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Anger over stag hunt 'ban'

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Ed Long from Wexford sounds off during the anti-hunting protest outside the Dail yesterday

Ed Long from Wexford sounds off during the anti-hunting protest outside the Dail yesterday

Ed Long from Wexford sounds off during the anti-hunting protest outside the Dail yesterday

The Government has been accused of destroying a 150-year-old tradition after effectively banning the country's only stag hunt.

Cracking the green whip, Environment Minister John Gormley banned the Ward Union Hunt in Co Meath from allowing hounds to actually pursue a tame stag though the countryside this Christmas.

The controversial decision -- banning them for the first time in their 150 years -- means the hunt will not be able to take to the fields after Christmas day for their traditional hunt in the normal manner.

The Ward Union Hunt has warned it will examine the decision and then consider whether to take legal action.

It is the only one in the country involved in carted stag hunting, where a tame farmed stag is released to be chased by hounds and hunters.

Mr Gormley announced yesterday that he had decided to renew the hunt's licence from yesterday, but only on condition that the stag be recaptured after laying a scent trail.

Hounds

This means the hunters will have to escort the stag through the fields, before putting him back in a cart and then releasing the hounds to follow his scent and trail.

Last night Oliver Russell, chairman of the Ward Union Hunt, said that the condition imposed on the licence, whereby the stag would first be brought along a prescribed route and then brought back before the hunt begins, was a disappointment.

"The intention should have been if a licence was being granted then it would be an operable licence," he told the Irish Independent.

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"This does not appear to be stag hunting," he said.

Mr Russell said the Ward Union Hunt had been in existence more than 150 years and was part of the national heritage.

While legal action was an option open to them this was not going to be an issue until the full licence had been thoroughly examined.

The hunt was at the centre of controversy last January when a stag being chased by hounds ran into a school playground as parents were waiting to collect their children.

Mr Gormley raised a number of issues of serious concern with the Ward Union Hunt in relation to animal welfare, conservation and protection of stags generally and compliance with previous licence conditions.

He said these arose particularly since the incident last January when a stag ran into a school playground in Kildalkey, Co Meath.

Meetings were held between officials of his department and representatives of the Ward Union Hunt and correspondence exchanged "to convey the minister's serious concerns".

Yesterday, Mr Gormley issued a restricted licence to the hunt subject to 28 conditions.

"I believe that the conditions attached to the licence address my concerns from a wider public policy perspective about the public safety issues surrounding the hunting of a large animal by a large group on horseback and a pack of hounds through an increasingly urbanised countryside," he said.

The Irish Council Against Blood Sports welcomed the restrictions, which meant the deer will not be actually hunted, but said it had hoped for a complete refusal by the minister.


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