THE long-running saga over the council’s proposed new dog control legislation looks set to rumble on for at least another two months after elected representatives voted to refer the matter back to the Environment Committee for further consideration.
The controversial Dogs on Leads Order - which could see a ban on dogs being exercised off the lead in areas of public parks and on pedestrian and cycle routes such as the Newtownabbey Way and Loughshore towpath - has been met with considerable opposition from local dog owners, who claim that the proposals, designed to tackle problems such as straying and dog fouling, are unfair on responsible owners.
While three less contentious Dog Control Orders, including those banning dogs from children’s play areas and recreation grounds, came into force on February 1, the ‘on-lead’ and ‘off-lead’ zones proposed in the Dogs on Leads Order have proven more problematic, with dog owners fighting to retain areas where they can exercise their pets off the lead.
At April’s Environment Committee meeting, members voted that the Dogs on Leads Order should apply in all cemeteries, burial grounds and churchyards, as well as the council grounds at Mossley Mill and Loughshore caravan park. They also decided by 10 votes to eight that dogs be permitted off the lead in all other areas not covered by the Dog Order.
Since the committee meeting, however, some members have raised concerns about dogs being allowed off the lead alongside public roads and want to see the new legislation, which has already been the subject of two periods of public consultation, given further consideration.
On Monday evening (April 29), more than 50 dog owners, many of whom have lobbied their local representatives over the past few weeks, gathered in the reception area at Mossley Mill in a last-minute bid to persuade members to ratify the committee’s decision and ditch the contentious parts of the Dogs on Leads Order. Others gathered outside the building, and some, it’s claimed, were even turned away at the gates of the council offices by security staff.
Only 20 of them were allowed into the chamber due to space constraints, and many left dismayed when members failed to resolve the matter once and for all.
Alderman Paul Girvan, who said that he had received more than 40 emails about the issue from members of the public over the past few days, proposed that matter be referred back to the Environment Committee for further consideration.
“Some members have concerns about this and it would be the right decision to discuss it again,” he commented.
Adding that “the status quo remains”, the DUP man assured those in the public gallery that “we are not making a decision tonight and it won’t change anything one iota.”
Challenging alderman Girvan’s position, councillor Tom Campbell said that almost all of the emails sent to members were from responsible dog walkers and there was no need to take the matter back to committee.
During the debate, as councillors raised questions about Standing Orders, which members had or hadn’t attended meetings when dog on lead zones were debated previously, and even their right to speak on the issue, a member of the public stood up at the back of the chamber and tried to make comment, but was quickly silenced by Mayor Victor Robinson.
“I’m sorry madam but this is getting out of hand and I’m sorry but you cannot speak at this meeting,” he said.
“I’m sorry, but we don’t understand what you’re talking about, sir,” the woman answered.
Alderman John Blair described the proposal to refer the matter back to committee as “utter nonsense”, claiming that the only reason the issue was being discussed again was “because certain people who think they own the place didn’t get their own way.”
The proposal that the matter be referred back to the Environment Committee was put to a recorded vote at the request of councillor Tom Campbell, with 12 members voting for - Fraser Agnew, Audrey Ball, Billy Ball, Mark Cosgrove, Billy DeCourcy, Paul Girvan, Robert Hill, Jackie Mann, Ken Robinson, Victor Robinson, John Scott, Dineen Walker; and 11 against - Pamela Barr, John Blair, Paula Bradley, Tom Campbell, Lynn Fraser, Thomas Hogg, Marie Mackessy, Noreen McClelland, Pat McCudden, Gerry O’Reilly, Billy Webb.
Several disgruntled dog owners left the chamber branding the decision “an absolute disgrace” and some claimed that attending the meeting had been “a waste of time”.
It’s understood that Dog Control Orders will be back on the agenda when the Environment Committee meets on Monday, June 10.