I recently hosted an event at the Assembly on behalf of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) and the animal welfare community to raise awareness of the evidence and support for the introduction of a ban on hunting with dogs to Northern Ireland.
This is an emotive issue but a ban on hunting with dogs has been in place in Scotland since 2002 and in England and Wales since 2005.
Animal welfare organisations, the public and political parties in Northern Ireland appear to be increasingly in agreement that ripping animals to shreds with a pack of dogs in the name of sport and wildlife management is cruel, ineffective and wrong.
The keynote speaker at the event, Vice-President of the LACS and celebrity conservationist, Bill Oddie, underlined the unacceptable position Northern Ireland holds as being the only region in the UK to not ban hunting with dogs.
Janice Watt of the LACS highlighted a new Ipsos Mori poll showing almost 80 per cent of people in Northern Ireland believe fox hunting should be illegal and that around two in three people thought this was already the case.
It begs the question why Minister for Agriculture Michelle O’Neill has to date failed to introduce such a ban in Northern Ireland.
The Minister for Justice has responded positively to high profile animal cruelty incidents by initiating a review of the Welfare of Animals Act, which has initially recommended an increase in the maximum penalty for this type of heinous crime.
Yet Minister O’Neill has still declined to legislate a ban on hunting with dogs.
Alliance has long worked to eradicate animal cruelty – Naomi Long was recognised by animal welfare groups for her leadership on the issue, Belfast City councillors achieved unanimous support for a motion calling for fox hunting to be outlawed, and I called on the First and Deputy First Ministers to bring the issue of hunting to the Assembly.
Alliance will continue to build on this by working for the introduction of a comprehensive Animal Welfare Bill that will include a ban on hunting with dogs.
This cruel and ineffective practice should have no place in our society.
. Chris Lyttle is Alliance MLA for East Belfast.