Farm Ireland

Sunday 19 November 2017

Open forum have your say: Mary White TD

John Shirley is a fellow Carlow resident and someone whom I have a lot of regard for as a journalist and agriculture expert.

I have admired John's fair and balanced coverage of agricultural issues in the Farming Independent over the years, especially on the beef and cattle sector.

So I was extremely surprised and disappointed at his recent column where he made a series of unfair, misleading and, indeed, just plain wrong claims about the Green Party and its policies.

At the moment, the Greens are subject to a well-financed campaign of vilification and prejudice, involving unsubstantiated claims about several new initiatives that our ministers are pushing on. This campaign is attempting to scaremonger, with cynical, emotive claims, that some of these initiatives are an "attack on rural Ireland" or the "thin edge of the wedge".

As a rural dweller myself, nothing could be further from the truth.

These initiatives, such as those on dog breeding and animal welfare -- are designed to strengthen regulation, get rid of bad practices and enhance this country's reputation abroad.

I welcome an opportunity to set the record straight here and to correct some of John Shirley's assertions.

On the Dog Breeding Bill, it is designed to clamp down on illegal puppy farms. But the idea that the legislation is based on some kind of radical agenda is simply not true.

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The legislation is based entirely on an independent report published five years ago by the Department of the Environment -- before the Greens were in power -- which, in turn, followed two years of consultation. The inclusion of greyhound and hunt kennels was recommended in that report because it is best practice, and because neither type of kennel is subject to independent inspections. You have to bear in mind that 10pc of all dogs that end up in animal shelters are greyhounds.

In addition, full-scale exemptions were never promised to either the hunt kennels or greyhound industry by this or any other administration.

There are several partial exemptions, including the waiving of fees for hunt kennels so that they face no additional costs for the regulations. That was what was committed to, and what was delivered.

The simple fact is that all larger dog breeding establishments, including animal welfare shelters, will be subject to these regulations. No exemptions, no light-touch regulation. How could this be considered to be anti-rural?

Regarding the Wildlife Bill, this will be brought forward in the near future and proposes to end the licensing of the Ward Union stag hunt. This is a carted stag hunt, involving a farmed stag being released to be chased by riders and dogs, and in what is now a heavily populated area. Setting the animal welfare issues aside of hunting a farmed animal, there are significant public safety issues involved in allowing such a hunt to continue. My party is opposed to animal blood sports such as this, and I make no apology for that.

It is one thing to criticise and oppose me or my party for that position on blood sports. It is another to make the entirely ridiculous claim that we are in some way opposed to other field sports or equine sports. No, John, opposition to blood sports does not lead to a "logical conclusion" of a ban on horse racing.

And contrary to claims of stag hunt supporters, the Greens respect country sports, including angling and shooting. Like me, a large proportion of our membership lives in the country, are fully involved in their communities, and are working to protect and enhance the lives of rural dwellers.

We are now paying the heavy price of light-touch regulation in other sectors of our society. Irish people -- be they rural or city dwellers -- should have nothing to fear from regulation. Strong regulation is not the thin end of the wedge, as John Shirley puts it, and those who believe in high standards should have nothing to fear from it.

Mary White is the Green Party deputy leader and Minister of State for Equality, Integration and Human Rights

Irish Independent

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