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:

The first issue Deputy Cahill raised was testing. He indicated he would like to see greater sanctions against the owner, trainer or responsible person. As I intimated in my submission, it is an independent committee that delivers the sanctions. A wide array of sanctions is available to the committee, including exclusion orders against the individuals in question. Where we differ from other jurisdictions is that we suspend the greyhound immediately once the dog has tested positive. Pending a hearing, we suspend the dog immediately with a maximum period of six months in a coursing season. We have recently changed the rule for this season that in the event of a greyhound being found in breach of rule 88, it is not entitled to run in any further classic event. This limits the dog's competing ability so it is a fairly serious sanction. For a repeat offender, the fines are automatically ramped up and exclusion orders are available for the committee to invoke. We are independent of that so we do not issue the sanctions. We will certainly take on board the Deputy's point. I agree that we do not want people in the industry who are going to breach the rules and bring the sport into disrepute.

In terms of revenue and support to the retired greyhound trust, IRGT, as I said we currently provide a significant amount of administrative work which is quite time consuming. It is all very necessary and we are very happy to do it. As the Deputy said, we do not have the luxury of restaurants or other such facilities, unfortunately. From the prize money end, on a rough count it would come to about €900,000 in the round each year for all coursing meetings and all events at every coursing meeting. We would be looking at a 5% contribution from that. The Deputy is correct that the national meeting is certainly a good vehicle for fundraising given the large numbers who attend. We will certainly take on board his suggestion about a levy on the admission charge or some other way that would make a meaningful contribution to the IRGT, which does great work. I was involved with many of the welfare bodies in my previous role and have a good relationship with them.

There is no point in us all trying to fight for the same space. We should work together to increase the number of homes available for all greyhounds, be they coursing or track dogs.

Illegal hunting will always be an issue. It is very difficult to police because it can happen any time of the day or night anywhere in the country. As we know, the resources of the Garda and National Parks and Wildlife Service are limited. We held a joint meeting with the Irish Farmers Association, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the ISPCA, the PSNI and the NPWS. It was a very good meeting because we all set out our stalls with regard to how illegal hunting impacts on the various bodies and the best way to combat it. The PSNI gave an outline of Operation Lepus, which was how the authorities in the North tried to tackle illegal hunting. Good information was shared. The superintendent in Swords gave a good outline of how the Garda in the area has tackled the issue. The superintendent in Kildare is also very focused on this issue and has brought a number of prosecutions. The NPWS has established a memorandum of understanding with the ISPCA, as the Deputy mentioned. Seizing the dogs is a difficulty. The problem is that dogs that are seized must be held and the court case can take a long time. To all intents and purposes, the dogs would probably be given back to the owners after the court case but there is an expense involved in keeping and maintaining the dogs during that time. There is no easy solution to the problem.

Deputy Stanley asked how we include Northern Ireland. The stud book we operate includes Northern Ireland, so it includes all thoroughbred greyhounds on the island. We also regulate the greyhound tracks. There are two greyhound tracks in the North that sit outside the IGB remit. As a semi-State body, the IGB's reach does not go beyond the Border, as the Deputy said. From that perspective, all the greyhounds are in the same system. They are in the stud book and in the race management system operated by the IGB. If a dog races in Northern Ireland, it is automatically on the IGB system. At all times, therefore, information is available on dogs' performances. Typically, a greyhound that races in Drumbo Park near Belfast would also race in Dundalk or Shelbourne Park and a dog that races in Derry would race in Lifford or another track in the west on this side of the Border. That crossover occurs naturally in any case.