Minister for the Environment and Green Party leader John Gormley has rejected claims in the Dáil that his Wildlife (Amendment) Bill is an attack on country pursuits.

He said that he regretted that the Labour Party had decided to oppose the Bill, thereby abandoning its objection to blood sports.

Mr Gormley said that the Bill was meant to put an end to the practice of hunting, with a pack of hounds which were especially bred for stag hunting.

He said the only stag hunt pack in Ireland was operated in Co Meath by a hunt club, which also maintains a herd of domesticated red deer.

However, Fianna Fáil deputy from Meath Mary Wallace told the Dáil she had serious reservations about her Government's Wildlife Bill.

She said that banning stag hunting would damage her county and she added that the Ward Union Hunt brings in €1.2m to the local economy.

Deputy Wallace said banning it would damage the local horse racing industry, which is closely related to the Ward Union Hunt.

Fianna Fáil Deputy Mattie McGrath has also told the Dáil that be does not agree with the Wildlife Bill, which he said is being driven by unreasonable people.

Fianna Fáil TD Sean Power has said he regrets that the Government is bringing forward legislation to 'criminalise a long and proud tradition'.

Fellow Fianna Fáil Deputy Johnny Brady warned the Government that it cannot depend on his support if any other elements of rural life are interfered with.

He confirmed that he would be voting with the Government on the planned ban on stag hunting, but said he was warning the Taoiseach, the Minister and the Government that they could not rely on his support if the pursuits of fox hunting, hair coursing, shooting, fishing or greyhound racing are 'tinkered with'.

Labour's Joanna Tuffy confirmed her party was opposing the Bill, as it did not address the concerns of the communities affected.

She defended Labour's commitment to animal welfare.

Fine Gael Deputy Phil Hogan said that the Bill was the thin edge of the wedge, as Minister Gormley's objective was to put an end to all hunting.

Fellow Fine Gael Deputy James Bannon described the Bill as rural legislation being imposed by an urban-based Minister.

He said Minister Gormley did not have rural heritage in his blood.

Deputy Bannon welcomed the contributions by Fianna Fáil's Deputy Wallace and Deputy McGrath telling them that would be regarded as hypocrites if they do not vote against the legislation next Tuesday.

Today's debate is the first of a number of Green Party backed Bills, including one regulating dog breeding, which has upset some Fianna Fáil backbenchers.

FF Senator to lose party whip

Fianna Fáil Senator Denis O'Donovan became the first political casualty in a row between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party over legislation to regulate dog breeding.

Bantry-based Senator O'Donovan, who abstained on a vote on the measure last week, was told this lunchtime that he would lose the party whip.

Mr O'Donovan and some other Fianna Fáil backbenchers object to some of the provisions in the Bill which is due before the Dáil next week; he refused to back amendments tabled by Mr Gormley in the Seanad because he felt they were too vague.