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Time runs out for animal circuses ban to be agreed in Northern Ireland

By Nevin Frrell and Michael McHugh

Published 03/08/2015

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan

The current Assembly has run out of time to prevent circuses with wild animals from obtaining entertainment licences, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has said.

Around 2,000 people have signed a petition calling for a ban in Northern Ireland as part of a campaign spearheaded by Green Party leader Steven Agnew.

Mr Durkan said he shared their concerns about the welfare of animals in travelling circuses.

"A change to the entertainment licensing system will require primary legislation and there is insufficient time left to do so before the end of this Assembly mandate."

Elections are due next year.

Mr Agnew has said, even with the best of intentions, a travelling circus cannot meet the "five freedoms" of an animal, which include the right to behave normally and to be free from distress.

One of Ireland's largest circus owners, David Duffy, has said health checks by vets were rigorous and vowed to contest such an "extreme" change in court.

Mr Durkan said officials in Stormont's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development were working with their southern counterparts in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the development of an all-island code of practice on animals in circuses.

The SDLP Environment Minister has established a licensing review group to make recommendations on a future system. The public consultation has just finished.

The USPCA has said it is opposed to exhibitions or presentations of animals in circuses.

It said they were performing to a timetable of acts which do not come naturally to them, as well as being exposed to ridicule and indignity.

Mr Agnew is on holiday but his party colleague, Belfast councillor Ross Brown, has worked closely with him on the issue.

Mr Brown told the Belfast Telegraph last night he is confident the issue will not be dropped.

He said: "It certainly might not come in this mandate, but if it is being consulted on it will likely go through in the next mandate.

"Departments would consult on issues and it will probably fall to whoever takes over from the current minister, but all the same, consultation will still stand.

"I would be disappointed if an opportunity is missed. And we hope it will not be forgotten about as it is very much on the agenda and the vast majority of people are against animal circuses," said Mr Brown.

The government in Westminster announced a ban in March 2012 on wild animals in circuses in England.

However, the ban has yet to take effect.


The Welfare of Animals Act 2011 lays out a code outlining five freedoms required to be met for non-farmed animals. You must take all reasonable steps to ensure that you meet the animal's needs including:

• A suitable environment;

• A suitable diet;

• To be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns;

• To be housed with, or apart from, other animals;

• To be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

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