Long-awaited plans for an animal cruelty register in Northern Ireland will not proceed after Environment Minister Edwin Poots said it would be “untenable” for legal and financial reasons.
Exploratory work on creating such a record — similar to a sex offenders register — has been taking place in recent years.
However, cold water has been poured on the plans, with Mr Poots this week revealing his department will not proceed.
“Following extensive consideration of the relevant legal and financial considerations, establishing a publicly accessible register is considered untenable,” he said.
“Instead, the department is developing guidance which will encourage animal rehoming organisations to require prospective animal owners to disclose the results of Access NI checks before transferring ownership to them. This will ensure that these entities do not place animals with those convicted of animal cruelty offences.
“The department is also investigating whether there is potential to further enhance information sharing between animal welfare enforcement organisations and whether there is any way of augmenting the checks that are already carried out to ensure that there is compliance with court-imposed bans on the owning or keeping of animals.”
USPCA chief executive Brendan Mullan said proposals for individuals to undergo Access NI checks before rehoming an animal from a shelter do not go far enough.
He said: “It is important not to lose sight of the objective of establishing a banned offenders register. It is to prevent those banned by the courts from keeping animals because of serious animal cruelty offences.
“There is also the additional societal stigma from being told ‘your name will be placed on the animal cruelty register’ — further emphasising the seriousness of the offence.
“Given the data protection and other legal concerns with regard to providing public access to such a register, it falls on the statutory agencies with animal welfare enforcement responsibilities to ensure that bans are complied with.
“The first step is to have a central record of who is banned — a register that we believe would be of minimal cost to the public purse to establish and maintain. Secondly, those banned and placed on the register need to have a legal duty to keep their address up to date. The third and final step is for the statutory agencies to have a legal responsibility to make unannounced visits, at least annually, to the offender’s registered address to ensure animals are not being kept and abused.”
Independent MLA Claire Sugden said that, in the absence of a comprehensive register, or equivalent, the “cycle of cruelty” will only continue.
“I’d like the minister to detail the financial and legal considerations that lead him to believe such a register is untenable. I am putting forward an Assembly question to that effect,” she said.
Alliance MLA John Blair said his party has always thought it is the information sharing between relevant agencies that is critical, rather than a register being publicly available.