Animal lovers to rally in Belfast over 'lenient' cruelty sentences
Hundreds of animal lovers are expected to descend on Belfast city centre this weekend in protest at the leniency of sentences for cruelty offences.
A new support group – Northern Ireland Says No To Animal Cruelty – is demanding a dedicated PSNI unit to tackle crimes against animals.
Organiser Daniel Knocker said it had received the support of all political parties, and singled out Belfast Sinn Fein councillor Steven Corr and DUP MLA Jim Wells in particular for praise.
The rally will take place on Sunday at noon.
"People will gather at the cobbles at City Hall to show public disgust on how backward Northern Ireland is in recognising animal cruelty as a criminal offence and the current system in place isn't working," he said.
"We are aiming for a dedicated police unit in order for adequate action to be taken with public concerns on animal cruelty
"We really want this to be a big event and need animal lovers across NI to show support." A Facebook page set up to support the rally has already attracted almost 10,000 'likes'.
One of the major recent cases of animal cruelty heard in the courts saw three members of an east Belfast family walk free.
Jeremiah Kirkwood (43) and sons Chris (23) and Wayne (20), of Island Street, admitted keeping animals for fighting, while Jamie Morrow (19) admitted similar charges in what a judge termed "one of the vilest examples of premeditated abuse". They were banned from keeping, dealing in or transporting animals for 10 years. However, as the Belfast Telegraph revealed earlier this month, there is no central list of those banned from keeping animals for welfare officers to refer to.
Another recent case that sparked disgust was the setting fire to collie dog Cody in Maghaberry in August 2012. Two people are currently going through the courts system accused of the attack on the dog, who later died.
Alliance MP Naomi Long backed calls for tougher sentences for those convicted of animal cruelty offences.
"The idea of a central register for animal abusers is a good one, but there is no point to having it if it is not enforced," she said.
A PSNI spokeswoman said every incident of animal cruelty was investigated.
"Police take all reports of animal cruelty extremely seriously and investigate offences under breaches of the Welfare of Animals Act," she said. "Police can assure the public that each incident will be thoroughly investigated."
"The outcome of the Kirkwood/Morrow case has left people here confused as to why they weren't jailed, and we wonder what level of suffering needs to be seen for the judges here to hand down maximum sentencing.
"The law is flawed – too much red tape, too hard to get evidence on animal cruelty cases, and it has to change."
Daniel Knocker, rally organiser