Naomi Long has been the Member of Parliament for East Belfast since 2010 and is a long-time animal welfare advocate. As a Belfast City Councillor, she successfully proposed a ban on animal circuses using council-owned land, while one of the first issues she tackled in Westminster was pressing for a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses in England and Wales, building on her calls for the Northern Ireland Executive to do likewise.
Committed to retention of the ban on hunting mammals with hounds, she has also advocated for similar measures to be introduced in Northern Ireland, where hunting remains legal.
Naomi is also a vocal proponent of tougher sentencing for those found guilty of animal welfare offences and was a key speaker at a recent anti-animal cruelty rally in Belfast city centre at which hundreds of people heard her call for those convicted of animal cruelty to receive tougher penalties, following a harrowing case in her own constituency.
1. How did you become interested in issues surrounding animal protection?
I’ve always been an animal lover, so when I entered politics, it was natural that I would address these issues. We should avoid causing unnecessary suffering to animals and my work with local animal welfare groups led me to advocate on these issues in Council, the Northern Ireland Assembly and now in Parliament.
2. How important do you find this issue amongst your constituents?
Increasingly so. I receive a lot of correspondence about issues such as live animal exports, animal testing and hunting. Not only constituents but also those further afield contacted me after work I did in relation to a recent, well-publicised and particularly gruesome animal cruelty case involving illegal dog fighting in my constituency. Animal cruelty in particular, stirs up very strong emotions, as people feel protective towards animals who have no other voice in the system.
3. What changes have you seen in public attitudes towards animal protection during your time working on the issue?
While it was regarded as somewhat of a niche subject for many years, debate around issues such as the badger cull and the hunting ban have raised animal welfare and rights up the public and political agenda. As a result, other issues such as responsible dog ownership, animal testing and farming practices are now more widely discussed and scrutinsed by the public. I think people are more thoughtful and reflective about our relationships with animals and our duty of care.
4. Do you share your home with any animals?
I did, up until last year. My little Westie, Mollie, sadly died last summer of a pituitary tumour, aged 13. She's still very much missed and we were very lucky to share our lives with her and have so many happy memories. She is irreplaceable, but I would at some point like to have another dog.
5. If you had one message to Government on animal experiments what would it be?
The Statistics on Scientific procedures on Living Animals Report 2013 shows that there was an increase in the number of research procedures on live animals in 2013, despite a Coalition Government pledge to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research. I would call on Government to actively work with researchers to set achievable targets for a reduction, and in the meantime to ensure that the sector is properly regulated and transparent.