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Lay of the land: Animal Welfare Bill is the stuff of nightmares

Halloween is when things go bump in the night. Or 'knock-knock' at the door, as children trick or treat. We were a mercenary bunch when I was at this caper, dumping rotten apples from the 'mean' houses and making a mental note for next year of the nice lady with the sweets.

But spooky stuff has been going on for weeks with the Animal Welfare Bill. Minister Coveney believes blood sports are acceptable because they happen "according to the codes of conduct drawn up by clubs" and "considerable numbers of people are passionate" about them.

So scaring creatures, often to death, is OK if you set ground rules. And love doing it. Creepy. Isn't there a danger overseas extremists might hear about this?

But they already have: hunting clubs are importing practitioners of ghoulish pastimes that are outlawed in their own countries.

Blood sports are big business. Foreign enthusiasts pay top dollar to haunt our wildlife. Which begs the question: is the money to be made out of the suffering of the fox and hare the real 'rural pursuit'?

For the issue of blood sports is always turned into a rural versus urban conflict. An attack on hare coursing is an attack on 'rural traditions'. City slickers should mind their own business.

Yet it's not true that all rural people support blood sports. There was considerable representation from rural communities at the Animal Rights Action Network rally this summer. They displayed not only compassion but also humour, bearing placards that read 'Culchies against Coursing' and 'Down With This Sort Of Thing'.

Why doesn't the minister heed these rural voices? He defines cruelty as causing unnecessary suffering to animals. But how can suffering that is inflicted purely for entertainment be 'necessary'?

Perhaps animal welfare issues should be decided by referendum. Animals, like children, depend on us for protection. If the Government won't fight its corner, shouldn't we?

Because Gandhi said you could judge a nation by the way it treats its animals. Blood sports don't just hurt our wildlife. They also send a message to the rest of the world, that we allow brutal pastimes to happen here that have been banned in most civilised countries.

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It's time Minister Coveney heeded the feelings of the majority of Irish citizens -- not just vested parties who abuse our wildlife for fun.

Then the Animal Welfare Bill won't be a trick that betrays these creatures, but a genuine treat that honours them, and our reputation as a compassionate nation.

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