East Derry MLA Claire Sugden has said a joined-up animal welfare policy between the Executive and local councils must be established to prosecute increasing instances of animal cruelty.

Animal rescue charities have seen huge numbers of domestic pets handed in or rescued following a lockdown boom in pet purchases.

Many were brought in from homes that simply could no longer care for the animals, Sugden said, while others had been consciously neglected and discarded.

“We are seeing vast numbers of animals being sent to rescue and rehoming centres,” said Sugden, who is treasurer of Stormont’s all party group on animal welfare.

“Many of these animals have come from loving homes that simply can’t care for them any longer, but others have experienced serious cruelty.

“It is the instances of cruelty – both from owners and from breeders – where policy and legislation must be able to step in and identify and prosecute those suspected of welfare violations.

“I have been approached both by individuals and animal rescue charities who are worried their concerns about instances of cruelty are not being investigated properly by the authorities.

“I subsequently questioned the Minister of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs about the safeguards in place to ensure reports are being properly dealt with.”

Cases of animal cruelty involving companion animals – or pets – are dealt with by local councils.

Those involving farmed or transported animals are dealt with by the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

In cases of animal fighting it is the PSNI who are responsible.

“The current situation can be confusing for people, but what is most important is that each body investigating different kinds of animal cruelty is accountable.

“The minister highlighted the internal complaints procedure if complainants are unsatisfied with the response, but also stressed that people who remained unsatisfied should contact the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman.”