood restaurant for business reasons, as I would normally go out of my way to avoid them, and it made me physically ill to see all the lobsters and crabs stacked wretchedly on top of one another in overcrowded tanks. A portly businessman selected one poor miserable creature, and posed delightedly beside it for a photograph, before it was cast to its death in a pot of boiling water for his enjoyment.
Now, I know the restaurant industry will be on to say that lobsters don't feel pain, but that has never been proved conclusively, and several recent new studies have suggested that the possibility that they feel pain can't be ruled out. The lobsters certainly panic and try desperately to escape. On a similar note, my chef friend Rob thinks that the process of steaming crabs alive is even more cruel.
As we are the ones who hold the ultimate power, the only way any of these appalling situations will change is if we stop ignoring what happens to animals in our names. Buying free-range and organic meat, wearing fake fur, finding cruelty-free hobbies and just thinking about the consequences of our actions would go a long way towards improving the lot of the beautiful creatures that are, sadly, completely at our mercy.