Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Harness Racing Industry: Horse Racing Ireland and Horse Sport Ireland
I welcome the representatives from Horse Racing Ireland: Mr. Brian Kavanagh, chief executive officer, and Mr. Michael O'Rourke, director of marketing and communications. I also welcome the representatives from Horse Sport Ireland: Professor Patrick Wall, chairman, and Mr. Mark Bolger, director of finance and operations. I thank all the witnesses for coming before the committee to give their views on Irish harness racing.
I will outline the position on the matter of privilege. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
Horse Racing Ireland is the commercial semi-state body responsible for the administration, development and promotion of the thoroughbred horse industry in Ireland. My colleague, Michael O’Rourke, director of marketing and communications, is before the committee with me today. We are grateful for the invitation to appear before the committee today to address the issue of harness racing and any other matters which the committee members may wish to raise.
I wish to place on record on behalf of the board of Horse Racing Ireland our appreciation of the strong interest in our industry that this committee has taken over several years. I know that our sector has been a regular agenda item for this committee in recent years, not least during the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Horse Racing Ireland (Amendment) Bill. The interest our politicians take in the industry, as well as their understanding and appreciation of it, is frequently commented on and a source of much envy for competing racing and breeding jurisdictions. This is understandable as, in relative terms, the industry is more important in Ireland than in most other jurisdictions.
Horse racing is Ireland's most successful international sport. The industry contributes €1 billion annually to the Irish economy. Ireland is the largest producer of thoroughbred horses in Europe and the fourth largest producer in the world. This year, it is likely that more thoroughbred foals will have been born in Ireland than in Britain and France combined. Our breeders are widely distributed throughout every county with, on average, three horses on each farm. It is primarily an agricultural industry and sustains up to 16,000 jobs, mainly in rural areas. This is a high-value sector which plays a key role in Ireland's overall economic recovery. It is environmentally friendly, labour-intensive and a source of much inward investment in rural Ireland. In short, it is precisely the type of industry that the country should be developing and one that needs careful minding and protecting. We believe that the industry has the potential to double in value by the end of the decade. Horse Racing Ireland has set out a strategy to achieve this in a plan that we have presented to the Minister. Our confidence in realising the potential of the Irish thoroughbred industry is based on its current position of strength, which is the result of many years of investment by successive Governments as well as the achievements of our present-day owners, trainers, breeders, jockeys and horses. These achievements are built on a centuries-old tradition of breeding and racing horses that has established the Irish thoroughbred as a world leader.
Throughout the recession, demand for Irish thoroughbreds remained strong. This was largely driven by overseas buyers, who recognised that we have the best horses and horse people in the world. Last year, Irish thoroughbred horses worth €230 million were exported to 34 countries worldwide. Our bloodstock sales have grown every year since 2010, well ahead of the pace of recovery in most other sectors.
In recent years, we have also seen resurgence in foreign direct investment in Irish training and breeding establishments. International owners at the top level are buying into the brand of the Irish thoroughbred by placing horses in training here or keeping their breeding stock here. This is an important point, since breeding is where the added value lies. We should remember that the racecourse is where we establish which horses are the best of the breed in terms of speed, stamina and endurance. The range and availability of racecourses in Ireland is one of the keys to our success. Racing success and breeding success are linked and complementary. This is why it is so important that Irish thoroughbred racing is positioned within the agricultural rather than the sporting sector.
The Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001 specifies that one of the functions of Horse Racing Ireland is the promotion of the Irish thoroughbred horse. This leads to an essential starting point for today's discussion: the distinction between the thoroughbred and other horses. Another function of Horse Racing Ireland is the development of authorised racecourses. An authorised racecourse is one licensed by the Turf Club under the rules of racing, and these rules are specifically restricted to racing involving thoroughbreds only. A thoroughbred is a strict definition of a type of horse and this is the foundation of the global racing and breeding industry. In short, all thoroughbreds must include, down all lines of its pedigree for at least eight generations, horses registered in the general stud book or associated approved stud books. In fact, all modern thoroughbreds throughout the world trace back to one of three stallions: Byerley Turk, Godolphin Arabian and Darley Arabian. Other equines cannot be classified as thoroughbreds; it is an absolute distinction. This is the principle on which the entire global horse racing and breeding industries are founded. Members who are racing fans will forgive me for making this point, but the difference is frequently misunderstood and may have added confusion at times to the topic in hand today. The horses that compete in harness racing are not thoroughbreds. They are standard breds, a breed that has shorter legs, a longer body and a more placid nature than thoroughbreds.
In addition to my role as chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland, I serve on a number of international racing bodies. It is remarkable to see the extent to which thoroughbred horse racing has become an international business as well as the extent to which Ireland is placed to influence and benefit from this business. One example of internationalisation which I have heard referred to in earlier committee debates is the Longines Irish Champions Weekend, which was developed specifically to compete at the top level internationally. At this year's event in early September, CNN produced a documentary news item on the Irish thoroughbred industry which was broadcast in over 200 countries to more than 300 million viewers. Another illustration was what happened in Hong Kong last Sunday - I was lucky enough to be there myself. The Hong Kong International Races are the self-styled world thoroughbred championships. This is the most important race meeting in Asia. It was remarkable and a source of great pride to me to report that of the 55 horses trained in eight different countries competing for almost €10 million in prize money in the four international races, one third of them were born and raised in Ireland. Even better, two of the four winners of the international races were Irish bred horses, including Highland Reel, which was trained in County Tipperary by Aidan O'Brien. There was an emotional moment when, in the middle of Hong Kong on a sporting field, "Amhrán na bhFiann" was played with aplomb by the local brass band. This serves to illustrate that what happens in Irish racing and breeding attracts worldwide attention and business. Horse Racing Ireland is charged with ensuring that our reputation is enhanced and defended in the global marketplace. This is the context for my observations today about harness racing.
I emphasise that Horse Racing Ireland is not opposed to the sport of harness racing or any other equine sport in Ireland. However, they are not within our area of responsibility and it is not our place to take positions on their development. Harness racing is part of the sport horse sector, the non-thoroughbred sector. That sector has its own structures and operating procedures, whereas our responsibility, set out in governing legislation, is the administration, development and promotion of the Irish horse racing industry and the promotion of the Irish thoroughbred horse. Horse Racing Ireland has a duty of care to protect this €1 billion industry which is so ingrained in the fabric of Irish life. If we put it at risk, we would rightly face questions from the committee members and others over why we had not acted with greater caution.
One issue we have to consider as part of our risk assessment in respect of harness racing is the question of what would happen to Ireland's herd of thoroughbred horses if cross-contamination occurred and there was an outbreak of a serious equine disease.
There is no question that, in the first instance, the sales of Ireland’s thoroughbreds would stop. There would be other consequences in terms of liability, cost and reputational damage. Quite apart from veterinary matters, the staging of harness racing on authorised racecourses causes significant difficulties in areas such as fixture allocation, media rights negotiation and the operation of bookmaker betting, for which detailed arrangements are carefully set out in legislation.
These concerns were set out in a letter from me to the assistant secretary general of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on 22 July. I will be happy to elaborate on them during our discussion, if necessary. It is because of our duty of care to the entire thoroughbred industry that we are so cautious in the face of risk. The safest direction in future is to maintain separation of the two codes, and in this respect we welcome the stated intention of the Irish Harness Racing Association, IHRA, to develop its own facilities. In our meetings with them the IHRA explained that while racecourses are useful potential stopgap solutions, in the long term they are not ideal, mainly due to the track configuration. This includes the all-weather track at Dundalk.
As members of the committee will be aware, a trial harness race meeting took place at Dundalk on 27 September this year under tightly controlled conditions which were approved by HRI. We have asked the Turf Club to produce a two-part report, the first being its views on the veterinary controls and welfare standards at that trial meeting, and the second being a similar assessment of biosecurity at a random sample of harness racing yards. Such yards would typically be small premises. Animal health is established and cared for in these yards, so the importance of yard inspections is paramount in avoiding what is called biohazard to other equines. HRI has met and is liaising with the IHRA and its veterinary adviser on this. Production of this report is imminent, with yard visits scheduled for January, and we would be happy to share the findings with the committee once finalised.
In conclusion, and as mentioned earlier, it is not HRI’s role to take a position for or against harness racing or any other non-thoroughbred pursuit. The thoroughbred racing and breeding industry is an agricultural industry and harness racing is a sporting pursuit within the sport horse sector, to which it is affiliated through Horse Sport Ireland, HSI. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, has stated before this committee that he will commission a report in the new year on the potential for development of harness racing in Ireland, and this is something we would welcome as the sport seeks to define its own path and overall direction.
Professor Patrick Wall:
The IHRA has been an affiliate of HSI since 2013 because it had no home. Since then it has been fully engaged with us and is keen to develop its sector. We have found its members to be committed and ambitious for the future of their sport.
HSI is an umbrella for lots of different horse sports. The issues Mr. Kavanagh raised with regard to equine health and welfare are equally big issues for us. It would be the equivalent, for example, of a hypothetical Ball Sport Ireland, which would include table tennis, basketball, rugby and hockey all under the one umbrella. We have affiliates as diverse as polo, mounted games, the hunting association, show jumping and dressage. The issues of equine health and welfare are crucial for us also. Harness racing is there because it had nowhere else to go. Mr. Bolger will outline what has happened up to now.
Mr. Mark Bolger:
I am the director of finance of HSI. Damian McDonald, our chief executive officer, sends his apologies as he is travelling to Switzerland in preparation for the court of arbitration case that will hear the appeal made by HSI and Cian O’Connor in seeking an Olympic place for the Irish show jumping team. That hearing will take place on Wednesday, 16 December.
HSI was established in 2007 when the Equestrian Federation of Ireland and the Irish Horse Board were amalgamated following the publication of the Dowling report, which recommended new governance structures for the sport horse industry. HSI is responsible for devising and implementing strategies for the development and promotion of an internationally competitive Irish sport horse industry. HSI is the governing body for the sport horse sector in Ireland and is recognised by the Fédération Equestre Internationale, FEI, which is the international governing body, Sport Ireland, the Irish Olympic Council and Sport Northern Ireland.
Harness racing, also known as trotting, is a form of horse racing. This racing code is regulated in Ireland by the IHRA. The other forms of horse racing in Ireland are National Hunt and flat racing. On 10 November, the IHRA presented this committee with the details of its activities, the nature of the sport and the size of the industry. The IHRA is a professional and progressive organisation seeking to develop this industry in Ireland and its reach abroad. The IHRA became an affiliate of HSI in 2013. It sought recognition by HSI, as Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, did not see it as part of its remit. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine had also asked if HSI could give help to the IHRA.
The HSI board agreed to grant affiliation to the IHRA as a temporary measure with the intention that the IHRA would in time become more appropriately aligned with horse racing governance structures. It was clearly understood between the parties that HSI would help the IHRA where it could. Access to race courses, funding and betting infrastructures, however, were areas that HSI could not help with. It was agreed that HSI would assist the IHRA by facilitating dialogue with HRI. HSI does not have responsibility for the governance of horse racing in Ireland. HSI does not own any lands or race courses, nor is it involved with integrity and betting regulations at race courses. The IHRA has always recognised this, and because of that has never sought financial funding from HSI. The nature of HSI’s funding does not extend to cover horse racing activities. HSI received State funding of approximately €3.6 million in 2015. In 2015 the State allocated approximately €54.4 million towards HRI’s horse racing activities.
HSI understands that the IHRA wishes to work collaboratively with HRI. It is also understood that the IHRA also seeks to enter into commercial arrangements with Dundalk racecourse to provide access in the interim to an all-weather race course facility, which it views as critical to the promotion and development of harness racing. The IHRA is seeking funding for ongoing business development, veterinary needs and long-term funding to develop dedicated tracks for trotting. Recently, the IHRA was approved as the passport issuing organisation, PIO, for the standard bred breed in Ireland by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. HSI is in the process of finalising agreement with the IHRA to provide administration back up to the IHRA to process the passports on its behalf.
The IHRA is progressing from strength to strength, having staged a successful race day at Dundalk racecourse in September of this year and previously at two race meetings in 2008. Its participation with Le Trot mentoring programme, its active membership of the World Federation of Trotting and its application to become a member of the European Trotting Union are some of its recent milestones. An Irish horse recently became the first international harness racing horse to race in the Inter Dominion race in Australia.
I am fascinated by the submission from HRI. The one case it makes that might have any traction is the veterinary case, and I would be very interested in any independent evidence it has that using a race track for harness racing and for thoroughbreds on different days and at different times would in some way put the thoroughbreds at risk. I would have thought that sport horses and thoroughbreds were not always kept apart in other circumstances. I do not know, for example, if these horses are mixed in farms in a much less regulated situation than on a racecourse. HRI might outline in more detail the veterinary evidence with regard to the risk in sharing the facilities at racecourses around the country.
Mr. Kavanagh says he thinks the Irish Harness Racing Association should develop its own facilities. I presume he would say we should divert State money to do so, and wind up with duplicate sets of facilities. That would have a huge effect on the money available for Horse Racing Ireland, Horse Sport Ireland and everything else. State moneys are a finite fund and depend on whatever the taxpayer pays in. Borrowing is always only a short-term expedient; it always has to be paid back. Is Mr. Kavanagh suggesting that we build duplicate courses all around the country to facilitate harness racing? Would he be willing for money that would have gone to HRI to be diverted into that? That seems to be what he is suggesting. It is a bit like saying hurling and football are incompatible and that we need separate stadiums for them, or that soccer and rugby cannot be played on the same pitches and we need a second Aviva Stadium. I think that argument would be met with a little bit of scepticism by the public. If the race tracks were unsuitable, the first people to tell us so would have been the harness racers. Presumably Mr. Kavanagh means that the tracks are unsuitable for harness racing, not for horse racing. Surprisingly enough, the harness racers have not raised that issue with us. I am sure they would be very interested to hear that Mr. Kavanagh has raised it for them. I think it is slightly disingenuous.
Mr. Kavanagh has also said that stadium harness racing on authorised race courses causes significant difficulties in areas such as fixture allocation. We would all accept that the owner of the course gets priority on it. My understanding is that the harness racers were going to race courses and getting days on which racing was not taking place, so this issue did not arise. I am sure things like media rights negotiation happen between all sports. Maybe Mr. Kavanagh could talk to the IRFU and the GAA about what happened when rugby matches were played in Croke Park. I presume there was rent paid for Croke Park and the IRFU got the media rights negotiation. It seems to be a bit of a red herring, as does the issue of the operation of bookmaker betting.
For us as a committee, the most serious thing is the allegation HRI has made about veterinary issues. I am a little puzzled by it. I would be very interested to get HRI's detailed veterinary report outlining the threats on the veterinary front. We could get it peer reviewed before we write up our own report on the whole horse industry, which I hope will be issued before this Dáil is completed. I would also be interested to hear Mr. Kavanagh's response on the issue of funding if we have to build duplicate facilities for the followers of both sports.
Am I right in understanding that Horse Sport Ireland took the homeless child in and gave it a home?
Does Professor Wall feel this is more of a racing activity than the horse sport activities that Horse Sport Ireland traditionally covers? There is always a blur. Everything in life is a continuum and very few things are discrete or have a clear boundary. Would I be right in thinking that if there was a boundary, Professor Wall would think harness racing fell more on the racing side of it?
Until somebody decides otherwise at a higher level - i.e., the Oireachtas - is HSI willing to give harness racing a home? Am I right in understanding that if we were to leave this sport with HSI to develop, it would require a lot of money to do so in terms of facilities? One thing is certain: a show jumping arena is not much good for harness racing. I understand that HSI does not own any facilities and so on. How would Professor Wall see that working? Would we have to change the whole way in which we operate towards Horse Sport Ireland and give it money for facilities?
I thank both witnesses for their presentations. I must say at the outset that the behaviour of Horse Racing Ireland has been disgraceful. I think it is snobbery. I have read the communications from Horse Racing Ireland to the harness racing group. People are genuinely trying to bring support to an economy in various areas. It is an absolute disgrace.
Two harness racing meetings were conducted in Dundalk in 2008, of which Horse Racing Ireland was probably aware at that stage, and were carried out according to the criteria that were to be adhered to. From 2008 until September of this year, however, they have been denied access. Horse Racing Ireland has told Dundalk track not to allow them to go ahead. What authority has Horse Racing Ireland over a privately owned track to tell the owners what they should or should not do?
I am looking at other correspondence here from 3 December 2009. It came from Horse Racing Ireland and states that Horse Racing Ireland has not made it a condition of race course authorisation of Dundalk or any race course that harness racing will not be staged, because Dundalk stadium has voluntarily accepted HRI's decision that harness racing should not be staged. However, it states, if Dundalk were not willing to accept HRI's position by agreement, then the HRI board would consider making it a condition of its ongoing authorisation as permitted under the legislation. Reading on further, another communication states that there were a number of factors in reaching this decision, including reputational concerns, commercial concerns, welfare and disease control concerns, potential impact on the race surface, and loss of potential future fixture flexibility. I cannot understand reputational and commercial concerns. Is that because it was going to be in competition with Horse Racing Ireland? Was harness racing being denied access because Horse Racing Ireland desired to maintain a competitive advantage?
Then we come to the 27th of this year.
On 24 May, Horse Racing Ireland made a presentation to the executive on these events and again said that they should not be allowed. Yet, they took place again two or three months later under strict controls. I assume the controls were as tight as those which operated in 2009 for the two events that took place then. If HRI was doing its job correctly, there would have been strict veterinary controls and so forth.
The one positive element of Mr. Kavanagh's presentation is the fact a report is being prepared and if it finds that the strictest controls were adhered to, that will enable these events to go ahead in the future. Horse Racing Ireland was allocated €54 million this year and has received very generous levels of funding from the Government at a time when many people in the country were suffering greatly. This committee was requested to approve such funding by the Minister but I will never again support such funding levels for the organisation if this kind of snobbery is going to continue. We must have equality of treatment and fairness. The only legitimate arguments that could be made centre on welfare and disease control. I hope the report, when published, will lead to equal treatment for all. That is what is required. These events can be staged in places like Dundalk and can generate significant income in local economies, which must be welcomed and supported.
I thank the representatives from Horse Racing Ireland and Horse Sport Ireland for coming here today. I accept some of the points made in the presentations by both organisations. I agree that veterinary issues, animal welfare and disease control are critical to the well-being of our very valuable thoroughbred stock. I understand that where there is fixture displacement or any interference with planned events, the race tracks should not be made available. However, during quiet periods or down time, surely a track like Dundalk, if available, should be allowed to host harness racing events. Those involved in this sector have high standards too. They are not fly-by-nights. The Irish Harness Racing Association is a genuine organisation. It is not receiving tax-free stallion fees or anything like that. Its members are ordinary people. I like to speak for the ordinary people and that is why I have made such efforts to protect our smaller race tracks all over the country. Somewhat like the set-up with regard to the accountancy firms, there are the big four tracks and then "the rest" but I will make sure that the rest are up there with the best. They must be treated equally and like Deputy Martin Ferris, I make no apologies for fighting their corner.
I understand the importance of biological hazards and would respect what Professor Wall has to say on these matters as he is an expert on biosecurity. That said, how could such concerns arise, given the levels of disinfection and the efforts of all organisations to protect animals, when these events are not clashing? I understand the issue surrounding animals mixing with one another and am fully aware that the thoroughbred is a different animal. Mr. Kavanagh's argument was well made in that regard but if there is no crossover, then where is the problem? If we are only talking about one or two harness racing events per year, then the tracks are available for more than 50 weeks of the year for so-called ordinary racing. Mr. Kavanagh's description of ordinary racing was accurate in terms of the agility, speed and breeding of the racehorses as well as one's ability to check their pedigree in the stud book and so forth.
The harness racing industry is trying to secure its own venues. The use of the HRI tracks is only an interim solution, in some ways. We all accept that the HRI tracks cannot be a permanent home. As I understand it, it will not involve every track in the country. It cannot involve every track because some are entirely unsuitable for harness racing and the Irish Harness Racing Association is acutely aware of that. We must all live in the real world and accept there are some obstacles that cannot be overcome. However, favourable consideration should be given to those tracks where it is possible to stage harness racing events, like the one in Dundalk. We await the report which will not be available for another ten weeks. Mr. Kavanagh has indicated there will be two elements to that report. He wants both elements to be completed before it is published, which I understand and accept. The report will examine all aspects of controls and standards, which is very important. It will also pay attention to the biosecurity measures in operation in all of the yards, which is fair enough. Animal health is extremely important and we do not want to set off a train of events which could undermine the very important, multi-million euro industry that exists in this country.
If harness racing can be facilitated, is HRI predisposed to doing so? Is there goodwill in the organisation in terms of allowing more events to take place? We are not talking about a huge number of such events, or at least that is my understanding of what the Irish Harness Racing Association is seeking. I accept we could not have a harness racing event every month in Dundalk, for example. Is it possible that one or two more events could take place while the aforementioned association works towards opening its own venues? As my colleagues have pointed out, this committee was given information on the success of the harness racing industry in France. It makes an enormous contribution in that country. That said, I am not suggesting that we could reach those heights in Ireland any time soon, given that the industry in France has been around for far longer than the Irish one. Can the witnesses see any possibility of providing interim support? If the Irish Harness Racing Association is not active and is not holding events reasonably regularly, the sport will not take off or gain ground. In order to gain ground, it needs interim support prior to setting up its own facilities. Then it will be away in a hack, as we say here. It is a sport which attracts an audience and generates economic activity but it will need some funding initially. The sum in question has been defined by the association. It is not seeking an unlimited pool of money - indeed, there is no such pool available, regardless of who is in Government. The next Government will not be in a position to hand over huge sums of money to support horse racing because there are numerous far more pressing demands on the Exchequer in areas like health and housing.
This committee is trying to come up with a fair solution. We hope to see the harness racing industry eventually strike out on its own but it will need the support of the more established organisations in the field. Horse Sport Ireland, as Professor Wall said, fitted it in and gave it a home. Is that pro tempore or does he see the Irish Harness Racing Association eventually becoming affiliated to his organisation? I am sure that Professor Wall will say that his organisation is okay with that but that it has a lot of mouths to feed and as long as it has the funds, it will feed all of the mouths. The sum of €3.6 million for Horse Sport Ireland was referred to earlier and the Irish Harness Racing Association is looking for approximately €300,000. No doubt Professor Wall will say that if the Government provides €4 million then everything will be fine.
We mentioned €300,000. It appears Horse Racing Ireland believes it will require €4 million to get us into that space. Is that correct?
I thank the witnesses for attending. We had this conversation last week and Deputies Ferris and Ó Cuív will really have to come on the road with me. I do not know where the words "snob" and "elitist" come from. I do not know any lads doing harness racing but I know people doing showjumping, eventing and horse racing with thoroughbreds. Deputy Penrose talked about the ordinary man but I have a lot of ordinary friends who have just sold their horses at the sales and have enough money to keep going in rural Ireland until next year.
As Mr. Kavanagh showed us, and forgetting about elitists and snobs, rural Ireland is in a lot of trouble and it does not take a genius to see it. We have a €1 billion industry and stand with the best in the world in fourth place. We have a reputation. I do not know how to make the analogy without appearing to be a snob but I was never allowed to keep my ponies anywhere near a racehorse. That used to make me mad with my father but we were never allowed to cross the farm and contaminate the sport animal with the thoroughbred. They needed to be protected because we lived by our horses. Thoroughbred horse racing and other horse sports are as different as the pizza industry is from the burger industry - they do not belong together.
I hear about France, Australia and Scandinavia but why has England never amalgamated the two sports? England is one of our biggest competitors and we want to be a better place for wealthy Arabs to breed their horses. We have to mind this industry and we have excellent people doing a damn good job but it is competitive and, while we have to find a way to help the harness industry, mixing it with the thoroughbred industry is not the way forward.
I thank the gentlemen for their presentation. Mr. Kavanagh addressed my thoughts when he stressed the importance of the horse racing and breeding sector coming back under the remit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and clearly differentiated between sport and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. There is a good reason racing and breeding are under the Department of Agriculture, Marine and Food, which is that it is a key agricultural activity in parts of rural Ireland. Sport has connotations of recreation. I partake in sport and follow sport, generally at the weekends and in my spare time. I am also involved in agriculture and that is a job. It pays the bills and does a lot of things for a lot of people. We need to take a step back and ask why we are giving €60 million to the horse and greyhound fund for this year. We are not doing it because we like to go racing and to back dogs or horses but because it is an industry that is worth more than €1 billion to our economy and employs 16,000 on the equine end and 10,000 on the greyhound end. It is real economic activity and provides real jobs in parts of rural Ireland where there is very little alternative. It needs to be protected.
I was at a breakfast not long ago when the Minister for Finance made the point that he was not a big racing man and did not understand the industry very well but based on the figures, he gets why we need to invest in the industry. It is far better for the racing and greyhound industry that the Minister for Finance provides funding because it is the right thing to do financially rather than have a Minister who supports the industry because he is into the sport.
Perhaps concerns over welfare and disease control can be circumvented and Professor Wall might talk about the risks of cross-contamination. A few years ago this committee had a lengthy discussion about raw milk and producers of raw milk who appeared before us were very aggrieved that they could not sell their raw milk at markets any more. It was made very clear to us that the dairy industry was worth €3 billion to our economy. Somebody could continue to sell raw, unpasteurised milk and everything might be okay but the risk was that if one person got ill from drinking raw milk, the whole Irish milk brand would be tarnished. We could not justify the risk of reputational damage to the overall industry and there is an analogy here. Deputy Ó Cuív said it was like telling hurling players and football players they had to play on different pitches but I do not agree with him. There are dual players and the same people play hurling and football. Sports horses and thoroughbreds are very different animals. It is great to see harness racing develop and I would be very supportive of it but I would hate undue pressure to be put on the thoroughbred sector to open up the gates and leave genuine concerns aside for populist reasons. I look forward to the report which is being worked on at present and to see what the best way forward is for the harness industry. However, the concerns being raised are genuine.
By and large, I support the Irish Harness Racing Association because I was involved for years in the case in west Cork where they raced on the roads. There were problems with insurance when we closed off the roads on certain dates. I was also a legal adviser to the group for 20 years, so I would not like them to be isolated. It is popular in Wales and throughout Ireland.
I understand there is a move to stall or stop the inspection of draft and thoroughbred horses. Half my family live in America and I have heard this is sending out the wrong message. Has this been done, or has it been proposed? If it has been proposed, what are the merits of this? I have heard that it sends a signal that we are going backwards rather than forwards. Might this tarnish both the draft horse and racehorse industries? These are very important to the economy of this country.
I welcome the presentations from Horse Racing Ireland and Horse Sport Ireland.
I also compliment HRI on its national and international achievements in recent years. It is a wonderful example of the strength of the industry in Ireland and how it is being promoted here and abroad. It has been a wonderful success story for Ireland and has been appropriately supported by the taxpayer. It is from the latter perspective that this joint committee has an overriding responsibility in examining what is the position. I come from west Cork, which anyone would admit is not the most premier thoroughbred area, but it has a strong horse harness racing tradition. As has been outlined well before the joint committee, the two sports are like chalk and cheese. They are different animals, sports, bodies and organisations and are as different from each other as football is from tennis, were one to use a sporting analogy. From that point of view, there obviously is some reason this issue is being discussed before an Oireachtas joint committee. The Irish Harness Racing Association, IHRA, has been trying for some time to improve the sport's integrity, funding and prize money, and has been working in association with French sporting organisations to that end. Moreover, the French have invested in Ireland in support of the IHRA in its endeavours.
Although there should not be a conflict between the thoroughbred industry and the standard-bred horse racing sector, somewhere there is, and at this meeting I am particularly keen to find out a couple of things through the Chair. I can understand the issue of cross-contamination in terms of how there would be separation of animals at a meeting or a stadium. I also take the point made by Senator Mary Ann O'Brien about animals going from one side of a farm to another, but that may not always happen. It may not be the best practice in every landholding or farm on which thoroughbred animals are being born and bred. Consequently, while I understand that cross-contamination is an issue, it is not an issue everywhere. The case stands that in France, for example, trotting and thoroughbred meetings take place over the same courses, quite often on the same day and I believe sometimes on the same card. When horses travel to France, do they suddenly become immune from contamination? Alternatively, does Horse Racing Ireland suggest that this is a global best practice and we are so far ahead that we know what is best? I do not believe the IHRA is seeking this. From what I have heard, the association's ultimate aim is not even to seek access to stadiums or courses; it is looking for its own place or home. In the interim, however, it seeks to develop harness racing to that position. I note the comment in the presentation from Horse Racing Ireland to the effect that it supports, encourages or agrees, and that appears to be the view of HRI. If this is the case - I take it at face value - then why are members here?
My suspicion is that while both entities are passionate sports organisations, they are also both businesses, and both are reliant on funding of different sorts and levels. Is it the case that the development of harness racing could appear to be troublesome in terms of funding for the thoroughbred industry? I acknowledge that the witnesses have outlined the huge amounts, running to millions, involved in the thoroughbred industry, and harness racing does not generate that type of income by a long shot. However, could Horse Racing Ireland perceive harness racing ultimately to be an threat in the long term to funding to the thoroughbred side? Could Horse Racing Ireland state unequivocally its support, albeit in some respects in separation, for the objective of the IHRA to find a suitable home for itself and to find a suitable niche industry for itself that would not be in direct conflict with Horse Racing Ireland and the thoroughbred industry? Did Horse Racing Ireland view the use of Dundalk Stadium by the IHRA, once, twice or whatever it was, positively or negatively? If it was positive, is it of a mind to allow the association to do that again, scheduling permitted?
I read the transcript of the last meeting of the joint committee when the IHRA appeared before it. There was an issue at Killarney and the harness racing representatives felt highly aggrieved about what happened there. I wish to specifically ask Horse Racing Ireland whether it has made an intervention with the board of Killarney racecourse on supporting or otherwise the IHRA's efforts to hold a meeting at that racecourse. Finally, I compliment the sports body on its support, as it has been noted the Irish Harness Racing Association has benefitted positively from its membership of the council, which also should be noted.
I will ask Mr. Kavanagh or Mr. O'Rourke to answer the questions relevant to HRI, with the gentleman from Horse Sport Ireland, HSI, to follow. I ask Mr. Kavanagh to deal with the relevant questions. As there were seven contributors, there are a number of questions for both organisations.
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
I thank the Chairman. As for Deputy Ó Cuív's question on the veterinary side of things, which probably is the principal issue, one function that the Legislature has given to Horse Racing Ireland is to protect the health and welfare status of the Irish thoroughbred horse. This is a responsibility that the board of Horse Racing Ireland, and indeed the thoroughbred industry, take seriously. They run the Irish Equine Centre in Johnstown, County Kildare, which is a world-leading centre charged with protecting the health of thoroughbreds, disease surveillance and such issues. The Irish Equine Centre is funded through a combination of funding from Horse Racing Ireland, contributions from thoroughbred breeders through the foal levy and the commercial activities of the centre itself. This is not done simply for the good of the industry but because we have seen the effect of disease and health issues and the devastating effect it can have on industries elsewhere. This could be seen in Ireland when the entire agricultural sector was closed down for a time due to foot and mouth disease. In an example specific to our sector, this could be seen in Australia when the New South Wales thoroughbred industry was shut down for three months approximately ten years ago because of the arrival of some infectious disease into Australia. This had a devastating effect on the trade and the business of that sector. As I stated, it is for this reason, allied to the responsibility given in legislation, that the board of Horse Racing Ireland would act cautiously in such an issue.
I can assure the Deputy it is not a question of snobbishness; far from it. I have worked with this board since all its members were appointed and there is no question of snobbishness. The status of the thoroughbred industry in Ireland is the product of hard work by many people, including, as I noted in my contribution, the positive approach that politicians and the Legislature take to the industry in Ireland, which is the envy of other countries globally. My counterparts in other countries would give their eye teeth to have the level of engagement between the horse industry and their politicians that we enjoy with Members. Consequently, the issue of disease control, or biosecurity, is taken extremely seriously by our industry for good reason - the protection of trade and so on.
We have had a number of meetings with the harness racing representatives, particularly to discuss the trial meeting that was taking place in September. We agreed that there would be a two-phase approach to the veterinary matters. First, we would have an assessment of veterinary controls at the race meetings. That took place at the meeting of 29 September. The report is being produced and, anecdotally, there is no issue there. As one would have expected, it was run to veterinary standards similar to those that operate at race meetings. The second element of that exercise is a series of inspections and visits to harness racing establishments off-track to assess the welfare and veterinary standards within those premises. That will take place in January. That is a prudent and sensible approach to what could be a devastating issue for our sector. This is an issue which the board of Horse Racing Ireland takes seriously and it is working through that process. As I stated in the presentation, we will be happy when the process is concluded to share it with the harness racing authorities and with this committee, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and whoever it may be of interest to. However, the issue of biosecurity and disease control is a matter of the utmost importance to the thoroughbred sector, and that is the approach which the sector has taken.
With regard to the other issues, they all were set out in my letter of 22 July. These are complex issues. On the impact on the race track, for example, harness racing wants an all-weather fast-track while and horse racing wants an all-weather slow-track. Therefore, there is a conflict over the type of race track and the way the race track is presented. We have had a situation with regard to Dundalk in the past year where the entire surface of the track has had to be flipped because there were some complaints from the riders and trainers about the quality of the surface. They are facing up to the fact that the track will have to be replaced in its entirety at some stage within the next four or five years. There are issues of concern there.
A number of the activities that take place on an authorised race track are specifically defined in legislation, be that in regard to betting services, allocation of bookmakers' pitches at race tracks, negotiation of media rights, allocation of fixtures and regulation of the sport. Once a race meeting takes place on an authorised racecourse, it falls under the jurisdiction of that legislation. That complicates matters significantly and from our point of view is another reason to be cautious about sharing facilities between horse race meetings and harness race meetings. The committee may be familiar with the fact that there is a long-running legal dispute in the High Court between the bookmakers and Dundalk race course over the allocation of pitches at Dundalk, which is unresolved and still subject to appeal, and running harness race meetings, which have a different method of allocating bookmakers' pitches. This creates an extra complication in that area.
In that regard, the other area to consider is the overseas examples. Generally, while in some countries, particularly France, which as been quoted, there is a lot of sharing of facilities, that is not the case in a number of other jurisdictions. Where harness racing and thoroughbred racing take place at the same venue on different dates, they are almost always run on different tracks. The harness racing track is a separate track inside the race track. That is for the simple reason that most race courses, particularly those in Britain and Ireland, are too big for harness racing. Most tracks here are approximately a mile and a quarter in a circuit whereas we are told by the harness racing authorities that they require a track of a shorter distance. In France, no harness racing takes place on any of the seven all-weather race tracks. In the United Kingdom, three fixtures a year are run on race tracks - two in Musselburgh and one at Wolverhampton. In Scandinavia, only 4% of the trotting races take place on tracks that also stage horse racing. In Germany, it is 22 out of 181 fixtures, or 12%. In Italy, it is 81 out of 505 fixtures. The two are not as compatible as one may think. I accept there is some sharing of facilities, but not on a wholesale basis. As I said, the board has taken the view that the primary issue to be satisfied is that of veterinary health welfare for which it holds a responsibility under legislation. There are a number of other complicating factors which require careful consideration.
In response to Deputy Harrington's question, in my letter of 22 July on behalf of the board, I stated clearly that, "The Board are mindful of the ambitions of the Irish Harness Racing Association to develop their sport"-----
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
For the record, because Deputy Harrington asked a straight question, "The Board are mindful of the ambitions of the Irish Harness Racing Association to develop their sport in Ireland and are not against that". I said it also in my presentation at the start.
I also stated, on behalf of the board, "As regards the long term however, the Board, which represents all of the key stakeholder organisations [the board I represent represents owners, trainers, breeders and race courses throughout the country] ... remains firmly of the view that harness racing should not be staged on an authorised racecourses". In "the long term", there is a degree of separation there.
With regard to Deputy Martin Ferris' questions, it is not correct to use the term "snobbery". We have engaged with the harness racing representatives, we are carefully looking after our own responsibilities and we are going through a process in a clear and cogent fashion. I believe the funding of horse racing and the funding of harness racing are separate issues and it is wrong to associate the two together.
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
I have made the point. It is not a question of snobbishness. That is not correct. We have engaged in an ongoing process in consultation with the harness racing authorities. The board has genuine concerns in this area. If the board was not doing that, I believe it would be open to criticism, from both within and outside the sector, that it was not carrying out its legislative functions. The type of veterinary review that I am talking about here is merely common sense due diligence that one would conduct before any decision would be made.
The question of running harness racing side by side with thoroughbred racing on the same race tracks has other implications, not only for us but for the members, as legislators, in terms of the context of the legislation which applies exclusively to thoroughbred racing as, indeed, it does in all other jurisdictions where harness racing is popular. There are separate codes for both sports. They are run under different authorities. They are run, to a limited extent, on the shared venue but on different tracks at each of those venues. That is the process that our board is following and on which it feels strongly.
It is wrong to link a careful diligent approach to a development such as this with a threat to the funding of a sector. There are many requirements. I mentioned the Irish Equine Centre, which is doing an outstanding job for disease surveillance on limited resources and needs a lot of extra resources put into it. It is wrong to suggest that the sector would have its funding cut because it is being careful about issues such as biosecurity. More funding is needed by the Irish Equine Centre to protect the development of trade, not only for the thoroughbred sector but also for the non-thoroughbred sector, which could in time include harness horses or standard-bred horses, although the breed involved comprises mainly horses imported from France.
Professor Patrick Wall:
The sport horse is an industry too. We have just completed a strategy, Reaching New Heights, through which we are trying to develop the sector for the breeding and production of competition and leisure horses, which form a global industry. We want to make Ireland the go-to place for horses for all levels of riders. Since the sector is worth €700 million to the economy and accounts for approximately 16,000 jobs, we are just as interested in equine welfare and disease. Mr. Kavanagh rightly pointed out that gathering many horses together poses a risk of disease transmission. When horses go racing, they often return carrying diseases that they spread among themselves. The biosecurity levels of some trainers' operations differ from others'. Many trainers speak of going to racetracks where the stables are not always cleaned and disinfected between race days. That presents an opportunity to spread disease. This issue must be addressed.
The report on the trial run in Dundalk will be sent to this committee. Dundalk mimicked what happens in Fairyhouse. The Turf Club observed and two vets were present to supervise. The committee must await the final report but nothing untoward was observed and the visits to the yards will occur in due course.
As Deputy Ó Cuív stated, we took in the homeless child. We take in all comers because we try to be helpful to everyone. We do not have access to tracks, so we cannot help people the way they want to be helped. We do not have legislation, govern betting or so on. If tracks are not used all of the time and are vacant, I take the point that they could be adapted instead of new facilities being developed.
Senator O'Donovan referred to inspections. We are not stopping them. Rather, we are reviewing the inspection process to ensure that it is effective and value for money. We are trying to develop the sector. Sometimes, the status quois not good enough and must be changed. This is a process of continuous improvement. A radical reform is under way. We are trying to make the situation better, not worse. We want everyone to be a winner. We are conducting a detailed analysis on which every breeder will have an opportunity to express a view before we make any major change.
Mr. Mark Bolger:
The Irish Harness Racing Association, IHRA, is practical in its approach. It has committed to providing to this committee a five-year business plan. It is trying to grow step by step and slowly. There is a definite opportunity for new commercial income streams. The French have already started putting money into the system. The association is not out to compete with or take income away from Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, or Horse Sport Ireland, HSI. It views itself as a distinct operation that can grow and has potential.
Biosecurity is a matter for HSI and HRI. For them, protecting it is a paramount concern. The IHRA understands this. It held three successful days, two in 2008 and one in 2015. Under controlled circumstances, I see no reason not to allow it days at a racecourse on which to operate. Let the business grow step by step. It will need funding to develop its integrity. I understand that it is seeking an investment of approximately €375,000 in this regard to help it to develop its systems, etc. Currently, it is seeking access to a racecourse. We mentioned Dundalk, which races 37 times per year. The IHRA is seeking a small number of days to grow the business and see how it goes. I see no particular financial downside but it should be done in a controlled environment to protect the horse sport industry. The IHRA understands this, which will be borne out by the reports on the trial days.
Two harness meetings took place in Dundalk in 2008. They were negotiated directly with the Dundalk racecourse. The IHRA received a positive response from the thoroughbred industry observers who were present, including the independents from the Turf Club. Between 2008 and 27 September 2015, however, every effort that the IHRA made to hold a meeting at that track was thwarted by HRI. I do not say this lightly, Mr. Kavanagh. I concur with everyone regarding the protection of the thoroughbred industry. I have no problem with that. As a legislator, however, I cannot treat one section differently than another. I would not be associated with that. To deny the IHRA the opportunity of running meetings in Dundalk or anywhere else when such meetings do not collide with thoroughbred racing because they are run on separate dates is unreasonable. Obviously, the IHRA's reasonable request fell on deaf ears. Last June, HRI refused it again. The IHRA had to address us and, by so doing, inform us of the situation. In turn, we had to raise it with the Minister. To his credit, an event was held on 27 September.
I understand that the two meetings in 2008 were inspected by vets and everything was done according to plan. The meeting on 27 September was inspected and again complied with the veterinary requirements. The IHRA is prepared to comply with inspections of its stables and so forth. HRI must comply with the legislation that enacts it as well as with the expectations of equality placed on it by legislators. This is the reason for my point. There must be equality. In good conscience, I cannot be associated with inequality. That is why I made my comments on funding.
I would be less than human or honest if I did not state that I got the impression from HRI that there was a question of festina lente, or hasten slowly, it took the view that it did not want this and did not engage. When people do something like that, it normally rebounds against them. I get the feeling that HRI hopes this will go away but it will not. However, I will resist the temptation to get into a slagging match, as we should address the issue.
At the end of the day, we are legislators and a number of issues have been raised. I agree that some should have been dealt with but I do not understand why that took seven years. HRI's letter referred to hygiene and welfare standards. I understand that the standards at the race meeting in Dundalk passed muster with the Turf Club but I presume that, had there been engagement in the past seven years, it would have been agreed that the same standards would apply to harness racing as applied to thoroughbred horses. I endorse the witnesses' comments on the inspection of IHRA premises and presume that the same happens at all thoroughbred premises. The same standards should apply and I do not see why they would not. I cannot understand how this issue cannot be negotiated and resolved.
The letter states in respect of disease surveillance in the non-thoroughbred sector that:
The Board is greatly concerned that there has been no progress on the recommendation of the Cawley / Walsh report that a funding contribution be made from the non-thoroughbred sector to the Irish Equine Centre which provides a research and disease surveillance service for the entire equine industry. As you will appreciate, disease risks are as likely or more likely in the non-thoroughbred as in the thoroughbred sector, but a serious outbreak would have a catastrophic impact on the thoroughbred population, 75% of which is exported to trading partners overseas.
Any of us would have recognised that, as with other animals, if there is a disease outbreak, keeping them all apart will be difficult anyway. Therefore, our aim should be the highest standard across thoroughbred and non-thoroughbred to ensure that as far as is humanly possible we do not have disease here. I hope that Horse Racing Ireland and HSI already co-operate. It seems to me that they are saying it is more likely to be an issue with the non-thoroughbred sector than the other side. I hope the chairman of HSI might give this committee his view on whether disease outbreak is more likely in the non-thoroughbred sector and what it is doing to ensure there is no outbreak of disease among non-thoroughbreds.
It is not very clear in the statement made by Mr. Kavanagh. I appreciate the clarification. In respect of the issue of money, it seems to be a cheap shot. I cannot see how the harness racing people could be responsible for some debate that is going on as to who should fund the equine centre. In the heel of the hunt, if HSI is going to fund the equine centre, I presume the taxpayer and the Legislature must make the money available to it to do so because it has already made a pitch that it could develop its industry if it had more money. What this committee is looking at in the round is whether more money should be invested in horses of all types here. It is one of the issues we are looking at but I am not sure how relevant it was to the IHRA issue.
I would be very interested in one practical question. If I brought horses into a place and if no horses were entering that place for a week or a fortnight, what steps would I have to take to make sure there was no transmission of disease? Would it relate mainly to the dung that would left behind? I understand that a lot of disease is transmitted by physical contact or proximity. Allowing for a fortnight, a week or ten days apart or whatever time the experts would say, is it possible to ensure that one really minimises disease transmission risks by, for example, disposal of all dung? I would be interested in hearing the views of the expert witnesses in front of us today on how this issue might be dealt with or how high that risk is. In other words, is there a significant risk at different times and on different dates compared to other risks in the industry? I am sure the Irish Equine Centre would be able to give some information on that because, presumably, it has a risk analysis concerning the cross-transmission of disease. Horse Racing Ireland told us it has it, but it is not telling us what they are telling it. I hope that before we finalise the report in January, we can get a detailed breakdown from the equine centre of where it sees the risks of cross-contamination and how it would measure them. It is like all human activity. One thing we must start doing is measuring risk, because somebody could tell you every day that something is high risk. The only way we can do it is by calculating it scientifically and mathematically and asking, if one were taking insurance out on an actuarial basis, how they would rate the various risks, how they would eliminate the risks and where they would prioritise the elimination of risks. When we come to that issue, we need that kind of scientific and analytical approach to it. That would be much more constructive for all of us than a more emotional approach.
I am very interested in what was said about the impact on the race track, because a fantastic solution has been proposed. There are two major horse racing meetings in Galway, which has a fantastic track and a fantastic location on the edge of the city. In fairness to the greyhound people, they always benefit from horse racing and run greyhound races, because people are people. There are fantastic facilities at the back of the stand that could be used for concerts in the summer, similar to the Milwaukee festival. Like the RDS, it is hard to see a facility like that down for the rest for the year. Horse Racing Ireland seem to be telling us that if we put tracks inside the tracks, we could use them for harness racing at different times of the year. On the other hand, we would be sharing the stands, toilets, catering facilities, car parking and all the other fantastic facilities that all of these places have. Let us be honest about it. Most of the time, they are very under-utilised when one stacks up the number of events and the facilities in most places. Even places such as Ballinrobe are used for the agricultural show in the summer. I am not sure whether they bring in sport horses in on that particular day.
The issue of veterinary standards goes back to the Irish Equine Centre. We need to involve the Irish Equine Centre. I think we all agree that veterinary standards should be the same, but my understanding is that, in terms of the actual day, one is looking at the premise that this is in hand.
In respect of fixture flexibility, I go back to the Croke Park analogy. I presume that conventional horse races on Horse Racing Ireland tracks, which were built for conventional horse racing, would take priority. I do not think the harness racing people were complaining about that. The flexibility relates to when they are not in use. If facilities were built, I do not think they would have any problem finding plenty of days and plenty of seasons where no conventional horse racing is taking place.
Mr. Kavanagh mentioned legislation. Could he spell it out for us? We can always change the legislation. If there are issues relating to legislation, it would be a good idea to know exactly they are. Perhaps we need to change the definitions. People seem to think that legislation is immutable. If we need to redefine racing, we can do so very easily by bringing in a one-line amendment to a number of Bills. The 2001 Act was mentioned. There is no problem with amending the Act. Horse Racing Ireland just needs to tell us what we need to do to sort out that problem for it and we will willingly do it. I do not think legislation should be seen as the major bugbear, because we can deal with that as legislators. We do not know whether all of us will be legislators after the election, but those who take over from us will be able to look at that issue. Direct negotiations between harness racing authorities in Ireland and France are matters for negotiation and if necessary, legislative change. They are practical issues. The point was made that it would take seven years to move forward.
We need to take all the issues raised and look at them analytically. I hope Horse Racing Ireland can start the process by giving us the information I requested today so that, over the Christmas period, we can look at it in conjunction with our report. Unfortunately, most of us are not banking on being here after 30 January 2016 in this session of the Dáil, and we would like to get our horse report out by then. Perhaps we could get all of this information between now and Christmas Day. It would inform us in writing our report. I take the view that all sports, activities and things people want to do should be facilitated within reason. I might favour some sports over others but I do not want to deny anybody else the right to enjoy sports that I might not favour. We must recognise that there seems be some interest in harness racing.
They seem to be very committed to it and to be willing to adhere to the highest standards. We concur fully with HRI that we need the highest standards, given that we have a very valuable industry. I ask Mr. Bolger to outline how valuable the non-thoroughbred horse sport industry in Ireland is and the number of people involved in it nationally when one takes into account the special breeds and all the rest who are turning over a few euro there. Am I right in thinking that top show jumpers, which we have not, unfortunately, produced in the quantity we should have, given our natural advantage, are worth very significant sums of money internationally? Mr. Bolger might indicate to the committee what a top show jumper would be worth on the market? What is the value of a top show jumper that would win the Olympics or a similar competition? Mr. Bolger might give us a sense of that and the size of his industry. Our view in the committee has been that while the thoroughbred industry is incredibly important and nothing must be done to damage it, the sport industry reaches out to many and puts a few euro in many pockets and that should also be developed significantly. Money should be provided to that sector to develop also.
I asked two questions which were not specifically addressed. Arising from Mr. Kavanagh's response to some of the questions, he mentioned the international experience of harness or trotting racing in others countries, where they represented 3% or 5% of overall meetings. I understand that the IHRA's request would not even come close to the examples Mr. Kavanagh put before us in terms of what it would like to see as an interim solution in the advancement of its own sport. I refer back to the Dundalk meeting that was facilitated, which was very successful in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. The IHRA requires that kind of support if it is going to improve the integrity of its sport in terms of compliance, which Mr. Bolger says is good at any rate. If the IHRA was successful in getting an interim solution and increasing the number of meetings it could hold, where would it come in the international standards Mr. Kavanagh quoted in terms of a league table of meetings?
I asked if HRI felt threatened by a very successful IHRA or harness racing sector. Would it be financially threatened in the long term? Would it feel some discomfort in its finances if the IHRA were to become a very successful organisation? I did not attend the last meeting of the joint committee but I got the transcript and read that a meeting was planned in Killarney which did not go ahead. The implication in the transcript seemed to be that HRI was to blame for the meeting not going ahead, but no reason was given. I am coming to that because it is just hanging there. If HRI stopped the meeting, was there a reason for that? What engagement did it have with the board or management of Killarney Racecourse?
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
I will take Deputy Harrington's questions first. I do not have the full answer. He raises an interesting issue about where it would lie on an international table if the stadium in Dundalk was used to meet the requirements of the IHRA. It is not clear to us what the requirements of the IHRA are.
Can I rephrase the question? I refer to the association being allowed to use Dundalk perhaps twice a year. The examples Mr. Kavanagh gave showed that harness racing took place much more often in other countries than the IHRA was looking for here.
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
That would be on a par with the UK, slightly below Germany, Italy and Scandinavia and somewhat more below France. The issue we have is that the IHRA's first request was for three meetings in Dundalk, which has moved to six. On the last occasion, there was a discussion about 20 meetings a year in Dundalk. There was also a discussion when the harness racing people were with the joint committee about using other tracks in addition to Dundalk, which brings us to the broader issue that Deputy Ó Cuív touched on. It is not clear to us what the IHRA's current requirements are in that respect. It has said to us all along that it does not see Dundalk as its long-term home and wants to develop its own. In 2009, it spoke about developing a facility at Collon in County Louth. Obviously, there are existing facilities in Portmarnock and in other areas both North and South of the Border. The debate moves from one to the other. To answer the Deputy's direct question, if it was staging three race meetings a year in Dundalk, it would be on a par with the number of meetings staged on racetracks in the UK, slightly below Germany, Italy and Scandinavia and significantly below France.
Feeling threatened is not an issue whatsoever. I would regard the development of harness racing as something welcome. It would sit in the same way that greyhound racing and horse racing sit together. With regard to Killarney, which was some time ago, there was an intended meeting on Killarney racetrack which was stopped by HRI for the same reasons and concerns we are debating here. At that time, the position of HRI was that it was not supportive of harness racing on authorised racecourses, and that was proposed in Killarney. The background to that type of position and the position we are debating today is concerns expressed by various bodies represented on the HRI board, including the trainers' association. While they are agreeable to meetings being staged on a trial basis, they do not see harness and horse racing as compatible in the long term on the same race tracks.
I was asked about equality and legislation. In his question, Deputy Ó Cuív outlined the complexities we face. There is detailed legislation governing our sport, which we welcome. It is the envy of other countries. Allocation of race fixtures, capital grants to racecourses, negotiation of media rights, levies on foals, regulation and the rules on racing and integrity are all done in accordance with legislation that is handed down. To give equality of treatment to and apply the legislation to harness racing would be a major exercise. It is not comparable with other countries, where harness racing is far more popular than here. They are both run as separate sports with separate codes, governing bodies and rule books. That is an indication of the complexity.
Ballinrobe is used for purposes other than racing and shows sell there every year. Presumably, HRI has no difficulty with that. If harness racing is not racing, it is not racing. Really, the only issue that arises then is that we might have to bring in legislation to cover harness racing. That would be our business.
This activity would not be racing as defined under the Act, and all the media rights and the rest would not apply. It would be just like letting a track out. If a television company were to show up on the show day in Ballinrobe, HRI would not be worried about the media rights. As such, the sharing of the premises is the big issue.
On a physical site, that can be resolved by not repeating the huge cost of stands and just putting the racetrack inside the track.
I have asked how to eliminate the health risk. If they are a certain time apart, how is the place disinfected and so on?
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
The Deputy is correct regarding the legislation.
With regard to the veterinary matter, he suggested we have information but I am not giving it to him. When he was out of the room, I said we have agreed to, and are undertaking, a two-phase process. The first phase was to examine the veterinary standards that applied at the race meeting on 29 September. We have a report on that and no major issues arose, which is what we expected. The second phase is a prudent risk assessment of veterinary welfare standards within harness racing establishments. That will be carried out in January on our behalf by the Turf Club. The Deputy suggested the Irish Equine Centre, which may be a body well worth involving in that as well, and that information will be available and fully open for sharing at the end of January.
Something untoward could happen and a non-thoroughbred horse could have a disease. If race meetings were held two weeks apart and good protocols were employed to dispose of the stable manure and so on, how high is the risk, even in that circumstance, of cross-infection? I would like the two bodies to comment on that. Have they even analysed that issue? That seems to be the nub of the issue.
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
That is the nub of the issue and that is why HRI has taken a prudent and cautious approach. We do not know the answer to that question yet. Once we find out the answer, we can conduct a risk assessment. Rather than doing this out of a sense of snobbishness or not trying to allow an industry to develop, the board is doing this out of the duty of care they have for their own industry. If we were not in this process, the Deputy would ask the same questions.
Professor Patrick Wall:
On the issue of biosecurity, horses go racing and come back with infections. Runners will often perform below standard in races and it turns out they were sick. Members will read that in the newspapers. Those horses have potentially left a virus behind in the racecourse stable. The stables have to be appropriately cleaned and disinfected between race meetings but that does not always happen. When horses are looked after properly, have good nutrition, have their vaccinations are up to date and there is better husbandry, the risk is minimised.
The IHRA has links with other international harness racing federations and it is trying to benchmark itself against international best practice. There is another subset of horses that have nothing to do with the IHRA. These are road racers, sulky racers and urban horses owned by Traveller and settled Travellers. That is a huge concern for us. I acknowledge we are not discussing this today but I want to flag it for the committee because this group cannot be left out of its report. This has to be an area of concern for disease transmission, as Mr. Kavanagh highlighted, but this also has the potential, when there is adverse publicity associated with welfare, to reflect badly on the entire island, the land of the horse. There is a €1 million fund for urban horses and nobody has drawn down that money because the people in that subset are illiterate. They are not in the way of putting a proposal together. This is a separate subset that poses a risk for welfare and disease. A fund is not being spent because they do not have the wherewithal to draw it down.
Risks have to be graded. When we debated the issue, the county manager and welfare body representatives appeared before the committee. We put a great deal of time into the urban horse issue one day and the thoroughbred representatives appeared the same day. They said if even if all the non-microchipped ponies were removed from the county, they would be imported as fast as they were removed. If there was, for example, a once-off disposal programme, it would not do what one would think it would do, because as quick as they were got rid of, more would come in. Am I correct in thinking that, relatively, that would be a high risk to the entire horse industry if one of these unregulated horses, which is not microchipped, came into contact with other horses?
Professor Wall mentioned viruses. Is organic matter needed for viruses to transmit animal to animal or can they be transmitted through dung and so on? What precautions are taken against virus transmission? I presume the highest risk is physical contact and risk is graded downwards from there.
Professor Patrick Wall:
Viruses do not multiply in the environment. They need living cells. They do not survive as long in the environment. The ideal is one horse coughing beside another horse. A virus transmits easily in the same air space. Bacterial infections can survive in the dung. If a horse spits on the wall, it will survive on the wall between one race meeting and the next. Currently, some racecourses do not clean the stables adequately. They need to be cleaned and disinfected between meetings if it is be ensured there is no disease transmission.
Mr. Mark Bolger:
I would like to clarify a query. UCD verified the value of the sport horse industry at €708 million through research in 2012. The top showjumper recently sold at public auction in Ireland was Dougie Douglas, a ten-year old proven Irish bred gelding. He is a Nations Cup horse and he was sold for €1.4 million at auction, facilitated through Goresbridge. With the Olympics coming up, show jumpers could fetch many multiples worldwide.
Yes. They are separate industries. I was involved a little in the sport horse industry. They operate differently but they are compatible and that is what we are trying to address. From the point of view of the committee's work, I thank the witnesses for their insight. If we want the various aspects of the horse industry to develop to their full potential, that could happen with goodwill from all sides. Shared venues at different tracks would be a useful avenue to pursue as long as the other matters are addressed, particularly security.
I appreciate that HRI is very cautious, no more than the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Food Safety Authority, about the reputation of its industry, which it represents and governs under legislation. Likewise, we have to make sure that all sides can operate. Professor Wall touched on the issue of sulky racing. The misunderstanding and lack of awareness out there, because everyone sees the two as the same, needs to be clarified. There may be an opportunity, if we could develop a better model of harness racing, to eliminate some of the other practices that are taking place and that are in the best interests of neither the animals nor the participants. That is probably something we should look at.
We should also record here, since it is the last meeting before Christmas, the support of the Minister last week in the Estimates for the harness racing industry and that he would be very clear that he is very sympathetic to the case.
He has undertaken, as Mr. Kavanagh said in his opening statement, to conduct a review and a report on harness racing in the new year. I ask the members to stay back five minutes for us to discuss the organic amendments, but that concludes the public session of today's meeting. I thank the witnesses again and wish them all the best for the festivities and the season. I hope there is successful racing and whatever other events happen in the non-racing sector. Not everyone can be a winner, but I hope there are plenty of winners.