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New pledge to protect pets in Northern Ireland

THE WELFARE of companion animals in Northern Ireland has risen up the legislative agenda as government officials pledged to develop new laws to protect pets.

While improvements have been made in farm animal legislation in Northern Ireland there has been little progress on laws to protect companion animals, in contrast to the rest of the UK. The Animal Welfare Acts which were introduced in Scotland, England and Wales in 2007, put a legal ‘duty of care’ on owners to understand and provide for the needs of their pet. No such legislation currently exists in Northern Ireland.

Jim WellsA new group backed by Jim Wells, MLA for South Down, has been formed to support the development of companion animal legislation in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Companion Animal Welfare Committee (NICAWC) brings together vets and animal welfare organisations across the UK with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Representatives recently met officials from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to discuss future plans for improving the welfare of pets in Northern Ireland.

Steve Goody, Director of Companion Animal Welfare for The Blue Cross pet charity and Chairman of NICAWC, said: ‘There is a clear need for Northern Ireland to bring its legislation up to date to properly protect companion animals, in line with the new Animal Welfare Acts in Scotland, England and Wales. We are delighted with the positive response to our first meeting at Stormont and we look forward to significant progress being made.’

The meeting, which took place on March 4th at Dundonald House, Stormont, was facilitated by Jim Wells MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) who has strongly supported the work of the NICAWC since its inauguration last August. Officials from DARD listened intently to the views put forward by NICAWC representatives and confirmed their commitment to developing new laws to protect companion animals following their own consultation in 2006.

DARD officials confirmed the intention of the Minister, Michelle Gildernew MP MLA, to look at the development of new legislation later this year. She will meet with NICAWC personally in May to discuss a range of animal welfare issues.

Jim Wells MLA commented: ‘I found this meeting very useful. DARD has given NICAWC a fair hearing and I am encouraged with the intention to get the issue onto the legislative timetable as soon as possible. DARD has seriously taken on board the issues raised and this is a great example of the benefits in co-ordinating animal welfare issues in Northern Ireland.’

Following the meeting a spokesperson for DARD said: ‘Officials were grateful for NICAWC's offer to provide advice and support in the development of new legislative proposals. During the meeting, officials confirmed the Minister's commitment to bringing forward new Animal Welfare primary legislation and referred to the Republic of Ireland's proposal to bring forward a new animal welfare bill, stressing the need for broadly similar legislation on the Island of Ireland.’

• The NICAWC is chaired by The Blue Cross and represented by several other animal welfare organisations from England and Northern Ireland, including: Animal Welfare Federation, Assissi, Bright Eyes Animal Sanctuary, Cats Protection, Cat Support Group, Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary, Dogs Trust, Glenlark (Nature Reserve) Animal Rescue, Grovehill Animal Shelter, 7th Heaven Animal Rescue Trust, Mid-Antrim Animal Sanctuary, Pippa Swan (vet), The Rainbow Rehoming Centre, Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Committee is also represented by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and supported by Jim Wells MLA.