Northern Ireland

Stormont: 'Flappy ending' for pigeon racers as rates amendment passes

Racing pigeons
Image caption Pigeon racing will now be included as a sport in the Rates (Amendment) Bill

A proposal to allow pigeon racing be designated as a sport for rates purposes has flown through the assembly.

MLAs flocked to pass an amendment that will allow pigeon racing groups to avail of rates relief being proposed for community and amateur sports clubs.

The Rates (Amendment) Bill is before the house for its further consideration stage.

It aims to provide 100% rates relief for recreational sports clubs.

Some MLAs had their feathers ruffled that pigeon racing is not currently deemed a sport.

Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann put forward an amendment to allow it to be included so it can avail of the current 80% level of rates relief.

Image caption UUP MLA Leslie Cree said pigeon racing broke down 'political, religious and class barriers'

Mr Swann, however, was not in the chamber for the debate as he had "flown off to the US" so party colleague Leslie Cree took his perch and spoke on the amendment's behalf.

"The minister (Mervyn Storey) has an opportunity to be a trailblazer and an opportunity to be a champion for pigeon men and women," he said.

"Pigeon racing was breaking down political, religious and class barriers long before anything or anyone else was."

UKIP MLA, and former UUP member, David McNarry quipped that he had never raced a pigeon and "wondered whether communications in my old party are still by way of pigeon carrier".

Claire Hanna, from the SDLP, supported the amendment and cooed: "We'll let this one fly, we think the policy does have wings and the clubs should get their rates cheap cheap."

MLAs backed the amendment by 55 votes to 29.