Bill could criminalise every dog owner in Northern Ireland

A Bill seeking to ban hunting in Northern Ireland has been branded ‘breathtakingly stupid’ for including a clause which would criminalise owners whose dog chases for example a rabbit or squirrel.

John Blair MLA of the Alliance Party, introduced his Hunting of Wild Mammals Bill into the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 November. The Bill has been criticised by rural groups, including Countryside Alliance Ireland as an ‘attack on the rural way of life’.

Farming groups and Countryside Alliance Ireland are among those who fear that, under this proposal, ordinary dog owners could be criminalised through no fault of their own. Breaking this law, as worded, would be a criminal offence with a possible prison sentence. Of most concern is Clause 6 of the Bill, which states: “6(3) In section 1 the reference to participation in the hunting of a wild mammal with a dog includes a reference to participation in another activity (such as pursuit by dogs of an artificial or human scent) in the course of which a dog hunts a wild mammal”.

Rural groups argue this would potentially criminalise every dog owner in Northern Ireland. Anyone whose dog chases a rabbit, hare, fox or even a grey squirrel whilst they are walking, taking part in country sports, checking their livestock or engaged in any other activity will be committing a criminal offence. Meaning, if you are simply walking your dog in the park and it runs off after a squirrel you could be committing an offence.  Mice and rats are among the only wild animals exempt in the Bill.

Gary McCartney, Director of Countryside Alliance Ireland said: “In Mr. Blair’s ideological pursuit of rural communities, he has clumsily cobbled together a bill that is riddled with illogical and dangerous proposals which if implemented, would represent not only an attack on the rural way of life in Northern Ireland.

“There is not even an attempt to justify this draconian proposal on the basis of improving animal welfare and it is only possible to conclude that it is the product of deeply held prejudice.

“What is worse is that the bill would potentially criminalise every dog owner in Northern Ireland. Anyone whose dog chases a rabbit, hare or fox whilst they are walking, shooting, checking their livestock or engaged in any other activity will be committing a criminal offence.

“This is a breathtakingly stupid piece of legislation and it is quite unbelievable that it has even been published.”

This Bill will get its second reading in approximately 4 weeks’ time.

 

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