Stormont bid for central register of those convicted of animal cruelty offences

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and MLAs Patsy McGlone and Dolores Kelly met rescue dogs Henry and Lucy on the steps of Stormont on Monday morning just before the petition, signed by thousands, was tabled. Credit: UTV

Two SDLP MLAs have tabled a petition to the Northern Ireland Assembly calling for a central register to be kept of those convicted of animal cruelty offences.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and MLAs Patsy McGlone and Dolores Kelly met rescue dogs Henry and Lucy on the steps of Stormont on Monday morning just before the petition, signed by thousands, was tabled.

The campaign, backed by the USPCA, aims to see a register of offenders available to charities and shelters across Ireland so that those convicted of abusing animals are not allowed to rehome new animals.

There is currently no mechanism for preventing the sale or adoption of animals to those with convictions.

Ms Kelly said an all-island register would allow authorities to intervene and prevent animals being placed in the care of convicted abusers.

"It's a very simple idea that would make a big difference," she said.

"The sanctions for animal abusers that apply in Northern Ireland are stringent but without a central database of those convicted of these crimes, there is no easy way to prevent repeat offending.

"That is the kind of behaviour we're trying to address."

Ms Kelly said the party has spoken with the Irish minister for agriculture Charlie McConalogue who she described as "keen to assist with this proposal".

She said the party is formally calling for Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots and Justice Minister Naomi Long to "work together and apply the resources of their departments to take this forward with us".

Last week Ms Long told the Assembly that the creation of such a register has been discussed by Stormont ministers.

She told MLAs there were 153 convictions at courts for offences under animal welfare legislation between 2018-2020.

There were 68 convictions in 2018, 50 in 2019 and 35 in 2020.

Ms Long said while responsibility for legislation and enforcement around the abuse of animals lies with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera), her officials will provide advice.

"I recently met with (Agriculture) Minister (Edwin) Poots to discuss proposals for the creation of a register of those banned from owning animals," she told MLAs.

"Whilst any policy decision regarding a register of those convicted of animal cruelty is purely the responsibility of Daera, I have agreed that my officials will provide advice with respect to the management of criminal records in order to assist with this work."

Asked about an all-Ireland register, Ms Long said there were complexities in terms of sharing criminal record information across the border, adding this was another area on which her officials can give advice.

She added that she was not aware whether Mr Poots had had any discussions with his Irish counterpart on the matter.