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Bill to outlaw hunting with dogs in Northern Ireland 'a historic opportunity'


Proposal: John Blair insists there is no place for blood sports in the 21st century

Proposal: John Blair insists there is no place for blood sports in the 21st century

Proposal: John Blair insists there is no place for blood sports in the 21st century

Legislation to ban fox hunting in Northern Ireland has been proposed.

Alliance MLA John Blair has unveiled his plans to bring a Private Member's Bill to outlaw the practice.

The proposed Bill would prohibit the hunting of all wild mammals with dogs.

Today would traditionally see the holding of fox hunts in many rural areas. However, due to the Covid restrictions the events have been cancelled. New Year's Day hunts have been affected too.

The hunting of stags and hares is also allowed here. Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK without such a ban.

A consultation on Mr Blair's proposed Bill is open until February 12.

The South Antrim MLA, who is chair of the Assembly's all-party group on animal welfare, said he was committed to reforming the legislation. "It is shocking we are almost in 2021 and still we are without such a ban in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Indeed, Boxing Day still sees one of the biggest events in the UK hunting calendar.

"Animal welfare is a priority for Alliance, with the party being responsible for increasing the custodial sentences and fines available for those guilty of animal cruelty crimes.

"We want to see the elimination of all cruelty towards animals and part of that is the banning of hunting wild mammals with dogs."

Mr Blair insisted the "barbaric pastime of blood sports needs confined to the past", adding that animals being "ripped to shreds by dogs is nothing but cruelty".

Janice Watt from the League Against Cruel Sports welcomed the move.

"This is a historic opportunity to tackle the scourge of hunting with dogs once and for all in Northern Ireland. We need to end this brutally cruel activity, which has no place in a civilised, modern day society," she said.

"We welcome the move by Alliance, and call on the public and other political parties to show their support and give it their backing.

"We live in hope that 2020 is the last year that the brutal activity of hunting with dogs remains legal in this country and we look forward to this blood sport being consigned to the history books."

According to polling commissioned by the league here last autumn, 84% of people want the blood sport made illegal, compared to 8% who want it to remain legal. Another 8% did not know.

However, Strangford DUP MP Jim Shannon stressed it was important for both sides to have a "sensible and reasoned" debate on the matter.

"I'm very aware that there are two very different opinions on this. In rural areas, the countryside, the control of foxes is something that needs to be controlled," he said.

"It is vitally important and the hunts have a role to play in that."

Belfast Telegraph