A BILL which sought to ban the use of dogs in the hunting of wild animals has been rejected by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The decision leaves the north as the only region in the UK where the use of dogs for the hunting of wild animals is still permitted.
On Monday MLAs voted 38 in favour of banning hunting with dogs, and 45 against outlawing the practise, meaning the Bill will not progress to committee stage.
Sinn Féin, some Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) assembly members and the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister voted against it.
The Bill was brought by Alliance MLA John Blair in a bid to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.
He said the practice was "cruel and unnecessary" and "causes immeasurable suffering to both the hunted animals and the hunting dogs."
“It is my intention in bringing forward my Private Members Bill to reform legislation of hunting wild mammals with dogs in Northern Ireland to bring our legislation in line with that in England, Scotland and Wales, where the practice has been illegal for nearly 20 years,” he said.
"The Bill is not intended in any way to restrict traditional country sports such as shooting, using gun dogs or angling.
"The Bill maintains appropriate balance by exempting hunting from the ban in certain circumstances including avoiding damage to livestock, crops or property, and causing damage to the biological diversity of an area.
"We have an historic opportunity to make a significant difference. A real opportunity here for Northern Ireland not only to catch up with the rest of the UK but to lead the way in ensuring full robust protection for animals persecuted for sport and for human enjoyment."
Sinn Féin have previously shown support to a similar bill in the Republic of Ireland.
Declan McAleer said that while the party agreed with elements of the Bill, "the legislation as it currently stands, we feel, is unworkable."
"We would need additional time on the committee to rectify it and it is time we don't have."
The USPCA has said that it is extremely disappointed with the outcome of the debate.
"The result is contrary to the views of the public as outlined in the consultation response and in previous public opinion polls," the USPCA tweeted.
"This 'sport' is sadistic & cruel & has no place in an advanced & compassionate society.
"We are staggered that half of our political representatives do not hold this view & encourage the public to reflect on whether their views have been appropriately represented here."
A consultation by the Alliance Party in February found 78% of respondents were favour of their proposed law protecting wild animals from being killed by dogs.
Director of Countryside Alliance Ireland described the proposed Bill as "anti-rural and dangerous" and thanked those who rejected it.
"The Bill's supporters falsely claimed it enjoyed popular support here in Northern Ireland," he continued.
"It is right that Assembly Members voted against this Bill today and that they acknowledge the huge benefit hunting has for rural communities and for the protection of livestock and wildlife from predators."