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Charlie Flanagan asked OPW not to cull 20 Phoenix Park deer and to send them to Laois instead

The minister wanted to have the deer relocated to a 250-acre estate in Laois.

Phoenix Park fallow deer are culled multiple times every year
Phoenix Park fallow deer are culled multiple times every year
Image: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE Charlie Flanagan attempted to save a number of deer in the Phoenix Park from being culled this year by asking the Office of Public Works (OPW) if they could be moved to the Midlands instead.

Flanagan asked Cabinet colleague Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, the junior minister with responsibility for the OPW, to ask whether up to 20 deer in the Dublin park could be relocated to Emo Court in Laois in April, rather than being shot by a state-hired sniper.

The OPW, which manages both the Phoenix Park and Emo Court, regularly pays marksmen to shoot wild fallow deer in the Dublin park to prevent overpopulation.

The culls are carried out as part of the OPW’s deer policy, which aims to manage the number of wild fallow deer living in the park.

The carcasses are removed from the park by an approved game dealer in a refrigerated vehicle after they are shot on a number of occasions throughout the year.

The culls are carried out in consultation with the Department of Agriculture and the School of Biology & Environmental Science at University College Dublin.

However, they have attracted controversy in recent years, as TDs, animal rights groups and members of the public have called on the OPW to explore alternative methods to reduce the deer population.

Correspondence between Flanagan and Moran, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that the Minister for Justice explored the possibility of relocating some deer to Laois because of a shortage of the animals at Emo Court. 

“The addition of deer to Emo Court would greatly improve the natural habitat and landscape,” wrote Flanagan, who represents the Laois-Offaly constituency.

However, Moran said the plan would be not possible amid concerns that the introduction of wild deer to Emo Court could interfere with the estate’s landscape.

He also told the Minister that the majority of the 250-acre estate was leased farmland, and that the remaining area would be too small to sustain a wild deer herd.

“As Emo Court is not enclosed, there would be concerns for the adverse impact that the introduction of wild deer might have on the surrounding woodlands…and the surrounding private farmland.”

Moran added that carrying out a live capture of deer in the Phoenix Park was not considered best practice for managing herds, and could be unsafe and impractical.

Previous live capture

Further correspondence also shows the extent to which the OPW has considered alternative methods to reduce the population of wild deer in the Phoenix Park.

In response to a Parliamentary Question by former Independent TD Clare Daly, the agency said it attempted to carry out a live capture of deer in 1991, involving over 100 people from Ireland in the UK.

However, it said new health and safety requirements, a current skills shortage and the size of the current herd mean that a repeat of this was not practicable or safe now.

It also told Daly that live capture caused abnormal stress levels in deer, leading to immune-depression and abortion in females, and risked lethal injuries, especially to young deer.

The PQ response said that the OPW has also considered the use of tranquilisers, but believes this is impractical and “extremely dangerous” in a public park, particularly as darts are often lost during such operations.

“The quantities of tranquiliser required to sedate a deer could be fatal for humans, which is obviously of particular concern in a park frequented by large volumes of visitors,” the agency said.

“In order to carry out a safe procedure, darting should be carried out from short distances (less than 25m), which means that only a small number of animals could be darted over several days of work.”

Contraception issues

The use of contraception on the deer was also ruled out, particularly as no contraceptives have been licensed for use on wild deer in Ireland.

The agency did say that certain “contraception strategies” were available for managing herds of animals, but that these usually referred to herds in enclosures, like livestock.

“The main challenge in administering these steroids is that each female must get the correct dose. The only way to do this is to make sure that it receives the correct dose.

“This is entirely impractical in a large, wild herd as this form of artificial feeding would disrupt normal herd behaviour and… a success rate of only 10-15% is achievable.”

The OPW explained that administering contraceptive steroids by mixing them with food was an alternative, but that doing so would affect male deer, could lead to overdose in female deer, and might disrupt the natural food chain in the park.

Injection was also ruled out because it would be “virtually impossible” to capture all females in a wild deer population, with sterilisation of male deer deemed inefficient for similar reasons.

“The wild deer herd is an integral part of the biodiversity of the Phoenix Park and has been such for over 350 years,” the OPW concluded.

“Adopting measures that would significantly reduce numbers instead of maintaining them at sustainable levels would have a major impact on the biodiversity of the Park…

“[The] OPW will continue to monitor options available to it in managing the wild herd.”

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