The Irish government is to ban the use of wild animals in circuses from next year, with a new regulation that will come into effect on 1 January 2018.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said the ban reflected a "commitment to animal welfare". "The use of wild animals for entertainment purposes in circuses can no longer be permitted," he said.

"This is the general view of the public at large and a position I am happy to endorse."

A statement from his department said the minister acknowledged that circus owners and operators may have "regrets" about the ban.

But it added that the ability of a travelling circus to "provide fully for all the needs of animals such as camels or tigers is no longer a tenable proposition". 'Outdated and abnormal'

The ban has been welcomed by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA), which had collected more than 27,600 signatures in support for a change in the law.

"Travelling circuses cannot and will never be able provide a suitable environment for wild animals such as elephants, tigers and lions which have complex physical and psychological welfare needs," said the ISPCA's chief executive, Dr Andrew Kelly.

"Coercing wild animals into doing tricks, which are actually abnormal behaviours for these animals, for human entertainment is outdated and it is right that it is being consigned to the history books where it belongs."

The Scottish government is in the process of introducing similar legislation, which if passed, will be the first of its kind in the UK. The Association of Circus Proprietors warned MSPs that the proposed law could "eventually close your zoos".

However, the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill passed its first stage through parliament last month. In 2014, Northern Ireland's then Agriculture Minister, Sinn Féin Michelle O'Neill, told the Stormont Assembly that there were no circuses based north of the Irish border, but there were some that travelled from "the 26 counties".

"It is important that we work together to agree a protocol, and have a clear protocol in place," Mrs O'Neill said at the time. On Thursday, the Irish minister said he was allowing "a modest lead in period" to allow circus staff for make alternative arrangements for their existing wild animals.

"While the retirement of the small numbers of wild animals in Irish circuses might seem like a loss. I am confident that this move will do more to secure the future of the circus community.

"Coming in line with modern welfare standards will mean that greater numbers of the public will be more comfortable with going to the circus."

The regulation was signed by Mr Creed on Thursday, under the provisions of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013. The 2013 act was a major piece of legislation that replaced laws spanning more then a century, including the pre-partition 1911 Protection of Animals Act.

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