Animal rights activists have reacted angrily to a decision by local councillors not to ban circuses that use wild animals in their acts from council-owned land.
A DUP motion branding such circuses “cruel” and calling on the local authority to “adopt a policy to prohibit circuses including wild animals from using council owned property” was agreed at the February meeting of Antrim and Newtownabbey District Council’s Policy Resources & Service Convergence Committee.
However, at their monthly meeting last Thursday, members of full council refused to ratify the committee’s decision and, after a lengthy debate, voted 20 - 19 against a ban.
The decision means travelling circuses that use animals such as lions, tigers and elephants in their acts can still apply to bring their shows to popular locations such as Loughshore Park and Sixmilewater Park.
The result of Thursday night’s vote disappointed animal rights campaigners from the Northern Ireland says ‘NO’ to Animal Cruelty group, some of whom were in the public gallery watching proceedings.
Following the meeting, the group’s Facebook page, which has more than 16,000 supporters, carried an overview of the debate, details of how each councillor voted and branded those who opposed the ban “draconian heel-draggers.”
“Unfortunately, the majority of Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors are intent on remaining in the dark ages... those who were against the motion did not consider the mental and physical misery of animals in captivity who are made to perform for profit...,” the site claimed.
People posting comments on the page condemned the council’s decision, branding it “ridiculous” and “disgusting.” And some hit out at the councillors who opposed the ban, criticising their stance and directing personal insults at them.
Alliance Cllr Tom Campbell, who abstained during Thursday night’s vote, said that he has since received correspondence from Northern Ireland says ‘NO’ to Animal Cruelty inviting him to meet with them to discuss the issue - an invite he says he has “politely declined.”
“I can’t see any purpose in a meeting,” he commented. “The council has considered deputations from both sides of this argument in the past and the issue hasn’t changed. I won’t be changing my mind.”
Referring to the abuse directed towards some councillors on social media, he added: “It is disappointing that a genuine debate would, for some, turn into a bit of a slanging match where ill-judged language has to be used.”
UUP Cllr Mark Cosgrove, who opposed a ban on animal circuses, confirmed that he has agreed to meet with the campaigners.
“I received correspondence from the leaders of the campaign requesting a meeting and I responded positively to them. I have no problem meeting with any constituent or lobby group who wants to discuss an issue with me,” he told the Times.
Referring to some of the online coverage of last week’s debate, Cllr Cosgrove stressed that he and his colleagues “detest cruelty to animals” but could not support a ban on circuses which operate within the law.
“Some of the vile personal attacks on elected representatives, posted by so-called supporters of this group on social media, do their campaign no good at all,” he added.
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