Proposal to ban hunting with dogs in Northern Ireland divides opinion in Stormont

A proposal Bill Hunting with dogs is prohibited Northern Ireland divided opinion in Stormont Meeting.

The area remains the only part of the UK where hunting of wild mammals with dogs is still allowed.

A Private Members Bill introduced by the John Blair Alliance of MLAs aims to bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK.

However, Countryside Alliance urged MLAs to vote against the Bill, describing it as “very clumsy assembled together with complete disregard or thought of its broader implications”.

Alliance MLA John Blair (Liam McBurney/PA)

(PA Archive)

Opening debate on the second phase of the Bill, Mr Blair described hunting with dogs as a “cruel and unnecessary sport that causes incalculable suffering to both the animals hunted and the hounds.” “.

“I intend to introduce my Private Members Bill to reform the laws of hunting wild mammals with dogs in Northern Ireland to bring our legislation in line with that. England Scotland and Wales, where this activity has been illegal for almost 20 years,” he said.

“The bill is not intended to restrict the country’s traditional sports such as shooting, the use of shooting dogs or fishing. The bill maintains the proper balance by waiving hunting bans under certain circumstances including avoiding damage to livestock, crops or property and damage to an area’s biodiversity. .

“We have a historic opportunity to make a significant difference. A real opportunity is here for Northern Ireland not only to catch up with the rest of the UK but to lead the way in ensuring comprehensive protections for animals that are abused for sport and for People. “

Stormont Agriculture Committee Chairman Declan McAleer said the committee has yet to agree on the Bill.

He said if it passes the second stage, the committee will get involved on all the issues raised, such as proposed penalties and potential vulnerabilities.

He said his party (Sinn Fein) does not agree with the hunting ban, but there are elements of the Bill that the party does agree with.

“The legislation as it stands, we feel is not viable and it would take significant extra time within the committee to fix it and that is at a time when we are not currently presenting challenges to the requirements,” he said. other legislation, such as both climate change bills. McAleer.

“I have no doubt that this issue will be revisited in the next mission when appropriate time can be taken to review the issue one at a time and work together with stakeholders to see changes. What legislation is needed, if any.”

DUP MLA William Irwin opposed the Bill, describing it as “bad legislation”.

He said he has received “hundreds of letters from people who care deeply about this thoughtless bill”.

In fact, every dog ​​owner in a given country whose dog chases a wild animal could actually be committing a crime if this thoughtless and ill-advised law were to come into force, he told the MLAs. force”.

He added the Bill, if passed, would create “an absolute legislative nightmare” and “implicate significant resource implications for the PSNI”.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Stormont Agriculture Secretary Edwin Poots said he would not support the Bill.

Mr Poots’ foxes are a threat to some ground-nesting birds such as red partridges and pullets.

He told BBC Radio Ulster: “If we are serious about biodiversity, then we need to have management tools and we need to be very careful about getting rid of management tools.

“I’m not sure it’s a particularly well-written Bill so I can’t support it on that basis. Personally, I don’t hunt, I don’t particularly enjoy hunting but I can’t support this particular Bill because I think it’s not well thought out. It can be well-meaning but not well thought out and has disastrous consequences if it does work. “

Hunting with dogs has been banned in England, Scotland and Wales since the early 2000s.

The bill received significant support during public consultation with nearly 80% of 18,000 respondents in favor of the ban.

This is understood to be the largest consultation response in Stormont’s history.

It has been supported by the Northern Ireland animal welfare charity, USPCA.

Chief Executive Officer Brendan Mullan said the charity had been “hugely encouraged” by the momentum surrounding the Bill.

“There is a real opportunity here for the Association to document their commitment to raising animal welfare standards, and in particular on this occasion, to introduce legislation that has already been applied in other countries,” he said. other regions for almost 20 years,” he said.

But Gary McCartney, director of Countryside Alliance Ireland, which opposes the Bill, thinks it could “potentially criminalize every dog ​​owner in Northern Ireland” and “also represents an attack on lifestyle countryside”.

“Anyone with a dog chasing a rabbit or a squirrel, while they are simply walking in the park, taking part in country chases, checking out livestock or participating in activities,” he said. any other activity would be a crime.

“We are continuing to urge MLAs to oppose this Measure.” Proposal to ban hunting with dogs in Northern Ireland divides opinion in Stormont


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