Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Irish Greyhound Industry: Irish Coursing Club

Mr. D.J. Histon:

I thank the Chairman and committee for inviting me here today on behalf of the Irish Coursing Club as a follow-up to a presentation delivered on 9 July on issues concerning the greyhound industry in Ireland. I propose to deal with traceability, prohibited substances testing, and illegal hunting as part of the follow-up as requested.

On the traceability model, the committee is aware that the Irish Greyhound Board, IGB, has commenced a tender process to secure a full IT-supported traceability system with a closing date of 18 December. The Irish Coursing Club, ICC, met the IGB since our attendance before the committee last July and attended the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's traceability facility in Clonakilty to receive a comprehensive review of that system. There are differences between the objectives and requirements of both the cattle and greyhound systems, but there are lessons that can be applied from the former. The cattle tracking system was developed with disease prevention and management as the main driver with limited movement of animals during its life cycle. The greyhound system is concerned with full knowledge as to location and status of any individual greyhound in an environment where there is significant movement during its life cycle.

The specification of the traceability model is all-encompassing and robust in tracking every life event of a greyhound and will require significant input from participants and management from regulators. The ICC is committed to supporting the IGB traceability model and has significant capability to offer to ensure the industry as a whole provides an appropriate solution to the knowledge gap that prevails, which must be remedied. As the committee is aware, the ICC operates the Irish greyhound stud book on an all-Ireland basis and has developed strong information links with the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, which will assist in supporting the traceability model.

The ICC stud book records pedigrees, matings and transfer of ownership and has never purported to be a traceability system. The ICC has significant information available to it as it records all matings, births, namings, transfers of ownership and issues identity cards for all thoroughbred greyhounds on the island of Ireland. Currently, all litters are inspected, tattooed and microchipped via ICC control stewards who also act as authorised welfare officers under the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011. The ICC issues greyhound breeding establishment licences as per the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011. The information required for a functioning traceability system is paramount, and as the tender process concludes, the ICC will provide support and expertise to ensure the systems are effective in delivering the desired outcomes. The ICC considers the inclusion of Northern Ireland as necessary for traceability, given movement of greyhounds between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and this comes under our remit.

The ICC has enhanced its prohibited substance testing regime over recent years following a complete review of all processes, sanctions and scope. The cases are pleaded before an independent hearing committee and adjudicated upon by an administrative body that is subject to judicial review. While not a court of law it is required to act lawfully. Its members include a solicitor, veterinary surgeon and one other and all decisions are subject to appeal. The sanctions available to the independent hearing committee include financial penalties with a maximum permissible fine of €13,000 and exclusion orders. In the 2018 to 2019 season, a total of 149 tests took place and 98% reported negative. Of the three cases that proved positive, the greyhounds were suspended in each case for a period of six months during a coursing season and fines of €4,000 were levied on responsible persons, with one outstanding case due to be heard in January 2020. The purpose of testing and the associated penalties is to protect the welfare of the greyhound, to protect the integrity of coursing, to maintain public confidence in coursing, to maintain proper standards for all coursing participants, and to bring about a positive behavioural change. A sanction may be accompanied by an advisory notice to point out what changes in behaviour or attitude are required. The ICC operates a code of practice for the hare and the greyhound, and this is supported by the code of practice that operates under the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011. As with any code, it is the heightened standard the industry expects of participants while observing the legal statutory provisions as per the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011, the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the rules of the ICC.

On illegal hunting, at the previous committee meeting of 9 July, there was Whiddy Island footage portrayed as illegal on the "Prime Time" programme and coloured with footage from some third-party event. This matter is the subject of legal correspondence and therefore I do not propose to comment on it today. Illegal hunting is ongoing throughout the country and is very easily identifiable from a layman's perspective. The perpetrators typically travel in gangs with unmuzzled dogs. They enter lands uninsured without landowner permission, with the intent of killing the hare or multiple hares at any time of the year. They use this opportunity to conduct criminal acts such as theft, trespass and assault. The Garda, National Parks and Wildlife Service, and interested parties such as the IFA and the ICC are working diligently on this issue. Coursing clubs provide support with intelligence and monitoring of hare habitat. There have been a number of convictions recently by the authorities.

On rehoming, the ICC provides administrative support to the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust, IRGT, and other homing agencies by way of transfer of ownerships and microchip cert reissuance free of charge. We deal with numerous queries relating to rehoming and ensure all matters are dealt with in a professional manner. The Irish Retired Greyhound Trust has homed coursing greyhounds and the ICC met the committee of the IRGT recently to discuss how the ICC can contribute on a more formal basis by identifying new homing opportunities and providing financial support. It is unrealistic and inefficient to establish a separate trust and structure to home coursing greyhounds versus track greyhounds solely given the high level of crossover of people who partake in both codes. A new feature will be to note when a greyhound is homed on the registration system, so it will be evident when a greyhound is homed. The ICC has established a sub-committee to progress welfare and proposes funding measures to include prize money deductions, fundraising events, sponsorship and legacies to assist the IRGT in its work. All the foregoing is to be further agreed with the IRGT. Given the staggered start and restricted meetings this season due to rabbit haemorrhagic disease, RHD2, virus surveillance and monitoring, it was not possible to introduce the prize money deduction initiative this season, but a fundraiser will take place at the national meeting in 2020 to support homing initiatives, and such events will become an annual feature.

The ICC recognises the importance of a working traceability system with all responsible parties playing their part to ensure the industry can withstand scrutiny from any quarter regardless of agenda. The IGB has released the Indecon report, which has had significant implications for the overall industry, in particular the proposed closure of four tracks. These changes will contract both the number of participants and breeders overall in the industry, and the long-term implications of this strategy require comprehensive analysis by both codes and stakeholders when settling the detail of an overall industry welfare strategy. The ICC will always do what is required to ensure the future of the industry, although we do not have a statutory role per seor receive State funding.