Massive thumbs-down to NI’s fox hunters

Another gratifyingly very bad day for fox hunting (to add to crashing revenue caused by lockdown (which has almost stopped hunting this ‘season’), leaked webinars, media coverage of pets being killed and of hounds being killed on the road, private and corporate landowners suspending licences for so-called ‘trail hunting’ etc) as figures released by the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday showed overwhelming support for a ban on hunting with dogs following a country-wide consultation.

An Alliance Party member’s bill to ban hunting with dogs in Northern Ireland (where it is still legal) gathered a huge 18,425 responses – perhaps the largest response ever to a private member’s bill there. 78% of those respondents were in favour of a proposed law protecting wild animals from being killed by dogs (figures which reflect independent polling commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports and carried out independently by Survation in 2019).

Remarkably respondents also wanted to see ‘vicarious liability’ introduced into Northern Ireland, a move long-resisted in England by land-owning MPs that allow hunts to use their land. There was 78% support for any incoming law to make “landowners vicariously liable for any illegal hunting activity that takes place on their land”.

John Blair MLA said the response to his consultation has been “phenomenal” and hopes the legislation will be so tight that even “accidental” kills will be prohibited – implying that a new law would close the loopholes forced into the Hunting Act 2004 as it passed through the House of Lords and clarify precisely what ‘hunting’ means. In 2009, for example, a High Court judgement stated that in English law hunting is an intentional activity, therefore the accidental or inadvertent hunting of a wild mammal with one or more dogs is not an offence under the Act.

He went on to say, “What we want to do is put an end to [hunting with hounds] properly and finally.”

Campaigners were delighted with the survey. Janice Watt, public affairs officer for the League Against Cruel Sports, Northern Ireland, said: “Voters have finally been given the opportunity to make their voice clearly heard on the issue of hunting live mammals with dogs.

This sends a clear message to the Northern Ireland Assembly that the animal loving people of Northern Ireland want the horrifically cruel so-called ‘sport’ of fox and stag hunting banned once and for all.”

Earlier this year the Ulster Farmer’s Union – in a particularly whiny-sounding letter to the Assembly – opposed the idea of a ban because they hadn’t been consulted (though presumably their members weren’t excluded from the consultation and could have their say just like everyone else) and on the grounds that it might end trail hunting and affect their use of snares. Local democracy in the form of consultations also appear to upset the so-called Countryside Alliance – a lobbying organisation set up to repeal the Hunting Act. A spokesperson from the CA was quoted on the ITV News website yesterday saying that the consultation was a “farce”. But then they’ve been ignoring majority opinion since the Hunting Act came into force, so no change there…

There is no news when the Bill will be discussed in the Assembly, but if a law as suggested were to pass in Northern Ireland it would entirely change the perception of hunting legislation there, moving the country from falling behind the rest of the UK to leading it. Pressure for the rest of the UK to follow their lead would undoubtedly then intensify, with calls for exemptions to be closed and much stricter legislation governing so-called ‘trail hunting’ to be brought in.

All of which begs the question: for how much longer can the grubby hobby of chasing foxes around the countryside exist before it is properly outlawed altogether? Going by the panicked response to every ‘threat’ to fox hunting, and despite what they tell the media, deep down even the most ardent lobbyist must know that the answer is ‘not for very much longer’…