Council refuses to take circus acts ‘lion’ down

Cracking the whip: Cllr Thomas Hogg.
Cracking the whip: Cllr Thomas Hogg.

NEWTOWNABBEY Borough Council is to consider introducing a permanent ban on circuses which use animals from setting up on council-owned land.

The move towards banning circuses which include animals in their acts came at Monday night’s (April 29) full council meeting, during which members turned down a request from Tom Duffy’s Circus for the use of Loughshore Park, Jordanstown and Sixmilewater Park, Ballyclare later this month.

While officers recommended that the circus be allowed to use the land, pending confirmation regarding the well-being of the animals involved, members voted not to allow the use of council sites.

The council currently considers all applications to hold a circus on council land on an individual basis. However, following Monday night’s decision, alderman John Blair suggested that the council put in place a policy banning circuses which use animals from using council-owned land, and introduce a ban on promotional material for such circuses from being left in council-run premises.

Members agreed that the issue be brought to a future meeting of the council’s Policy and Governance Committee for consideration.

Sparking the debate on Monday evening, the DUP’s Thomas Hogg said he was totally opposed to the use of non-domesticated animals in circuses.

Commenting on the use of animals such as tigers, lions and zebras in circus shows, and the conditions the animals are kept in between performances, he said: “It is detrimental to their mental and physical well-being and considerably shortens their life expectancy.”

Describing the practice of making animals perform for people’s entertainment as “an archaic and barbaric practice”, he added: “They (animals) are performing these tasks not because they want to, but because they know what will happen to them if they don’t.”

Councillor Hogg urged the council to follow the lead of a number of other local authorities and put a ban on circuses which use animals.

Backing councillor Hogg’s stance, alderman Blair read from a letter from the USPCA stating that it is opposed to circuses which exploit animals and asking the council to review its policy of permitting such circuses to use its land.

“I would appeal to colleagues to put a stop this practice now and forever,” he said.

Councillor Hogg received further support from Sinn Fein’s Gerry O’Reilly, who branded animals doing tricks for people’s amusement as “cruel and unnatural”, and several other members from parties around the chamber.

However, councillor John Scott stressed that the USPCA had never had to prosecute any circus owner using the council’s land, and alderman Billy DeCourcy said there was “not one iota of proof” regarding claims of animal cruelty in circuses using council land.

Branding some members claims “accusations and innuendo”, the DUP man said: “We can’t act as judge, jury and executioner without any proof.”

His party colleague Robert Hill added: “These are not wild animals we are talking about. These are animals that were raised in captivity. What do we do with them if we shut down the circuses - do we put a shotgun to every one of their heads?”

Responding to the claims that no prosecutions have been brought against circuses operating in the borough, councillor Billy Webb added: “A lion in a ring performing unnatural acts because the ring master has a whip - that’s cruel. Elephants being made to stand on one leg, horses being made to stand on two legs for long periods - it’s maybe not illegal, but it is cruel.”

The recommendation that Duffy’s Circus be permitted to use council land was put to a recorded vote, with seven members - Fraser Agnew, Billy Ball, Tom Campbell, Billy DeCourcy, Robert Hill, John Scott and Dineen Walker - voting in favour. However, with 15 against - Audrey Ball, Pamela Barr, John Blair, Paula Bradley, Mark Cosgrove, Lynn Fraser, Thomas Hogg, Marie Mackessy, Jackie Mann, Noreen McClelland, Pat McCudden, Gerry O’Reilly, Ken Robinson, Victor Robinson and Billy Webb - the request from Mr Duffy was turned down.