Countryside Alliance Ireland says bill is very ‘clumsily cobbled together’
An MLA behind a bill to ban hunting with dogs has said it is clearly defined to target only activities involving wild mammals and not impact other country pursuits – or criminalise dog walkers.
Alliance’s John Blair was responding to criticism from the Countryside Alliance, which claimed his private member’s bill could criminalise dog walkers.
Mr Blair rubbished the suggestion. He said a public consultation – which saw more than 18,000 take part and 80% in favour of a ban – involved a majority of people from Northern Ireland.
He said: “The bill is clearly defined so as to concentrate on hunting of wild mammals with dogs and does not affect any other category of country sports, such as shooting involving gun dogs or angling.
"The prosecutorial threshold would require proof of a person allegedly in breech of the law having participated in a hunt or the organisation of a hunt, and this clearly would not apply to a casual dog walker. The reality is that Countryside Alliance supports the continuation of hunting with dogs were dogs are used for the kill and I don’t. Ultimately this will be a choice for MLAs between the two positions.”
Assembly members are to debate whether hunting wild mammals with dogs should be banned in Northern Ireland on Monday.
Hunting wild mammals with dogs has been illegal in Scotland, England and Wales since the early 2000s. Northern Ireland is the only place in the UK where hunting with trailing dogs remains legal.
If the bill is passed, it could become a criminal offence to hunt live mammals with dogs, and penalties could be introduced to those who continue to do so.
It will specifically ban trail hunting where dogs are permitted to follow the scent of a wild animal and terrier work whereby dogs are induced to enter a hole in the ground in order to force a wild mammal to leave the hole.
Mr Blair, said: “It is my intention in bringing forward my bill, to reform legislation on hunting wild mammals with dogs in Northern Ireland, and bring our legislation in line with that in England, Scotland and Wales where the practice has been illegal for close to 20 years.”
Animal Welfare Charity, the USPCA, is calling on Stormont MLAs to back the Hunting of Wild Mammals Bill.
USPCA chief executive Brendan Mullan, said he has been encouraged by the momentum around the bill which endeavours to end “this cruel practice which causes unthinkable pain and suffering for innocent wild animals”.
“It must be recognised that, now, with the bill being presented to the Assembly, we are coming to a pivotal juncture for animal welfare here in Northern Ireland, which will set the tone for our future,” he said.
“The arguments against banning hunting wild mammals with dogs are based on tradition and pest control however it is categorically clear that the cruelty involved in this activity far outweighs any supposed benefit.
“Moreover, the rationalisation regarding pest control is tenuous at best as there is no evidence of this being the case,” he added.
“We firmly believe that this ban would also remove the cloak of cover for those engaged in the illegal killing of badgers, euphemistically known as badger baiting. This is another terrible crime which stains our countryside and unfortunately often goes hand in hand with hunting with dogs.”
Gary McCartney, director of Countryside Alliance Ireland, however, urged MLAs not to back the bill.
He said: “This is bill very clumsily cobbled together with absolutely no regard or thought for its wider implications.
"It is riddled with illogical and dangerous proposals which if implemented, would not only potentially criminalise every dog owner in Northern Ireland but also represent an attack on the rural way of life,” he added.
"Anyone whose dog chases a rabbit or squirrel for example whilst they are simply out for a walk in the park, partaking in country pursuits, checking their livestock or engaged in any other activity will be committing a criminal offence.
"We are continuing to urge MLAs to oppose this bill.”