Northern Ireland

XL bully restrictions planned for owners in Northern Ireland, says Minister

Stormont minister Andrew Muir outlined the proposed safeguards to the Assembly.

An American XL bully
XL bully dog restrictions Stormont minister Andrew Muir said he was bringing forward legislation requiring people to register their ownership of the breed (Jacob King/PA)

Proposed restrictions and safeguards on owning XL bully dogs in Northern Ireland have been announced.

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Andrew Muir said he was bringing forward legislation requiring people to register their ownership of the breed and obtain an exemption certification, and also to keep them on a lead and muzzled while in public.

There would also be a ban on breeding, selling, abandoning or giving away XL bully dogs in the region.

XL bullies would also have to be neutered under the planned law changes, Mr Muir said.

Agriculture minister Andrew Muir said he did not want to ‘expose the public to an exacerbated level of risk’
Stormont Assembly Agriculture minister Andrew Muir said he did not want to ‘expose the public to an exacerbated level of risk’ (Brian Lawless/PA)

Additionally, owners would be required to obtain a form of public liability insurance and ensure the animals were kept in secure conditions.

People who chose not to keep their XL bullies would have the option of surrendering the animals to the authorities to be euthanised.

Similar moves to place restrictions on XL bullies have been introduced in England, Wales and Scotland in recent months following a spate of attacks linked to the breed.

Mr Muir told the Stormont Assembly there had been a 50% spike in the number of XL bully owners applying for a dog licence with Northern Ireland councils since plans were announced to restrict the breed in England five months ago.

The Alliance Party minister expressed concern that Northern Ireland remained the only place in the UK without such restrictions and was potentially becoming a home for XL bullies displaced from Great Britain.

Mr Muir said there were countless “genuine” owners of XL bullies who looked after their dogs with “boundless love and dedication”.

“Breeds of this size and nature require careful, experienced and dedicated training by owners who understand their characteristics and temperament,” he said.

“The level of risk associated with XL bully breed-type dogs is however well known, with a concerning number of attacks resulting in serious and fatal injuries. Unfortunately, the development of these dogs has sometimes suffered at the hands of the wrong types of owners with dogs bred to have exaggerated features or to be overtly aggressive.”

Mr Muir added: “I want to reassure the people of Northern Ireland that I have not rushed into a decision. I have carefully considered all aspects and I have not taken this decision lightly. It became clear quickly that there was no perfect solution to this problem.

“I do not want to expose the public to an exacerbated level of risk. There are 140 XL bully breed-type dogs licensed right now, up from around 90 last October. Therefore, it is time to act, whilst numbers remain manageable and we can, in the main, track where these dogs are.”

The minister insisted no owner would be forced to give their dog up.

“I am giving the owners of XL bully breed-type dogs the ability to be responsible and compassionate owners,” he said.

“I am offering them a pathway to enduring and lasting ownership of their valued dog.

“I am announcing these measures now so that people thinking of obtaining or breeding an XL bully breed-type dog in the near future know that their responsibilities and obligations will shortly change.”

Mr Muir said he appreciated his announcement would prompt calls for more information.

“My department will develop guidance and practical support to allow owners to understand the impending legislative changes, including how to identify an XL bully breed-type dog using the standard developed by the UK Government,” he said.

“My department will provide further detail on these safeguards in due course and the dates when they come into effect.

“Longer term, I have a desire to explore the possibility of meaningful reform to our dog control laws, in close co-operation with key stakeholders in the sector.

“I am acutely aware of the calls to deal with ‘the deed not the breed’ and criticism of breed-specific legislation but am left, as minister, with the situation as it presents itself, with the legislation as currently available in the context of public safety risk.”

The minister said he would establish a working group including representatives from his department and key council staff to design and implement the exemption scheme.