Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen has unveiled plans to tackle animal neglect and abuse - which include increasing the maximum penalties for such offences under the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011.
The new plan sets out how 68 recommendations, made in the Review of the Implementation of the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011, will be brought in.
It will enable animal welfare enforcement bodies to work together to ensure that the recommendations are fully implemented.
The news comes just months after the USPCA slammed the sentence of a man who starved his dog to death in Magherafelt.
Miss McIlveen said: “I am pleased to say a number of the recommendations in the Action Plan have already been implemented.
“Legislation has been amended to substantially increase the maximum penalties available to the courts for the most serious animal welfare offences to five years imprisonment.
“In addition, serious animal welfare offences have been added to the Unduly Lenient Sentencing Scheme.
“This allows the Director of Public Prosecutions to refer sentences for animal welfare offences, tried in the Crown Court, to the Court of Appeal if he considers them to be unduly lenient. We have also secured access to conviction data for DAERA inspectors, to help with animal welfare investigations.
“These are important steps in ensuring that the welfare needs of animals are met.”
The department has also established a single animal welfare presence on the nidirect website, which provides information on buying and caring for animals, and is a single source of information on animal welfare enforcement.
“It helps members of public to understand who to contact if they are concerned about the welfare of an animal,” the minister added.