Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin stands over opposition to outlawing of hunting with dogs

The North Down New Year hunt at Crawfordsburn. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

SINN Féin was last night standing over its decision to oppose the outlawing of hunting with dogs, insisting "regulation, not a ban, is the best approach".

The party has faced criticism from animal welfare groups and opponents at Stormont after its MLAs were whipped on Monday to ensure they voted against a private member's bill brought by Alliance's John Blair.

Other parties allowed their representatives a free vote, however, the bid to take the bill to the committee stage was defeated by 45 to 38.

MLAs from the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance backed the ban along with a number of independents and six DUP representatives.

However, opposition from a majority of DUP MLAs, coupled with Jim Allister and the Sinn Féin bloc, saw Mr Blair's bill thrown out.

Sinn Féin's agriculture spokesman Declan McAleer told the assembly that other legislation moving through the assembly meant there would not be adequate time to scrutinise the Alliance member's bill.

He said that while there were elements of Mr Blair's bill his party backed, he said Sinn Féin "do not agree with a ban on hunting".

The party issued a statement yesterday from Mr McAleer in which he reitterated his opposition to a ban.

Sinn Féin's Declan McAleer

"Our party position - north and south - is that regulation, not a ban, is the best approach," he said.

"However, Sinn Féin believes the private member's bill was unworkable, flawed and rushed and in the time we have left in this mandate amending it sufficiently was not possible."

A consultation on Mr Blair's bill received more than 18,000 responses, thought to be the greatest number of responses ever to proposed legislation.

More than three-quarters of those who responded were in favour of banning hunting with dogs – a stance seemingly adopted previously by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Other Sinn Féin TDs have publicly put on record their opposition to hunting with dogs, while many of the party's elected representatives in the north are understood to share that view.

The USPCA described the assembly vote as "very disappointed".

Chief executive Brendan Mullan said hunting wild animals with dogs was "sadistic and cruel and has no place in an advanced and compassionate society".

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly, who says she has been working with the UPSCA on an all-island animal cruelty register, described the opposition to a ban from Sinn Féin, the DUP and Mr Allister as "appalling".

"The outpouring of disgust since the vote shows the strength of feeling about animal rights issues – it also clearly demonstrates that those who voted against the legislation on Monday were going against the wishes of the vast majority of the public," the Upper Bann MLA said.

She said 15 years after fox hunting with dogs was banned Britain it was "inconceivable that this abhorrent practice is still allowed on both sides of the border".

Mrs Kelly voiced hope that the issue would return to the assembly in the next mandate.

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