Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 16 May 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
General Scheme of Greyhound Industry Bill 2017: Discussion (Resumed)
Before beginning, I remind members, witnesses and people in the Visitors Gallery to ensure their mobile telephones are turned off. This meeting will deal with pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Greyhound Industry Bill 2017. From Greyhound Racing Integrity Ireland, I welcome Ms Eilis McCann, chair, and Dr. David McGrath, committee member. I thank them for coming before the committee today to discuss the heads of the Greyhound Industry Bill 2017.
Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the joint committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to 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 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 Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Ms McCann to make her opening statement and we will then take questions.
Ms Eilis McCann:
Dr. David McGrath, Ms Paula Hogan, who is in the Visitors Gallery, and I are here on behalf of Greyhound Racing Integrity Ireland. To give a short history of our group, Greyhound Racing Integrity Ireland was formed by owners, breeders and trainers of track greyhounds who were becoming increasingly aware of a perceived drugging problem in performing dogs. Members are predominantly but not exclusively from the south-east of Ireland. There appeared to be a culture of altering the performance of certain greyhounds, that is, slowing them for trials and subsequently "driving" them for races. There was widespread concern that cover-ups were the norm when certain dogs were tested and their samples proved positive for banned substances. As the group grew, we established an excellent working relationship with Ms Geraldine Larkin, former CEO, and Ms Hilary Forde, head of racing and governance of the Irish Greyhound Board. Ms Forde attended our AGM and also liaised on our behalf to have our committee included in discussions with Professor Morris, who gave us a very generous hearing and mentioned our proposals in his report.
We are delighted to say the IGB took on board the majority of our proposals, including out-of-competition testing, sales testing, publishing of analytical findings, increased security in kennelling areas and increased testing on all dogs of kennels where there have been multiple positive findings. Sales of Irish greyhounds were suffering due to the perceived low image of our dogs, so much so that the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, the British governing authority, issued more or less an ultimatum stating caveat emptor, or buyer beware, and that if one is going to buy Irish dogs, one should proceed very cautiously. To us, that truly was an insult and a slur. In the past, Irish greyhounds enjoyed the respect of a worldwide sporting audience. With a concerted effort from all stakeholders, they can soon resume their rightful place at the top of the racing world. Latterly, real progress has been disappointingly slow, due perhaps to the fact Ms Forde can no longer meet with us, unless at a forum which is organised by the IGB.
The ordinary owner feels that the credibility of the current board is compromised as it is felt that it does not keep its own rules. We appreciate the opportunity to come here today to meet with Oireachtas Members and we appeal to those in power to strive to provide a level playing field for all involved in this wonderful sport.
The following are our proposals. Integrity is at the core of every successful sport, therefore, those involved at all levels must be people of the highest integrity. Rules must be implemented with the welfare of the greyhound taking precedence, to the benefit of all, not just the few.
As regards the purchase of new equipment for the laboratory in Limerick, if tests are covered up, this purchase is a total waste of money. Time-finding and time-losing dogs are to be tested and results are to be published. Stud dogs are to be fully tested before a litter is sired and findings published. Without this breeders are taking a shot in the dark, which is a very costly move in some cases.
As regards greyhounds that break track records, before the record is ratified that dog should be sampled and the results published. The same goes for bitches who are going to retire to the breeding paddocks. A case can definitely be made that they also need to have their full history logged publicly.
The control committee has to be truly independent without any conflict of Interest. Is this currently the case? Classic winners' and track record breakers' samples should be taken and sent to an independent laboratory, for example, in Newmarket.
Fines must be large enough to act as a deterrent. Owners and trainers with multiple offences should be banned. The minimum fine should be €5,000. The same should apply to those whose dogs test positive for steroids, cocaine, etc. A red flag should appear by their names on the race card.
The administration of such substances is a highly serious breach of welfare. Most greyhound people are horrified by these actions, which are clearly animal abuse. If full confidence is to be restored to the sport, the IGB cannot tolerate or cover up such events. There should be a full ban on a trainer's licence and no transfer of the same licence to a family member.
All novice greyhounds should be tested in first round of major unraced stakes, as heat winners are quite often sold for large sums of money. In the case of any greyhound returning from Britain testing positive for any performance altering substance, the person in whose care the dog is should be fined. If the offence is found to have been repeated, a ban should be enforced until the dog tests clear. It should be published when the dog is cleared to run.
Payment of fines should be published and owners or trainers should not be allowed to run dogs again until the fine is paid. Prize money should always be aimed at the many and not the few. We are looking for a fair distribution of the prize money pool.
The grassroots of any sport should be recognised for what they are - the lifeblood and backbone of the sport. The rules must be clear, concise and adhered to fully. No exceptions should be made for anyone if a performance-altering substance is found. The penalty must act as a deterrent. Specific drug teams of up to ten independent people should be available to test greyhounds. In addition, it is vital to have an independent laboratory to which samples may be sent. Positive and negative results should be published to prove that all samples have been tested. This is absolutely vital to restore trust and confidence.
All of the above points I have raised are representative of the views of members of the Greyhound Racing Integrity Ireland Group.
Thank you very much, Ms McCann. Before calling on members for questions, I just want to declare for the record my own involvement in the greyhound industry. I am a personal friend of the chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board. I do not own any dogs.
I will call first on Deputy Penrose.
I thank Ms McCann for her presentation. The representatives of Greyhound Racing Integrity Ireland are strong advocates of imposing strict penalties and sanctions. Can McCann outline a range of sanctions that she feels would be appropriate? Section 14 of the Bill is somewhat deficient in terms of sanctions, so Ms McCann could help the committee by outlining them.
Does she advocate the strict liability principle if, for example, a banned substance is found in the course of an investigation or test? There could be a pre-race investigation or a test arising as a result of a race. Whether a test if pre-race or post-race, a strict liability principle would presume that a positive result is an offence. The onus would then shift to the owner or breeder, whoever is involved, to negative that and set out the reason a particular substance was found. Is that what Ms McCann advocates and, if not, what system does she advocate as being the most appropriate?
Ms McCann mentioned absolute integrity in racing, which is very important for this committee as it considers the Greyhound Industry Bill 2017. We all subscribe to the idea of absolute integrity and Ms McCann will not find anyone opposing that view in her presentation. How can such a system be established, however? It could become a legal quagmire unless a "do and don't" list is set out. In the normal course of events things are black and white, but sometimes something may innocently appear. If a dog is fed something which contains a contaminated substance, for example, then under the strict liability principle one is there. As the saying goes: "Once you're explaining, you're losing." One is losing because one will have to explain that.
Could Ms McCann outline the type of sanction regime she thinks should be in place in order to ensure that the integrity of the dog racing industry is sacrosanct? She made an important point that the British authorities seem to be very alert to things when all is not kosher. Does Ms McCann have evidence that this has had a significantly negative impact in terms of the industry going forward?
I thought that a lot of money had been spent on a laboratory in Limerick which was the be-all and end-all. In fact, the Morris report placed a lot of emphasis on that, as Ms McCann's presentation mentioned. I am glad she did. If significant funding went into that laboratory as a first step, why is Ms McCann saying it may well be important to refer some cases - for example, if a dog does a super, abnormal time and the result does not stand up - to an independent laboratory outside this jurisdiction? Is that what Ms McCann is advocating? Why is she saying that in regard to record-breakers?
Could she expand on the idea of bitches being tested before retiring to become broods? Is there any level of offence that warrants a full-time ban? For example, some steroids are well known as being massive stimulants, so does their use warrant a full-time ban or a graded ban? I appreciate that the sanction must be proportionate.
Ms McCann referred to red flags appearing next to a dog's name on a race card, but for how long would such a flag appear? If my dog has a problem and is red flagged for one race, will the red flag be carried on to the next race? Does it cover a season or two years? Will it be for six months, a year or two?
Sports Ireland may impose a two-year or four-year ban on athletes. The European sports arbitration body can either uphold such bans, or not, on appeal. I would like Ms McCann to indicate what she has in mind, including time limits for bans and the nature of offences involved. Is a gradation system involved and is there any offence for which a permanent ban would be warranted?
I absolutely concur with Ms McCann when she said: "Fines must be large enough to act as a deterrent. Owners and trainers with multiple offences should be banned." Why, however, is she referring to multiple offences?
In terms of multiple offences, anything more than two is multiple. If three or four offences attract the maximum of the €5,000 fine that is fair enough. All penalties should act as a deterrent to make sure infringements do not happen. It is very useful for the witnesses to come in. I am interested in the reference to the independent laboratory. It has been indicated that we must travel outside the jurisdiction. Is that for specific areas or in general? I thank the witnesses for the presentation.
The witnesses are both very welcome. It is useful to have people come in and give us a broad range of views on the Bill. The greyhound industry has gone through much upheaval in recent years and we have been very aware of lobbies coming from all parts of the country to committee members and others in elected office on various issues, many of which have been raised today, especially in regard to doping and cheating the system. I seek clarity on a couple of issues. It was said that integrity is at the core of the group's focus, to the extent that it is included in the name of the organisation.
I am also interested in the new equipment in the lab in Limerick. We have heard a great deal about the cost of the lab in Limerick, the total inefficiency, and its inability to provide any kind of useful service. It does not seem to be able to test to the required levels and from what I have heard - the witnesses alluded to it in the opening statement - even if the best equipment was there if the people running it do not want to use the equipment properly or do the job properly it will not be done properly. That seems to be the inference that was made by the witnesses and I would like them to clarify that.
The witnesses mentioned that the prize money should be aimed at the many and not the few and that there should be a fair distribution of prize money. I would like to understand what exactly the witnesses mean by that. Does it imply that there is some kind of golden circle or a little group that takes all and leaves the rest behind? What exactly is meant by that?
I wish to follow on from what Deputy Penrose said. What is the view of the witnesses on what can be done in terms of the level of sanction that is possible to deal with people who break the rules or consistently offend? Witnesses from various organisations have come before the committee and one issue that has come up is the traceability of dogs and the position in that regard and the export of dogs to other countries. I would welcome the views of the witnesses on that matter also.
Previous witnesses mentioned the number of litters a bitch can have and what is appropriate. I would like to hear the view of witnesses from the point of view of breeders because we have heard the animal welfare perspective. I do not suggest breeders are not concerned with welfare but I refer to the animal welfare lobby specifically.
I thank the witnesses for their presentation. Some of the questions I wanted to ask have already been asked by other members. I was interested to read in the opening statement about the work with Ms Forde and the good working relationship with her but then it was said that real progress has been disappointingly slow due perhaps to the fact that Ms Forde can no longer meet with the witnesses. Could the witnesses expand a little on that?
I accept everything that has been said about integrity. Head 21 of the Bill sets out the make up of the control committee and the criteria for people involved in it. Do the witnesses think that is adequate in terms of providing for the integrity of the control committee and the work it does?
Reference is made on the second page of the presentation to an independent laboratory for sampling. Is that independent of the Limerick laboratory and if that is the case why is the Limerick laboratory even there?
Head 14 proposes to remove the criminal sanction for breaches of the racing code and the intention is to replace it with financial penalties. How do the witnesses feel about that? Do they believe penalties are adequate or that the criminal sanction should be retained for people who interfere with dogs?
Last week when it was before the committee the ISPCA said its recommendation is that a bitch should have no more than five litters and the legislation proposes nine. Do the witnesses have any views on that?
I welcome the witnesses here today and thank them for their presentation. They have focused in particular on drugs and ensuring the matter is addressed. It is important that under the legislation there is a system in place to ensure best practice and that the industry has a strong and credible track record. Would the witnesses like to see any amendments to the structure of the Bill, as presented?
Dr. David McGrath:
I will start with Deputy Penrose. He asked a single question but he had about 12 different questions in it. I will try to give him as brief a résumé as I can. The first part of the question was about the type of substances, how they should be managed and if they should be managed differently. It is important for the committee to know that we are owners and breeders and we represent owners and breeders who are focused on bringing transparency and integrity to the industry. If the IGB had published all the negative tests it would be really helpful because people would understand that more than 99% of all tests that are taken are negative. That is very reassuring to most people and it is very reassuring to us but that is a message that it not coming out. It is the 1% of tests that are not negative that is the problem, and it is how those tests are managed. Overall, 99% of dogs that are running and being tested are being run fair and square and you should know that the dog running next to you has tested negative but a small number of dogs are testing positive and they are undermining the integrity of the whole industry and that is a problem.
The first question Deputy Penrose asked was about the type of substances. There is an attempt in the Bill to differentiate between prohibited substances and controlled substances. Essentially, prohibited substances can never be present in the sample. An example might be stanozolol, which is an anabolic steroid, a Ben Johnson-type anabolic steroid or cocaine. They would be two very straightforward examples. Neither of those drugs is licensed in Ireland in any veterinary situation so if stanozolol is used in a greyhound as an anabolic steroid it means it came into the country illegally and then it was administered to a dog. It is not licensed by any medical or veterinary agency in Ireland. We have to go back and say there is a small number of such cases but they undermine the integrity of the whole industry. That is a very serious incident and from the point of view of our committee members any dog that tests positive for stanozolol should get a lifelong ban because that is an anabolic steroid and it gives an unfair advantage to the dog compared to any other dog and it cannot have got into the dog by any other method than being imported into this country and given to the dog. The same is true of cocaine. How else could cocaine have got into a dog other than it being imported illegally into the country, procured through some illegal source and given to a dog, horse or whatever it is? It seems really clear to us that use of those prohibited substances should result in a lifelong ban for the greyhound running and it is also a serious issue for the person who administered it. That is the serious end of the spectrum.
The Bill identifies the other group of substances as controlled substances, which may have got into a greyhound through any number of ways. A greyhound might have had tonsillitis and been put on an antibiotic. We can all understand that. With advanced testing, maybe six weeks later a minuscule level of the antibiotic might show up in a specimen. We could all understand and accept that is not going to affect the performance of the dog. Similarly for anti-inflammatories, if a greyhound had an injury and was treated by the vet with an anti-inflammatory several weeks down the line that might show up at a very low level.
The board have now made an attempt to regulate this and make it more transparent. It has introduced a medication booklet which is greatly appreciated. Any vet who sees a dog now will be asked to fill in the medication that was prescribed on that day. If a dog were tested six or eight weeks later and that came up in a hearing, it would be reflected in the hearing that the vet had prescribed the medication for a good veterinary reason.
There are two different situations: the prohibited substances and the controlled substances. The member alluded to things coming through the feed chain. There is some evidence that tiny residues of certain drugs can come through the food chain. That is similar in horse racing. As far back as the 1980s, Tied Cottage won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and he lost it subsequently because of a food contamination issue. That is common across many sporting organisations.
The way to manage that is to have very low thresholds for these contaminants that can come into the system. The issue is that certain contaminants have been found in greyhounds. One was procaine four or five years ago. Procaine is a local anaesthetic but it is also a cocaine-type analogue. It can be prescribed as a local anaesthetic and in theory it could have come through the food chain. Many dogs tested positive for procaine, however, details of the levels of procaine in the samples were never published, which was the critical thing. One could imagine that very low levels of procaine could be residues of feeding or something like that, whereas one would not expect very high levels to come through the food chain. One would expect the sanction to reflect the levels.
The member asked about strict liability. We have a slightly different way of managing it than the GBGB does in the UK. In the UK a person running a dog as a trainer or owner essentially becomes a member of a club and accepts the rules of the club when signing. At the moment that is not how things are managed here under the 1957 Act and there is an opportunity to change things now. There are many more legal-type sanctions involved.
Obviously, there should be a gradation of sanctions depending on the severity of the substance and the level and the number of offences. I think everybody is happy with that proposal.
Was there any other aspect of-----
Dr. David McGrath:
It takes me back to Deputy Kenny's issue about the lab. I do not think anybody here would have any issue whatever with the staff working in the laboratory in Limerick. I am sure they are very professional people. They have been extremely professional in any dealings we have had with them.
A laboratory can only process the samples that arrive there. It can only process samples in a way that they are advised by the board. Laboratories do not devise tests. The board issues to a laboratory the list of drugs to be tested. That is how it should happen in any organisation; the governing body should inform the laboratory that is doing its testing as to what it should be looking for.
I do not think there is any issue with staff in Limerick, who are very professional people. The issue really is with the sampling itself. Even now if a sample is taken at a track we have no idea whether it is ever processed, which is a big issue. People read of positive findings but never hear of the negative findings. The only way to know that all the samples are processed at a track is for all samples taken to be reported as positive, negative or not processed. It would be a great bonus to the integrity of the industry if all negative samples were published. It is a really simple thing to do. On most race nights, at least two dogs are sampled. I ask Ms McCann to confirm that.
Dr. David McGrath:
On a really big race night ten or 20 dogs might be sampled. It is really simple to publish all the negative samples; it is just a matter of uploading the results on to the IGB website. That would be a huge boost to the integrity of the industry. It means that an owner who ran a dog in Enniscorthy, Youghal or Shelbourne Park that was tested along with other dogs, could go back two weeks later and see it printed up on the wall that his or her dog was negative and the other people's dogs were also negative, which gives a great boost to the industry. As we know that 99% of the tests are negative, why do we not publish the negative results?
The issue with the lab is not really an issue with the lab itself. There were some technical issues with the lab prior to the purchase of its current equipment. However, it is really about what happens to the sample. We do not know what percentage of the samples that are taken are tested. The only ones we know about are the ones that turn up positive.
Dr. David McGrath:
When the Deputy says nobody hears about it, nobody in the public hears about it. Until recently the sample would go to Limerick and we would never know whether that sample was positive or negative. It is only for the past 18 months or 15 months that if a sample is positive, it is published on the IGB website under an adverse analytical finding. Prior to that, it did not have to be published. In fact, the control committee under its own rules only had to publish a positive finding as it saw fit; that was what was in its determinations. Even if it went to the control committee it did not have to be published. Publishing the adverse analytical findings is a welcome change and the control committee findings are also to be published.
Dr. McGrath made reference to an independent lab earlier. In the event that what he is suggesting happens and the new equipment is run presumably professionally, will there be any requirement for an independent lab outside the country?
Dr. David McGrath:
I have no issue with the people in Limerick and with them being professional. It is a question of whether they are allowed to do their job or not. That is really important. I am sure they are excellent at their job; they are technically excellent people I am sure. They have recently purchased new equipment. One of the major issues was that the previous equipment they had could not test for a particular type of anabolic steroid, oil-based stanozolol. Certain samples that went to Limerick could be found negative because they could not be tested for the steroid.
Irish dogs were going to England to run in big competitions, particularly the English Derby and were failing the test for stanozolol, which was very disquieting in Ireland. People were running their dogs in big competitions on Saturday night in Shelbourne Park against these dogs and then those dogs were going to run in England in the English Derby. They were passing their tests when running in Shelbourne Park on a Saturday night, and then going to Wimbledon and failing. That did not inspire confidence in the industry here and led the GBGB to give a caveat emptorwarning to people to be wary about buying dogs from Ireland that were testing positive in the UK while testing negative at home.
Dr. David McGrath:
There is not really enough information in the heads of the Bill about that issue. The lab, like any lab, will need to be continually upgraded. Whether it is meldonium or any other drug, there is always a race to stay ahead of the testers. It depends on how the lab is funded in future. As it stands, I am sure it now has a state-of-the-art machine that, if it is allowed to do its work and the technicians are allowed to do their work, will be adequate. Obviously, it will need to be upgraded as things go on.
Ms Eilis McCann:
At the moment the opportunity arises to have a split. In other words the steward taking the sample takes away sample A and the owner or trainer can ask for and get sample B.
In other words, that sample is split so that if an individual is not happy with the result he or she can seek to have sample B independently tested. That is the current position. It is up to the individual to source a laboratory to carry out the test. If the individual does not want the B sample to be tested in Limerick it could be, perhaps, tested in Newmarket or the Irish Equine Centre. There may well be more test centres than that but I am not sure because I have never requested a B sample when testing myself. Dr. McGrath might like to comment on that issue.
Dr. David McGrath:
It was announced with big fanfare that the machine had been purchased. I do not know if it has been commissioned. That has not been announced. I do not think that it has been commissioned and is up and running. What has been suggested, in theory, would be a good idea. It may not have been in place because obviously if samples up to recently had been sent to Newmarket and Limerick there would have been two different results in certain dogs. There is no doubt about that.
The primary focus of the Bill and Greyhound Racing Integrity Ireland is restoration of integrity. Even if we are seen to be going overboard in terms of what we are trying to do I believe it is the appropriate thing to do. Whatever needs to be done needs to done soon. Following enactment and implementation of this legislation a line will be drawn in the sand and we will be able to move on from all of the nonsense we have had up to now. If there is need for a higher percentage of testing, with a set percentage of tests being sent to different laboratories to ensure integrity in the process, then that should be done. However, providing for that in legislation will be a challenge. It can be difficult to ensure we do not provide in legislation measures that are difficult to implement. We will need to tease out this issue further before we can move forward.
Ms Eilis McCann:
The red flag proposal was put forward at our most recent meeting. The proposal is that a red flag would appear beside a trainer's name when a greyhound tests positive for cocaine, stanozolol or any other banned substance and that it would remain there until such time as the greyhound tests negative. That is my understanding of it.
Dr. David McGrath:
It could be applied to stud dogs and brood bitches. The stud dog business is at the core of the industry. It is important for all of us breeding dogs that we have confidence that a dog's performance on the track is real as opposed to enhanced. If all stud dogs had to undergo hair follicle testing before they were licensed to go to stud that would be a real boost to the integrity of that side of the industry. I do not know how anyone could find issue with that. It would be another red flag issue. In my view, if a dog tests positive for stanozolol it should not be allowed to go to stud in this country.
It was stated earlier that the GRII is concerned that the current board is compromised because it is not adhering to its own rules. In that regard, is it being suggested that the current board should be replaced?
Dr. David McGrath:
We have not made any recommendations. In terms of the board being compromised, what we are saying is that it is important that the board lead from the top in terms of integrity. In that regard, the Greyhound Act 1957 sets out rules that the board must follow but it has not been doing that in a number of situations, be that in regard to the length of time people have served on the board or the number of sessions people have served on the board and so on. If the board itself is not implementing the Greyhound Act 1957 then it is difficult for it to police that Act. Another big issue in terms of that Act is separation of the operation side of the industry from the integrity side. In terms of horse racing, there are two separate organisations in the form of Horse Racing Ireland and The Turf Club. There is a glaring anomaly in one of the heads of the Bill in relation to the definition of "club". Head 15 deals with investigations by Greyhound Racing Ireland. It provides that where Greyhound Racing Ireland considers that there are matters of concern to the club it may notify such matters to the club. That, to me, appears to be a provision lifted from measures related to Horse Racing Ireland or The Turf Club. It is similar to the dual control system in the UK. I do not understand how it came to be included in this Bill because as far as I am aware there is no club in this area.
Dr. David McGrath:
Yes, it works well for Horse Racing Ireland and The Turf Club. One body is responsible for the day-to-day running of the industry and the other is responsible for the regulation and that works very well. The provision I referred to earlier appears to me to be reflective of what happens in the horse racing industry. Obviously, that would be far better than having people being judge and jury in particular situations.
That is an obvious question for the Department officials when they appear before the committee again during the final stages of our scrutiny of this legislation.
It was mentioned that stakeholders can no longer engage with Ms Forde other than through the forum process. Is that the only means by which stakeholders can engage with her?
Dr. David McGrath:
There have been three and they have been reasonably effective in terms of communication. The agenda has been driven by the board for the first couple of fora. No agenda was issued prior to any of the fora, rather it was laid out on the day. I think we did have an agenda for the third forum. The attendance of the Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, at the last forum gave the the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation, IGOBF, Greyhound Racing Integrity Ireland, GRII, and other stakeholders a chance to communicate directly with the Minister, which was very helpful to us and, I think, the Minister of State.
He stayed for two and a half hours at that forum. I am not saying the forum is hopeless but much more face-to-face contact is needed for getting business done or going into any kind of detail, such as we are able to do here with the committee. Ms Forde was instrumental in driving Professor Morris to issue the Morris report. We were very involved in that report. We were interviewed for four hours in Limerick and had a lot of input into his evidence prior to him writing the report. About 15 months ago, we were here at the launch of the committee's report on the horse and greyhound industries. It was very disheartening for us that the Morris report was never actually published, although it was referenced in the committee's report. At the launch, we asked the Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle if the committee had actually seen the Morris report. It had never been shown to the committee even though it was referenced in its report. To his credit, Deputy Doyle gave an undertaking that he would put the Morris report into the Houses of the Oireachtas Library. A few weeks later he was given ministerial responsibility for greyhounds and he went ahead and published the Morris report. It was very helpful for all those who are involved in the welfare and integrity of greyhounds. The Morris report is an extremely detailed, excellent piece of work.
Just to clarify, this is the successor committee. The previous committee issued the report. To my information, the Morris report was not published at the time the committee here was doing its business. I am open to correction on that point. That is my understanding as to why it was referenced rather than being specifically addressed. Since then, the committee members have received copies of the Morris report but that was only in the past few months, as far as I remember.
Dr. David McGrath:
I think the reference was that the board had sent a memo to the committee, but the committee had not seen the report. The reference in the committee's report also stated, I think, that the committee fully supported the findings of the Morris report and that it would support its implementation. That was without ever seeing the Morris report. That is why the question was brought up at the time.
In respect of the sanctions for doping and the issues that have come up in that regard, is there a bit of contradiction in looking for a red flag to appear beside the names on the race card for owners whose dogs test positive for cocaine or steroids? Surely if they test positive they should not be on the race card at all. My understanding was that the witnesses wanted a complete ban.
I think there was a suggestion, though, about the division of responsibility. We should not shy away from that issue even though it might slow down the Bill. It might well turn out to be the biggest improvement brought about by the Bill.
Dr. David McGrath:
In one section about the functions of the authorised officers, it was not clear to us whether the authorised officers are currently the control stewards employed by the board or coursing club, or a new group more like a flying squad. They have very extensive powers. Our view has always been that the testing should really be one separate issue. At the moment, the control stewards are doing a wonderful job. Most of them are doing their best to try to police the situation. It is very difficult. They could be at Ms McCann's house in the afternoon marking up her pups and having a cup of tea, and then in the evening they could be testing samples on her dogs. That is a very difficult position for them to be in. It seems much more appropriate to have teams that just do the testing and leave the control stewards to manage the control of the industry.
Ms Eilis McCann:
I have been a breeder all my life, as were my late parents individually and together. A breeder is with a bitch seven days a week and knows her inside out. For some bitches, two litters are nearly enough for them, while others could very easily go on to have nine litters, be as young and fresh delivering the ninth litter as the first, and rear the pups perfectly well. Personally, I have to say I think nine litters are too many. I do not know what Dr. McGrath or Ms Paula Hoban would think. Can a bitch really put her all into a ninth litter? I do not know.
Dr. David McGrath:
I think Ms McCann is right. I do not think it is really an issue with greyhound breeders. I cannot imagine how many bitches in the country breed nine litters. The vast majority of bitches breed zero litters and the majority of those that breed have three litters or less, I would say. This is probably coming to the greyhound domain from other areas of dog breeding. I do not think it is an issue. I would be very interested to know from the Irish Coursing Club how many greyhound bitches actually bred an eighth or ninth litter last year. I imagine it would be in the single figures.
Dr. David McGrath:
There was a question about traceability. This falls into that area. Greyhounds are the most traceable dogs in the country. Every greyhound has a microchip, an ear tattoo and an identity card. There is no comparison with a dog in the street or in somebody's house. The greyhounds are getting a bit caught up in the discussion of pet dog breeding issues. A Sunday newspaper recently stated that some greyhound breeders in Ireland have 500 breeding bitches. What was all that about? That was in one of the main Sunday newspapers. It was an article about puppy farms, which have nothing to do with greyhounds. It does not represent what is happening on the ground.
Dr. David McGrath:
In terms of those prohibited substances, it might be appropriate for the IGB to refer those cases on to the authorities for investigation. A dog that tests positive for cocaine did not lick it up in the street. How did that cocaine get into the possession of the person who gave it to the dog? That information is already being passed on to the Garda and the Department of Agriculture.
Ms Eilis McCann:
That is right. Say, for example, that a supermarket or agricultural co-op sponsors a stake starting Thursday night in Enniscorthy for 24 greyhounds, with a winners' pool of €2,650. Say there is a greyhound entered that falls within the grades of A3 or A4, and is no better than A2 grade. It could do its very best and maybe just barely qualify in the first two rounds. It might win the semi-final and get €50. It would go on into the final but might then only get €40 for being unplaced. The people we represent might have a couple of greyhounds in training and may be a brood bitch. Then again, after the last few years, fewer of them would have a brood bitch. If the prize money was stepped up so that the heat winners got €100 and dogs unplaced in the final got €75 or €80, it would keep the wheels turning and the show on the road for another week or two. It has been pointed out to us that the €50 does not cover a whole lot nowadays with microchipping and everything that has been introduced in the last few years. We are not finding fault with microchipping; it is definitely good. It is the law now and we abide by it. However, it all incurs expense on the average owner. That was our point.
As there are no further questions, that completes our business. I thank the witnesses for coming before the committee today and thank them for their presentations. If they think any amendments may be required, they can send them along to the committee. We will continue to deal with this Bill over the next couple of weeks. Next week Sports Ireland will be here and the week after that we will have the Irish Greyhound Board in. After that the Department officials will be back to summarise and answer any queries. Then we will finish with the Bill and will send it on to the Minister for publication and so on.