A DEER hunt yesterday obtained High Court permission to challenge restrictions on its licence which, it says, amount to an effective ban.
Ward Union Hunt Club chairman Oliver Russell claims a decision by Environment Minister John Gormley is "purely based on his political philosophy that hunting should be prohibited".
The Green minister is contriving new conditions in the hunting licence "to give the appearance of permitting hunting whilst in reality banning it", Mr Russell claims.
Yesterday, in the High Court, Mr Justice John Hedigan gave leave to Feichin McDonagh, for the club, to seek a judicial review quashing the minister's decision to impose conditions on the licence.
The judge was also told the club would apply next week to take injunction proceedings preventing the minister from continuing to impose the condition on the licence.
The club has 128 members and holds regular hunts in the north county Dublin and south Meath area, involving a deer being released and chased by hounds until it goes "to bay".
The deer is then recaptured by shooting a sedative into the animal. The Ward Union has received licences to hunt for 32 years, since 1976, on the basis of a pack of hounds pursuing a deer, Mr Russell said in a sworn statement.
But last year, when Mr Gormley became Environment Minister, the licence included a condition that the hounds could not be released until the deer has been recaptured.
Mr Russell argued that this condition has "in effect banned hunting".
He said the minister appears to have the "erroneous belief" that the deer are tame and can be driven or led at will.
The notion that hounds could only be released after the deer has been recaptured makes a hunt impossible or nearly impossible because, by the time the dogs are out, the scent of the deer will have become faint or faded, Mr Russell said.
In February last year, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) indicated re-issuing of the licence would be very difficult because of an incident the previous month when a deer involved in a hunt crossed the yard of a school in Kildalkey, Co Meath.
As a result of that incident, the Ward Union implemented a new code of practice for its hunts, but by August last year, its licence had not been renewed. On December 19, the Ward Union finally received its new licence.
The club went ahead with its traditional St Stephen's Day hunt under the new licence but "the whole process was bizarre and a farce", Mr Russell said.
The deer was "lost" because even the club's best riders were unable to keep up with it and the hounds could not be released in order to find it.
Mr Russell said the 120 riders there on the day got "a mere 10 to 15 minute cross-country ride without any sense of purpose" and thus, demeaned hunting.
As a result, the club voted to suspend hunting until "such time as the situation has been regularised."