Committee supports greater penalties to protect animal welfare

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he Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development received a briefing on Tuesday 10 November from departmental officials on proposed draft amendments to increase penalties for offences under the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011.

The department had recently informed members that new primary legislation would be required to increase penalties through amendments to the 2011 Act. The minister has now proposed that the amendments should be brought forward through the Justice No (2) Bill which will be completed before the end of this mandate. This will ensure that the legislation is introduced promptly, something of great concern to both the public and animal charities.

Speaking after today’s briefing, committee chairperson William Irwin MLA said: “The committee has long shared the view of a number of stakeholders that much more needs to be done to increase protections to ensure the welfare of animals. Recent high profile cases have reflected that the current Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011 is considered by many to be too lenient and does not offer the necessary deterrents.

“Proposals to increase maximum sentencing on summary convictions from six to twelve months and for indictable offences from a current maximum prison term of two to five years will mirror existing legislation in other neighbouring jurisdictions. We believe that this, and the increase on the current maximum fine from £5,000-£20,000, will go a long way towards strengthening the existing Bill and further curbing and discouraging acts of animal cruelty.”

Deputy chairperson Joe Byrne MLA added: “While the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011 has provided a baseline to help tackle issues around animal neglect and cruelty; it has become clear that current penalties and issues around the delivery of enforcement are not strong enough to be as effective as we would like.

“We look forward to seeing the department’s final report into its Review of the Implementation of the 2011 Act; as this should provide the necessary information to help us all to ensure that new amendments to the Bill will be comprehensive, robust and fit for purpose.”