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Minister and MLA challenged on hunting with dogs in Northern Ireland

Recently we have seen the Minister for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir, state on social media and on View from Stormont that he would support a ban on hunting with dogs in Northern Ireland. We have also seen Claire Sugden MLA write to the DAERA Minister asking what plans he has to introduce legislation to ban hunting with dogs. 

In the Minister's response to Ms Sugden, he said:

“I understand that this is an important issue, and much work has been undertaken to date to take forward a ban, most notably, by John Blair, MLA, in the last Assembly mandate.

I am supportive of the need to ban the hunting of wild animals with dogs. However, I need to consider the priority of any relevant legislation against other priorities within the Department.”

Given that the DAERA Minister stated on 19 February 2024 that “In the time ahead, as Minister, I will be guided by evidence and science”, his recent comments as the Minister around hunting already cast doubt around his objectivity in the role. We are sure this will cause concern amongst other stakeholders outside country sports. 

Countryside Alliance Ireland (CAI) has written to Andrew Muir and Claire Sugden challenging them as to what investigations they have undertaken to assess the welfare and conservation impacts of existing restrictions elsewhere in the UK.

CAI noted that in the making of Rural Wrongs, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare were asked for any evidence or input they had on how the welfare of the quarry species improved following any restrictions to hunting with dogs. It was met with an uncharacteristic silence, so CAI also asked what evidence they have to counter Rural Wrongs findings?

Northern Ireland has the opportunity other parts of the UK did not when looking at restrictions around hunting with dogs and their negative impacts referred to in Rural Wrongs

Regardless of any dislike they may have for hunting, we must ask if they are willing to make animal welfare worse for a kind of pseudo-morality.  Is it the case that their feelings about hunting are more important than what actually happens to the animals concerned? And finally, what kind of ‘principle’ do we follow that makes matters worse?

The Minister, Andrew Muir, is yet to respond but Claire Sugden MLA responded saying she would “look and consider” but did not provide evidence of any research she had undertaken. Several MLAs and Parties have said DAERA should objectively conduct a full investigation into the matter providing a balanced, evidence-based report for the Minister and MLAs to inform them before they make animal welfare worse, as what happened during the Animal Welfare Act 2011 where our MLAs made the law worse than the previous 1972 legislation.

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