Doors slammed shut on historic English-Irish hunting tradition

Bill O’Brien, a deer hunter in Northern Ireland, took a stand against the government’s proposed ban on hunting with dogs.

Last week, O’Brien was surprised to receive a letter from the U.K. government advising him and others that this year’s deer hunting season will be a “no-go area.” He said that the letter explained the dog hunt, or dog squad, would be outlawed in Northern Ireland.

Picking up the baton left by the executive, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Democratic Unionist Party last week voted against a proposed ban on the use of dogs to chase animals in the province, according to the BBC. The province’s Defense, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee has been investigating hunting with dogs since 2014 and is expected to announce a final report on the issue sometime later this month.

Although the U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs declined to comment on the matter, there are two dogs squad hunters in Ireland.

“The Victorian mentality continues in the U.K. with its support for killing (anyone) that threatens their soft underbelly,” O’Brien said. “This would need some reorganization to replace it.”

O’Brien holds certifications for both the American Deer Hunter Association and the American Association of Hunters and Anglers. He estimates more than 500 license hunters are licensed to hunt on Ireland’s Leinster Hunt.

“It’s not a problem. There’s no problem at all,” he said. “We get calls when there’s a dead animal, but normally we don’t kill them unless they’re a bambino.”

One big reason the U.K.’s proposed ban on hunting with dogs may face increased opposition in Ireland is because it would apply only to deer-hunting. The issue of whether dogs should be used in other dog hunts, such as fox-hunting, is not so clear.

“In theory, it should apply to all dogs,” O’Brien said. “In practice, it’s more than likely there will be some exemptions, because those [canine] dogs are particularly mistreated and wantlessly killed when they’re tied to the handle of a pack of hounds and in a frenzy.”

O’Brien noted that hunting with dogs isn’t illegal anywhere in Ireland except in Northern Ireland. He also pointed out that dogs squads are just as important for hunting as most people assume.

“A lot of modern-day encounters with wolves involve dogs being used,” he said. “Dogs are now accepted as our greatest natural allies in this realm.”

This isn’t the first time Northern Ireland has tried to legalize hunting with dogs. In 2015, the British government drafted a bill to allow hunting in the province, but it stalled in parliament in 2015.

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