Council split over attempt to impose circus ban

Antrim and Newtownabbey Council has been urged to rethink a decision not to ban animal act circuses from using its land.
Antrim and Newtownabbey Council has been urged to rethink a decision not to ban animal act circuses from using its land.

Circuses that use wild animals in their acts will not be banned from bringing their shows to locations such as Loughshore Park and Sixmilewater Park.

At their monthly meeting on Thursday, February 26, members of Antrim and Newtownabbey District Council refused to ratify an earlier decision by the Policy Resources & Service Convergence Committee that circuses using wild animals in their shows should be prohibited from setting up on council-owned land.

I have a fear of lions and tigers roaming our streets so I will be supporting the ban.

Cllr Trevor Beatty

Despite the committee’s support for a motion put forward by DUP Cllr Phillip Brett branding such circuses “cruel”, a narrow majority of members at the full council meeting opposed the move and voted against a ban - a decision which disappointed animal rights campaigners who watched the debate from the public gallery.

UUP Cllr Mervyn Rea, who described himself as “a lover of animals”, led the objections to the motion passed at the committee.

“Where does this stop? If we’re not going to allow circuses, can we not have a zoo? Can we not have a goldfish in a bowl? Can we not have a budgie in a cage? It goes on and on,” he commented.

Cllr Rea, who pointed out that he holds a certificate in animal welfare, stressed that animals in circuses are “well cared for” and open to inspections by the relevant authorities.

His party colleague, Cllr Mark Cosgrove, accused the local authority of “interfering in perfectly legal activities” and stressed that the council had other issues to be dealing with.

“I think this is absolutely nanny state interference and it’s somewhere we shouldn’t be going,” he told the meeting.

On the other side of the argument, Alliance Cllr Neil Kelly, who took part in a public protest against a circus on private land in Antrim last year, said: “It is ethically and morally wrong in my opinion to have wild animal circus acts” - a point echoed by Cllr Brett later in the debate.

The move to ban animal circuses received support from members of the DUP and the Alliance Party, with the notable exception of Cllr Billy DeCourcy (DUP) and Cllr Tom Campbell (Alliance).

Cllr Campbell said that while he doesn’t go to circuses, he wouldn’t deny others the right to do so.

Stressing that there are “strong protections for animals in circuses”, he commented: “It would be wrong in principle and illiberal of this council as one of its first acts to ban circuses that have animals from its land.”

Opposing the stance taken by his party colleague, Cllr John Blair welcomed the motion to prohibit animal circuses from setting up on council-owned sites, but stressed that he had been pursuing such a ban “for close on 30 years with little support.”

Referring specifically to Duffy’s Circus - a regular visitor to Newtownabbey over the years - Cllr Billy DeCourcy paid tribute to its owners for the conditions its animals are kept in. And he stressed that if members had any evidence of animal cruelty they should report it to the relevant authorities.

Cllr Paul Michael described the move to ban circuses as “a stunt” and Cllr Roderick Swann questioned the definition of ‘a wild animal’. Both highlighted recent high profile animal cruelty cases in the local area and said that elected representatives should look at the wider animal welfare issue rather than focussing on circuses.

Cllr Annemarie Logue stressed that circuses are heavily regulated under EU legislation and echoed the point that there is “no evidence base” to ban circuses.

DUP Cllr Trevor Beatty stressed that while he isn’t against circuses, he is opposed to the use of wild animals for public entertainment.

Warning that if a lion or tiger got loose on the streets there would be “panic and mayhem”, he added: “I have a fear of lions and tigers roaming our streets so I will be supporting the ban.”

After the lengthy debate, members voted 20 - 19 in favour of a proposal by Cllr Cosgrove that the council should not ban animal act circuses from its land.

Voting for were councillors: Burns, Lynch, Duffin, Goodman, Cushinan, Logue, DeCourcy, Rea, Kellso, Agnew, Scott, Maguire, Cosgrove, Swann, Bingham, McWilliam, Ritchie, Michael, Cochrane-Watson and Hollis.

Against were councillors: Arthurs, Magill, T Girvan, Beatty, Clarke, M Girvan, Smyth, Kells, Brett, Hogg, A Ball, W Ball, Hamill, Barr, Ross, Kelly, Webb, Blair and McClelland.

Cllr Campbell, who said that he wouldn’t vote against Alliance Party policy, abstained.

A proposal put forward earlier in the debate by Cllr Kelly that the council should not accept circus tickets for onward circulation was defeated by 20 votes to 17.

• Read related report by clicking here.