The Northern Ireland Assembly is to consider banning foxhunting in 2021. Anti hunting MLA John Blair, backed by the League Against Cruel Sports, plans to propose legislation banning hunting of all wild mammals with dogs after 12 February 2021.
Although the law he wants to pass is aimed at foxhunting, in its current form it includes gundogs, coursing and even pets chasing squirrels in the park.
The League Against Cruel Sports hope this will be third time lucky for its attempts to write legislation. The anti-hunting group’s attempts to ban hunting in Scotland and England/Wales resulted in unworkable laws, and antis have spent the last 15 years campaigning to overturn their own laws.
The League hoped that it would be easy to prove human ‘intention’ to hunt with dogs, but failed to spot that the courts can’t ask the dogs. As a result there have been only a handful of prosecutions of staff from registered hunts since the legislation came into force in England and Wales in 2005. It says the legislation it brought fward in Scotland is even weaker.
In order to push his bill through, Blair will have to ignore science showing the welfare benefits of hunting, shooting and coursing. Research by Queen’s University, Belfast, for example, found that hare density is 18 times higher in coursing areas than in non-coursing areas.
Blair is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s ‘all-party’ group on animal welfare, which includes no MLAs from Sinn Fein or the Ulster Unionist Party, nor any of the three smallest parties in the assembly.
The next election to the Northern Ireland Assembly has to take place or before 5 May 2022. A debate about foxhunting will raise Blair’s profile in his South Antrim constituency.
Pro-hunting Strangford DUP MP Jim Shannon says it is important for both sides to have a “sensible and reasoned” debate about hunting.