Newtownabbey councillors have voted to allow a circus which uses animals in its performances to take place at Sixmilewater Park, Ballyclare and Loughshore Park, Jordanstown.
The proposal was passed amidst heated debate at the April meeting of the council’s Leisure Committee.
Councillors were told that there would be no exotic animals such as lions and tigers involved. Instead, the performance animals would be dogs and horses, with sealions on show for spectators to view.
However, several councillors raised concerns that the circus had caused damage to Loughshore Park in the past, provoking complaints from local residents.
Vice chair of the Leisure Committee, UUP Councillor John Scott, argued that 5,000 people had attended the previous circus, and that he himself had visited the circus and inspected the animals’ conditions.
Councillor Pat McCudden added: “As a rural area representative, a number of people have asked me to support the circus and I certainly would support it. People and their children want to see it. There may have been damage but that’s between the circus and council to ensure it is managed. It’s wrong to deny the public the opportunity to attend the event. We deny the public from attending enough events in this council.”
DUP Alderman Billy DeCourcy argued that the circus company should pay for any damage it might cause.
DUP Councillor Thomas Hogg said that he had no issue with a circus involving domestic animals, but that he had received correspondence from local residents who had been unable to use the parks after the last circus.
In contrast, Alliance Alderman John Blair declared that he was no less offended by the use of dogs or horses forced to travel around Europe in trailers than exotic animals. He added: “I am against the use of animals for human entertainment. It’s not part of modern society.”
His party colleague, Cllr Billy Webb, agreed that the animals involved in the performances were being made to perform “unnatural acts.”
To shouts of protest from DUP Alderman Billy Ball, Mr Blair asked if there would be a register for councillors accepting complimentary tickets from the circus. He added that he had requested such a register in the past.
Council officer Majella McAlister replied that she would look into the possibility and report back to council.
In response to UUP Councillor Mark Cosgrove’s query over the actual threshold for declaring gifts, Ms McAlister said that she was unsure of the level required but that it would be ‘specified within the policy.’
DUP Councillor Robert Hill said that tickets had been given out before to community groups, schools and those who could not afford to attend.
Councillor Scott revealed that he too had received tickets in the past and had given them to people who couldn’t afford to go themselves.
Cllr Hill stated: “The idea that councillors would think the front row at the circus is a great boost to themselves is stupid. There’s no reason to suspect the ill treatment of the animals and councillors can look round the site. The circus paid for the damage to the park to be restored. The whole community is behind the circus.”
Pointing to the use of animals in television advertising, he added: “Every time I turn on the TV there are puppies dancing with toilet rolls!”
DUP Councillor Victor Robinson said he didn’t believe in censorship and that people should be able to attend the circus if they wanted to. He added: “I don’t believe this council should be a body that should censor anything. I went to the circus years ago, as did the USPCA. If you censor a circus using dogs you have to censor Crufts, gymkhanas and showjumping - where will it end?”
Members voted 13 - 8 that the circus should be permitted to take place on council land provided that the cost of repairing any damage caused is met by the circus.