Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill: Further Consideration Stage (Assembly)

Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill: Further Consideration Stage (Assembly)Northern Ireland Assembly, 07 February 2011

It was 40 years ago when my former colleague the late MP for Bangor Bertie McConnell first introduced such a Bill to the old Northern Ireland Parliament. Although it was passed by the Commons, it was delayed by the Senate and fell when the Parliament was abolished in 1972. My North Down Alliance Party colleague Lord Dunleath introduced a similar Bill in the 1973 Assembly. However, that Assembly was abolished some years later and the Bill made no progress. He tried again in 1983, and although that Assembly supported the proposal, it fell before the legislation could be enacted.

Banning hare coursing is a long-standing issue, and it is time that it was finally resolved. I have a long-standing interest in the issue. Like Mr Wells, I used to spend my Boxing Days in the 1970s and early 1980s protesting in the freezing cold at Crebilly. We protested outside at Crebilly, while the course hares inside were torn apart by hounds. It was sickening to hear the screams of the hares and the shouting of the spectators. In 1980, I even wrote to the thenSecretary of StateJim Prior, asking him to reintroduce the legislation that had been passed by the Assembly before it was prorogued.

The Assembly vote in June 2010 to ban hare coursing was historic. I had hoped that the barbaric sport of hare coursing would follow cockfighting and badger-baiting into the annals of history. Hare coursing and other blood sports have no place in the twenty-first century. The ban on hare coursing has received cross-party support, and the Bill’s Further Consideration Stage should not be used to reverse decisions made at previous stages. We should be looking at strengthening the provisions that we have already agreed, not reversing them.

I am particularly dismayed that, once again, Sinn Féin is supporting activities that involve animal cruelty. I accept that hare coursing has changed significantly since the 1980s. Although the dogs are now muzzled and hares may not be killed during a coursing event, the fact is that, as Dr Farry pointed out, the hares do suffer trauma. A 2004 report accepted that hares were significantly stressed, which led to a compromise of their immune systems, often resulting in death. That was confirmed by a study carried out in Wexford in 2003, which found that, of 83 hares that had been netted and coursed by muzzled dogs, 40 had died.

I welcome amendment No 9, which would strengthen the ban on hare coursing, essentially allowing the PSNIto prevent hare coursing rather than simply prosecuting those who take part in it. I welcome the amendmentas it allows the PSNI to prosecute for the netting of hares. It will, therefore, prevent future animal cruelty.

I will vote against amendment Nos 8 and 10 and support amendment No 9. We should vote againstamendment Nos 8 and 10 because, after 40 years, it is time that we put an end to this barbaric practice once and for all.

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