Northern Ireland must adopt a zero-tolerance approach to those who abuse animals, the DUP has said.
A region-wide ban on wild animal circuses and a new register to ensure those barred from keeping animals are properly monitored are among a number of proposals in a policy paper launched by the party.
Extreme cases of animal cruelty should result in a prison sentence, the party said.
The Challenging Cruelty document was launched in Assisi Animal Sanctuary charity shop in Newtownards.
Outlining the pre-election pledges on animal welfare, the DUP’s Gavin Robinson said: “Whilst the document contains a number of policies which we want to see taken forward by government we recognise that tackling cruelty to animals will require longer, attitudinal change within society.”
The paper proposes measures to raise public awareness about current animal welfare legislation and the development of dedicated school resources to inform pupils about what pet ownership involves.
“A key area of concern is that when a ban from owning or keeping animals for a certain period of time there is no effective mechanism in place to police such bans,” said Mr Robinson.
“This was a key issue highlighted by many charities and those working in the sector and that is why we propose a centrally compiled Banned Offenders Register. That register can provide a resource for enforcement officials and ensure that any breach of the ban can be identified and punished appropriately.
“Many councils in Northern Ireland, including Belfast, have banned circuses that contain wild animals from using their property. We want to see this ban extended further and the DUP will support Private Members Legislation banning such circuses entirely within Northern Ireland. Wild animals should not be kept to perform tricks for the public and we do not believe that this practice has a place in a modern Northern Ireland.
“Animals are central to our lives. In our agri-food sector the high welfare standards ensure the world-class quality food we produce. Our pets provide joy to countless people and often it is true to state that they are ‘part of the family’. Any act of cruelty towards an animal must be punished and those responsible for extreme cases of cruelty should go to prison.”