Fox hunting indefensible in year 2016
The "traditional" Boxing Day Hunt is the highlight of the hunting calendar in Northern Ireland - the only region of the United Kingdom where ripping apart wild animals with packs of dogs remains legal. Hundreds line streets to watch hunt groups parade through town on their way to chase terrified, outnumbered animals to brutal deaths.
The oft-used justification for this cruel hobby is that fox hunting is a necessary form of pest control. This insistence that dressing a dozen horsemen up in fancy regalia and pursuing individual animals to exhaustion is an efficient means of population control would be laughable if it wasn't so horrific.
It is an argument that has been completely discredited, with empirical evidence demonstrating that killing foxes does not reduce their overall numbers anyway - new foxes simply move into areas from which others have been displaced.
Ironically, far from providing society with some sort of valuable service, it is the hunters themselves that have had to issue apologies for the deaths of livestock and even pets which have been ripped apart by their dogs in residential gardens.
At this time of year fox hunting is often described by its supporters as being traditional.
Like the pest control argument, such a description undeservedly affords a degree of respectability to the cruel practice, and deflects from the disturbing reality - that hunters get a thrill from watching foxes, including young cubs, being ripped to pieces.
Justifying actions based on an appeal to tradition assumes that something is right, simply because it is what has been done before. Slavery was once a tradition.
That badger baiting and dog fighting are banned while equally cruel and unnecessary fox hunting is tolerated as a "tradition" is completely arbitrary.
Recent polling by the League Against Cruel Sports has found that less than 18% of people in Northern Ireland believe hunting with dogs should remain legal.
It is time for politicians to acknowledge this and legislate to make this hunting season the last in Northern Ireland.
Steven Agnew is leader of the Green Party in NI