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Minister, don't make an ass of yourself over hunting ban

Few things are quite as enjoyable as when Piety meets Power. For Piety in Opposition can propose a wind-driven economy, and airliners powered by watermills, and a ban on carbon dioxide by motor cars.

Piety can promise to eliminate atomic radiation from the world, and to espouse natural, organic farming. (Though, we actually had the wind- driven economy before. It was called the Middle Ages. And we also had organic farming, which also goes by the name of the Famine -- and still does, whenever you try to feed millions by that means).

For Piety, in this country, read the Greens, who are now in power, a development I actually welcomed when it happened, for reasons which don't make any sense to me now.

It was too early in the year to have been the magic mushrooms, and I haven't drunk poitin in a decade, nor smoked any dope.

Perhaps it was because Uranus was in conjunction with mine.

Anyway, this is how John Gormley got Environment, which seems a sensible department for him to get.

Piety in Defence might propose equipping the Defence Forces with renewable bows and arrows; and in Health, the new Green anti-radiation X-ray wards might consist of radiographers with large magnifying glasses.

No, no, you can't go wrong with a Green running the Environment.

Except, that in the first four months in office, John Gormley's ministerial car emitted a million and a quarter grammes of polluting carbon dioxide: that is, one and a quarter metric tonnes.

Now I don't blame him for this. Emitting carbon dioxide is the reality of political life, and when he rises at 6am, after four hours' sleep, he probably remembers those happy years in Opposition when Piety was king, and one could demand an ecological air-sea rescue service, using balloons rather than helicopters, and donkeys rather than tractors.

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But John Gormley is more than a Green. He is an Animal Rights Enthusiast (ARE). So is this why he has not yet renewed the annual licence of the Ward Union Hunt?

And the reason why this hunt alone is within his power is that unlike other hunts, whose quarry is foxes, the Ward Union goes after stags, which are a listed species.

Now, contrary to what many AREs believe -- though I'm sure the minister does not share their delusion -- the Ward Union does not kill stags. It chases them, but that's it.

It doesn't tear them to pieces, in the stag-at-bay caricature that can be relied upon to bring tears to the sturdiest eyes. The hounds are always called off at the chase's conclusion.

But is even this not cruel on the stags?

Do they not get frightened?

Is this not bad for their lickle-ickle hearts?

Look. A stag in the wild, free of all human influence, lives a life of regular stress, watching for wolves, rutting with and fighting other stags.

It is built to undergo the hormonal surges of battle or of escape.

The unnatural condition for a stag is to know neither fight nor flight, fear nor foe.

Yet this is precisely the unnatural life we have created for it in predator-free Ireland.

The chase is as natural for a stag as the rut or the shag or the shit. That's it.

Moreover, the Ward Union is a truly -- but apolitically -- green organisation. Over 150 years old, it has raised and guarded its own 120-strong herd of pure Irish red deer.

It is from this herd that its quarry animal is chosen, and to which it is returned after the chase.

Without the hunt to subsidise the herd, the latter would not exist. No hunt, no herd. QED.

And more than that. The hunt provides an environmentally friendly method of disposing of animal cadavers: 4,500 head of livestock which have died of natural causes are consumed annually by the Ward Union hounds. These would otherwise have to be burnt.

Yet the hunt hasn't met this year because the minister still hasn't signed its licence. To which I make a couple of observations.

Firstly, just how many votes will government parties get in this area if this farce continues?

Over the course of an entire year, the hunt is the focus for the lives and livelihoods, pastimes and pleasures, of thousands of people.

It is, quite simply, the weft and the warp of country life in that part of the Fingal/Meath/ Kildare triangle.

And secondly, the British hunt-ban has shown that unless law recognises the realities of rural life, it will just make an ass of itself.

There are now more hunts, and more foxes killed, after the British "ban" than there were before it.

Finally, the minister might remember this simple truth.

The Ward Union does not kill anything. In that sense, it doesn't "hunt" stags at all. Which might in law mean that it doesn't actually need a licence, and that it can chase its own stag without anyone's permission.

With one quarter of the hunting season already gone, by not issuing the licence, Environment Minister John Gormley might sooner, rather than later, discover that he actually has less power than he once thought -- one of politics bitterest lessons.

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