Ireland’s Ward Union stag hunt has been granted a reprieve by environment minister John Gormley, just three days after the politician threatened to refuse the pack a hunting licence.

The pack is the only licensed hunt in Ireland. The licence allows them to hunt “carted stags” – deer of either sex that are bred in captivity and travel in a trailer or “cart” to the meet, where they are released, hunted and recaptured.

Hunt secretary Declan Brooks said the hunt had applied as normal for the licence in August and heard nothing until a week last Tuesday, when Gormley, a Green Party politician, announced that he wanted to ban them from hunting.

Mr Brooks said the shock announcement followed a “very regrettable incident” in January when the hunt followed a stag into the playground of a primary school in Kildalkey, Co Meath, as children and parents were going home.

But the next Friday morning, following strong lobbying from hunt supporters, the minister decided to defer his decision.

“I have a number of serious concerns and I am writing to the Ward hunt to afford them an opportunity of addressing those concerns before making a final decision on the matter,” said Mr Gormley.

The primary school incident provoked a media outcry, prompting the hunt to draw up a code of conduct with the then government, intended to stop such incidents happening again.

But when the anti-hunting Green Party entered government with Fianna Fail in June, the Ward Union’s licence, which it needs to start the new season on October 1, was put in jeopardy.

Mr Brooks said they would be pleased to “engage meaningfully” with the department of the environment.

“Mr Gormley underestimated the strength of country field sports support in Ireland when he tried to ban staghunting by the back door,” he added.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (13 September, ’07)