Hunting, Prejudice and NI Politicians

Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2022
In: Articles
Written by: Ed Swales

Ed Swales looks at NI at the plans to reintroduce a failed bill to the NI Assembly once again.

John Blair MLA, South Antrim’s Alliance Party candidate, is at it again in the run-up to the election at Stormont on May 5th. He has unveiled plans to re-introduce his ill-judged and prejudiced Bill to ban hunting wild mammals with dogs in Northern Ireland at the ‘earliest opportunity. Well, there’s the gauntlet well and truly thrown down to the rural community; So, let’s simply join up to show him how unelectable he really is in South Antrim.

Blair doesn’t Care:

  • About the science of wildlife management
  • About the Cultural Heritage of Ireland
  • About Cross Community Harmony
  • About Minorities
  • About the Rural Economy and jobs
  • About Rural Mental Health

To recap briefly, he proposed a Bill on Boxing Day 2020 to ban hunting with dogs. His unworkable Bill was rejected at the second reading in December 2021. Sinn Fein voted en bloc 100%, along with a fair proportion of DUP MLA’s, to consign his proposal to the rubbish heap, where it belongs.

He was ‘absolutely staggered’ by Sinn Fein’s position, which might give an indication of how far removed from the realities of politics in Ireland he really is. Coupled with a hugely supportive stance from the Ulster Farmers Union to reject his Bill, this joint position really did show a deep and true understanding of cross community harmony from these two parties, among others.

What is ‘absolutely staggering’ is John Blair’s hypocrisy in his lack of care for minorities, as well as his contempt for Irish cultural heritage.

The Alliance Party supposedly champions cross-community harmony and yet he understands so little of the matter of hunting and rural community life, that he is struggling against the best-ever demonstration of that harmony by sensible MLAs 5 months ago in Stormont. Every member of Northern Ireland’s rural and hunting community knows full well that for years, hunting hounds will unite community members who may hold differing political ideologies and those differences are put aside in the joining together around this essential and necessary wildlife management activity.

So, whilst effective politicians are working endlessly to address real issues in their Northern Irish constituencies, such as the economy, the NI Protocol, Borders with the UK and EU, education, health services, an expected food crisis inbound imminently, John Blair is attempting to divert precious time away from that and talk about issues that he demonstrably has no clue about and more worryingly, refuses to engage with meaningfully.

Hunting with dogs in Ireland is central to the Irish rural way of life and its heritage and has been for thousands of years. Irish hunting dogs were so highly prized by Rome and Gaul, that they were bought by them and sent across, or were given as gifts by Irish chieftains, who erected huge, raised mounds on the plains of Ireland so that they could watch their dogs hunting.

The poems of Fion from 8th Century Ireland contain a list of 290 names for hunting hounds. Do you eradicate that history and heritage because you hold some prejudiced narrow view on the people who harmoniously and without prejudice, continue that way of life today, across communities and borders?

Unsurprisingly, Ireland has its own indigenous breeds of hunting dogs; the mighty Irish Wolfhound of legend, the bold Irish Terrier and the faithful Irish Water Spaniel. We should be proud of those lines and celebrate them, preserve them and protect them as intrinsic to the Irish identity.

Ironically, County Antrim, in which he is trying to be re-elected, has the highest density of sheep in the whole of Europe. So, will John Blair’s half-baked ideas on wildlife management remove a necessary tool in the box of wildlife management methods available to stock rearing farmers, hunting foxes with hounds? When we are likely to experience a food crisis imminently, due in some part, to the war in Ukraine, with feed and fertiliser prices increasing exponentially, how will John Blair level that with farmers whose stock and livelihood are threatened by predators that they’re unable to control as naturally and humanely as they currently are?

Whilst he keeps trotting out tired old lines about barbarity and feeling offended that Northern Ireland is the embarrassing neighbour, trailing behind the rest of the UK with its wildlife management policies, yet again, he is miles off the mark. Because he doesn’t realise that he is going against the direction of travel more widely, where there is huge resentment against the bad law that is the Hunting Act 2004 (that applies to England and Wales) and the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. A positive stream of consciousness is now entering politics, around the real benefits of hunting to wildlife management strategy, the importance of our cultural heritage, community cohesion and the rural economy.

Politicians are realising that without rural votes, they don’t get elected and so they are taking note of the science of wildlife management and the sentiment of rural voters. Rural votes matter and policies that affect rural communities need to take account of that.

Even Tony Blair, who pushed through anti-hunting legislation in 2004 in England and Wales by invoking the Parliament Act, now admits that it was his biggest political regret. It is simply ‘Bad Law’ and needs to be replaced. MPs who voted for it have admitted it was ‘revenge for the miners’. The data shows that it has been disastrous for Animal Welfare. Daniel Greenberg, the Parliamentary Counsel who drafted the Bills for the Act, is on record as saying that he felt a huge sense of moral unease with it and that “Instead of an effective measure, therefore, the Act and Bills for it were largely an exercise in what it has now become fashionable to describe as ‘Virtue Signalling’…….and that a moral judgement is being imposed on a minority – and I thought we didn’t do that”

In fact, Northern Ireland with its practical and sensible view on hunting with hounds as an essential tool in wildlife management, is ahead of the game and could be an exemplar to other countries, of how to balance a sound outcome.

John Blair really has no mandate for this prejudiced assault on the rural way of life. His own survey prior to his last proposal was flawed and misled MLAs by including signatories from across the world and not just Northern Ireland. Some offended citizens of Brazil trying to shape political outcomes in Northern Ireland? Quite naughty of Mr Blair really and he was found out. His subsequent survey of people residing in Northern Ireland was so embarrassingly poorly supported that he withdrew it, quite sensibly.

The Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management states “Hunting by hounds is the natural and most humane method of controlling the population of all four quarry species, fox, deer, hare and mink, in the countryside”. So, there’s the science, from the professionals. Who might we think is worth listening to; an organisation of 560 Veterinary Surgeons or the Alliance Party candidate for South Antrim?

Which political parties would really support the heritage, traditions and economy of rural communities across Northern Ireland, as well as naturally the sensible management of our wildlife?