ITV News can reveal that results of a consultation by the Alliance Party found 78% of respondents in favour of their proposed law protecting wild animals from being killed by dogs.
With 18,425 responses to their survey, it may be the largest response ever to a private member’s bill in Northern Ireland.
Unlike England, Wales and Scotland, fox hunting in Northern Ireland is still legal. If a ban were introduced, it’s expected to go further than any law in the rest of the UK.
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.
Other responses to the consultation include:
78% support for the law to make “landowners vicariously liable for any illegal hunting activity that takes place on their land”.
55% backing imprisonment as a punishment for persons found guilty of offences under the proposed bill
76% of respondents said they “fully” supported the intentions of the proposed law (although survey questions are a long way from the wording of actual legislation).
John Blair MLA told ITV News: “This is not an attack per se, on country sports. It's a deliberate attempt to stop the practice, which most people see as barbaric and totally socially unacceptable.
"What we want to do is put an end to that properly and finally.”
Gary McCartney, Northern Ireland Regional Director of the Countryside Alliance says the consultation is a “farce”.
He added: “It has become increasingly clear that he [John Blair MLA] does not know what it is that he wants his legislation to achieve, and that he has actively misrepresented the evidence on wildlife management and the position of the farming community which has rejected his claims.
"[It is] a complex issue which is of critical importance to the lives of so many in the rural community.”
Asked whether tighter legislation would lay down a marker for the rest of the UK, Janice Watt of the League Against Cruel Sports NI said: “That's exactly what we're what we're trying to achieve.
"We want to have what I would describe as gold standard legislation, legislation that is enforceable and will allow the police to do their jobs and secure successful prosecutions for those engaged in this abhorrent activity."
If such a law were to pass in Northern Ireland it would move hunting legislation from the perception of it currently being behind the rest of the UK to being ahead of the pack.
The law of this land may change and if so, pressure for the rest of the UK to follow their lead will undoubtedly intensify.