Just four life bans for animal cruelty in past three years in Northern Ireland
Only four people convicted of animal cruelty offences have been banned from keeping animals for life during the past three years.
The courts stopped 55 people from keeping animals between 2012 and 2014, according to new figures, but the majority of those bans were temporary.
The figures, which have prompted calls for tougher penalties against offenders, emerged after an Assembly question from DUP MLA Peter Weir.
In response, Justice Minister David Ford said 20 people had been banned from keeping animals in 2012. Nine were banned in 2013 and a further 26 were banned last year. Yet just four of the cases were permanent bans.
Mr Weir, who is chair of the Assembly's all-party group on animal welfare, questioned the low number of life bans.
"It is good to see the courts are putting such sanctions in place," he said. "This shows that this provision in legislation was needed.
"However, it is truly shocking that 55 people have been so cruel or neglectful in their behaviour towards animals that it has merited a ban. What is equally worrying is that only four of these 55 bans have led to a lifetime ban.
"There is clearly a disconnect in that 55 have been banned, but in so few cases this has led to a permanent ban."
A series of horrific examples of animal cruelty have been highlighted in recent months.
Last week this newspaper reported how a mutilated greyhound had been dumped in the River Foyle.
And In May it emerged a number of lambs had their ears cut off at a farm in Co Armagh.