ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley is to press ahead with legislation banning stag-hunting with hounds despite mounting opposition from hunting groups across the country.
A spokesman for the minister said yesterday that the heads of the bill were currently being drafted and would be published early in the new year.
Following a mass meeting of hunting groups opposed to the ban in Trim, Co Meath, on Monday night, the spokesman stressed: "This legislation does not have any implications for any other country pursuits such as fox-hunting, hare-coursing or shooting."
He said Mr Gormley believed that the practice had to end "on animal welfare and public safety grounds". Last Friday, a stag was put down after running on to a public road during a hunt and colliding with a car.
In another incident in Kildalkey in Co Meath in 2007, a stag being chased by the Ward Union Hunt ran into the grounds of a primary school, provoking complaints from local parents.
Yesterday, spokesman for Ward Union Hunt Ronan Griffin rejected any suggestion that the proposed legislation would affect only stag-hunting. He said the laws being introduced in relation to the maintenance of kennels would be too stringent and expensive for smaller packs to meet, forcing them out of existence.
Insisting Mr Gormley had an "extreme animal rights agenda" Mr Griffin said the Green Party was "nothing but interfering people who do not understand".
He demanded to know what Mr Gormley proposed to do with the red deer currently owned by Ward Union Hunt, the 50 hounds, or the four people employed by them.
Mr Griffin said Mr Gormley had put a vet and two hunt monitors on the Ward Union hunt "at taxpayers' expense of about €6,000 a week" and had cost the taxpayer €400,000 after he lost a High Court case against the hunt last year.
He passionately defended the hunt as uniting community spirit, providing a service to local farmers through the knackery and as an invigorating, enjoyable outdoor pursuit.
Meath East Fine Gael TD Shane McEntee called on all sports people to support the Ward Union in their opposition to the new legislation.
"The people realise that this ban on stag-hunting is the thin edge of the wedge in a concerted effort by the Green Party to stamp out all rural Irish sporting activities eventually.
"Mr Gormley has made it his life's ambition to ban it. But he has yet to come up with alternative ideas of employment for those employed by the hunt or how to replace the revenue lost to the economy," he said.