Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 12 November 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Issues Concerning Greyhound Industry: Bord na gCon
I remind members and witnesses to ensure that mobile phones are completely turned off. We are here to get an update on plans to improve the health and welfare of greyhounds, as a follow-up to a previous appearance before the committee last July. I welcome from Bord na gCon, Mr. Nyhan, the chairman, Mr. Gerard Dollard, the chief executive officer, Mr. Denis Healy, the veterinary director, and Mr. Pat Herbert, the head of regulation. I thank them for coming in. Following from their previous engagement with the committee in July, we requested that they come back to update the committee on how Bord na gCon is tackling these problems and what it is doing to protect and maintain animal welfare across the greyhound industry.
Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons 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 ask Mr. Nyhan to make his opening statement.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to attend to update it on the activities of Bord na gCon, especially about the care and welfare of the racing greyhound. I am accompanied by Mr. Gerard Dollard, chief executive officer, Mr. Denis Healy, veterinary director, and Mr. Pat Herbert, head of regulation. In July, I outlined to the committee the board's commitment to greyhound welfare and the objective of our strategic plan for 2018 to 2022 to maintain animal welfare at the centre of our industry. I reiterate Bord na gCon's absolute commitment to the care and welfare of the racing greyhound. This continues to remain a priority focus for the board. At the July meeting, I outlined details of a range of initiatives proposed by Bord na gCon and would like to update the committee on the present status of these initiatives.
Traceability has been a priority action for the board following legislative provision being made for such a system in the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 which came into effect on 29 May. A separate board sub-committee was established to devise the appropriate framework for a traceability system for the racing greyhound. We are commencing the formal tendering process with the issue of an open request for tenders. When implemented, the system will allow the whereabouts of a racing greyhound to be monitored by the Irish Greyhound Board throughout its life stages, including birth, registration, racing career, changes of ownership and location, and end of life.
The board has approved the acceptance of a tender to provide a scanning and drug sampling system to the board. This system will allow a significant upgrade of IT infrastructure and progressively move the board from a predominantly paper-based system to an online system.
The establishing of care centres where racing greyhounds can be socialised with other animals and prepared for re-homing in their forever home has also been progressed. These centre will help the transition between the ending of a racing career and permanent re-homing, having been the subject of an eTenders process. Sixteen submissions have been received for the provision of care centres at a variety of locations. These tenders are being evaluated and a recommendation will be brought to the board for consideration very shortly.
Bord na gCon has established a greyhound care fund. All moneys in the fund are dedicated to initiatives to support and improve the care and welfare of the racing greyhound. Funding for the care fund comes from the following sources. Some 50% of all existing sponsorships are assigned to the care fund. Bord na gCon has undertaken to continue to match existing prize money structures on existing sponsorships. Some 10% of all admissions, 10% of all restaurant packages and 5% of net tote profits are assigned to the care fund. In preparing our budget for 2020, it is estimated that €750,000 will be generated for this fund. Combined with the funding generated in the latter part of 2019, this will ensure a dedicated fund in excess of €1 million for care and welfare initiatives.
The international re-homing initiative with Greyhound Pets of America and Finding Loving Irish Greyhounds Homes Together, a long name which has an acronym of FLIGHT, has also progressed. Initial transportation of racing greyhounds has taken place to Boston and Atlanta and ongoing discussions are taking place with the representatives of Greyhound Pets of America to establish of a number of hubs across the US to accept retired greyhounds. The initiatives introduced for fostering and Irish re-homings have been positively received and 51 greyhounds are in foster care as of the end of October 2019.
This work enhances and progresses Bord na gCon’s overall rehoming initiatives in conjunction with the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust, a registered charity established and operated by the board, which helped to rehome more than 1,000 retired greyhounds in 2018 and has assisted in the rehoming of more than 800 greyhounds so far this year.
The confidential greyhound care line and email have been up and running since early July 2019. This recorded phone line is available 24-7 for members of the public to report greyhound welfare concerns which are followed up by members of Bord na gCon’s designated welfare team. Some 108 calls and emails have been received to the line to 31 October 2019. These calls cover a range of issues, some not related to care and welfare. Arising from the calls received, 31 separate welfare investigations have been initiated. At this point, the status of these investigations is that 11 cases have been investigated and closed, while there are ten open cases currently being investigated. Three cases have been referred to other authorities and seven cases had been previously investigated and the files closed. The issues raised in the 31 cases can be summarised as follows: 13 cases referenced export to other countries and 11 reports referenced poor welfare conditions at greyhound premises. In six of these cases no issues were identified on investigation. The remaining five cases are currently being investigated and seven cases referred to queries regarding the whereabouts of greyhounds.
We are continuing our comprehensive programme of welfare-related inspections. Some 576 inspections have been undertaken in 2019 up to 31 October. These include welfare inspections, kennel inspections and out-of-competition sampling. The national greyhound laboratory has processed 5,149 samples to the end of October 2019 with 13 samples, or 0.25 of 1%, returning an adverse analytical finding.
The Irish Greyhound Board launched its greyhounds at tracks injury support scheme in early August 2019. The purpose of this scheme is to provide financial assistance up to a maximum of €500 to assist owners to deal with injuries to racing greyhounds where the injury is incurred on a greyhound track licensed by us. Initial take-up of the scheme has been slow but that has also been the experience in the UK. It is expected that as the scheme becomes embedded a significant number of applications will be made. Bord na gCon is budgeting on the basis of 100 such applications during 2020.
Bord na gCon has prepared a draft of a statutory instrument for consideration by the Minister to require euthanasia of a greyhound to be undertaken only by a veterinary practitioner. The statutory instrument will be required to be made under the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and the draft statutory instrument is currently being considered by the Minister and his officials.
I again seek to emphasise that the responsibilities of Bord na gCon relate solely to the racing greyhound. They do not extend to cross-breeds such as lurchers, which are commonly confused with racing greyhounds. I reiterate the overall position on the export of greyhounds and confirm that Bord na gCon will do everything possible within our remit to prevent the export of greyhounds to countries that do not have acceptable welfare standards. I wish to make clear, however, that Ireland as a country is not in a position to restrict exports of any animal, including greyhounds, to other countries and must operate under EU law and wider world trade agreements. Bord na gCon, or any Irish regulator, cannot be held responsible for the appalling attitude to the wider animal welfare issues that may be evident in other countries. We will, however, continue to promote and advocate for a responsible attitude by the greyhound community to the export of racing greyhounds. I am satisfied that the greyhound community has been receptive to this message and has acted on foot of same.
It should be stated that the primary responsibility for the care and welfare of any animal rests with the owner. The owner’s obligations in this regard need to be reinforced and form a legal obligation for which the owner can be held accountable. The measures, initiatives and schemes put in place by Bord na gCon are to facilitate and support the owner in meeting their obligations in this regard.
We have prepared an update of the code of practice relating to the care and welfare of the greyhound and an initial draft of same has been considered by the International Greyhound Welfare Forum. The draft is due for consideration by our board at its meeting next Thursday, 14 November, and following approval, it will be put forward for public consultation as required by the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011.
The board has also agreed additional staffing resources for the care and welfare area to support the expansive care and welfare programme that is in place. A director of care and welfare is being recruited with the primary role of leading on the care and welfare initiatives and to challenge all stakeholders to further improve behaviour, measures and approaches in the area of care and welfare.
I am confident that Bord na gCon and the greyhound community has made very significant progress in improving care and welfare practices within the industry. This progress can be seen in the last decade particularly with the introduction of the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011, the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, increased regulation regarding doping and medication within the greyhound industry, which took place in 2015 and the requirement for microchipping for all racing greyhounds, which took effect in 2016. These measures, combined with the initiatives which I have outlined, and further initiatives which the board will be focused on implementing provide a continuum on which the greyhound community is travelling to achieve a standard of excellence in the care and welfare of the racing greyhound.
There is no place for cruelty or poor animal welfare practices within the greyhound industry. We will continue to work with all agencies to eradicate any such behaviour.
Before I conclude, I must commend also the wider greyhound community, particularly those in Cork and Limerick, who have spearheaded funding initiatives to support greyhound racing at both locations. These initiatives have been tremendously successful and are testament to the passion and commitment that exists for the sport of greyhound racing.
We believe our industry is already heavily regulated, and the provisions of the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 will further strengthen this regulation. We subscribe to the principles of the welfare of our dogs and the integrity of our sport. We have in place the tools to defend these principles against transgressors. Greyhound racing has deep roots in the Irish community and our challenge is to preserve our sport for future generations.
I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to come before the committee today. We will attempt and endeavour to respond to all the committee's questions. However, if any additional information is required following the meeting, we will provide same in a prompt manner.
I thank Mr. Nyhan for his presentation. When representatives of the board appear before the committee, I wish to state, as I always do, that I have an interest in the industry. I am a director of a greyhound track. I want to put on the record that I have a vested interest in the industry.
I welcome the report. The "Prime Time Investigates" programme on the industry a few months ago did serious damage to it. We cannot deny that or put our heads in the sand about it. The report shows there is considerable work in progress, which I welcome, but still much to be done.
I will concentrate on the traceability aspect. We have foolproof traceability in our cattle industry and we must have the same in the greyhound industry. The sooner we have that up and running, the better. The fact that every dog is microchipped should make that easy enough to operate. It is essential to know where every dog is at any given time.
Mr. Nyhan said 16 submissions have been received for the provision of care centres. They would get dogs reaccustomed to a different way of life. When does Mr. Nyhan expect to have them up and running? How many greyhounds would it be possible for those care centres to cater for in a calendar year?
A startling element is the level of financial commitment to the care fund from the board from sponsorships, admission receipts, restaurant packages and tote profits. It should be an ongoing fund and it would be of major benefit in getting to where we want to get in this regard. One figure in the report that struck me is that foster homes have been found for 51 dogs to date in this country. That is a long way off where we want to get to on that point..
Mr. Nyhan said different reports were received on the help line and three of them were referred on welfare grounds. Whose responsibility is it to prosecute if breaches of welfare are found? To where will they be progressed? Is the law adequate to ensure they are progressed to the conclusion to which we would want them to be brought?
Another most welcome initiative is with respect to the euthanasia of a greyhound. One of the most disturbing aspects of that "Prime Time Investigates" programme was when it showed a dog being taken into a knackery and then being disposed of.
It is essential to the industry that into the future only a veterinary surgeon can euthanise a greyhound, whatever the reason for it. The image of what happened to the greyhound in the knackery did untold damage to the industry. For me, it was probably one of the most disturbing parts of the programme. In regard to the statutory instrument that is being prepared, as politicians we will do all we can to keep the pressure on to have it introduced as quickly as possible because it is essential.
On the export of greyhounds, I accept that the board does not have any responsibility for the greyhounds once they leave the country. Is there a job to be done at EU level to ensure that greyhounds leaving this country for Spain or the UK, to which the vast majority of our greyhounds are exported, do not end up in a country where welfare standards are not of the level required? In Mr. Nyhan's view, is there something we can do to improve EU policy in this area?
Returning to the programme, a member of the veterinary profession made claims regarding practices in the industry. Have those claims been investigated? If what he said is correct, there are serious actions required. If not, he has breached the ethics of his profession. He made very serious accusations in regard to the use of prohibited substances, which portrayed the industry in a very poor light. I would like to know what follow-up has taken place in regard to the accusations made by that particular individual. As a veterinary practitioner he should be able to stand over what he said in that programme. If what he said is true, the situation is serious. If not, it is equally as serious.
Reports of the doping of greyhounds and breaches of regulations in terms of the use of prohibited substances reflects badly on the industry. High-profile trainers have made the headlines in terms of investigations regarding the use of prohibited substances. In regard to the cases currently under way, where are they at and will sanctions be imposed? The "Prime Time" programme referenced a high-profile trainer. Is the legislation introduced a couple of months ago sufficiently robust to enable these investigations to be concluded rapidly? In the horse racing industry in Ireland, a trainer found guilty of a breach of regulations regarding the use of prohibited substances is rapidly suspended. One particular high-profile trainer was suspended for two to three years. The investigations in regard to the greyhound industry are hanging over it like a cloud. I would welcome an update on where they are at, when they are likely to be concluded, and if people are found guilty, sanctions will be imposed. There was a report in the media recently in regard to a greyhound that ran in all of the classics having tested for a prohibited substance. This did serious reputational damage to the industry. I would like an update in regard to all of the investigations.
Mr. Nyhan mentioned that 5,149 samples have been taken, of which 13, or 0.25%, were positive. While 0.25% is low, I would like to know if the breaches were serious in nature and if there are investigations under way in each case. I refer to Horse Racing Ireland again. There would be a very plausible reason a horse would fail a test. While a 0.25% failure rate in the greyhound industry is low, the objective should be an industry in which no tests are failed. In regard to the 13 test failures, what was the level of breach and what is the status of the investigations in that regard?
The report is detailed and there is much work in progress in regard to it. As someone who is involved with greyhounds and as a member of this committee I welcome the report and I compliment Bord na gCon on getting to grips with the issues highlighted in the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. It is important to stress that the welfare of greyhounds was always a priority. It did not just become a priority after the programme. There may have been room for improvement in regard to euthanasia and the rehoming of greyhounds, but the welfare of greyhounds was always a priority. The report references the need for assistance where a greyhound is injured on a track. As someone who owns a greyhound that was injured on a track, that is a welcome initiative.
This report shows the commitment of Bord na gCon to protecting the reputation of the industry into the future. It enables us to stand behind the industry. Prior to this engagement with the witnesses, the committee discussed its work programme in private session. The funding provided to the greyhound industry from the Exchequer is a matter for discussion in December. The report before us today makes it easier to stand behind that funding for the industry.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
I thank members for their comments and questions. Fortunately, I am accompanied today by people who can answer each of them in detail and I will pass them down the line as they arise. On the question regarding sanctions, there are people before the courts. When they are dealt with by the courts, they will be dealt with by Bord na gCon. We must be conscious of due process. As members will be aware, we have been challenged before the courts on numerous occasions. We have to be sure that the sanctions we impose stand up. We have not been slow in the recent past to impose sanctions on transgressors and we will not be slow in doing so in the future. On the cases currently before the courts, we will have to be somewhat circumspect in our responses.
On the RTÉ programme, we have submitted a complaint to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in that regard, to which we have not yet had a response. Our veterinary director is present today. What the veterinary surgeon had to say in that programme is not correct, and demonstrably not correct. The substance to which he referred has been tested for every year since 2005 and it has not been detected. That is a fact. I will now hand over to the other members of the executive, who will deal with the remaining questions.
Mr. Gerard Dollard:
I will respond first to Deputy Cahill's questions. On traceability, we expect that either today or tomorrow we will publish in the EU Journala tender for the new traceability system. On care centres, as Mr. Nyhan mentioned in his opening statement, we are in a tender process and we would expect to make decisions before year end, following which we will work out the contracts with those who are successful such that we can have the centres up and running as early as possible in 2020. On how many will fall out of the process in terms of the number of greyhounds accommodated at each centre, at the initial stage we would anticipate a maximum of 50 being accommodated. As management processes and the success of the centres become embedded, we will consider extending the accommodation numbers. On fostering, in July this year we launched additional financial incentives for people who will foster greyhounds.
We are happy with the take-up to date. As was mentioned, 51 are in foster homes and a number of new fosterers have come on stream.
Regarding welfare and the confidential line, the three other cases that refer to other bodies relate to local authorities. I think one case went to the Irish Coursing Club. At the end of the day, it is the authority most appropriate for prosecution that will take the prosecution if it arises. No serious welfare issue has been identified in the cases that have come forward to date. That gives an indication of the very positive welfare approach by the greyhound community. There is an open confidential line, yet we have not received any serious welfare complaints at this point.
I know the export of greyhounds has been the subject of wide discussion when the Greyhound Racing Act was going through the Oireachtas. The bottom line is that the export of greyhounds needs to be dealt with at EU level or in wider world trade agreements. Animal welfare is not a consideration in respect of trade. Until that changes at either EU or world trade agreement level, it will be very difficult for Ireland to control exports of any animal, including greyhounds.
The Chairman dealt with the issue of veterinary comments on the RTÉ programme. With regard to doping and breaches, we have had 13 cases this year which is fewer than we had last year or the year before. Our level of testing this year will be greater than it was last year or the year before. The decreasing number of cases shows that the message is getting through and doping and the misuse of medication will not be tolerated in greyhound racing. If people engage in that practice, they will be caught and the breaches will be identified. Regarding breaches, every single case goes to the independent control committee, which is entirely independent of the board. The committee adjudicates on the case and decides what sanctions should be imposed.
I welcome the witnesses. The report is very comprehensive. The witnesses outlined a number of steps that are being taken by Bord na gCon as the regulator. It has been said that the RTÉ television programme, which I saw, caused considerable damage. While some of the information in it may not have been factual, it highlighted serious abuse of animals. None of us wants to see that. It was stated that there is a long tradition of greyhound racing in this country. We want to see it being run properly and animals being looked after. I welcome the statement, which covers many of the issues like traceability, care centres and the other steps that are being taken with regard to inspections. According to the statement, 576 inspections were carried out and more than 5,000 samples taken in 2019, which shows that Bord na gCon is doing significant work in this area.
Bord na gCon is a regulatory body that is funded by Government. From where else does it get funding? What is the number of staff in Bord na gCon? What does it see as its key role? I have the general gist of it but I would like more detail on that.
The confidential greyhound care line has led to some results. It was stated that 11 cases were investigated and closed. Were there any convictions or penalties imposed by Bord na gCon or the courts on the back of those? Ten cases are being investigated and three were referred to other authorities. Who are the other authorities? Regarding the files in seven cases that were investigated and closed, was it the case that there was nothing to see there and everything was okay or was there some kind of outcome in terms of what was required of the owners? The issues raised in the 31 cases were summarised. It was said that 11 reports referenced poor welfare conditions at greyhound premises. Could the witnesses explain this? What was found in those premises?
I very much welcome the inspections being carried out by Bord na gCon. They shows that the organisation is taking its role very seriously. I think 13 incidents of doping were mentioned. What is the figure for medication cases?
I welcome the representatives from Bord na gCon. I said on the last occasion that I thought the television programme was significant work by the public service broadcasting service but I also noted that Bord na gCon was annoyed because it never got an opportunity to make rebuttals at the time. In the interests of balance, there should always be an opportunity to put the countervailing argument so that people can contest allegations they believe to be incorrect. Nevertheless, the programme was significant and if it heralded or accelerated changes that are required, it has served its purpose.
I am glad to note from the presentation that significant changes have been made at a number of levels across the industry. Of course, they arose from the 2019 Act, which only came in to force at the end of May. A significant number of these changes were going to be put in place. They kept the health and welfare of greyhounds to the fore at all times. Following recent legislative developments, everybody's focus had to be on the care and welfare of greyhounds and probity and integrity of races to ensure that illegal and performance-enhancing drugs are outlawed, not just verbally but in reality. The number of tests, the application of rigorous and frequent testing and the imposition of stiff and severe penalties, not slaps on the wrist, when adverse results arise following analysis are critical. I salute Bord na gCon as it is on the right track. It is tendering to have analytical devices brought into play. Long may this continue. Irrespective of the profile of the individuals involved, if they err or transgress, there should be no sin bin because there has been too much of this. It should be a case of "out the door with them". Greyhound racing is a very important industry in rural Ireland. I have always supported it and will continue to do so once Bord na gCon carries out the steps on which it has embarked to which I have no doubt it is committed. There can be no room for talking out of both sides of one's mouth. If something incidental happens, one can understand that but where something is interfering with the fairness and integrity of the sport, there can be no room, irrespective of the personalities involved.
Governance must be an overarching and significant point. The welfare of greyhounds at home and abroad in areas like breeding, racing and export is paramount. Perhaps Bord na gCon could encourage the Minister of the day to be at the forefront when it comes to trying to raise at EU level issues pertaining to the export of greyhounds to areas where less than proper welfare standards are applicable. We should raise this at EU level and get the appropriate standards implemented.
I do not subscribe to codes of a voluntary nature. It is like somebody at school telling us to do something. That is the time when we would nearly go and do it. I can understand the thinking behind it, which involves trying to encourage people to do things in a proper way, but I think the witnesses probably realise that codes of a voluntary nature are not as effective as they would like them to be, notwithstanding that they give everybody an opportunity to comply. Substantial changes and progress must be made to engender public confidence in the industry. I think the witnesses know this better than anybody.
Rehoming is an important initiative.
Are the locations and organisations involved spread throughout the country or at least to every location where there is a greyhound track? That would be important.
Traceability is important. It is a matter of ensuring real-time and accurate information dealing with all aspects of the greyhound life cycle, from birth to finishing up wherever greyhounds finish. I refer to the numbers of live registered pups, the number of live registered greyhounds that are breeding, the number registered for track racing, the number registered for coursing, the number exported, the number being euthanised by properly qualified vets, and the number being rehomed. Work is done on this in Ireland. What is the number of broods?
The unique identifier system is to oversee ownership at all times. How will it work? What is the technology pertaining to the total life-cycle of the greyhound? Will the traceability system be implemented on an all-Ireland basis? Since we have very close links with Britain, how will it operate, especially in the context of Brexit? Are the delegates meeting their counterparts in Britain in this regard?
I am 110% supportive of the assertion that primary responsibility for the care and welfare of greyhounds rests with the individual owner. This cannot be devolved to anyone else. Therefore, the focus must be on the owners to ensure they are meeting all the relevant standards set out.
With regard to the statutory instrument for consideration by the Minister, I notice the board is still waiting. I cannot understand how Ministers and officials are so tardy. That is not a matter for the witnesses but I might as well say it anyway. It might resonate with some in the Department. As Deputy Cahill said, a significant issue was raised on the television programme. There is no valid reason the statutory instrument cannot be brought forward. It is not earth-shattering science. One could draft a statutory instrument in an hour if paid for it. They are not too fond of paying anyhow. Mr. Nyhan would be able to draft an instrument himself fairly quickly. The instrument is very important. It is to help the board achieve another objective. The witnesses can take it that I will be asking the Chairman to communicate directly with the Minister to have the statutory instrument brought forward without any more fiddling around. I remember the case of a certain statutory instrument when I was a Minister of State for only nine months. I nearly went mad because I was able to draft it myself in a couple of hours. Four weeks after drafting, it was still going around in rings like a circling bird. I got annoyed and made sure it was dealt with.
Stipendiary stewards are very important. I know a little about this, maybe because I am a voluntary steward of the Turf Club. The stewards are important in regard to various controls. Does the board have the full complement? The stewards give a very detailed direction to the voluntary stewards, who are not stipendiary. Control stewards are also important. They deal with applicable work practices and welfare inspections. Has the board a programme worked out for inspections? The inspection programme is key. While I acknowledge it cannot be implemented all in one slap, has a programme been worked out that will achieve the objectives?
I am heartened by the presentation today. It is very positive. As Deputy Cahill said, it will result in a lot of positivity over the next month or so, when we will have to deal with other issues. All I can say to the delegates is that they should continue with the work and root out those who are not serving the interests of the industry at all levels. If they do this, they will have our support.
Mr. Gerard Dollard:
I will start off with Deputy Stanley's opening comment about the abuse of animals and how no one wants to see it. One can take it as read that everybody on this side of the table is fully in support of that approach and everything we do is designed to ensure abuse is eradicated.
We were asked about Bord na gCon's role. Very simply, it is a commercial semi-State body responsible for the control, management and development of the greyhound industry in Ireland. Our origins are in the Greyhound Act 1958, as well as the Greyhound Racing Act 2019, which significantly updates the original legislation. We are funded through the allocation from the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund but there is a significant level of commercial income through sponsorship, tote income, attendance income and restaurant income. All those elements go towards the funding of the industry.
We carried out a fairly detailed exercise in July on our staffing levels. There are 39 people at the Limerick head office. There are 157 employed at the various tracks. Forty-eight of these are full-time and 109 are part-time. With regard to our catering division, we do all our own catering. There are 20 full-time and 329 part-time or casual catering staff. In our tote, the betting division, there are 261 employees who are part-time or casual. In all, a total of 806 individuals derive either full-time or part-time employment through the Irish Greyhound Board.
On the greyhound care line, we were asked whether there has been any action on the cases. It is early in terms of dealing with those cases but we have served five welfare notices so far this year. We have served ten fines or fixed-payment notices under the Welfare of Greyhounds Act. I might ask the veterinary director to comment on some of the cases that were dealt with and what is involved.
On Deputy Penrose's points, I appreciate what he is saying about a voluntary code. It is designed to assist the public regarding the care and welfare of greyhounds. Everything cannot be provided for in legislation or through statutory regulation. We regard the code as demonstrating what best practice should be for the care and welfare of a greyhound.
On the unique identifier, I shall ask the head of regulation to give the committee a briefing on traceability, the life cycle, the all-Ireland element and the Greyhound Board of Great Britain element.
On stipendiary stewards, we currently have 21 staff members designated as officers under the Welfare of Greyhounds Act. We had three stipendiary stewards but this number has been reduced to two. We have restructured the workload of our control stewards. The latter are now also involved in welfare inspections. While the composition and numbers might have changed, I am more than satisfied that the resources exist to ensure sufficient attention is paid to the welfare area.
The veterinary director shall comment on welfare and the head of regulation might talk about traceability.
Mr. Denis Healy:
In reply to Deputies Stanley and Penrose, I am glad that none of the 31 cases involved severe welfare issues. They involved minor issues, which is good to report. Thirteen of them pertained to exports to other countries. In each case where the greyhounds were traced back to an Irish individual, a steward or welfare officer visited the individual and took a statement. Section 10 of the Welfare of Greyhounds Act requires that the Irish Coursing Club be informed of the movement of greyhounds, or export from a premises. This must be done within 14 days. Where we found that movement was not reported within 14 days, we investigated whether it was possible to prosecute. Some of the cases were historic. Where a case is within the past 12 months, we can proceed. If not, it is effectively statute-barred.
There were poor hygiene conditions in some of the premises, including a lack of hygiene in areas where dogs were exercised. In some cases, the premises were wet. There was poor lighting in some instances.
There were cases involving questions about the whereabouts of other greyhounds and whether they had been sent out of the country. Such cases were investigated and we were able to obtain statements that some of the dogs had been transported to the North and then onwards to a third country through mainland Britain. There were no major welfare issues in the cases investigated.
Mr. Pat Herbert:
In response to Deputy Penrose, I will run through the traceability model. The issue of traceability has been a significant focus for the board in recent months. I can reassure the committee that a significant amount of work has been put into it. As mentioned at the most recent meeting of the committee on this issue, the cattle movement and monitoring system was considered. We travelled to Clonakilty to meet the providers of that service. We met our Australian counterparts and received an update on how the Australian system was run. We also met our counterparts from the Greyhound Board of Great Britain. The Irish Grehound Board, IGB established a workshop with the specific function of developing and evolving a robust traceability model that would meet the requirements of the industry. It will be all-inclusive in Ireland.
Deputy Cahill referred to his involvement in the greyhound industry and will be familiar with many of my points. As he stated, every dog, including greyhounds, is subject to the microchipping regulations of 2015. The microchipping of greyhounds is carried out at 12 weeks by IGB and Irish Coursing Club, ICC, stewards. They are also given an ear tattoo at 12 weeks. This provides a robust data set model for the measurement of greyhound whelps in the country. The registrations can refer specifically to the whelp pedigree, include registration details of sire and dam, the location of whelps, the controller of whelps, the age, sex and number of whelps from a particular litter, microchip details and ear tattoo details. There is also an input of details on greyhounds assigned for the specific purpose of greyhound racing.
Deputy Penrose referred to the requirement for real-time information. It is a game changer. This information must be available in real time. The Chairman referred to a scanning project to be carried out at tracks. It is envisaged that the traceability model and scanning at tracks will feed into our systems, including our race card generation system which is known as a race management system. The traceability model will include a reporting function for owners and breeders to feed into the traceability model. It will include details such as the death of a sapling from natural causes or euthanasia; the sale or export of a sapling, to include country of destination; a greyhound's retirement as a pet which will debar it from further racing; and retention of a greyhound for racing. It will be possible to edit details such as a change of location or controller. There will also be a provision such that if details are not appropriately updated, further registrations will be prevented. That will apply to a breeder or owner and payment of prize money to the owner or breeder will also be prevented in future drawdown. Like every system, the intention is to promote compliance. It will include details on the loss or theft of a greyhound. The use of an app or web portal will facilitate data inputs. The ICC will be informed of notifications such as the death of a greyhound. The traceability model will focus on changes in status related to key life events of every greyhound. In conjunction with the scanning project, it will be able to ascertain on point of racing or trialling whether all appropriate updates have been provided when a greyhound is presented for its first trial. If they have not been, the greyhound will not be allowed to trial until the updates have been provided.
Deputies Penrose and Cahilll referred to the cattle monitoring and movement system. Ours must be a robust and foolproof system. If a dog is allowed to race without the details having been updated, it will compromise the integrity of the system. Once appropriate updates are provided, the greyhound will be permitted to trial and race. The traceability model will need to include all life events when a greyhound commences racing such as trial and race form, changes of ownership and the export of the greyhound. As Deputy Cahill will be aware, 85% of greyhounds registered in the United Kingdom are of Irish origin. The retirement, rehoming, death, loss or theft of a greyhound will also be recorded. The scanning project to which the Chair referred will include the recording of the microchip and ear mark, something which has previously been carried out as a paper exercise. The digital recording of the microchip and examination of the ear tattoo, in addition to the certificate of registration, will ensure there will be three methods of proving integrity before a greyhound will be accepted for racing. It will cover all areas such as racing, trials, veterinary reports, stewards' inspections at premises, welfare inspections and sampling which is currently a paper exercise. The added functionality of the system will mean that when a steward arrives at a premises, he or she will able to bring up a report on what greyhounds should be present and will have advance warning in that regard.
The 2019 Act will provide for the regulated exchange of information between the IGB and the ICC. It is envisaged that there will also be an exchange of information between the Greyhound Board of Great Britain and our system, subject to legal compliance and data protection regulations.
Mr. Nyhan's written submission states: "These measures, combined with the initiatives which I have outlined above, and further initiatives which the Board will be focussed on implementing provide a continuum". What further initiatives does he envisage implementing?
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
The primary further initiative is the recruitment of a dedicated executive to promote care and welfare. He or she will have a seat at the executive table and be responsible for driving caring initiative functions throughout the organisation. That will be the biggest driver of change. Although we have staff who currently deal with these issues, we should have one person for whom it is his or her sole function.
The second initiative will be the rehoming of greyhounds in America. There is room for a significant increase in the number of dogs travelling to America. It is in its infancy, but in the longer term there will be a significant appetite in America for greyhounds as pets. We will be able to service that market once we are satisfied with the chain in delivering dogs to America and ensuring their welfare there. They are the two biggest advances that will happen.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
It is purely a rehoming exercise. It will provide an outlet for people to have their greyhounds rehomed. As far as we are concerned, the primary responsibility for a greyhound lies with the owner, but we wish to facilitate a situation where, when an owner is finished with a greyhound as a racing dog, the greyhound will have another life. That is the driving force behind the initiative.
Mr. Gerard Dollard:
There will be no additional stewards. We currently have two stipendiary stewards and 12 control stewards. In total, 21 people are designated under the Welfare of Greyhounds Act. As the chairman, Mr. Nyhan, stated, we are recruiting a director of care and welfare. Earlier this year, we recruited a welfare officer. A significant resource is available, therefore, to focus on care and welfare.
Will our guests provide details of all the activities covered by the care fund? Is there a short, medium or long-term strategy for how it will develop and grow? Is the sum of €100 million that is currently in the care fund adequate? What will Bord na gCon do to supplement the fund in the future if necessary?
Mr. Gerard Dollard:
On the care fund and its uses, the priority draws on the care fund are the traceability system, rehoming, fostering, our new care centres and, as was mentioned, the greyhound industry track scheme, all of which will be funded from the care fund. Annually, at budget time, the board will have to decide on the allocation of resources to welfare, notwithstanding the availability of the care fund. The care fund, combined with the resources we assign to welfare in any event through staff engaged directly for welfare purposes, will ensure there will be a significant pot of money to focus on care and welfare. It will be reviewed annually because the care fund comprises a percentage of admissions and of restaurant packages, which will vary. We are confident that in the first year of operation, there will be €1 million to fund the five areas I outlined.
Do our guests expect it to cost €1 million per year to run, or that adequate funding will be made available from the board's resources to manage the fund in order that all the aspects Mr. Dollard identified as priorities will continue to be funded adequately?
Mr. Gerard Dollard:
In fairness, as Deputy Cahill noted, care and welfare was on the board's agenda long before the RTÉ programme in June. It is a priority of the board. Whatever resources are needed to pursue the activities and initiatives that are necessary for care and welfare will be funded. Traceability, rehoming, fostering, care centres and the injury scheme are the five main actions we are focusing on funding and bringing into effect.
I do not know a pile about greyhounds but I wonder about the racing greyhounds about which our guests spoke in their opening statement. If a bitch or a dog has a litter, there might be only one racing greyhound in the litter. Is the whole litter the responsibility of the board or is it just the racing dog? Our guests might explain how that works.
Mr. Gerard Dollard:
Our statutory remit is greyhound racing. Following the new Act, we will be renamed the Rásaíocht Con Éireann, or Greyhound Racing Ireland. As soon as a greyhound enters our system and is presented for racing, we will track it until it exits our system by natural means. We focus on any greyhound presented for racing.
Mr. Pat Herbert:
The new traceability model will, at the point of 12 weeks, register the entire litter with our system by way of microchip. It includes the ear tattoo, certificate, breeders, controller details. The greyhounds are typically brought for their first trial 12 months later.
We need to take ownership of our numbers. Four greyhounds of six may be presented to the track. At this stage, our traceability model has an ad hoc reporting function to query the other two greyhounds' location and whether an update has been provided. The entire litter will be included as part of the remit.
Mr. Pat Herbert:
From a registration perspective, within the traceability model, once the greyhound is microchipped we have the details. It is possible the greyhound will be exported and the notification may not be made to us. We have an ad hoc reporting function as part of the traceability model to query where the other two greyhounds of a litter of six may have gone, if the details have not been provided. That is the direction in which we need to go, to probe where - for want of a better word - missing greyhounds, for which we have been criticised in the past, go.
I have some figures to hand, and while I am not sure whether they are correct, our guests might comment on them. They relate to injuries and deaths at Shelbourne Park. In 2019, there were 21 injuries and four deaths; in 2018, 41 injuries and 12 deaths; and in 2017, 21 injuries and ten deaths. To me, who does not know a pile about the matter, that seems extraordinarily high. Are the figures correct? If not, our guests might outline the correct ones. If they are correct, are they acceptable?
Mr. Gerard Dollard:
The figures the Deputy quoted are correct. Shelbourne Park holds races four nights per week. Any animal that races at the speed of greyhounds will be susceptible to injury. Overall, our injury statistics have reduced in recent years because of the focus we have put on track management and maintenance. If there is a racing schedule of four nights per week, with ten or 12 races per night, a risk of injury is inevitable. It is like any sport involving high speeds.
The veterinary director might like to comment further.
Mr. Denis Healy:
I will focus on the injury data for 2019, specifically at Shelbourne Park. An injury might include anything from a cut pad on the foot or a laceration on a leg to a fractured hock or limb. The percentage of injuries at Shelbourne Park this year in respect of the number of starters was 0.22%. Where it was a severe injury, a decision was taken by the veterinarian, in conjunction with the owner, to put the greyhound to sleep. The number of greyhounds put to sleep at Shelbourne Park thus far this year is three.
It was mentioned that the number of deaths is declining but in both 2015 and 2016, there were seven deaths, whereas in 2017, there were ten and in 2018, there were 12. It seems to be increasing rather than declining. While it seems to be going a bit more slowly this year, the year is not yet finished. I do not know much about it but it seems extraordinary that so many dogs have died at only one track.
I do know how many tracks there are in the country, perhaps 16, and Shelbourne is one of the busier ones. Would a death rate of 100 dogs a year be off the mark?
Mr. Pat Herbert:
Yes. The death of any greyhound is regrettable in any circumstances. We have trained staff at the track and they are updated regularly, specifically as to best practice in regard to track maintenance. We have specific equipment at tracks for the maintenance of those tracks, such as power harrows, and tracks are dug every week and put back. The Deputy mentioned Shelbourne, where the whole racing surface has been refurbished this year and has been relaid and re-cambered, and a new irrigation system has gone in. Every effort is made at track level to ensure the safest racing surface possible. It is a matter of pride among track maintenance staff at tracks. Nobody is more affected by any greyhound casualty than our ground maintenance staff.
I welcome the witnesses and acknowledge their opening statement. Many issues have been covered regarding the infrastructure, the care fund and the IT upgrade, which are all very positive steps. I want to ask about the promotion of the dog racing industry and how we are faring on that level. One of the major races in my part of the world, the Irish Laurels, took place two weeks ago. There was a fantastic crowd and it was a massive success for my parish, given the winning trainer for the last two Laurels came from my small parish. However, I failed to see a picture published in any newspaper, very little press and no acknowledgement of one of the major sporting events in the calendar in my county. I am concerned about the current promotion of dog racing, whether the media are onside or offside, and whether there is a strategy in place to develop those connections with the media to try to promote the sport. I am deeply concerned by what I saw, given a small parish won the Laurels two years in a row and there was no picture in the local newspapers. This was deeply upsetting for the owner, the community and the trainer. I am concerned about where the strategy is going. Do the witnesses believe the media have simply turned against us and turned against the dog racing industry? Where do we now turn to promote dog racing?
I thank the witnesses for their comprehensive report. When we have questions in our heads and they are answered in the report we are given, it always sends a very positive sign. The question that is left after all of the other speakers have asked their questions is probably a continuation of Senator Lombard's point, namely, what fallout there has there on the back of the television programme. The care fund is a percentage of the restaurant takings, the sponsorship and the tote. What financial hit did they take and what corrective actions is the board taking to bring those figures back to where they would be? If things took a pro rata hit after the programme, it means that the percentage of funding going to the care fund also took a hit, which would be contradictory in certain ways, given the programme aimed to improve the welfare and well-being of greyhounds. I would like to know what financial hit the industry took, how that affected the percentage contribution that is going to the care fund, what corrective measures have been taken and how close the industry is to getting back to the status quoor improving its position.
I thank the witnesses for attending and for the presentation. They have clearly acknowledged the challenges and the hit the sector took as a result of the "Prime Time" programme. The sector is very important nationally and, in particular, to some of our rural areas. In order for it to thrive, it is important it maintains public support and, for it to be successful into the future, a lot will depend on people attending and participating in greyhound racing. There is no doubt the participation level has been challenged by what has come to pass. I know Bord na gCon is very much aware of this and is taking the measures required to restore public confidence in the sector, and we would certainly be supportive of it in that regard. However, it is very important that job is thought through very thoroughly and that the issues which were raised in regard to traceability and welfare are fully addressed in a verifiable way that can be stood over. In the future, there is no doubt there will be a spotlight on this and that the systems the board put in place will be tested, rightly so. They have to be able to stand up to that scrutiny, which is essential from a public confidence point of view and, most of all, from a greyhound welfare point of view.
The witnesses might address one question that has been coming to us from members of the public, that is, the categorisation of greyhounds as livestock as opposed to as pets. What are the implications and considerations around that?
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
I will deal with the questions in the order in which they have been asked. In response to Senator Lombard, we do what we can in terms of promoting our industry. We have a full-time media officer and we have public relations and promotion people within our staff. Like the Senator, I was there the night that event took place. All of the reports and photographs were submitted to all of the newspapers but, unfortunately, we find it hard to get heard. In fact, the situation now is that we welcome appearances before committees like this because it allows us to get our message out there. Unfortunately, there is a reluctant reluctance to report on the positive side of our industry, and we believe there is a positive side. All we can do is keep trying and we will do that. The man the Senator spoke of was the greyhound personality of the year last night and there was a presentation, but I do not think we saw a photograph of that today either, unfortunately. We will keep trying.
In response to Senator Daly, it is the same situation. We suffered some significant loss in attendances following the programme, particularly in the period immediately after the programme, which I presume was inevitable. Thankfully, the situation in October has shown a significant improvement and we hope that is the start of an even more significant improvement. However, we did undoubtedly suffer a significant blow at the time. The figures we have given to the committee for the care fund take that into account. We have figures to year-end based on our current position, and our budget for next year has taken account of the fact we suffered some significant losses this year.
In response to Deputy McConalogue, the designation as livestock is for the protection of the greyhound because it allows a significant amount of legislation to protect the welfare of the greyhound as a sporting animal. They are not pets during their racing life; they are racing animals. They have to be looked after when they are finished their racing life, and that is where the transition back to pet takes place.
During their racing lives, though, they require the designation of livestock to ensure they have the protection of the various statutes and are properly looked after.
I believe Mr. Nyhan has covered all of the areas and topics that members raised. If there are no further questions, that concludes our business for today. I thank the witnesses for appearing before us and updating us on how matters stand. Without doubt, substantial progress has been made in the months since Bord na gCon was last before us. I look forward to it appearing before us again to update us at some point next year or thereafter.