‘As pointless as it is ill-founded’: move to ban hunting in Northern Ireland defeated

  • A “poorly thought-out” bill to end hunting in Northern Ireland has been rejected following criticism that it is unworkable and “risks criminalising ordinary people”.

    The Hunting of Wild Mammals (Northern Ireland) private members bill, brought by the Alliance Party’s John Blair, was defeated at the second stage by 45 to 38 at a members of the legislative assembly (MLA) vote on Monday (6 December). This means it will not progress further.

    The motion proposed to ban all hunting with dogs in Northern Ireland, the remaining part of the UK where traditional hunting remains legal, and to go further by putting a stop to trail-hunting before it could become an option (feature, 2 December).

    Mr Blair described the bill as a “historic opportunity to make a significant difference” and lead the way in “ensuring full, robust protection for animals persecuted for sport and human enjoyment”.

    “The bill is not intended in any way to restrict traditional country sports such as shooting, using gun dogs or angling,” he said, adding it is not his intention to “go further than the scope of the bill as outlined”, nor to include drag or clean boot hunting in its remit.

    “The bill maintains appropriate balance by exempting hunting from the ban in certain circumstances, including avoiding damage to livestock, crops or property and causing damage to the biological diversity of an area.”

    The breakdown of the vote shows the motion was not without support. But concerns were raised during the debate over reasons for the bill, prejudice, misrepresentation, a lack of examination of evidence, knock-on effects resulting in difficulties for farmers protecting their livestock and unclear wording that could result in ordinary dog owners being “criminalised”.

    William Irwin MLA, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), told the assembly of his concerns of the “unintended consequences” of the “bad legislation” and that he had received “hundreds of pieces of correspondence” from people “deeply concerned about this poorly thought-out bill”.

    “Practically every dog owner in the country whose dog may, at some point, chase a wild animal could be committing an offence if this poorly thought-out and ill-advised draft law were actually to come into force,” he said.

    “The bill is poorly drafted, and its promotion has raised the concerns of many people. The bill sponsor has unfairly painted a picture of rural life that is simply untrue. That is a regrettable by-product of this bad draft legislation.”

    He added that the bill is an “attempt to create division and misrepresent the rural community” and raised worries over the difficulties it would create for farmers to deal with attacks on livestock.

    “It would mean a criminal offence being committed if a dog, while out for a run with its owner, decides to chase a wild animal. The poorly constructed bill is concerningly open in its language in that area,” he said.

    “It would have serious implications for a wide range of scenarios, such as a simple day out in the country with your pet dog. It would also have implications for rough shooters, gamekeepers, pest controllers and, indeed, farmers.”

    Rosemary Barton MLA, Ulster Unionist Party, also drew attention to the ambiguities of the bill and the issues these may cause, such as for dog owners, and that it could also end drag hunting under its current wording.

    Jonathan Buckley MLA, DUP, added that the reasons for proposing this legislation “appear to be as vague as they are misguided”, questioning whether Mr Blair had “not witnessed the turmoil” nor listened to the criticism of the laws in England, Wales and Scotland.

    “To argue that a ban on the use of hunting dogs is somehow justified simply because the rest of the United Kingdom has enacted similar disastrous laws is as pointless as it is ill-founded,” added Mr Buckley.

    “We should be learning from the mistakes that other parts of the United Kingdom have made, not blindly following for some dubious virtue-signalling reason. However, the legislators here in Northern Ireland resolved the issue many years ago, when legislation that protected animal welfare and the right to hunt coexisted.

    “The law permitted the prosecution of anyone, including hunt supporters, if unnecessary suffering to an animal had been caused. It is highly significant that, during those years, not one prosecution was brought forward.”

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