'Not about locking zoo up and throwing away key', says councillor
Sinn Fein has defended its Belfast City Council motion calling for the transformation of Belfast Zoo.
At Monday's council meeting, Castle Councillor Conor Maskey criticised "silly reactions" that came from other parties and the "media's approach" to the recent public debate.
The party's motion said some animals should be returned to their natural habitats in a "carefuly crafted phased approach" and the site should be transformed into a "world-class visitor attraction" by 2025.
A conservation programme for indigenous animals was to be maintained and the council commit to retaining staff.
Councillor Maskey referred to other parties portraying the motion as "about locking up the zoo and throwing away the key".
He said the approach was "far, far, far, from it".
He told the chamber: "This was never about closing the zoo, it was about properly investing in the site to ensure we are in keeping with a modern and ethical approach to the city and the animals, and doesn't burden the rate payer."
He added, however, in the light of the debate the party would be talking to the council about amending the motion before it is referred to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee later this month.
The original Sinn Fein motion suggested: "This council agrees to an ambitious plan to transform Belfast Zoo into a world-class visitor attraction by 2025. The display of caged animals in enclosures is wrong and unethical, it doesn't mirror in any way their natural habitat and has no place in modern society.
"The ratepayers of this city have to subsidise the zoo to the sum of £2.5 million per year. The savings from the zoo site could provide substantial funding for the much-needed regeneration of the city, create jobs, opportunities, and attract more visitors. The five-year transitional period will enable the council to safely return animals to their natural habitats in a carefully crafted phased approach.
The council will commit to securing all jobs currently on the zoo siteCouncillor Maskey
"Furthermore the council will retain an on-site animal conservation programme for indigenous animals. The five years will also enable the council to consult with trade unions, staff and residents of the city through direct engagement and consultation.
"The council will commit to securing all jobs currently on the zoo site, with the options of retraining and redeployment. This will create an opportunity for the council to develop the site, create jobs, and promote the city ethically."
DUP Councillor George Dorrian, confirmed earlier his party's opposition to the motion after a meeting with trade union officials.
He said: "Belfast City Council has been considering over recent years the most appropriate way forward for Belfast Zoo, considering it in the context of the surrounding Belfast Hills and Cave Hill Country Park.
"The DUP group on council is concerned that the zoo is loss-making and we wish to bring about a more sustainable model. We believe that the zoo needs investment, should be recognised as a significant regional asset and should be enhanced by the creation of a wider outdoor activity leisure park.
It fails to recognise the important role of Belfast Zoo in education and in international breeding programmesCouncillor Dorrian
"However, we cannot support this Sinn Fein proposal to, effectively, close the zoo. This statement by Sinn Fein is a gross misrepresentation, writing about 'caged animals' and lacks reality by proposing to 'return animals to their natural habitats'.
"It fails to recognise the important role of Belfast Zoo in education and in international breeding programmes for both indigenous and rare and endangered species."
He said trade union officials had made it clear that staff at the zoo "take great exception to the suggestion by Sinn Fein that animals are being treated cruelly at the zoo".
"Council staff at the zoo are highly trained and dedicated, creating animal enclosures designed to replicate natural environments," he added.