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People convicted of animal cruelty should be on a register, say MLAs

By Noel McAdam

Published 22/06/2016

Emma Little Pengelly
Emma Little Pengelly

The Assembly has demanded an official register of people convicted of animal cruelty offences be set up.

And new Justice Minister Claire Sugden was also urged to bring forward "further and tougher criminal sanctions" on top of stronger powers already being given to the Director of Public Prosecutions to challenge lenient sentences.

The move followed a review sparked by suspended prison sentences given to four east Belfast men who trained and kept dogs for fighting in 2014.

More than 4,000 animal welfare cases have been investigated by councils each year from 2012 - and between 2012 and 2014, there were 114 convictions for animal cruelty, 15 of which resulted in custodial sentences.

Opening yesterday's debate, former DUP junior minister Emma Little Pengelly said: "There are hundreds of thousands of genuine pet lovers and animal lovers right across Northern Ireland, yet, all too frequently, we hear of shocking cases of abuse, cruelty and neglect.

"There is abuse or deliberate injury to dogs, cats and other animals; use and abuse of pet cats as bait or fighting fodder; and cases of neglect and starvation.

"I heard from a cat owner whose cat had gone missing.

"Unfortunately, she was able to view footage of her pet being thrown into a cage to dogs and being ripped apart."

Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan argued: "As it stands, someone who has been convicted of animal cruelty can go into an animal sanctuary and ask to take possession of one of the animals, take it away and perhaps inflict further cruelty on it or use it as bait in dog fighting or something of that nature.

"If there was a register, the animal sanctuary could access that register and find out if that person had been convicted of animal cruelty."

Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie said MLAs passed a motion condemning the increase in animal cruelty in 2014 but there had been "insufficient progress".

"We talk a lot of fluffy animals and see a lot of them on the television - cats and dogs - and people talk about cruelty to them, but the cruelty to some of our animals that go to slaughter is just as bad. We believe that every animal should be stunned before slaughter," he told MLAs.

Nichola Mallon of the SDLP said: "More than 4,000 animal welfare cases have been investigated by councils each year from 2012. We must continue to ensure that all allegations of the abuse of animal welfare are investigated fully and that those responsible are held to account.

"Between 2012 and 2014, there were 114 convictions for animal cruelty, 15 of which resulted in custodial sentences. It is vital that we unite with the public in our condemnation of those acts and fulfil our duty of care."

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