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

11:05 am

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour) | Oireachtas source

Much work is being done by the Association of Irish Racecourses. One of the proposals is that Horse Racing Ireland will be omnipotent with total control of everything. Many people at the Department do not understand that the HRI is a runaway train with regard to charges, and I have made this point before. It was stated that point to points will be examined. At least with point to points if we are charged we know what we are getting and there is an end result. Ordinary folk give up their Saturdays and Sundays to work on a voluntary basis at point-to-point courses. We know money is invested in trying to improve them. If Horse Racing Ireland has the financial management of all aspects of Irish racing there is a concern it will examine the finances of racecourses. HRI has ownership and control of racecourses and allocates programmes and fixtures. How much more power will be given to this body? We should circumscribe some of its powers.

I gave many examples and was amazed by the reaction of many ordinary people trying to breed horses, particularly with regard to national hunt. Not everybody is successful. They cannot all go to Goffs to bid €2 million or €3 million. Many people there are glad to get something for €3,000 or €4,000. The next minute, they are loaded out with charges. I am concerned that giving HRI all of this power will create a runaway train where one will not have any choice and there will be no haggling. It will lay down the law. The sinecures within it are not too bad.

The racecourse beside me in Kilbeggan is very well run and a tight ship. According to the proposed section 10(1)(m) negotiation of all income from media rights will be given to Horse Racing Ireland. The media rights do not belong to Horse Racing Ireland but to the actual racecourses. Why should Horse Racing Ireland poke its nose in? Where will it end? If there were no media rights there would be no races. If Sky was not putting in a few shillings there would be no prize funds. Until now Horse Racing Ireland and the Association of Irish Racecourses have been jointly involved in the negotiation of media rights. Will Horse Racing Ireland subsume all of this function to itself?

Racecourses have struggled through very difficult times, survived and carried out improvements, although I acknowledge that this came with State investment. It has been for the benefit of ordinary patrons and people who are not multimillionaires; very often, pensioners can avail of a reduced rate in going to the courses. The Association of Irish Racecourses has indicated its concern, although it acknowledges that Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, has a function in negotiating income from media rights belonging to that body. It also has legal rights to negotiate income derived from third parties, which takes in racecourses. In the 1994 Act, such a process was vested in the racecourses under section 61. I hope that what has happened up to now will continue, with at least joint consultation being evident. It is extremely important. What is the witnesses' view and will they provide an assurance that racecourse interests will not have their interests dispensed with? HRI has much strength with regard to fixture allocation for racecourses and so on.


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