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Tempers flare as hunting debate hits boiling point

TENSIONS are escalating within Fianna Fail over the Green Party's new animal welfare laws, with two party members involved in an angry confrontation and another punished for refusing to vote with the Government.

A string of Fianna Fail backbenchers yesterday objected to the Green Party's latest piece of contentious legislation, describing it as "an assault on rural Ireland".

As the legislation to ban the hunting of deer with packs of dogs was debated in the Dail, Fianna Fail TDs said the law was "unnecessary and disproportionate".

Taoiseach Brian Cowen was warned he would not have the support of some Fianna Fail TDs if there was any further clampdown on rural pursuits such as hunting, shooting or fishing.

Fine Gael and the Labour Party are opposing the stag hunting ban, and opposition deputies yesterday goaded Fianna Fail TDs into voting against the bill.


It came as signs emerged that the junior coalition partner, the Green Party, won't get all their list of demands anytime soon -- with many put on the long finger. For example, the prospects of the election of a Dublin Mayor happening this year are slim as the legislation will only be published before the summer break.

Mr Cowen has declined to provide any commitment that the mayoral election will be held in 2010. The Green Party's new laws, particularly in the animal rights area, are regarded as a vital element to keep the party in coalition as they vote through spending cuts, tax hikes and cash injections for the banking sector.

However, two TDs were involved in a "verbal altercation" at a Fianna Fail meeting this week after a row over the party's failures to tone down the Greens' dog breeding laws. Fianna Fail TDs Bobby Aylward and Mattie McGrath had a stormy exchange on Tuesday after a debate on the dog breeding legislation in their party.

"I just walked away from him. There's no point in raising his fists or sticking his fists or waving them about," Mr McGrath said. "He tried to intimidate me but I wasn't intimidated. I couldn't repeat it now, what he was saying to me. It was just generally threatening behaviour but, sure, tempers were high. He's a strong man, Bobby.

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"I'm a political person, I'm not into violence. I'm a peace commissioner. I keep peace and make peace," he added.

Fianna Fail senator Denis O'Donovan lost the party whip after he refused to vote with the Government last week on the same dog breeding legislation. Objections to the stag hunting ban were voiced by half a dozen FF TDs during the Dail debate yesterday.

Johnny Brady warned he would withdraw his support for the Government if there was any effort to bring in extra bans on rural pursuit.

FF colleagues Mr McGrath, Thomas Byrne, Sean Power, Maire Hoctor and Mary Wallace also voiced opposition.

The row over the legislation also dragged in Labour as Environment Minister John Gormley accused them of performing a U-turn by opposing the stag hunting ban.

Opposition scents blood: Analysis, Page 27

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