THE GOVERNMENT is confident that none of its TDs will vote against legislation to ban stag hunting despite vociferous objections to the Bill from Fianna Fáil backbenchers.
A spokesman for the Chief Whip’s office said: “Clearly there are people who have difficulties with it but we are confident we have the numbers and there is no indication that anybody on the Government side will be voting against.”
However, two of the seven Fianna Fáil TDs who sharply criticised the Bill in the Dáil this week were refusing to commit themselves unequivocally to support the Government side in Tuesday’s vote.
Thomas Byrne (Meath East), who had suggested that President Mary McAleese should refer the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill to the Council of State, said yesterday: “I wouldn’t have anything else to add until committee stage [on Tuesday].”
Máire Hoctor (Tipperary North) said: “I don’t intend voting against it but I have to see the Minister’s amendments in relation to the deer stalkers because I want to see them protected.”
However, Seán Power (Kildare South) said he would vote for the Bill. “You have to be pragmatic about these things. I would have very serious reservations about it but when you look at what’s at stake, I will support the Government.”
Michael Kennedy (Dublin North) said: “I will be voting for the Government on it, much as I believe that Minister Gormley should meet the Ward Union Hunt committee and agree any other restrictions or conditions that he wants to impose if he feels extra regulations are needed.
“I say that as a person who is against blood sports and an animal-lover and has two beautiful Cavalier King Charles dogs,” he told The Irish Times.
Also indicating he would support the Bill, Johnny Brady (Meath West) told RTÉ News last night: “We’ve had to vote on some very, very difficult issues in the interests of the country.”
Mr Brady said he had already voted for social welfare reductions and public sector pay cuts.
Mary Wallace (Meath East) and Mattie McGrath (Tipperary South) were unavailable for comment.
The Irish Animal Welfare Forum said Labour’s decision to oppose the Bill was “one of the most cynical strokes ever” and cited an e-mail from Tommy Broughan (Dublin North East) last December promising to support the legislation.
Mr Broughan told The Irish Times yesterday: “I meant what I said down through the years about stag hunting. The era of that particular pursuit is over.”
A Labour spokesman said the party was not in favour of an outright ban. “The best way to deal with the Ward Union is to insist, if necessary, on strengthening the licensing regime introduced by Michael D Higgins when he was minister.”
Independent TD for Dublin North Central Finian McGrath said he was backing the legislation. “I have always been against blood sports and I will not be bullied by toffs on horses.”
He also challenged Labour TDs on what he described as their “U-turn” on the issue “and their support for the wealthy elite that find it fun chasing stags across school yards”.
Minister for the Environment John Gormley, who introduced the legislation, told RTÉ’s This Week programme: “The position of the Labour Party is unfathomable, having said in the past that they oppose stag hunting. I’m asking them now to put their money where their mouth is.”