This week, a proposed ban on hunting with dogs was shamefully defeated in the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont buildings. As we reach the end of 2021, the practice of animals being torn apart by dogs for “entertainment” should be banished into history, but yet again the Establishment fails to take animal cruelty seriously.
This is despite the fact that polls have shown the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are opposed to hunting and that the Ulster Society for the Protection of Animals (USPCA) is backing the bill.
This is another fine example of politicians in the Northern Ireland Assembly being far removed from the people they are supposed to represent. When the bill was put to the vote, the Alliance Party, the nationalist SDLP, the unionist UUP, the Greens and broad left PBP backed it. Sinn Fein, the hardline unionist TUV and some Democratic Unionist Party Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) lined up to oppose it.
Sinn Fein talking out of both sides of their mouth
In a letter to the Irish Council Against Blood Sports in February 2020, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said: “Sinn Fein is opposed to foxhunting and we will vote in favour of a ban at the next opportunity.”
Why then did Sinn Fein MLA’s in Stormont vote against a ban at this critical moment? Why did Sinn Fein MLA Declan McAleer say while opposing the bill that “Sinn Fein do not agree with a ban on hunting”?
The lack of consistency from Sinn Fein in relation to animal rights is not new. In the South of Ireland, a bill is set to be brought before the Dáil [Irish parliament] to ban hare coursing next year. The barbaric practice of terrorising hares is illegal in all but three EU countries, and 77% of the population support a ban. However, the last time the issue was voted on Sinn Fein voted against it, and they have still refused to change their position on the issue. Hare coursing was due to be debated at the party’s recent Ard Fheis [conference], but the discussion was postponed.
If Sinn Fein is serious about animal rights they must vote in favour of the bill to ban hare coursing in the Dáil, just as they should have voted in favour of a ban on hunting in Stormont. If they are serious about supporting rural communities then they can use the power they hold in the NI Assembly to create decent jobs in country areas.