Claim of 'sinister forces' behind big top protests rapped
Animal welfare campaigners have hit back at a circus boss who suggested "sinister forces" are manipulating protests at big tops in Northern Ireland.
The response comes after Charles O'Brien of Fossetts Circus suggested US organisations were financing ongoing circus protests and "sinister" forces were manipulating genuine animal lovers.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mr O'Brien said the only animals in the 127-year-old Fossetts shows - one of three circus companies currently touring Northern Ireland - were a horse and pony. Protesters have been targeting big tops at various locations this week.
Activists from a group called Northern Ireland Says No To Animal Cruelty (NISNTAC) rejected suggestions that protesters were "conspicuous by their absence" at horse and dog racing tracks anywhere in Ireland.
"We would like to state that there are regular protests outside Drumbo Racing Track and the photos can be found on both our social networking pages," the NISNTAC spokesman said. "Our campaign began last year following some horrendously lenient sentences for some of the worst cases of cruelty in our country.
"The peaceful protests started after that as Duffy's Circus was the first to tour here after the NISNTAC rally at Belfast City Hall in April 2014.
"Our supporters could recognise the kind of life a circus animal has to lead and saw that we have no right to deprive an animal of a natural life for profit and entertainment."
The spokesman said activists were "directed by our own compassion", not guided by any American organisation.
"What the circuses try to divert from, and the line they throw to the public, is that the animals are well looked after," he added.
"Treating a prisoner well does not mean it is happy, nor does it justify keeping it captive. It is well documented that animals in a circus environment experience stress, fear, anguish and depression. They also are prone to long-term ailments such as arthritis from prolonged periods of performing routines that put unnatural pressure on their joints." The NISNTAC spokesman also said it was concerned over another travelling circus allegedly having five Siberian tigers - an endangered species - as part of its shows in a rural part of Northern Ireland.
"There are between 400 and 500 Siberian tigers left on the planet, and five of them were in the back of a lorry in Northern Ireland," he added.
NISNTAC is urging the Assembly to ban all animal act circuses.
"Let Northern Ireland lead the way in the UK for a change instead of dragging our heels, clinging on to archaic 'traditions' that no longer have a place in today's society," he said.