Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

General Scheme of Horse Racing Ireland (Amendment) Bill 2014: (Resumed) Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

10:45 am

Mr. Brendan Gleeson:

The Members asked a number of questions and I will try to address all of them. The first question related to point-to-point meetings and how they will operate. We are very sensitive to local input and volunteerism in point-to-point meetings.

We are aware that is a highly sensitive issue and we think there are sufficient safeguards in the general scheme to protect that.

I wish to indicate how point-to-point racing works at the moment. HRI provides about €1.5 million to point-to-point racing. That goes towards the provision of prize money. There is a grant of about €2,500 per fixture as I understand it and €500,000 goes to the National Hunt Club for integrity services at point-to-point events. I wish to focus on the change with regard to point-to-point racing. The only change in the HRI role on point-to-point racing proposed in the general scheme is that the registration functions of hunter certificates and participants in point-to-point steeplechase races will be carried out along with all other registration functions within HRI. That is entirely separate from the issue of hunter certificates and the acceptance of horseracing entries.

Those functions have always resided with the local hunt clubs and the funding associated with those functions resides with the hunt clubs. That is the issue of the certificates and the acceptance of race entries. There will be no change in that. From the perspective of the person on the ground organising a point-to-point event there will be no visible change. We are talking about streamlining a registration function. The fees from the registration functions will be streamlined into an administrative system in HRI with no change on the ground. There is no change in the issue of hunter certificates, the acceptance of horse race entries or in the arrangement of those point-to-point events. That is a very important point to clarify.

The Deputy also spoke about the funding. Perhaps the question of the direct funding from the Department can also be dealt with here. It has always been the case that we have had a cascade of funding from the Department to HRI to the Turf Club. HRI is a State body established for the purposes of administering horseracing. It is entirely appropriate to have this cascade of funding to other relevant bodies from HRI. We would not consider it appropriate to change that. Within that, of course, we must be careful to protect the independence of the integrity function. The general scheme provides for a number of checks and balances. The first is through the composition of the board as proposed. The board has three Turf Club members, three ministerial nominees and a broad range of representatives of the racing sector. An important balance is struck in the composition of the board to ensure that integrity functions are carried out correctly.

In the context of seeking funding from HRI - this is €5 million, €6 million or €7 million of taxpayers' money - HRI will be able to take into account funding streams to Turf Club deriving from its statutory functions regarding integrity and only in regard to those statutory functions.

We need to consider what structure we have at the moment. We have a very unusual governance structure here. We are not starting with a blank page. We have a State agency which administers racing and what is essentially a private body. The private body for the purpose of this legislation carries out certain statutory functions. In the context of carrying those statutory functions it is called the Racing Regulatory Body.

In its private capacity the Turf Club may well carry on all kinds of activities. It may run racecourses, it may rent gallops, it may establish hotels and it may have interests in commercial enterprises. That is not what we are discussing here. All we are saying is that when determining how much taxpayers' money the racing regulatory body needs to carry out integrity functions provided for by statute, we must take account - it would be bizarre not to take account - of funding deriving from the exercise of those functions. To be crystal clear about this, the Turf Club's private funding in its capacity as a private club is not affected here at all. We are only talking about taking into account the funding deriving from the statutory functions it carries out here. That is a very important point.

The Deputy mentioned proxy members of a State board. While it is possible to do that, personally I do not think that is appropriate. I believe that if a person is appointed to a State board, it is a very serious position. We need continuity and an appreciation of what went on at previous meetings. For the sake of good order I think an appointee to a board is an appointee to a board. I would be absolutely opposed to the idea that when one engages in something as serious as participating on a State board that one could bring a proxy along. It is not like voting at a company's shareholders' meeting; this is a different kind of engagement. Board members engage on a range of policy issues that require continuity from meeting to meeting. That is my position on the question of proxies.

The Deputy mentioned the industry services committee. Indecon recognises that many strengths derive from having a representative board. Equally when we look at international best practice generally and not just among State agencies, there is broad recognition that smaller boards tend to function more effectively.

What we have included in the general scheme is not arbitrary. It is based on an exercise conducted by Indecon involving broad consultation and an examination of international best practice. What is in our general scheme is reflective of the conclusions that Indecon reached. It is always the case with a representative board that everybody wants to be represented; that is inevitable. So we try to strike an appropriate balance between representation and effective running of a board.

The industry services committee is a new vehicle, representing jockeys, stable staff, permanent staff and staff in the industry. The representation mechanism there is that its chairman will serve on the board. There is representation for jockeys and qualified riders, persons employed in the horseracing industry and persons employed directly in the horseracing industry. That group will have its own committee for the first time. It will elect its own chairman, who will serve on the board. So there will be representation on the board for those people.


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