A petition signed by thousands of people across the island calling for a central register of animal cruelty offenders has been tabled in the Assembly today.

The proposal put forward by SDLP MLAs Dolores Kelly and Patsy McGlone is supported by the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) and aims to make a register of offenders available to charities and shelters across Ireland so that those convicted of abusing animals are not allowed to rehome or purchase new animals.

There is currently no mechanism for preventing the sale or adoption of animals to those with convictions.

The MLAs have raised questions with the Agriculture Minister and Justice Minister about the pace of progress on a register which would protect pets and farm animals from unnecessary abuse.

'No easy way to prevent repeat offending'

Speaking at Stormont this afternoon, Dolores Kelly said: “For months, SDLP MLAs and local councillors have been working to persuade Stormont Ministers to introduce a central register of people convicted of animal cruelty offences.

"Today, thousands of others from across the island have joined us to express their support for new measures to protect animals and prevent unnecessary suffering.

An all-island register would allow authorities to intervene and prevent animals being placed in the care of convicted abusers. It’s a very simple idea that would make a big difference.

"The sanctions for animal abusers that apply in Northern Ireland are stringent but without a central database of those convicted of these crimes, there is no easy way to prevent repeat offending. That is the kind of behaviour we’re trying to address.

“We have had conversations with Minister Charlie McConalogue in the Irish Government who is keen to assist with this proposal. We are now formally urging Ministers Edwin Poots and Naomi Long to work together and apply the resources of their departments to take this forward with us.”