The Irish hunting community is being urged to “sharpen up” to ensure a blanket ban on hunting isn’t introduced.

The coalition government of the Green Party and Fianna Fail has vowed to ban stag hunting in Ireland as soon as possible. The Hunting Association of Ireland (HAI) and Irish Masters of Foxhounds Association (IMFHA) have announced that fox hunting will follow if hunt supporters don’t take a more proactive stance.

On 9 October, the government voted on its programme for government — or mission statement for the coming years — and this included a ban on stag hunting.

Fox hunting and coursing were not mentioned, but the Green Party’s manifesto states it would like to see a ban on both sports.

James Phelan of the IMFHA said: “We need to be more politically active so we don’t make the mistakes which allowed hunting to be banned in England and Wales.

“Nowhere else on the planet will you find the Tipperary double drains, the Blazers’ stonewalls, the single banks of Waterford and the knife-edge banks of Wexford, combined with the Irish-bred horses and communities involved.

“The combination of all three is what makes Irish hunting so famous. Rural Ireland is standing up in their thousands to defend these traditions.”

The Ward Union is Ireland’s only carted stag hunt and, under the terms of the programme for government, would cease to exist.

Ward Union hunt secretary Ronan Griffiths told H&H: “The decision to ban stag hunting has come as a real surprise. Evironment Minister John Gormley installed monitors to report on the condition of our deer and what happens when we hunt. Vets also examine the deer in the park and after hunting.

“Their view was that, with tweaks, we can exist in a modern era. Gormley is going against that.”

He said the hunt would fight the ban through the courts.

Lyall Plant, chief executive of Countryside Alliance Ireland, said: “The banning of the Ward Union is just the start. We are campaigning throughout Ireland with the HAI and IMFHA.

“We have contacted all the hunts, telling them to lobby their TDs [teachtaí dála, member of the Irish parliament] and councillors, and have had a positive reception, but unity is vital among all the country sports. We have got to get together and fight.”

In 2006, Irish jockeys vowed to strike if a hunting ban was suggested in Ireland (news, 27 April 2006).

Read this news story in full in Horse & Hound (29 October, ’09)