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Call for end to Boxing Day hunts with dogs in Northern Ireland

By Cate McCurry

Animal welfare campaigners have urged Northern Ireland to get in line with the rest of the UK and ban hunting with dogs.

The League Against Cruel Sports has said it wants this Boxing Day to be the last "festive facade" to see animals legally hunted with dogs for sport.

It comes as thousands of people gather today for traditional Boxing Day hunts across Northern Ireland.

A survey commissioned by the animal rights charity says fewer than one in 20 people support deer hunting remaining legal, while less than one in eight back hare hunting remaining legal.

Under one in five supported fox hunting remaining legal.

The Ipsos MORI poll also indicated that two in three people believed it was already illegal to hunt mammals with dogs in Northern Ireland.

Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, hunting with dogs is not illegal in Northern Ireland, although animal rights groups are campaigning for a change.

Janice Watt from League Against Cruel Sports NI said: "Hunting and killing animals for sport is about nothing more than satisfying the blood lust of a small but obsessed minority, a notion that most people in Northern Ireland find repulsive.

"With such widespread opposition to this so-called 'sport', it's high time our representatives brought in a law to ban hunting with dogs and in doing so, brought Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.

"Northern Ireland leads the way with new stringent jail sentences for dog fighting, however still lags behind on this cruel and barbaric practice, which like dog fighting should have no place in our society.

"No doubt, like every year, there will be posed photos of hunts and their supporters out at Boxing Day meets, however what the images will not show is the animal cruelty and havoc that hunts cause in communities and to farmers, trespassing on their land claiming to be helping them with 'pest control'."

But Strangford MP Jim Shannon disagreed, saying there was an "absolute need" for pest control of foxes. The DUP man said that hunting on Boxing Day was a "strong tradition".

"There will be a massive crowd of people who will be out to support a tradition and a way of life, and you will see that families of all ages will be there and all sides of the community coming to enjoy a super day," he said.

"Foxes have to be controlled and that's a way of life as you can't let foxes grow in numbers and endanger other birds and animals in the wildlife.

"I wish to retain the hunt and I am looking forward to the day - I won't be out with the hunt but I will be out in the fields with friends and family.

"The dogs will catch and terminate the life of the fox very quickly."

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