DUP MP opposes call to ban hunting with dogs
An overwhelming majority of people here want hunting with dogs made illegal, campaigners have claimed.
It comes ahead of the Boxing Day and New Year's Day hunts - traditionally the biggest events in the calendar.
The League Against Cruel Sports said that a poll the group commissioned found strong support for hunts with dogs to be banned.
However, Strangford MP Jim Shannon, a great supporter of the annual Boxing Day Hunt which traditionally leaves from the de Winters complex in Newtownards, said the event is more about the pageantry and social aspect.
"The traditional Boxing Day hunt has been leaving from de Winters in Newtownards all my life and brings families together," he said.
"The horses, the hounds, the red coats, the sounds of the bugles, it's a wonderful occasion for those involved and those coming along to watch.
"No fox has been caught in years and that's not the point of these events. They're a tradition which need to be maintained.
"On a wider point, I have never seen anything wrong with hunting for control, but people who complain about these hunts are missing the point.
"It's not about killing foxes, it's about people with a love of horses and tradition coming together in a colourful occasion, occasions that have been held for years."
The League Against Cruel Sports, though, maintains more than half (54%) of respondents to polling carried out believe hunting with dogs is already banned in Northern Ireland as it is in England, Wales and Scotland.
Janice Watt, senior public affairs officer for the campaign group in Northern Ireland, said hunting and killing animals for sport might satisfy a small minority, but most people find it repulsive.
She added: "With polling showing widespread opposition to this so-called 'sport', it's clear that hunting should be made illegal in Northern Ireland, and the league is working hard to ensure that as soon as Stormont sits again we get a ban to bring our nation into line with the rest of the UK."
In a poll of 1,016 people living here released by the group, 84% of respondents believe it should be made illegal to hunt deer with live dogs, compared to 8% who believe it should remain legal.
When it comes to fox hunting, 76% of respondents believe that it should be made illegal to hunt the animals, compared to 15% who think it should remain legal.
The polling, commissioned by the group, asked people aged 18 and over living in Northern Ireland their views on a variety of animal welfare topics, including hunting.
Of those polled, 54% believe it is illegal to use dogs to hunt live animals in Northern Ireland, compared with 26% who think it is legal and 20% who did not know.