Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 23 May 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
General Scheme of Greyhound Industry Bill 2017: Discussion (Resumed)
Before we begin, I remind members and witnesses to make sure their mobile phones are completely turned off as they affect the broadcasting system.
We are here to discuss the pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the greyhound industry Bill 2017. I welcome from Sport Ireland Dr. Una May, director of participation and ethics, and thank her for coming before the committee to discuss the heads of the Bill and issues relevant to this area. I thank her also for her written submission, which members have been examining for the past while.
I wish to bring to the attention of the witness that witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, 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 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 now ask Dr. May to make her opening statement, after which I will take questions from the members.
Dr. Una May:
I thank the Chairman and the committee for the opportunity to speak with them this afternoon. As indicated, I am the director of participation and ethics in Sport Ireland, a role which encompasses anti-doping. I am an independent observer on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA; a former board member of the Association of National Anti-Doping Organisations; and a current member of the Management of Intelligence and Drugs Action in Sport, MIDAS, committee, which examines anti-doping in animal sports. Ireland previously held a position on the WADA foundation board as the EU representative, during which time I acted as an adviser to the then Minister on anti-doping.
Sport Ireland was established under the Sport Ireland Act 2015 and is the single statutory agency responsible for the development of sport in Ireland, including performance, participation, high performance, the National Sports Campus, etc. Under the Sport Ireland Act, Sport Ireland's functions regarding anti-doping include the provision of guidelines and information regarding anti-doping and fair play in general, good conduct and best practice in sport. We also have responsibility to take such action as Sport Ireland considers appropriate, including testing, to combat doping in sport. We are responsible for the provision of education and information to athletes and other people in the field of anti-doping. We are also identified in our capacity as the national anti-doping organisation in Ireland to direct the collection of samples, manage the testing and test results of samples and attend hearings, as required. The significant priority given to anti-doping work by Sport Ireland is recognised through a full section of the Act dedicated to strengthening the anti-doping programme. Sport Ireland has been clearly designated as the national anti-doping organisation in Ireland and the Irish anti-doping rules have been enshrined in this legislation. Data-sharing powers have been enhanced between key State regulatory authorities and other appropriate anti-doping organisations. Sport Ireland collaborates closely with the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations, the Health Products Regulatory Authority, the Revenue Commissioners, An Garda Síochána and the Medical Council in the area of information-sharing. Ireland has ratified the Council of Europe's Anti-Doping Convention, the main objective of which is to promote the national and international harmonisation of the measures to be taken against doping. More recently, Ireland also ratified the UNESCO International Convention against Doping in Sport, which effectively binds the Government to the implementation of a fully functioning national anti-doping programme which complies with all the relevant articles of the WADA code.
WADA was established in 1999 as an international independent agency composed and funded equally by the sports movement and governments of the world. Its key activities include scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities, and monitoring of the World Anti-Doping Code and its implementation. The core of any anti-doping programme is the rules under which it operates, and the WADA code serves as the basis for all anti-doping programmes worldwide. Under the definitions of the code, Sport Ireland acts as the national anti-doping organisation for Ireland and is therefore responsible for implementing the requirements of the WADA code and international standards for sport in Ireland. To this end, the Sports Council produced the 2004, 2009 and, most recently, 2015 Irish anti-doping rules, which bring into force the WADA code in Irish sport.
In October 2015, the inaugural meeting of MIDAS took place at the offices of the Irish Turf Club at the Curragh. The symposium was attended by senior level executives from Horse Sport Ireland, the Irish Greyhound Board, the Irish Turf Club and the investigations division of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I joined this group immediately after the meeting. It was suggested at the meeting that it would be appropriate that I join the group, so I am now part of it. I have seen this as a positive step towards a unified approach in the regulation of doping and medication controls for horse and greyhound sports working with drugs enforcement authorities in Ireland.
A discussion on the undoubted benefits of information-sharing for animal sports investigations was led by the MIDAS group at a special session at the recent Tackling Doping in Sport conference in London, the world's largest independent anti-doping conference, which was attended by representatives of Sport Ireland. During the session, which included presentations by the Irish Greyhound Board, the Turf Club and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, examples of successful prosecutions in the wake of the formation of MIDAS were highlighted.
Strong feedback was provided afterwards to the group that it was a well-received session.
Sport Ireland was asked to provide feedback on the draft general scheme of the greyhound industry Bill 2017. My comments on the draft Bill are to be taken not in the context of greyhound racing on which I declare have no expertise, but in the broader human anti-doping context of our own legislation and advice that I can give on our experiences from human anti-doping.
The following are the key highlighted issues that we felt were relevant in terms of feedback. First and foremost among these is the level of detail in the Act. In our first Act, the Irish Sports Council Act 1999, we had a broad statement that we could take what action we considered appropriate to combat doping in sport, and that was it. That was empowering and allowed us to develop a strong programme, but we felt we needed to strengthen it by recognising the Irish anti-doping rules and the status of Sport Ireland as the national anti-doping organisation. What was important to us was the fact that the Irish anti-doping rules were taken as gospel in relation to anti-doping in Ireland. We ensured that the detail was not in the legislation. We have taken the detail out and placed the operational and procedural information within the Irish anti-doping rules. Incorporating that level of detail creates a risk, in that anti-doping is a fast-moving area. We have experience of where our international colleagues got into trouble in that they have not been able to update their regulations and legislation quickly enough to deal with changes in circumstances internationally.
Strict liability is another area on which we rely heavily. Basically, the presence of a substance is an offence and there is no room for manoeuvre around that. Therefore, the sanction on an athlete is based on the presence of that substance. There is a potential opportunity for the athlete to reduce the sanction in various circumstances but, ultimately, the sanction is based on strict liability and there is no moving from that. It makes it much more straightforward and much more easily enforced.
In regard to the racing sanctions, although there is a section around racing sanctions, our recommendation would be that it would be more straightforward if, within secondary legislation, there was clearer information as what offence would relate to what level of sanction, so that there is less room for manoeuvre for a disciplinary panel. This aligns itself with article 16 of the world anti-doping code. Although the vast majority of the code has been developed as a set of harmonised regulations around anti-doping in humans, there is an article entitled, Doping Control For Animals Competing in Sport. The article guides the international federations for any sport to develop rules and regulations. Clearly, that is not straightforward in the case of greyhound racing. I am not aware that there is an international federation and that creates some challenges. We would recommend that the Act would align itself with the principles of this article in the code, given that we signed up to the UNESCO convention which obliges us to enforce it. While, strictly speaking, we will not be in a position to enforce it because it is a recommendation for international federations, we would recommend the principles identified in that and best practice would be to consider them in the Act.
Finally, the current draft makes no reference to investigations and intelligence and the potential for information sharing as a result. Certainly, my experience of being on the MIDAS group is that this is an area which has been strong for greyhound racing and the Turf Club in terms of the potential to achieve high success in the area of anti-doping with the co-operation of the various enforcement areas as well as the national governing bodies of sport.
As I outlined previously, Sport Ireland, previously the Irish Sports Council, has extensive experience in the field of human anti-doping, both at a national and international levels. While the subjects of this draft legislation are different from ours, the core principle of protecting the integrity of the activity against the threat of doping are the same. I hope the issues highlighted, both in our submission and in evidence today, will assist with the development of a robust framework which will protect those who participate in greyhound racing in a fair and clean manner.
I thank the Chairman and the committee for giving me the opportunity to appear and I would welcome any questions.
I thank Dr. May for her presentation.
This part of the proposed Bill will be hugely important. There is a significant public perception that the greyhound industry has problems in regard to the doping of greyhounds and the detection of same. I am a greyhound owner and I am involved in the greyhound industry.
Dr. May recommended strict liability. Listening to her presentation, there was no mention of a tolerance level for products. In much of the current testing, the percentage being found with a prohibited substance is small but trainers whose dogs have been found with those prohibited substances in the past 18 months to two years are adamant that it is as a result of the feed the dog is getting. They say the small residue showing up in the doping tests is not any deliberate attempt to dope the dog.
Senator Paul Daly would be much more aware of the regulations and controls with horses. In the past, horses have lost races because of a small amount of a prohibited substance being found in the sample and it clearly indicated that it was as a result of feed being given or something being administered within the prescribed time. The horse might not have raced for a month after getting a certain antibiotic substance, but a residue still showed up in the test. How can we cater for that, where a person is abiding by the rules but a small level of a prohibitive substance still shows up in the test? It is essential for the industry that we get it right.
I noted in the documentation for the meeting today that the Irish Coursing Club will not make a submission to, or appear before, the committee. That is very disappointing. There are two elements to this, the coursing industry and the track industry, and both of them must get this right.
Coursing takes place in fields in numerous venues round the country. Every weekend during the winter, there could be seven or eight coursing meetings. How can we ensure proper standards apply? It is not a controlled environment, such as a racecourse where one can have professional staff present and ensure there is a security guard when the horse enters the after-race parade ring or whatever. How will we ensure that in a field in the countryside the regulations will be adhered to?
There was a court case a number of years ago resulting from derby final night where a trainer maintained that someone else got at his dog before the race and there was a lengthy legal battle between Bord na gCon and the greyhound trainer. How will we include all that in a Bill - for example, ensuring a dog is kennelled an hour before a race so that no one has access to it? Many of those things have to be tightened up. The proposed Bill has to cover all of those eventualities. If someone is found with a level of substance, I agree fully there has to be strict liability. However, in the much-publicised case to which I referred, Bord na gCon was left with a hefty legal bill and there were major questions about our industry. There were huge question marks hanging over the performance of one dog in the derby final, which is the premier race in the calendar. That, obviously, attracted significant public attention. The public is waiting for this proposed Bill to ensure that in both coursing and dog racing, doping neither happening nor tolerated.
Dr. May questioned there being too much detail in the Bill. To me, that is why the detail is in there. It is the cornerstone of the Bill. We have to rebuild public confidence that this industry is being run on a strict basis and that there is no doping either in coursing or on the track. Whether it is animal welfare or whatever, there is a lot of public money going into this industry. The doping of dogs is not acceptable.
There are a lot of things to get right in this Bill. First, we need to ensure that if someone is found to be breaking the rules, the Bill is strong enough to ensure the proper punishment is administered. Second, many of the events happen in fields around the countryside. How can we ensure the proper standards and supervision is in place and that we do not get a case where someone claims he or she did not administer anything to the dog, someone else must have, and that he or she can then renege on his or her responsibility. The owner of the dog has to bear ultimate responsibility but also the Irish Coursing Club and Bord na gCon have a responsibility to ensure there is a certain amount of protection for competing dogs. This is the essential part. That is not say the rest of the Bill is not important. It is, and the other heads in the Bill are very important, but for the sake of the perception of our industry by the public we must ensure that when this Bill passes through into legislation, we can look everyone square in the eye and say there is no way a dog can run now, whether doped for enhanced performance or for lack of performance, which can also happen, either on the coursing field or the track. We would fail in our duty as legislators if this Bill did not stand up to that scrutiny.
I thank Dr. May for her contribution. I have to go to the Dáil for a parliamentary question so I may not be here for the response, but I will get it from the record, so apologies in advance.
I was interested in Dr. May's remarks that the general scheme contains significantly more detailed information than she believes is required and how that would impact on the rapidly changing area and ability of the Legislature to respond or being obliged to respond by changing primary legislation at a future date. This may be in her wider submission on the Bill, and if it is, I apologise as I have not read it yet. Which sections of the Bill does she feel are too detailed? What changes does she recommend regarding that detail to better streamline the Bill? It would be important we do not have to rely on amending primary legislation if circumstances change in the whole arrangement for dealing with doping.
Dr. May says that the application of the concept of strict liability should be the starting point. I presume it would then be possible by secondary legislation to minimise penalties in a case where, for example, the outcome was due to feed. I presume that is how that would be dealt with.
How could article 16 of the WADA code be reflected in legislation here when there is no international body? Could we set it up in such a way that the national body would be the body which would set the regulations? Would that be feasible in terms of the Bill?
Head 14 of the Bill proposes to decriminalise doping sanctions within the legislation. Does Dr. May have a view on whether this is sensible?
Dr. Una May:
On Deputy Cahill's question on contamination, it is an area with which we have a huge problem. We have an issue in relation to the use of supplement and it is a massive multi-million pound and euro industry. Athletes are all tempted to use supplements and we see it across the world. The International Olympic Committee has issued a statement in recent weeks about the extent of the problem. However, by having a strict liability, it means that the presence of a substance remains an offence and that an athlete is answerable to the allegation that there is a prohibited substance. He or she then has the opportunity to explain and justify how that substance got into his or her system, and that is where the issue around the contamination comes in. We have a whole section in the Irish anti-doping rules and also under the world anti-doping code around dealing with and managing situations around contaminated supplements. It would be a similar situation to where the substance is still present and it is up to the individual to explain how the substance got there. It means that, to avoid that first port of call where the person says it was not his or her fault, he or she did not do it or it was someone else, the person answerable in some shape or form. The opportunity is there to reduce the sanction if the person can justify it and there are reductions specifically relating to contaminated substances, but the person has to prove that he or she has taken appropriate actions to try to reduce the risks. He or she has to prove risk minimisation strategies, that he or she did not purchase a substance from an non-reputable source, and that the person did a reasonable Internet search to make sure the contents of the substance were checked out in advance. The person has certain criteria he or she has to meet to prove he or she took all appropriate actions to avoid the possibility of that sort of contamination. That is how we deal with it on the human side.
With respect, I accept what Dr. May is saying, but it is hard to protect the reputation of an industry if people are found with a prohibited substance and come back a month later and say it was under the tolerance level.
Dr. Una May:
We do not refer to them as tolerance levels. There are minimum reporting thresholds for some substances, so therefore it will not be reported if it is below a certain threshold. Once it is reported, the substance must be explained. However, that is for a very small number of substances for which there are small reporting thresholds.
The coursing environment is unique to an extent but it is not entirely unique in that we regulate events such as mountain biking, orienteering and many activities that are not in the controlled environment of an arena, as such. It is similar enough. There are definitely extra challenges when one is not in an enclosed and secure environment. I cannot answer for the situation because I am not particularly familiar with the issues there.
Deputy Pringle asked about the level of detail. An example is the experiences of the Spanish anti-doping agency which recently lost its compliance with the world anti-doping code. Spain's laboratory lost its accreditation and suffered fairly serious reputational damage because it was not in a position to update its regulations to the latest version of the code because it required a change in legislation and no government was in office at the time. They were caught between a rock and a hard place, they could not change their legislation and lost their accreditation as a result. That was an example. Where new substances come out, new issues arise. For instance, meldonium was the product that Maria Sharapova was found guilty of taking. If one has to change the legislation to identify new substances when they come out, that creates a challenge. What we have done is we have removed all the detail on behalf of the Irish anti-doping rules which cover everything from the application of the rules, the definition of doping, the prohibited list, how we get medical exemptions for athletes who require medication for one reason or another, and the standards for testing, analysis of samples, results management, sanctions, appeals, reporting and public disclosure. All that detail is in the Irish anti-doping rules and what the Act does is recognise those rules as the official rules and recognise them as being compliant with the world anti-doping code. That gives us the extra support because of the code, which is not as straightforward in this case because there is no international body.
We go through a fair bit of external scrutiny. The Council of Europe carried out a monitoring visit to see whether we were compliant with its requirements. We fill out regular compliance questionnaires for the Council of Europe, UNESCO, and the world anti-doping agencies. I hope I have answered the question on strict liability.
With regard to article 16, it is more whether its principles can be recognised in some way. I do not know the correct legal terminology but it could state that where appropriate the rules of the Irish Greyhound Board would comply in principle with article 16 of the code. We could have something very general. I am afraid I am not familiar with the decriminalisation issue. A number of countries have criminalised doping, including France and Italy, and people can go to jail for it. We did not go this far in our legislation. We felt it was a step too far. Where there are serious issues we hope the various pieces of enforcement legislation, including the medicines Act, on which the Garda rely would help us.
The new code speaks about athlete support personnel, so people around the athlete, including coaches and trainers, and not just the athlete, are liable. They have a level of responsibility also where they might be administering a substance to an athlete. From our point of view, there are sanctions in sport and probably outside sport also.
Some of the issues I was going to raise have already been dealt with. Dr. May has worked with the Government and advised it in the past. What degree of consultation and engagement has she had with the Department on the valid issues she is raising. The Oireachtas collectively wants to ensure the greyhound industry gets a clean bill of health, that we reform it and restore confidence in it for many reasons, and whatever legislation is introduced at the end of this process needs to achieve this goal. Finding the best way to do this will be very important. Has Dr. May engaged with the Department? What was its response to the issues she has raised? Is today the first chance she has had to engage in the process?
I thank Dr. May for her report. As Senator Mac Lochlainn said, the issues I wish to raise have been covered in the course of the meeting. How proficient or efficient as a body is Sport Ireland, or are we, as a society, staying ahead of the posse? The point is often made that the science brains of the world are on the other side of the fence in this regard, continually trying to stay ahead of the tests, avoiding traceability and developing new products. How efficient or proficient does Dr. May believe her side of the fence is in detecting new products? We have seen in human sport the history of cycling over the past 20 years. The scientists and doctors on the cycling side as opposed to the anti-doping side were way ahead of their counterparts. Where does Dr May feel we are on this issue? There is a list of products, which everybody knows and which are easy to identify, but it is a moving pitch and new products are always being developed by those people who benefit most from them, in black-market scenarios all of the time. How efficient or proficient is Sport Ireland with regard to the traceability of new elements? How proficient or efficient does Dr. May believe legislators are in providing her with the legislation she requires if and when such situations arise? Is there a protocol when new stimulants or drugs are identified? Related to this, are the lines of communication to all sectors efficient enough, and to greyhound racing in particular as this is the sector we are discussing, with regard to informing them of developments and changes in Sport Ireland's attitude towards substances on an ongoing basis?
Our trainers state that tests are failed because of imported feed. Feed came in from the United States and the trainers have said this has resulted in many of the positive tests in the past 18 months to two years. If a trainer gets feed from a reputable company, what is contained in the feed is outside his or her control. How will we address this? Bord na gCon will come before the committee next week and it will give us figures. My knowledge is approximately 75% to 80% of failed tests in the past two years have been attributed to imported feed. I accept that Dr. May's guidelines and expertise are on the human side of doping. In this case, feed came from the United States and then dogs failed a doping test, and once people are explaining they are losing. Given the source of the feed is from outside the country, how can we ensure no prohibited substance is finding its way into it?
Dr. Una May:
With regard to Senator Daly's queries on whether we are winning the battle, we recognise there will never be a day when anti-doping is not required because athletes will always find new ways in which to carry out doping, but we have progressed a lot. Intelligence and investigation measures have come into the world anti-doping code more recently, along with working very closely with partners. For example, WADA has partnered with the pharmaceutical industry so when new products are being researched and developed the pharmaceutical industry works with it to let it know if something could be abused. This is before it ever comes on the market. We have gone a long way towards people providing us with information. One of the biggest cases in the US, in which Marion Jones was implicated, resulted from an athlete or coach providing information to a laboratory. A syringe was found, which the laboratory analysed and it established the new substance. More recently, there has been a very strong element of information sharing and intelligence.
The Management of Intelligence and Drugs Action in Sports, MIDAS, group is world-class in regard to its level of information sharing and expertise. It has greater expertise than we do in terms of investigators. My colleagues are in Lyon, at present, at a meeting with Interpol on information sharing with authorities around the world. When new substances appear often they are found by customs, which might look for advice as to what it is. Particularly in countries where doping is a criminal offence, athletes' hotel rooms are searched, and it tends to be in the case of cycling, for example, that substances are found and the authorities realise it may be something new which we need to look at. It is through investigations, intelligence and information sharing that we get on top of many of the developments. A significant amount of funding is put into research for new detection methods, which also helps.
With regard to how we update the prohibited list there is an annual process. There is also the option to add something new by emergency, if it is very clear that it is a doping substance, clear that it is being heavily abused, and clear that it can be added immediately. On the whole, the process involves consultation with all the international stakeholders throughout the first six months of the year. In September, the new list is put before WADA's committees where it is signed off, and it then comes into force the following year. Each year the list is updated with the most recent versions of substances.
The other reason we manage to not have to change it more often than annually is the substances are generally described in scientific terms as a product or substance and related compounds.
It is a general scientific term which allows for things that are similar. If it is a tweak in a molecule or something, it will still fall under the definition of "prohibited substance".
In terms of the lines of communication within the sector, the Midas group is an example of world class best practice. Its presentation in London was very well received. I am not aware of any other country where there is that level of co-operation between the different sectors to ensure that the issue is dealt with appropriately. It may be about the communication of that kind of thing. Getting out there and presenting at a conference goes a long way towards communicating the strength of that relationship. I spoke today with my colleague in Germany where the human anti-doping agency is also responsible for testing in the Olympic equestrian sports. However, it only covers those equestrian sports which are in the Olympics and does not test in respect of horse racing, for example. I do not think they have a greyhound racing industry. Certainly, I am not familiar with it. It is those kinds of connections. They have found it to be quite strong and developed regulations. That goes a long way towards making it reputable when there is a connection with an existing authority with a reputation already. That is why connecting it to the world anti-doping code would help to strengthen it reputationally. It would prove that there was no question of trying to create new rules. It is recognising the principles of a well-established system that has been in place for a long time.
In relation to the imported feed, the best opportunity for athletes to protect themselves is to buy from those supplement providers who are willing to pay to protect their own product by having it batch tested. Therefore, athletes should only purchase the batch-tested version of the product. That is to protect the reputation of the company itself because it can be named and implicated where a case comes in. Its reputation would be tarnished if it was found to have contaminated supplements. That is the best way for athletes to deal with that. The difficulty from our point of view is that there are athletes who purchase things which are clearly not reputable. Even the way they are described is a bit of a giveaway. When something is described as being a "testo-boost", it is a hint as to its reputability. That is what we advise athletes and it is how the system protects them.
The doping aspect of the Bill is hugely important. We should bring in the person who deals with this in Horse Racing Ireland to discuss the level of testing it does and the way it supervises competing animals. How does it deal with tolerances and is there a tolerance level? By way of background to the two industries, I note that there is full confidence in how Horse Racing Ireland operates its system. If we could have someone attend to outline how it has established a system over time in which there is full public confidence, it would be useful. If there is something we could learn from that, it would strengthen the Bill for the greyhound industry.
It is the level of testing it does and the way it supervises the animals post-race and pre-race. There is full public confidence in Horse Racing Ireland's testing but we do not have the same confidence in the greyhound industry. That is where we want to get to.
We can follow that up. I thank Dr. May for coming before the committee. Her presentation and submissions here today will form part of a report that will go to the Department in advance of the Bill being published. It has been a very useful contribution.