Hunting bill: NI politicians reject hunting with dogs banon December 6, 2021 at 11:07 pm

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Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where hunting wild animals with dogs is permitted.

Hunting dogs

Image source, Getty Images

The Northern Ireland Assembly has rejected a bill which sought to ban hunting wild animals with dogs in Northern Ireland.

The private members bill had been brought by the Alliance Party’s John Blair who told the assembly a ban is “long overdue”.

It was defeated by 45 votes to 38 in the Assembly on Monday.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the practice is still permitted.

The bill will not move to the committee stage.

Ahead of the debate, Agriculture and Environment Minister Edwin Poots said he, personally, could not support the bill.

Animal welfare charity, the USPCA, had backed the bill.

It said it was “very disappointed” with the outcome.

“This result is contrary to the views of the public, as outlined in the consultation response and in previous public opinion polls,” said USPCA chief executive Brendan Mullan.

“Hunting wild mammals with dogs is sadistic and cruel and has no place in an advanced and compassionate society.

“We are staggered that half of our political representatives do not hold this view and encourage members of the public to reflect on whether their views have been appropriately represented on this issue.”

Mr Blair, who brought the bill, said his personal and political view was that the practice could not be considered a sport.

“Fox hunting and stag hunting should have no place in a civilised society,” he said.

A public consultation saw more than 18,000 respondents, with 80% in favour of a ban.

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

John Blair

Image source, Alliance

The second stage of Mr Blair’s bill took place at Stormont on Monday, with 83 MLAs taking part in the vote.

It is believed some of the parties allowed their members a conscience vote on the issue.

Even if a majority of MLAs had voted to support it, the legislation could have struggled to make it into law before March 2022, when the assembly will be dissolved ahead of next year’s election.

Opinion was divided during the assembly debate.

Sinn Féin’s Declan McAleer, who is also chair of Stormont’s Agriculture and Environment committee, said more time was needed to scrutinise the bill.

“There are elements of the bill we agree with, but the legislation as it currently stands, we feel, is unworkable,” he told the assembly.

“We would need additional time on the committee to rectify it and it is time we don’t have.”

Mr McAleer added that he believed the legislation would be best taken forward by the agriculture and environment department in the next mandate.

DUP MLA William Irwin described the bill as “bad legislation” which would have “unintended consequences”.

He said he had received correspondence from constituents who were concerned about how the legislation had been drafted and said he believed it “should be taken off the table”.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said he had a “major concern” relating to the wording of the draft legislation.

UUP Rosemary Barton said there are many people who “would argue that hunting with dogs is a necessity to keep predators like foxes under control, others would contend that this method of control is very cruel and causes unnecessary suffering”.

Mr Blair told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme that “the context of the bill is that the pursuit of wild mammals by hunting dogs for the purpose of human enjoyment is cruel and unnecessary”.

He said that he felt that some of the arguments being used against introducing the bill amounted to an attempt to revert to the “do nothing option”.

Mr Poots told the same programme that while he did not like hunting, he could not back the bill.

“I think it isn’t well thought through – it might be well meaning, but not well thought through – and it has damaging consequences if it came into force,” he said.

Edwin Poots

Mr Poots added that biodiversity was a key aspect of his department.

“We have predators, particularly on our ground nesting birds and other smaller mammals,” he said.

“If you have no ability to manage those predators then you will further damage biodiversity in Northern Ireland.

“One of the biggest impacts that we have on birds like red grouse and hen harriers and so forth is foxes, badgers and, indeed, crows and some of the other birds who take the eggs before those eggs have a chance to hatch.

“If we’re serious about diversity then we need to have management tools and we need to be very cautious about removing management tools.”

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