The Hunting Association of Ireland (HAI) is taking steps to secure the future of hunting with hounds in the country.

Having set up office in Dublin’s political heartland, Upper Mount Street, the HAI is launching an advertising campaign to educate the urban public and this week hosted its first public event at Punchestown Racing Festival. It aims to reinforce publicly its links with racing — and Irish jockeys have threatened to strike should a whisper of a hunting ban emerge.

“There’s no threat to hunting in Ireland, but doing nothing won’t help us,” said the HAI’s Gavin Duffy. “But we also don’t want to attract unwanted attention. We’ve watched the UK developments closely and decided we had to become more of a campaigning and promotional body.”

Stephen Lambert, chairman of Britain’s Council of Hunting Associations (CHA), greeted the news with interest.

“England did handle it badly. If we’d educated people 25 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the predicament we’re in now,” he said.

In Ireland, 300,000 people hunt regularly, while 156,000 play rugby. Of its four million population, 60% live in rural areas and 40% in towns.

“Despite our huge support, there is a perceived political incorrectness in urban areas about hunting,” said Mr Duffy, IMFHA director and a former government spin-doctor.

“It’s nearly impossible to change that, so we want to educate the public on the differences between animal rights and animal welfare. We want to explain the threat of terrorism from the Animal Liberation Front and PETA, and the terror tactics used by hunt saboteurs.

“Our March Street office demonstrates our level of intent, but we’re pushing at an open door. In 1998 the Irish government, under Charles Haughey, tried to introduce a rod licence to keep track of people fishing. It met with huge resistance and was dropped.

“Our current Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, was party chief whip at the time, and is acutely aware that it backfired so badly it almost brought the government down. It underestimated the power of rural people.”

The HAI has worked with the UK’s Vets for Wildlife Management to produce advertising for cinemas and urban areas. It aims to keep strong links with the Irish Society for the Protection of Animals (Ireland’s equivalent of the RSPCA) and to keep a close watch on Northern Ireland — which, although part of the UK is not yet affected by the hunting ban.

  • The HAI presents its new direction and campaign at the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the European Union (FACE) in Paris next Thursday. The group, formed 25 years ago, meets annually to share views on issues encountered by hunting globally.

    This news report was first published in Horse & Hound (27 April, 06)

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