Belfast Telegraph

Banned circus animals ‘will be dumped in Northern Ireland'

By Linda Stewart

Wild animals banned from circuses across the water could end up being shipped over here to go on display instead.

That was the warning issued to Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill on Monday after she said she had no plans to ban wild animals from circuses here.

She was responding to a written Assembly question by South Down MLA Jim Wells, who said her response was totally unacceptable.

The minister said her reading of plans to ban wild animals from circuses in England and Wales was that it was being done on ethical rather than welfare grounds.

“I am also aware that Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has opened a consultation seeking views on a proposed licensing scheme that would promote and safeguard the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses in England,” she said.

Instead, the minister said she would be concentrating on the roll-out of provisions in the Welfare of Animals Act 2011, including new laws on farmed animals, dog breeding establishments and tail docking in dogs.

“At this time, I have no plans to introduce a ban on animals in circuses. However, I can assure you that I intend to take the time to assess the available evidence and give the issue detailed consideration,” she said.

“I will also take advice on the legal implications and the proportionality of the options open to me so that the welfare of animals in circuses is fully protected. I would want to examine developments in the South of Ireland as well as England, Scotland and Wales and engage with stakeholders, including circus operators and their representatives, to ensure their views are properly considered.”

But Mr Wells said wild animals from circuses in England and Wales would end up being shipped here to continue to be abused.

“Some of the world’s leading circuses, like the Chinese State Circus and the Russian State Circus, don't use animals at all,” he said.

“I can’t see any justification for animals such as tigers and elephants to be held up to ridicule just to please a few people who would pay money to watch them. There is an inexorable trend of people not wanting animals to be treated in this way.

“The safeguards that have been in place for many years haven’t worked.”

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