Extension to Pheasant season 17/11/20

The Sports Coalition has written to The Minister of State at the Department for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Mr Malcom Noonan TD, in relation to the ban on pheasant shooting as a result of the Covid-19 Level 5 Restrictions.  We have set out in clear terms our position in relation to the ban.  While we do not necessarily agree with the strict interpretation of the legislation insofar as it is being quoted as extending to rough shooting, we nonetheless acknowledge that it is everyone’s duty and interests to support the government’s efforts to get the worst health pandemic in a century to threaten the lives of so many people under control. 

In our letter, a copy of which is posted to our website alongside this communication, on the assumption that level 5 will be lifted or modified on 1st of December, we have sought an extension to the pheasant season to the end of February.  There is ample precedent for granting the extension, not least because extensions into February have been routinely granted for years to the commercial estates for driven pheasant shooting.  There is simply no justifiable reason or excuse for treating voluntary clubs who release pheasants differently to the commercial estates who also release pheasants.  We have been informed that it has already been indicated to the estates that they will again get their extension next February and on that basis, they are currently taking bookings for shooting days in February.

13th November, 2020.

Mr Malcom Noonan
Minister of State
Department of Heritage and Electoral Reform

Re:       Pheasant shooting season.

Dear Minster,

I refer to your recent statements in the Seanad and an email from your Official in the NPWS, Mr John Fitzgerald dated 12th inst., issued presumably on your behalf and with your authority. 

Mr Fitzgerald’s email was in response to our earlier email in which we confirmed our approach to the Covid Level 5 restrictions insofar as they have been stated to apply to pheasant shooting which is banned during the period of those restrictions.  Furthermore, and in particular, we had confirmed the commitment of our members to comply with and support the restrictions as a necessary reasonable inconvenience to our game shooting clubs and members.  Unlike some others, we did not seek to in any way undermine or hinder the intended objectives of the restrictions and made no demands of you or your Department or of any government institution for any easement.

Our approach was to ask for an extension to the end of the normal pheasant season by one month, subject of course to it not being necessary for a reimposition of Level 5 restrictions at that time.

The matter of our request was also raised recently in the Seanad by Senators Malcom Byrne and Joe O’Reilly and to which you made a statement in reply.  The essence of Mr Fitzgerald’s reply to us closely mirrores what you said in your statement to the Seanad.  However, it did not answer the central request made by the Sports Coalition and its member, Country Sports Ireland i.e. a request to extend the season beyond the 31st of January for pheasant shooting only.  In making that request we are conscious of, and accept, that extending the season for other huntable bird species could be legally problematic under the 709/409 Birds Directive of 2nd April 1979 on the hunting of migratory birds in particular, such as Woodcock and several migratory duck species.

As I am sure you are by now aware, the commercial estates routinely enjoy an extension to the pheasant shooting season into February.  These shoots differ from the normal rough pheasant shooting practised by virtually all the parish-based game shooting clubs in Ireland in that they are ‘driven shoots’ where the pheasants are driven, normally through woodland, towards the guns by beaters accompanied by dogs.  Clubs, as distinct from the driven shoots, are voluntary and their game shooting normally takes the form of an individual member traversing the hunting farmlands alone, accompanied only by his/her dog.  In general, there are no groups involved in the vast majority of cases as this would be self-defeating and where there is more than one, the group would be small, 2/3 people and they would normally split up and in effect hunt alone.

Having requested an extension to the season, we are disappointed that we have not received a more positive or definitive answer, especially in circumstances where the commercial estates have historically enjoyed such extensions and where we understand from our inquiries that it has been indicated to them they can expect an extension for the 20/21 season. 

Game shooting clubs raise money through member subscriptions and fundraisers every year to run their affairs which include habitat management, bird rear and release programmes, pest control services to farming etc.  They receive no state funding of any kind and it was a perverse inequity in relation to access to state funding which in effect resulted in the clubs being banned from participating in their chosen sport.  It is clear that the view of the Government is that if you are lucky enough to be the recipient of state funding through only Sports Ireland, you will be allowed to participate in your sport, save some close contact exceptions e.g. boxing.  But if you are disqualified from access to such funding, it seems the state will penalise you further, irrespective of other relevant considerations, by prohibiting you from practicing your sport especially in circumstances where the objectives of the Level 5 restrictions have nothing whatsoever to do with access to state funding for sport as a qualifying condition.  Are we to take it from that position and the imperative for the state and its agencies to act fairly and without discrimination towards all of its citizens, that you would support an application to Sports Ireland for funding for game shooting sports clubs for grant aid in furtherance of their development as beneficial sporting bodies in rural communities which engender healthy lifestyles?  Nowhere are the benefits of community interaction and togetherness felt more than in rural areas and the parish game shooting club is an integral driver of that sense of community in virtually every parish. 

By the time the Level 5 restrictions were called, clubs’ annual budgets had already been spent and in the case of Pheasants, the birds had been reared and released with all the attendant costs associated with that, all from voluntary community effort and support. 

In consideration of all of the foregoing, we feel our request for an extension to the Pheasant season deserves a more considered and positive response than that which has been received.  To do less would be to gratuitously discriminate against the voluntary rural clubs while taking care of the interests of the commercial estates.  As I have already pointed out, we are already inexplicably discriminated against on the basis of being denied access to state funding.  I need not dwell on the very negative appearance of this, much less the legal implications.  On a more human level, it would also constitute a slap in the face to the game clubs whose members have positively embraced and supported the restrictions.  In all likelihood, they would see their reward from the state for doing their civic duty being the perpetration by the state of inexcusable acts of discrimination against them.  While we would not for one moment condone any obstruction of whatever restrictions are necessary to protect society, future restrictions might nonetheless not be so willingly embraced.  This is simply the human nature reality.

Minister, I would ask you to take account of all of the foregoing and recognise the responsible positive reaction of our game shooting members towards the inconvenience and disappointment at the cancellation of the Pheasant shooting season for the month of November, the inequitable and discriminatory qualifying conditions set for participation in our sport and the simple fairness of our request which does not set any new precedents.  But neither does it aggravate what is at the very least, a perception of discriminatory practice.

As the temperature around this issue is likely to increase in the absence of some accommodation from you, the extension sought would be a very positive move which would take the sting out of the controversy without the state having to concede any new ground.

I look forward to receiving a positive response from you.

Yours sincerely,

_____________

Paul Walsh,

Chairman

We have prepared a letter which every club in the country, irrespective of what organisation it belongs to, and who releases pheasants, can adapt to make their own application directly to the Minister for an extension.  Extensions have traditionally been granted by way of letter from the Minister.  We urge every club to make an application immediately.  When the application is sent, call your local TD and/or Senator and lobby them to support your application.  No member of either the Dail or the Seanad can claim to be unaware of the issue and the justification for the extension as every single one of them of all political persuasions have now received a copy of our letter to Minister of State Noonan to their Oireachtas email account.  Lobbying should be polite but firm.  There can be no justification for abuse in any circumstances.  In fact, there is strong evidence abuse will only serve to alienate the person whose support you seek.

Sample Letter

Date: XXXXXX

Mr Malcom Noonan

Minister of State

Department of Heritage and Electoral Reform

Re:       Pheasant shooting season.

Dear Minster,

I refer to the Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions which are currently in place until at least the 1st December 2020 . 

As you know, the restrictions have resulted in a ban on pheasant shooting for the entire month of November.  This has been a major source of disappointment and the subject of much anger and argument and counter argument among the shooting community as to whether a lone hunter engaging in rough pheasant shooting with a dog is in fact in contravention of the restrictions when undertaken within a 5km radius of home.  The interpretation of the relevant underpinning S.I. is in fact silent on the specific scenario I have outlined in this letter and suggests the S.I. not only permits, but supports the activity I have described.

Notwithstanding the above, I do not wish to become engaged in a debate about the legalities of the current hunting ban which has removed hunting for the month of November and that period is now lost to our club.

Our club has for decades, through voluntary effort and money, reared and released thousands of pheasants into the wild, improved habitats and provided crop and stock protection for farmers in our area.  Our club has never been the recipient of any state aid through grants or other aids during all of that time. 

I am aware that it is within your authority to grant an extension to the pheasant hunting season and that extensions have become the norm for the commercial driven estate pheasant shoots for many years.  I gather that these estates are now taking bookings for the entire of February.

As over one third of the annual pheasant hunting season has now been lost due to Covid restrictions, there will be a significant surplus of pheasants remaining after the 31st of January, assuming a resumption of the season is permitted at the beginning of December and there are no further interruptions.  I am therefore formally applying by way of this letter to you on behalf of my club for an extension of the pheasant season to 28th February. 2020.  I believe an extension would be appropriate for a multiplicity of reasons e.g. an excess of birds remaining due to the loss of the month of November, as an acknowledgement of the voluntary work of the club and its contribution to the quality of life within our community and because it is something which is already given annually to the commercial estates.  There is no discernible reason as to why a voluntary club should be treated less favourably than a commercial estate in this particular circumstance.

I look forward to receiving a positive response.

Yours sincerely,

_______________

XXXXXX XXXXXXXXX

Club Secretary

Please don’t delay, apply now and lobby hard tomorrow.

Paul Walsh
Chairman

Extension to Pheasant Shooting Season raised in Seanad 06/11/20

We wish to thank Senator Malcolm Byrne for raising the issue of the Sports Coalition’s submission regarding an extension to the Pheasant shooting season as a result of the November ban on shooting due to the Covid -19 restrictions.

NPWS approached to review Pheasant shooting season due to Covid-19 05/11/20

The sports coalition have contacted the National Parks and Wildlife Service on behalf of country sportspeople regarding the pheasant shooting season, and its curtailment due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Dear Sir.

I am writing to you in relation to the impact of the restrictions contained in Level 5 of the Plan for Living with Covid-19 on recreational shooting in Ireland and on our environment.

At the outset let me state quite clearly that we recognise and understand that the representative bodies involved with recreational shooting and their members must comply with the law including regulations contained in Level 5 of the Plan for Living with Covid-19. However, the shooting community also works closely with farmers and other landowners to sustainably manage populations of wild animals in order to keep damage to crops, pasture, woodland and biodiversity to acceptable levels. It is with these mutual responsibilities in mind that I am writing to you today.

Recreational shooters play a vital role in managing the Irish countryside. They are the main controllers of pest, predator and wild game species in the countryside and are very often the eyes and ears of the landowners in many situations. The many clubs, associations, game federations and organised game shooting syndicates spend months and quite literally millions of euros in preparation for every season and this current lockdown is threatening the very existence of these long standing customs and rural traditions.

Government have settled on an interpretation of Level 5 of the Plan for Living with Covid-19 regulations which effectively prohibits the shooting of pheasants under any circumstances until at least 2nd December 2020. There is also a possibility that further restrictions might apply before the end of the season which is 31st January. Therefore, at a minimum at least one third of the season will be lost and this is likely to leave the countryside with an environmental imbalance in terms of the population of adult pheasants. The number of pheasants released would, in any other year be perfectly sustainable but the unforeseen circumstances caused by Covid-19 and government response to it means that this situation will need to be addressed.

Under Section 22(9)(b) of the Wildlife Act 1976 the Minister is empowered to grant licences “to hunt, in accordance with the licence, on such day or during such period of days as is specified in the licence, protected wild birds which are both pen reared of a species so specified”. These powers are already widely used with many shooting estates being licenced to shoot pheasants during the month of February annually.

It is our expert opinion that this season (2020/2021) all those clubs and organised game shoots who release pheasants will require consent to shoot under licence until the end of February 2021 for environmental balancing purposes. It is with this in mind that we are asking you to indicate that you will favourably consider licencing the hunting of pen reared pheasants until the end of February 2021, under the provisions of Section 22(9)(b) of the Wildlife Act 1976. This extension already has a standing in law and would be a cost effective and direct approach to resolve the situation.

We shall post updates as soon as we receive them from NPWS

COVID-19 and the PHEASANT SHOOTING SEASON 30/10/20

The following notice has been issued by An Garda Siochana and can be accessed on either of the links below:

What about pheasant shooting during Level 5?

Pheasant shooting season begins on Sunday 1st November. This normally involves shooting club members travelling to pheasant shoots around the country, frequently in groups, and is regarded as sport shooting.

Under the current regulations (SI 448), sporting events must be organised under the structure/ licence of a national governing body, funded by Sport Ireland. As such, sport shooting is prohibited in any other circumstances.

Recreational hunting does not fall under any of the exemptions allowed for exercise or sporting events. It has also been clarified that recreational hunting does not come under any permissible exemptions for travel outside of the home.

Shooting of vermin (rats/foxes/crows) is permissible as an essential support service to the farming and agriculture profession.

http://garda.ie/!TUDPY5

https://www.garda.ie/en/about-us/our-departments/office-of-corporate-communications/news-media/what-about-pheasant-shooting-during-level-5-.html

The above is an information advice issued by An Garda Siochana in advance of the opening of the pheasant shooting season next Sunday.  From comments already circulating on social media from individuals and some shooting organisations it would appear that this measure is considered unreasonable and interpretations are being offered which are seriously flawed giving rise to individual clubs and sports shooters being misled into believing that pheasant shooting will be in compliance with COVID-19 Level 5 as game shooters would be alone and within 5km of home.

The advice being circulated on social media which is referred to, is seriously flawed and should not be followed for the following reasons:

  1. COVID-19 Level 5 restrictions are supported by law i.e. Statutory Instrument 448 of 2020 making any breach an offence.
  2. Game shooting is a sport and has always been argued as such by the various national bodies and clubs and pheasant shooting is therefore a sporting event, whether alone or with others
  3. Sporting events under the terms of the regulations may only take place if organised under a licence or structure of a national governing sporting body which enjoys funding from the government-backed Sport Ireland.  To our knowledge no game hunting body enjoys such funding from Sport Ireland.
  4. It has already been argued by bodies and individuals on social media that pheasant shooting will comply if it takes place within the 5km distance from home limit, and if the game shooter is alone.  This is untrue and would be a serious mistake to make.  The sports exemption applies to professional sports for the purposes of training only.  Pheasant shooting is not “training”.
  5. The consequences of an individual found breaching the regulation is potentially very serious for that individual, apart at all from the consequences which might be inflicted on other innocent people.  It’s clear that breaches will be dealt with by prosecutions and offenders should expect the courts to adopt a strict approach in the current climate. 
  6. Gardai in two stations in large towns have confirmed on the spot fines of €500, seizure of firearm and possible revocation of licence.  They have also cryptically noted that a dog is not necessary for the shooting of vermin.
  7. No matter how inconvenient it may be, shooting people deserve to be given factual advice and not be misled.

The Sports Coalition, in common with a number of the estate driven shoots, supports this move as it is a reasonable measure to protect not only club members, but also landowners and the wider community at the height of the worst public health crisis in a hundred years.  It is but a tiny inconvenience in return for protecting our communities and landowners from whom we have enjoyed decades of welcome, cooperation and hospitality.  The Sports Coalition are in contact with the NPWS to seek an extension to the season into February.