Countryside Alliance Ireland attended the launch of the Report of the Review of the Implementation of Animal Welfare Legislation in Belfast last Monday.
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill and Justice Minister David Ford were both in attendance as their departments had worked very closely together, which Minister O’Neill stressed was crucially important.
The report makes 68 recommendations aimed at enhancing communication between the enforcement bodies, improving processes and highlighting the Animal Welfare Service to the public.
However, at its heart, it advocates tougher sentencing for the more serious offences and new powers for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to challenge sentences for undue leniency.
The Review recommends an increase in the penalties available to the judiciary for the most serious animal welfare offences. Some offenders could now face up to five years behind bars for their actions.
As the Ministers were keen to see this achieved as quickly as possible, they accepted the recommendation before the final report was published. This allowed them to make the necessary legislative changes as early as possible. Minister O’Neill said she was grateful to Minister Ford for including them in the Justice Bill. They are now going through the Assembly and will shortly become law.
The Review also recommended that the most serious animal welfare offences be included in the Unduly Lenient Sentences (ULS) scheme. This will be enshrined in legislation within a few weeks and will allow the DPP to refer animal welfare cases to the Court of Appeal where the sentence handed down in cases heard by the Crown Court is considered to be unduly lenient.
Countryside Alliance Ireland take animal welfare very seriously. We promote and expect the highest of standards of animal welfare in all our rural activities.
However, there are still those who would wish to bring our legitimate country sports into disrepute by playing the animal welfare card. CAI will remain vigilant and will not accept any attempt to ban our rural pursuits.
Operation Wild Deer Extends to Strabane
Over the last number of years, police have worked closely with a number of agencies including Countryside Alliance Ireland to combat deer poaching through Operation Wild Deer.
The Operation Wild Deer initiative aims to prevent deer poaching to encourage people to report to local police and extra patrols in areas where deer poaching arises and local officer training. Operation Wild Deer began in Cookstown in Davagh Forest and moved to Fermanagh due to public reports on deer poaching. Most recently, police officers in Strabane along with the PSNI Wildlife Liaison Officer Emma Meredith met with Lord Hamilton and Stephen Pollock, the Head Gamekeeper at Baronscourt Estate, to discuss further ways to combat deer poaching in the local area.
As well as killing deer and carrying off the carcasses, poachers in several deer habitats across Northern Ireland have inflicted pain and suffering in botched operations.
Police officers in Strabane have been carrying out extra patrols in the area and they are urging members of the public to report any suspected wildlife crime to local police on 101 or confidentially on the Crimestoppers number 0800 555 111.