Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 30 May 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
General Scheme of the Greyhound Industry Bill 2017: Discussion (Resumed)
Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and those in the Gallery to ensure that their mobile phones are completely turned off as they affect the broadcasting system.
The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Greyhound Industry Bill 2017. I welcome members from the Irish Greyhound Board, Mr. Phil Meaney, chairman, Dr. Seán Brady, interim chief executive, Mr. Pat Herbert, head of regulation, Mr. Barry Coleman, welfare and racing operations support manager, and Mr. Frank Nyhan and Dr. Colm Gaynor, board members. Mr. Joe Lewins is also present in the Gallery. I thank the members of the board for coming before the committee to discuss the heads of the Bill.
I wish to bring to the attention of our guests 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 House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Mr. Meaney to deliver his opening statement.
Mr. Phil Meaney:
I thank the Chairman. The Irish Greyhound Board, IGB, Bord na gCon, is pleased to meet the committee today as part of the process of pre-legislative scrutiny of the Greyhound Industry Bill 2017. We welcome the fact a new industry Bill is under discussion. With the best will in the world, I do not believe any Bill enacted in 1958 can be fit for purpose. The work of the Bill is timely as it coincides with significant work which has been and is being undertaken by members of the board who have successful backgrounds in finance, regulation, veterinary medicine and law. The executive and all the directors will continue to work as hard as they can to oversee this important industry.
We face a huge task not only to change the business model for the industry radically but also to manage extremely high levels of inherited debt that have inhibited the IGB’s capacity to implement many of the things it would wish to do. We are confident that the proposed sale of the stadium at Harold’s Cross will be a seminal moment for the IGB. It will allow investment in the industry on a phased and planned basis for the first time in many years for the benefit of all stakeholders. The greyhound industry has an important economic dimension and employs several thousand people, both directly and indirectly. The industry and sport are part of the national fabric, with a presence in virtually every county in the country. The Irish Greyhound Board licenses a total of 16 tracks, of which it owns nine. Seven tracks are privately owned and race under licence from the IGB.
It is true to say that the Indecon report published in 2014 has provided a pathway for the strategic direction of the industry which it was commissioned to examine in great detail. Indecon outlined 27 recommendations on regulation, governance, animal welfare and finance. We have implemented all the recommendations, save those that require the changes to primary legislation recommended in this Bill.
We have made significant progress in aligning with best international practice and the highest standards of compliance in racing regulation and integrity. I believe the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will confirm that the current board and executive have been very active in advocating change to the regulatory parameters within which we operate. The whole area of regulation and integrity is not a static space. It is fast evolving and all sports face challenges in this area. We are not the slightest bit sanguine about this, but I think that any fair assessment of the changes to regulations and other measures which are outlined in the brief sent to the committee ahead of this meeting would demonstrate that the Irish Greyhound Board is actively engaged in these areas and that a huge amount of work has been undertaken.
To support us in our work, the IGB has established a scientific committee on doping and medication control. Its task is to advise the IGB on scientific matters relating to doping and medication control in greyhounds on an ongoing basis. Bord na gCon has led the establishment of an operational regulatory stakeholder group on the management of intelligence and drugs action in sports to share best practice on rules, research and intelligence, in so far as is permitted within existing legislation. In this we work with Horse Racing Ireland, the Turf Club, the Irish Coursing Club, Sport Ireland, Horse Sport Ireland and the special investigations unit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
On animal welfare, I am sure we will have some opportunity to discuss the IGB’s proposal to develop a systematic and robust traceability system for track greyhounds, such as exists for bovine animals. This would enable the board to improve the welfare of greyhounds in general through better monitoring of life events, in particular life events for greyhounds that have finished their racing careers. Notwithstanding the fact the quality of care of greyhounds provided by owners and trainers is very high and should not be judged by the exceptions, a new traceability system would ensure better accountability by greyhound owners for greyhound welfare as well as giving the IGB the tools to identify problem areas and to impose sanctions based on empirical evidence.
Many parts of the draft Bill are technical and legal in nature and I cannot claim to be an expert in the matters to which they relate. However, I am happy to refer questions in that regard to other members of our group, including: Mr. Frank Nyhan and Dr. Colm Gaynor, two of our board members; our head of regulation, Mr. Pat Herbert; welfare manager, Mr. Barry Coleman; and our head of wagering, Mr. Joe Lewins. I am pleased that our interim chief executive, Dr. Seán Brady, is with us to offer the committee any assistance he can.
I will now take questions from members. We will take two at a time and then allow the witnesses to reply. I want to put on the record my association with Mr. Meaney in that I am a personal friend of his. I do not own a dog and have never been involved in the greyhound industry.
I welcome the witnesses. I am a director of a private greyhound track and am involved in greyhound ownership. The industry has attracted much adverse media attention in the past couple of months. Mr. Meaney mentioned the sale of Harold's Cross. When is that sale expected to be finalised? There are many issues and much disquiet in regard to the industry and its future. When will the board present a plan for where it envisages the industry going over the coming couple of years-----
Mr. Meaney mentioned the sale of Harold's Cross and that the sale would involve the partial implementation of some recommendations.
In regard to regulation and testing, there is a public perception that doping is widespread in the greyhound industry. An expert on doping gave evidence to the committee a week ago. What sanctions will be imposed against trainers and owners if greyhounds test positive? How will the board ensure that it can stand over any testing carried out and that tests will not be liable to legal challenge? How will it ensure that the person in charge of a dog which tests positive will bear the brunt of whatever sanctions it puts in place?
The industry has lost significant ground in terms of the public perception regarding regulation and doping. Mr. Meaney may quote figures in respect of the low percentage of positive tests. Those figures are correct but the public perception is completely different. A highly-publicised case on a major race night a couple of years ago led to a lengthy court case. The board was on the wrong side in that case. When this Bill is implemented, we must ensure that the tests carried out - at coursing events or race nights or in the context of sales - will be comprehensive and that the full rigours of the law will be brought to bear in respect of any positive results. If this is done, the public will recognise that an enforceable regime is in place and the industry can show a clean image to the world.
I appreciate that there is a very low level of doping at present. Trainers have alleged that some doping cases are due to contaminated food. How will that matter be addressed in the context of imported food? What can be done if a trainer says that a dog's positive test resulted from its regular diet and through no fault of his or hers?
There is a view that many of the transgressions of recent years have been the result of the feed given to the greyhounds. Will a level of tolerance apply in the context of doping? How will this issue be addressed to restore public confidence in the greyhound racing industry?
We also face an uphill battle as regards public perceptions of dog welfare in the industry. Bord na gCon has not made much money available for dog welfare in recent years. How much of the organisation's budget is it proposed to invest in this area? Can a country of this size cater for the significant number of dogs that retire every year? Representatives from Dogs Trust Ireland who appeared before the joint committee some weeks ago stated that their organisation is short on funds to look after dogs when they stop racing. Members of the public expect dogs that are retired from the sport to be looked after properly. What funding will be made available to ensure that this is the case?
On the sale and export of greyhounds, how is it proposed to ensure that countries to which dogs are exported implement the standards we expect? The public perception is that some dogs are exported to countries in which standards are not at an acceptable level. It is critical that this issue is addressed. The greyhound racing industry receives significant amounts of public money. We must ensure that the countries to which greyhounds are exported apply standards that are as good, if not better, than those which apply here.
Given that Bord na gCon is in favour of using microchips to facilitate lifelong tracking of greyhounds, does the organisation intend to introduce microchipping to enhance the welfare of dogs and improve the perception of the industry? If traceability were introduced, what sanction would Bord na gCon envisage or wish to be taken against owners, trainers or breeders whose dogs appear to be disappearing at the moment? Traceability and microchipping would enable Bord na gCon to identify that a dog had vanished from the face of the earth. What sanction should be introduced and what action will Bord na gCon take in such circumstances? Microchipping, traceability and the introduction of sanctions would give the greyhound racing industry a face-lift and no one disputes that it needs a shot in the arm. How would Bord na gCon use a traceability system to minimise or limit the export of dogs to jurisdictions where animal welfare standards lag far behind standards in Ireland?
Dr. Colm Gaynor:
Members asked a large number of questions. I hope I will answer them all, although I will leave questions on Harold's Cross stadium to one of my colleagues. Deputy Cahill asked us to indicate how bad we believed the public perception of the greyhound racing industry has become. He also raised the issue of sanctions and the tests that are carried out and asked how confident we were that this work is done well. He referred to trainers, doping and tolerance levels. I will deal with all these issues and the export of greyhounds, while one of my colleagues will deal with other aspects of welfare.
I will first deal with how the public perception of doping and medication control by the Irish Greyhound Board, as a sports regulatory body, will be improved. The Bill addresses a very important issue in this area. While the control committee is independent, there is a perception among some that it is not as independent as it could be because its members are appointed by the board.
This Bill will address that issue once and for all and put it in a truly independent place. That will give confidence to the disciplinary system.
The disciplinary system will be looking at an enhanced testing, doping and medication regime. The sanctions are set out in the Bill. I apologise that I do not remember the exact amount now but as I recall, there is a possibility of a sanction of several thousand euro. The tests will be taken and sent to the laboratory. The laboratory is accredited, approved and examined regularly by the requisite auditing body.
This Bill also provides, in statutory form, that the results of adverse analytical findings will be published in every case. Transparency and accuracy is what I would say will happen in that respect.
The Deputy's second question was about trainers. There is a belief that at least some of the positives are coming from feed. The last time the Deputy spoke on this, he specifically mentioned pentobarbitone. Pentobarbitone is a substance which, as he knows, is used to euthanise animals and, as such, should only end up in category 2 meat, not in category 3. My understanding is that the type of meal dog food and the like is made from should always be either produced in Europe or outside of Europe from meat which conforms to category 3 requirements. In theory at least, this should not be happening.
Pentobarbitone is an issue we are examining. We are anxious to try to track both the parent molecule and the metabolites in dogs. We have a trial going on for that purpose, looking both at urine and blood. We will know more about it then. It is an issue we have raised with our scientific advisory committee on doping and medication control which will examine the results of these tests to see what can be done. There is a bit of a mystery about the metabolite of pentobarbitone and why it appears. We will try to get to the bottom of that, but in the meantime, as the Deputy probably is well aware, in common with the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, GBGB, policy was adopted and changed earlier this year in which pentobarbitone was recognised as a feed contaminant as distinct from merely a prohibited substance. Work is ongoing and there is a solution there for the present.
Dr. Colm Gaynor:
I will move on to tolerance levels. The Deputy is right that for certain substances, particularly the residues of medical products used to treat greyhounds and also contaminants in food, which was mentioned, it is necessary to set limits. For the first time, this Bill will allow the board to set limits. The process for doing that is to take substances one by one through the scientific advisory committee and for it to do its necessary analysis on it and come forward with limits it believes do not affect the performance of a greyhound. That is the way we will address the tolerance levels. As that is done through a scientific committee of experts who have nothing to do with greyhounds but who have expert knowledge in all the areas required, it should address any public perception problems about how the levels are set and their accuracy.
I will deal with the export of greyhounds before I return to the question of welfare, which one of my colleagues will deal with on the rehoming costs etc. The Irish Greyhound Board, IGB, has repeatedly stated that it does not support the export of greyhounds to destinations which do not conform with our Animal Health and Welfare Act, Welfare of Greyhounds Act or the code of practice and standards. We recognise that there are proposals in the House that would achieve that objective. If they could be enacted, it would be a significant step forward and one we would welcome. However, we also realise that the proposed measure cannot be viewed in isolation and that there are other considerations which need to be taken into account. For a start, the rules on dog movement between member states of the European Union are set at a European level and not at a national level. Changes as proposed and as we would like, therefore, may have to be sponsored at a European level and not at a national level.
Members may know that the World Trade Organization does not envisage restrictions based on animal welfare concerns. This is a point of considerable annoyance to Europe, although they can have restrictions, but usually when it is at such a level that it offends public morality across Europe that barriers need to be put in place. We are not the only country with concerns about dog exports from Europe to countries that do not have our standards. There are practices that go on in other countries against all types of dogs that are appalling.
On a more positive note, we have proposals to greatly improve the traceability of greyhounds in order that we can track where they are and track a variety of life events to a much greater extent than those required under the current dog microchipping regulations. In that way we are trying to get a grip and make people who have dogs accountable for what happens to them in their post-racing life. Traceability has considerable advantages, although I am slipping into what Senator Paul Daly mentioned, because it has improved the people's confidence in what it does and in improving accountability in the other, particularly in the livestock and food area. Those are the areas I would deal with.
Senator Daly touched on one other aspect, my notes are difficult to read, I think it was about the traceability issue. We are very keen to see good traceability in place to give confidence to people and to give accountability for people who own greyhounds. We can address the problems he mentioned in that way.
I might leave the welfare matter.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
The other question that Senator Daly asked related to sanctions and what sanctions we would envisage imposing on people who were responsible for the ill-treatment of greyhounds. There is legislation, the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011, which provides sanctions. Under the new Bill head 20 appears to be where this would be addressed through exclusion orders for persons found to be in that position.
Deputy Cahill's point about welfare is well made. There is a perception that greyhound owners do not care for their dogs, which is not true and people who know greyhound owners know there is an empathy between dog owners and dogs. Nevertheless, it is accepted that not enough has been done on the welfare of greyhounds in the past and it is an area that must be addressed. It is this board's intention that all retired racing greyhounds would be retained or rehomed. It is the intention for it to happen to all greyhounds and that is what we aim towards. It would be foolish to expect that will happen immediately. It will take a plan and a large investment of money. At present, we are responsible for the rehoming of greyhounds and in the last recorded year, approximately 700 were rehomed from our own resources and we assisted in the rehoming of others. The intention in our strategic plan is that far more resources will be devoted towards greyhound welfare and specifically towards the area of rehoming. We have a problem in collecting statistics and information at the moment. It is very hard to work out exactly how many greyhounds require rehoming at any given time because we do not have precise records for dogs that have travelled to England or elsewhere or dogs that have been retained by their owners. Microchipping and the database that we suggest might be incorporated into the Act would give us that hard information and with that would come the responsibility of dealing with this problem. A commitment of this board is that welfare will be a highlight in the future. The new Bill envisages that we will be statutorily responsible for welfare. It is a responsibility that we would take seriously.
I thank the witnesses for their attendance today. Clearly, no illegal drugs, performance enhancing drugs or anabolic steroids should be allowed in any form in any of the industries, and today we are talking about the greyhound industry. What about strict liability? Look at Dr. Una May's observations to this committee about strict liability. The witnesses may or may not all be aware of this.
Strict liability is where something arises. It has to be accounted for, and once it is found it is the end of the matter. It can be accounted for by way of mitigation and there can be a lesser sanction. What is the witness's view on strict liability? Once something is present there is no room for manoeuvre. The presence of the substance is the offence.
There is the mitigation application. What is the witness's view on that?
The witness has indicated that the Bill is somewhat deficient. I am inclined to agree with that. There is a broader offence of bringing the industry into disrepute. I would like the witness to expand on that because it is an interesting concept. It is the omnibus offence in law. Unfortunately people are continually devising and developing ways of circumventing the strict rules and regulations which are laid down. They are statute based rather than administrative. I can see an opportunity here for an offence of such character that means that any person who engages in any activity that brings the sport of racing into disrepute should be liable to a significant sanction. I would like to hear the views of the witnesses on that. If there is a code of conduct or behaviour in an industry and if it is breached these offences become relevant.
We have spoken about full-time traceability, which is the cradle to the grave concept of traceability. A large amount of money has been spent investigating doping control procedures and integrity systems in Limerick. How is that operating? Is it operating to the extent that the industry does not have to resort to external systems? Does some of the sampling go to Britain? Samples are broken up, like the drink driving samples, which gives people the opportunity to take their own sample away and get it analysed. Does the industry still have to resort to external laboratories, or is the laboratory in place capable of doing all the testing? Will it be capable of doing all the testing, particularly when there is a wider ambit of offences which will now have to be accounted for? I understand that it has been operational for a few months. I do not know if it is under pressure now. What level of testing has gone on since it opened? What were the results? Why were the results not published? Are they published and are the various infractions set out? Those are all confidence building measures. Transparency is important in this context. Are they set out? What level of sanctions are available now, notwithstanding that they are not statutory based? Do the witnesses feel that this Bill, when enacted, will mean that testing procedures will have to be widened and increased and will laboratory equipment and personnel be needed for that? Will there be a significant cost to that? We are not dealing with the sale of Harold's Cross stadium here, but might some of the money realised in that sale be invested in an area like this, which is of critical importance to the integrity of racing? There are thousands of people out there who own, breed and care for greyhounds and enjoy the sport and look after the animals after their racing days.
We mentioned the number of litters from brood bitches.
Do the witnesses have any views on that? Should there be a maximum amount of litters allowed? This is important in terms of the welfare of the animal.
The ISPCA were before this committee and gave a very interesting presentation. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2013 they do not have a function in terms of greyhound racing establishments operated by the witnesses, or indeed greyhound breeding establishments under the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011. Can the witnesses see an amendment being made to this Bill which would allow the ISPCA to have a function? Permitting a reputable organisation to carry out and exercise their function would be an important protection. They are not currently permitted to visit a greyhound breeding establishment operated under the Irish Greyhound Board.
I thank the witnesses for their appearance today. Traceability is something which has been brought up by many witnesses in this committee, and I fully accept the commitment that the witnesses do not support or accept that people should be sending greyhounds to any country where their welfare is below the standards we have here. What sanction is there, or what concrete proposal exists to try to prevent that and ensure that it does not happen? Do the owners of greyhounds have a kennel licence? What system is in place? Is there something that can be taken away from them if it is found that they are in breach of regulations of that nature?
Deputy Penrose mentioned the laboratory in Limerick and how work has been done to improve its capabilities to find proscribed substances. How much has been spent on trying to establish that? Has the laboratory reached that capacity yet?
The integrity of the whole sport is another issue. I looked at the website of the Irish Greyhound Board and it details how it works closely with the British greyhound industry because there is so much cross-over. However, we find that the British greyhound industry was issuing diktats recently to say that dogs coming from Ireland could not be trusted because there were doping issues there. How does that work? The British greyhound industry has its rules of racing, which is a pretty heavy document. Does the Irish greyhound industry have a similar document, and does it come up to the same standards as the British industry?
Integrity is a human responsibility. It is not about the dog but the human beings who are managing the situation. From talking to people involved in greyhound racing, be they breeders or people who work on tracks all over the country, the Irish Greyhound Board has a huge trust problem. That needs to be recognised. There is a problem with the industry in that the people on the ground breeding dogs who want to get on with it and go racing and who have a stake in this industry feel betrayed by Bord na gCon due to many things that have happened in the last number of years. They have no confidence in the present board. That is an issue that the witnesses will have to deal with. While I respect that this is outside the remit of our discussion today, we have been asking for many months what is to be done about Bord na gCon. We were told that these issues should be raised when it came before this committee. I accept that this is outside what we are dealing with here today but at the same time it needs to be said and people need to be called out on it. We need to get answers on this issue, because there is no confidence within the industry in Bord na gCon.
We need to get answers in respect of this. There is no confidence among the Irish greyhound industry in Bord na gCon. The Harold’s Cross situation was just one reflection of that. While that is only a small bit of it, everywhere I go, I hear the same thing, whether it is about the greyhound tracks which are owned, part-owned or part-managed by Bord na gCon, about the maintenance of those tracks, the people who are employed at the tracks, the greyhounds or doping. All I hear is that it is a golden circle and if one is not connected with the well-connected people, then one is out of the circle. That is the feeling on the ground. With all due respect to the witnesses, they need to deal with this. We can legislate all we like and bring in all the rules we want. The view of the majority of the people on the ground is that there is no will from Bord na gCon to implement anything that is fair or proper.
Before we go back to the board members, we are dealing with the heads of the Bill. I gave the Deputies latitude. The Irish Greyhound Board has been before the Committee of Public Accounts on two occasions over the past six weeks. While, we should stick to the heads of the Bill, I will give board members an opportunity to respond to the points raised.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
I neither own nor train any greyhound. I am not part of any golden circle. I do not know any member of the board who is a member of any golden circle. As far as I am concerned and as far as I have seen since I joined the board, the board is only interested in the promotion and welfare of greyhounds and nothing else. There is a certain amount of discontent in greyhound racing because we see it every day. It is a minority, however. Every night of the week, people, including those who own and train greyhounds, are going greyhound racing. There is a disaffected minority with which we have to deal but it is a minority. This is a sport that does not have an integrity problem. I would not be a member of a board that had.
Mr. Pat Herbert:
The reality is that in the UK there is not a well-established breeding industry. Up to 85% of greyhounds in the UK are of Irish extraction. Only a couple of thousand greyhounds are bred by the UK authorities. The lion’s share of greyhounds in the UK comes from Ireland. Accordingly, any efforts towards doping controls will be largely focused on the main source.
The cost of the new laboratory machine is indicative of the board's commitment to tackling doping and application control. It cost €400,000. We work closely with our counterparts in the Greyhound Board of Great Britain.
We have an explicit set of racing rules, written pursuant to the 1958 Greyhound Industry Act, namely the statutory instrument, Greyhound Industry (Racing) Regulations 2007. We also have regulations relating to the training of greyhounds, the sale of greyhounds and the people who carry out official functions at licensed stadia.
The new laboratory machine is a state-of-the-art triple-quadrupole liquid chromatography machine. It does not measure parts per million but parts per trillion for prohibited substances. It is one of the leading machines in this area and is indicative of where the board wants to go with regulation, medication and doping control.
Mr. Pat Herbert:
Yes. There is a process where a library of information has to be inputted into the machine for specific substances. That is ongoing, but samples are going through it.
A limited number of samples go to the UK and have been doing so for several years. We do not send many. When the library of information has been put into this machine, it is not expected that the UK’s service will be any better than our own.
Our laboratory is accredited by the Irish National Accreditation Board, as well being accredited under the international standard for dope-testing, ISO 17025. Every result and adverse little finding is published. Since October 2015 there is a regulatory onus on the regulator to publish every adverse finding.
Mr. Pat Herbert:
The information that is published is the greyhound’s name, earmark, owner and trainer, as well as what prohibited substance was detected and where it was taken. There are specific regulations in force providing that, in all cases where a person has contravened or has been found not to have contravened regulations, the details will be published by the independent control committee. Those regulations have been in effect since October 2015.
The number of litters is provided for in recent legislation. The Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 provides that any owner or breeder can have six litters and is entitled to a further two litters but only on supply of a veterinary certificate to ensure the health of the bitch and that the bitch is capable of breeding. Any number after that is prohibited. The Deputy will be aware that such registrations take place with the Irish Coursing Club and not with the Irish Greyhound Board. Several breeding establishments are licensed by the Irish Coursing Club.
The board has a close working relationship with the ISPCA. Its chief inspector, Conor Dowling, who attended the committee last week, and our welfare officer work closely together on a daily basis. The board does not have any difficulty in affording welfare powers to the Garda, to local authority inspectors or to welfare officers of the ISPCA.
Dr. Colm Gaynor:
I agree with Deputy Penrose about anabolic substances. Those substances are prohibited with no limits whatsoever. However, therapeutics or contaminants are inevitable because we must treat animals. We have to set limits. If it is below a limit which does not affect the performance, all is well. If it is above the limit, then no race and sanction if raced.
I agree with the Deputy on strict liability. The rules of racing are set out in a statutory instrument. We are almost unique as a sports regulatory body. We are a public authority completely and not a private body. The Greyhound Board of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee and run by its members. They can set out their rules in a very different way from us. All our rules are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Members have a chance to examine and decide on them. It is like a Department in that respect and, therefore, they will look different. They will have greater force of law. There is no dispute about that.
There is full judicial review of the Irish Greyhound Board. There is no judicial review of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain. Our racing regulations are framed towards strict liability as matters stands. When the legislation passes, which we hope it will, and consolidated versions of the rules of racing are brought out, that will be clarified and made stronger if necessary.
One comes in with a positive, one makes excuses. A point made by people writing on horse racing in Ireland recently is that not every positive test result is a case of cheating. Some positives are mistakes. They may be people who genuinely treated animals and observed the required period of withdrawal. However, in the case of a dog itself, it might not have been enough.
It is not all cheating. Some are a result of mistakes but they are still, strictly, liable. That is the way it is.
I will reinforce what was said about the six litters and breeding because it has arisen in debates when members have asked where the provision came from. The Irish Kennel Club has the same rule for every breed it recognises. The dog must be older than one year, less than eight years old and have had no more than six litters. In the case of greyhounds, that number is two if there is a veterinary certificate to go with the dog.
Mr. Pat Herbert already mentioned we do not have an objection to the ISPCA inspectors being authorised. The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 contains provisions for service agreements with NGOs for the enforcement of welfare. The ISPCA has one so it is a question of the service level agreement. We have had a recent case in which we think we could do with a service level agreement with the Department with regard to the same Act to try to improve our ability to deal with welfare. That case is ongoing.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
As the Deputy correctly identified, it is a type of catch-all offence. Our recommendation comes from the experience of people trying to find reasons to not be found liable of other offences. It is designed for such a situation. A catch-all offence would probably reduce the number of challenges.
Mr. Pat Herbert:
Under the racing regulations, every owner or trainer is afforded the opportunity of a split sample when a sample taken. He is entitled to have that split sample analysed at an accredited laboratory of his own choosing. There is a list of approved laboratories in places such as Hong Kong and Australia. They are the leading laboratories in the world. He is entitled to have his split sample independently analysed should he so wish.
Mr. Pat Herbert:
It has typically been less than 1%. Of that 1%, the vast majority are as a result of the therapeutic administration of substances such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and things like that. They are not as a result of performance affecting drugs such as steroids or stimulants, although we have found such substances in the past.
The witnesses know the answers to Deputy Kenny's questions. Can we get a comparison with UK figures and the level of testing in the UK? The Chairman told us to stick to the heads of the Bill. The Bill is a cornerstone of rebuilding confidence in the industry. I am extremely disappointed, as I said when we met in private session, that the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation has not come in here to make a verbal submission to us. The industry has been getting severe, adverse publicity for the past number of months. We have to get the Bill right to restore public confidence. Deputy Kenny asked a question about the level of positive test results. While we do not want any positive test results in the industry, the level is exceptionally low. From recollection, 70% to 80% of those positive test results are due to residue caused by feed contamination. I saw a figure that about 70% of the positives are attributed to feed contamination. The level of doping is extremely low.
We have to get public confidence back. I referred earlier to a highly publicised case on derby final night a number of years ago. Can we be confident that in future there will be controls on all tracks to ensure that if a dog tests positive, we will be able to stand behind the result and there will not be any legal consequence for the industry? The case I referred to dragged on for five or six years and attracted very adverse publicity for the industry. It happened on the marquee night and put a serious cloud over the industry. The board did not come out of that episode well. We have to ensure that in future if a dog tests positive, there is no trap door the owner or trainer of the dog can get through so that the liability falls on the industry. They must face the full rigours of the regulations. We have to restore public confidence.
Dr. Gaynor referred to the export of greyhounds to non-EU countries. Is he saying we can ensure that proper welfare standards apply to exports to EU countries? Animal welfare activists have question marks over some European countries to which dogs are exported. We will have submissions to the committee on the agriculture budget. Bord na gCon is a significant net beneficiary of that budget. The industry is troubled. I accept the Chairman's ruling that this is not the forum to discuss it. The issues need to be resolved quickly. If it is outside the ambit of this discussion, I will accept the Chairman's ruling on it. We have to get public confidence back behind testing for doping. I want assurances from the chairman of the board that in all tracks in the country, the board will be fully able to stand over the results of all tests done by board officials and staff and that there will be no come-back on the board.
Mr. Phil Meaney:
There are systems in place and others will be put in place. With the support of the Bill, we can stand firmly behind all the decisions and testing that is done. Do any of my colleagues want to come in at this point?
Deputy Martin Kenny made a reference earlier which we do not want to waste time on. While I agree with my colleague, Mr. Frank Nyhan, that it is a small number of people who are putting out bad press about the board and the industry, the board inherited huge problems. We have had to deal with those problems. When an organisation has to deal with difficult problems, of course there are people who are not happy with the outcome. That is the background. As chairman, I have been particularly fingered in that situation.
Mr. Pat Herbert:
Deputy Cahill asked about sampling figures. In the UK, 50,000 races were held. There is an extensive bookmakers afternoon greyhound service, BAGS, racing network set up there too. The rate of testing is 8,000 samples, which is roughly one in six. In Ireland last year, there were just over 16,000 races with 5,000 samples taken, which is a one-in-three rate. We have a much higher hit ratio. Regarding improvements at track level to ensure issues that arose in the past have not happened again. We have requested tenders to look at the issue of the supply of CCTV footage at all stadia. We have introduced regulation in the past couple of months on kennel hand authorisations so that only licensed people have access to greyhounds at our kennels.
The person is either an owner, trainer, agent or authorised kennel hand of our approval. There have been significant improvements made in those areas, notwithstanding those that will be introduced by way of this Bill. I will ask my colleague, Dr. Gaynor, to respond to the question on EU countries.
Dr. Colm Gaynor:
Deputy Cahill raised an interesting question. The point I made was that the rules for the movement of dogs, as in the case of all other animals, are set at a European level. We contribute to that in the same way as all other member states. In regard to a country within Europe that does not comply with the standards set down, there is a set mechanism for complaint and redress in that regard. Unilateral action is not usually accepted and can lead to actions against the country that is unilaterally acting. For member states that are not complying with the welfare requirements set out, complaints need to be made to the authorities in Brussels.
As regards third countries, we would all sympathise that we cannot do more in terms of the export of animals from Europe to other countries but for reasons of history etc., animal welfare does not figure expressly in the WTO agreements. The only concept of restriction arises when the treatment of animals in the countries involved is morally shocking to Europeans generally. There have been a few cases about seal clubbing, in particular, in some countries that have led to defensible restrictions on trade outside of Europe. I do not believe it is possible for Ireland to put up a barrier to dogs moving to other member states. The proper way to seek to protect dogs from export to countries outside of Europe is to sponsor proposals in that regard in Brussels. The NGOs involved in welfare have extensive mechanisms for doing that. They also lobby the European Parliament, as well as the Commission, in this respect on a continuous basis, often quite successfully.
The right place to complain about other member states' standards is to Brussels, which has mechanisms in place for investigating them. I hope I have answered the Deputy's question.
I have a brief question for them. In regard to the tendering process for work on the tracks and so on, is that an open and transparent process such that everyone can see the tendered cost for work and be assured they are getting a fair crack at the whip? To my knowledge, that has not been the case in the past.
I know of a company based in Ireland that does a great deal of work on the English dog tracks but has been unsuccessful in securing similar work here despite that it consistently prices well below any other company.
The studbook registration problem, in terms of the progeny of dogs that are more than two years dead, around which there was significant furore for a considerable time, is being addressed under head 28. Are the witnesses happy about that?
Dr. Colm Gaynor:
A situation developed whereby dogs were registered which should not have been registered. I do not propose to comment now on who was responsible for that. There are an unknown number of dogs involved and there are people who have legitimate expectations with good dogs to race. The Bill will enable us to put that behind us. We will be pleased to see that happen.
Mr. Phil Meaney:
I thank the Chairman, the committee secretariat and members for the opportunity to engage with them on the Bill. I hope we have answered all questions to the best of our ability. Perhaps when the committee has concluded, Deputy Kenny would give us the name of the company to which he referred.
This is our last hearing on the Bill. We hope to produce a report in the middle of June, with a view to the Bill being published and before the Dáil before the summer recess. I again thank the witnesses for being here today. We will suspend to allow the witnesses to withdraw.