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Minister in Second Northern Ireland Gaffe

Government notice on website praising hunting removed and a hint that Hunting Act may be extended to Northern Ireland

Following last week’s embarrassing revelation regarding a Government website for Northern Ireland praising hunting, the Northern Ireland Minister, Peter Hain, has now admitted that his department knew nothing about it. The website notice has now been removed and the Minister has hinted that the Hunting Act could be extended to Northern Ireland. However, the Minister has made a further gaffe by failing to appreciate that the law in Northern Ireland already deals comprehensively with unnecessary suffering to wild animals and allows for cases of cruelty to be brought to court.

It was made an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any wild animal in Northern Ireland when the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) was passed in 1972.

Peter Luff MP, Co-chair of the Middle Way Group said, “Hunting and shooting have continued in Northern Ireland since 1972 with no cases of cruelty being successful or even brought, as far as I am aware

It has been open to any person or organisation to test their views and evidence by bringing a prosecution. Clearly, anti-hunters in Northern Ireland do not have much confidence in their own argument.

By saying that the Hunting Act may be extended to Northern Ireland, the Minister is either unaware of the law in Northern Ireland or he realises that a cruelty charge against hunting with dogs would fail. Last week, Peter Hain didn’t know what his department was doing. This week, he appears not to know what the current law is in a part of the UK for which he is responsible. Our concern must be to further animal welfare, not to foster prejudice against particular activities, which seems to be what Peter Hain is doing by hinting at extending the Hunting Act”


Notes for Editor:

1. The website http://www.ruralni.gov.uk/index/livestock/equine/activities/hunting.htm carried the following statement:

“Hunting with hounds is an ancient field sport which serves as a practical control of foxes as well as the financial and productive advantages it creates for people in the countryside. It is also an equestrian activity very much enjoyed by many horses and riders alike.” The website then provided a link to field sports in Ireland and a second link to foxhunting in America and Britain, but has now been removed.

2. Explanatory note
The accepted definition of cruelty is the infliction of unnecessary suffering. It is the basis of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 (1912 in Scotland), which has been the primary animal welfare law in mainland Britain since that time. However, this law excluded all wild animals, apart from those that were held captive and thereby living under human control. The recent Animal Welfare Act 2006 again uses the term ‘unnecessary suffering’ as its definition of cruelty and also excludes animals living in a wild state.

It was correctly claimed by the anti hunting groups that they were unable to prosecute hunts for causing unnecessary suffering to wild mammals because of the exclusion of wild animals from the 1911 Act.

This was part of their reason for arguing for a specific hunting act. Had wild animals been covered by the Act, it would have been a matter for the prosecution to gather the evidence and bring its case to court, which would then decide whether or not unnecessary suffering had been caused. The Middle Way Group would like to see that anomaly corrected and the hunting world has accepted that if unnecessary suffering could be proven in court, the activity concerned should not continue.

The Hunting Act 2004 did not extend to Northern Ireland. However, in Northern Ireland a law was passed in 1972, the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland), which granted protection not just to domestic and captive animals, but to ALL animals, wild included. This means that since that time it has been open to anyone to bring a case against a hunt for causing unnecessary suffering. Hunting with dogs continues in Northern Ireland to this day and no such case has ever been brought.


All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group

Issued by: Jim Barrington
Date: 16th March 2007

EMBARGO: Immediate
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