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MLA accused of 'misleading public', after UFU question his claims of engagement with farmers

NI Assembly Member, John Blair, has been accused of misleading the public over his proposed private members bill (PMB) to ban hunting with dogs, after his claim to have strong support from farmers has been challenged by Northern Ireland's largest farming union the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU).

In a hard-hitting open letter to the Alliance Party MLA, the UFU revealed that Mr Blair had had no contact with their organisation, which represents some 11,5000 farming families across all sectors, before making that claim, which makes it 'difficult to understand'.

The organisation has also questioned the 'validity' of an online survey being used to obtain feedback from the public in relation to his proposal and labelled it 'biased'.

Gary McCartney, a spokesman for Countryside Alliance Ireland said in response: ' The latest revelations from the UFU suggest that Mr. Blair has been misleading the public about the support he has from those in our rural communities in his illogical bid to ban hunting with dogs. It is becoming increasingly clear that his so-called public consultation is farcical.'

In a two-page letter to Mr. Blair, sent by UFU President Victor Chestnutt, he questioned which farming bodies the Alliance MLA had spoken to in relation to his proposed bill.

He wrote: 'What farming organisation have you consulted with to obtain this 'support'? There has been no engagement with UFU on this subject and as the largest democratic voluntary organisation representing farmers and growers in NI, it is difficult to understand how such a statement can be made.'

Mr. Chestnutt goes on to say: ' Hunts are only permitted access to farmland if granted by the landowner, meaning farmers decide their own position on the hunt and its place in the countryside. The UFU has a long standing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Countryside Alliance and the Northern Ireland Masters of Hounds Association, meaning problems can be raised by landowners and rectified quickly.'

'Hunting of mammals using dogs has been a method of pest control employed by farmers for centuries. The fox population requires management as it is a real and present predator in NI to domestic poultry flocks and lambs especially. If the PMB were to be passed, how do you propose that foxes and other pests are managed? Are your alternative methods of pest control more or less favourable in the eyes of the public compared to hunting with dogs?'.

The letter also explains how hunting has provided much needed employment in rural areas, such as 'hounds men, horse breeders, transporters, feed providers etc.' as well as carrying out important services to farmers including a 'deadstock disposal service.'

'You have been known to support keeping jobs in rural areas, yet in creating this PMB, jobs in the countryside and a valuable service to farmers would no longer be sustainable.', Chestnutt adds.

Mr. Chestnutt also reiterated the serious concerns shared by many in NI's rural communities about any future impact Mr. Blair's PMB will have on other countryside activities including shooting, pest control and fishing.

Meanwhile over 5000 emails have been sent to MLAs from those who took part in a petition by Countryside Alliance Ireland, calling on MLAs to oppose any legislation to ban hunting and to contact the Speaker of the Assembly to express their concern over the 'so-called consultation process', which is being conduct by Mr Blair.

Mr.McCartney, added: 'Laws should be based on principle and evidence and consultations should be conducted to proper objective standards. What is being proposed, and how it is being introduced, is not acceptable. Countryside Alliance Ireland is determined to fight this unjustified attack on our rural community and continues to campaign for country sports and the rights of individuals to use working dogs.

'Private Members Bills are paid for at the public's expense and therefore from their very outset need to be conducted in an unbiased, transparent and open process subject to independent scrutiny, demonstrating there is clear support from the people of Northern Ireland. The Bills Office have confirmed the responses to the public consultation remain the property of Mr. Blair and this brings the whole Private Members Bill process into question. In 2017 a review into this began, but to our knowledge, was never completed. A similar issue arose in Wales and through a FOI request found that only 12% of the respondents were actually from Wales. Our devolved Government allows us to make laws in the interests of the people on Northern Ireland, not the rest of the planet.'

While you are here: Please give us a moment of your time and send a clear message to your MLAs about Mr John Blair MLA's proposal to ban hunting with Dogs in Northern Ireland .

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