Animal rights legislation


SOMETHING OF a phoney war is being waged by Fianna Fáil backbenchers against animal rights legislation promoted by the Green Party in Government. The legislation in question: the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill and the Wildlife Amendment Bill have been agreed by the leadership of both parties under a revised programme for government and are likely to become law before the summer recess.

The Wildlife Amendment Bill is the more contentious of the two. It proposes to ban stag hunting with hounds, which is only conducted by the Co Meath-based Ward Union Hunt. Green Party leader John Gormley argues the practice is unacceptable to the Irish people and should end because of animal welfare and public safety reasons. Hunt supporters say it is long established and highly regulated, contributes to the local economy, gives employment and no stags are killed. The issue is fiercely divisive, with many rural TDs and groups involved in “country sports” representing the proposed ban as the “thin end of the wedge” that will eventually be extended to hare coursing, fox hunting, shooting and fishing. Fine Gael has announced it will oppose the Bill and has pledged to revoke the legislation in government. The Labour Party has not adopted a formal stance on the issue but local TDs have spoken against the ban.

On the face of it, the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill should be uncontentious. It requires local authorities to regulate all agencies with more than six breeding bitches, ensure proper animal welfare standards are maintained and introduce electronic tagging for puppies. Offending establishments can be closed down.

Funding for this new regulatory system will come from the establishments concerned. Action was prompted by a series of horror stories from badly run puppy farms that involved appalling cruelty to animals in what is a highly profitable business. Unfortunately, Ireland’s animal welfare reputation as “the breeding capital of Europe” is poor and remedial action was required.

Change is always difficult. But it is one of the few certainties in life. As the years pass, attitudes and values change. The phoney war now being waged by Fianna Fáil backbenchers is little different from the behaviour of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Politicians from all three organisations are appealing for traditional country votes. In the process, the Green Party and its concerns for animal welfare are being represented as intrinsically anti-rural. It is a shabby, short-sighted exercise that does not reflect the legislative intent.