Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 9 July 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Alleged Issue of Abuse of Greyhounds: Bord na gCon
I thank Mr. Nyhan and the others for coming in. I have to say that in 27 years of service in the Dáil I have never had such a reaction conveyed to me by members of the public and, indeed, some of my colleagues, including Deputy Kelly, registering their deep disgust and annoyance at the contents of that RTÉ programme. It was an important public service broadcast by the station. There was a bit of a deficit - in fairness, Mr. Nyhan referred to it as a failure to give Bord na gCon or other interested stakeholders a right to deal with some aspects which might have been helpful - but one could not negative or neutralise the main thrust of the programme. The practices that were revealed in "RTÉ Investigates" were horrific and abhorrent and have to be condemned with vehemence and equivocation. It defies description the disgraceful treatment of greyhounds and animals we have seen. Of course, the welfare and care of the greyhounds has to be at the top of everyone's agenda. It is not an afterthought and has to be an absolute priority.
All illegal behaviour has to be rooted out. I stated here on the previous occasion on behalf of the parliamentary Labour Party that we have always supported the granting of moneys for the horse and greyhound industries, but we certainly will be reserving our position in terms of the greyhounds from hereon in. It is not a decision taken lightly. We are rural people. We know how important it is. It involves funding of €16.8 million, as I have said previously. Including the €68 million, there is €84 million in funding between the two sectors. There would be many children out there who cannot get orthodontic treatment. There are many people out there who cannot get any services for children, for instance, a school bus service, and that money would go a long way. We are getting to the point where these questions are being asked by members of the public and we have an fiduciary obligation to raise issues. I stated when we were here discussing the Greyhound Racing Bill 2018, which I made a significant input into with my colleagues, that I thought this sector was dancing at the Last Chance Saloon. I note this programme would certainly say that maybe it has passed the Last Chance Saloon. All illegal behaviour has to be rooted out without fear or favour. It does not make any difference wherever it falls. Those who act in a disgraceful and abhorrent way have to be rooted out. It is impossible to see how a dog or any animal could be subject to such acts of barbarity.
As I said, we spent a long time dealing with welfare and probity in the Bill. The focus was on welfare and probity, and integrity. Indeed, governance has to be a priority. There are many people in Mr. Nyhan's sector. There are nearly 240 full-time employees. That is a lot of employees looking after 7,300 owners. Surely, there has to be a tracking and tracing mechanism. I note Bord na gCon is bringing forward traceability, identification, etc. Deputy Cahill is correct. Every bovine animal can be tracked from here to Buenos Aires and until we get to that point in this sector, there will be questions to answer and Mr. Nyhan and his board and all those top people who seem to cost a right few quid have a job to do. If they do not do it, they will find people in here saying the €16.8 million will not be going Bord na gCon's way.
Those deficits and defects and all those abhorrences and cruelties have been identified. If any aspect of the law has become apparent since the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 was passed - it was only signed by the President in May - it should be identified quam celerrime. Bord na gCon should let us know. There should be no hiding place for anybody who dopes greyhounds, acts the maggot or is found in possession of illegal substances, and there should be significant penalties and fines. If the legislation does not provide for them, they should be provided for irrespective of the identity of the transgressor. The transgressor will get his or her day in court. If one puts a fines and punishment regime in place, deterrence is a critical aspect of all of this.
I note Mr. Nyhan stated that 80% of animal remedies seized by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine relate to the greyhound industry and this is testament to the regulatory framework. Of course, I take that point, but I put it to him that the converse is also true. Eighty per cent is arriving from the one area. That means that 20% of animal remedies must be arriving from the other sources, which are significant. There are over 1 million animals in the other sources. Mr. Nyhan states we have only 7,300 owners in this area and we get 80%. While I take Mr. Nyhan's point that it indicates a degree of significant regulatory and integrity work, the other aspect is there is somebody with some sort of substance - remedies, drugs or whatever - who is transgressing. That is a horrific statistic.
I raised the issue of exports here. Indeed, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan was here and we raised it, and pushed it and pushed it. What worries me about officials is that it did not matter how hard we pushed. The contents of that programme in relation to China and Macau was available months prior to the Bill coming here. It was real evidence, not some airy-fairy stuff. It was there and we should have taken a lead. I accept one can talk about European law but somebody has to take a lead. The European Commission comes forward with all sorts of stuff. We do not like some of it but we are loaded up with it. We should have taken a lead in putting in place strong legislation to prevent the exports to countries which have appalling and grewsome welfare records and practices. I was disappointed with that. That was one aspect of the Bill with a significant lacuna. Where it is proven that there are welfare regimes that, at best, one could not describe as in accordance with welfare priorities or that are barbaric at times, nothing should prevent the application of appropriate legal protections for the welfare of the dog, greyhound or whatever. We could widen that to any animal. That is a lacuna in the law that has to be brought back here and tackled straightaway. The Government has to step on the matter and get the Attorney General on it.
In this report, Mr. Nyhan has made his pitch. In fairness, it is well made and well put out there. However, a few months ago, my colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny, raised a number of issues in terms of this report that was prepared for Bord na gCon by Preferred Results Limited. One of the problems the sector has is that it is always reactive. It is always reacting to some crisis or other rather than being proactive. That has all the signals of somebody being asleep at the wheel. We worked on the Greyhound Racing Bill 2018. It was here for the guts of three years. As far as I can remember, in 2016, we started to kick this about during Deputy Andrew Doyle's time here. Deputy Doyle is now a Minister of State. Bord na gCon should have been ready to hit the press button the minute the Bill was signed by President Higgins. Bord na gCon had to wait and as soon as this came out, the board was away out of the traps.
I wish to return to an issue that exercises my colleague, Deputy Kelly, who is quite sharp on these matters. When the Irish Greyhound Board commissioned the report by Preferred Results Limited, did the witnesses or their predecessors inform the Department that it was being commissioned? When did the Department see the report? The report seems to have had a significant input into the "Prime Time Investigates" programme. When was it finalised? More importantly, when did the Department see it? When did the board tell the Department about it? The statement provided outlines "Preferred Results Ltd ... undertook an analysis of the greyhound pool, although this did not form part of the brief at the time". What brief was given to Preferred Results Limited? What analysis was it asked to undertake? What was it charged with doing? What aspects of the industry was it invited to examine?
According to Mr. Nyhan, a small part of the report went outside the brief. The minute it did so, the board threw the report in the bin. It commissioned the report to clear things up after it sold Harold's Cross. How much did the report cost? The board commissioned a report which cost money and then threw it in the bin. Reports are prepared every day of the week for people within the Oireachtas and elsewhere in the country. If they do not like an element of the report, they do not throw it in the bin. Rather, they publish it.
Bord na gCon is in a different position from a private company, although such companies are accountable to their shareholders. A big shareholder of Bord na gCon, albeit not nominated, is the Irish taxpayer, who paid for the report and is entitled to see its contents. Why was the report commissioned and not published even if the board disagreed with it? The only figure with which the board disagrees relates to the almost 6,000 dogs that are unaccounted for. Of course, that is a reflection on everyone involved because there is no system of identification or tracing, etc. These are important issues on which we must get answers in order to support further moneys going to the greyhound industry. They form part of the €16.8 million allocation of funding. We must find out how much the report cost and why it was not published.