Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 8 July 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Alleged Issues in the Horse Racing Industry: Discussion
No apologies have been received. Senator Mullen is substituting for Senator Boyhan.
Before we begin, I remind members that, in the context of the current Covid-19 restrictions, only the Chairman and staff are present in the committee room. All members must join remotely from elsewhere in the parliamentary precincts. The secretariat can issue invitations to join the meeting on MS Teams. Members may not participate in the meeting from outside of the parliamentary precincts. I ask members to please mute their microphone when not making a contribution and to please use the raise hand function to indicate. Please note that messages sent to the meeting chat are visible to all participants. Speaking slots are prioritised for members of the committee.
The topic for this morning's meeting is alleged issues in the horse racing industry with representatives of Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, IHRB. In the interests of full transparency, I acknowledge at the outset that this series of meetings on alleged issues in the horse racing industry was called on foot of the recent allegations made in the media. In order to give all parties a fair hearing, the person who made those statements was invited to appear before the joint committee, but has chosen to decline the invitation. Although such an engagement would have been beneficial to our discussion on what is a very important issue for a significant Irish industry it is their right not to participate and they are not answerable to the committee. It must be said that we are not a committee of inquiry, so we are not here to judge the veracity of statements made or explore any allegations or wrongdoing against any person. Our only objective is to establish what systems and processes are in place to see if they are up to top international standards and to discuss any policy issues arising. I remind witnesses and members that we are not allowed to criticise in particular anyone who is not here to defend themselves. I also remind them of the parliamentary practice that 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.
I welcome from HRI, Mr. Brian Kavanagh, CEO; from the IHRB, Mr. Denis Egan, CEO, Dr. Lynn Hillyer, chief veterinary officer and head of equine anti-doping, Mr. Niall Cronin, communications manager and Dr. Clive Pearce, LGC Laboratories, Newmarket. The opening statements which we have received have already been circulated to members. All opening statements are published on the Oireachtas website and are publicly available. The committee has agreed that each group will be given ten minutes to present its main points before we commence questions and answers.
Before we begin, I must give an important notice regarding parliamentary privilege. 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 relating to 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. Participants in the committee meeting who are in locations outside the parliamentary precincts are asked to note that the constitutional protections afforded to those participating from within the parliamentary precincts do not extend to them. No clear guidance can be given on whether or the extent to which participation is covered by the absolute privilege of a statutory nature.
I invite Mr. Kavanagh to make his opening statement on behalf of Horse Racing Ireland.
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
I thank the committee for the invitation to appear before it today to discuss the issue of integrity and drug testing in Irish horse racing. As the committee will be aware, the equine sector is an important contributor to the rural economy, with Ireland ranked as the leading exporter and seller of thoroughbreds in the world. Despite its small size, Ireland plays a significant role globally in the horse racing and breeding industries. Ireland is the third largest producer of thoroughbreds in the world and Irish trained and bred horses compete successfully in many of the major races worldwide. Trade in Irish-bred horses is estimated at €300 million per annum. As such, the reputation and integrity of the product is of paramount importance, so the question of drug testing is an important one with significant funds invested annually in this area.
The horse racing industry in Ireland is governed by three major pieces of legislation: the Irish Horseracing Industry Act 1994, the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001 and the Horse Racing Ireland Act 2016. This statutory framework sets out that the Racing Regulatory Body, the IHRB, is responsible in the first instance for anti-doping and forensics. Section 39 of the Irish Horse Racing Industry Act 1994 provides that the IHRB shall be solely and independently responsible for making and enforcing the rules of racing, shall provide adequate integrity services to horse racing and shall make all decisions in relation to doping control, forensics and handicapping. The Horse Racing Ireland Act 2016 provides that Horse Racing Ireland is responsible for the overall administration, governance, development, and promotion of the Irish horse racing industry and for guaranteeing funding to the Racing Regulatory Body to carry out its functions through an integrity services budget which is agreed annually. In 2021 this budget amounts to €10.3 million.
Horse Racing Ireland is committed to high standards in this area and our strategic plan for 2020 to 2024 has as one of its priorities "to enhance our domestic and international reputation through world leading standards of integrity and equine welfare". Specifically, HRI sees its role as ensuring that the IHRB has sufficient resources, both financial, human and capital to carry out its responsibilities to the level expected of a major racing nation and we support the IHRB to constantly improve its capacity in this area.
In this regard, Horse Racing Ireland has progressively increased its funding for these activities. It has established an industry wide anti-doping task force to examine and make recommendations regarding best practice in this area. It has ensured that all Irish samples are tested at an internationally accredited laboratory. It has promoted the concept of authorised officer status to enable testing at non-licensed premises and supported international best practice reviews of activities in this area. Horse Racing Ireland works with the IHRB to ensure that its ambitions are supported in the area of doping control and the integrity services budget is subject to a formal quarterly review at executive level.
The IHRB has presented on this matter to the board of Horse Racing Ireland twice in the last two years, while Ireland is a full signatory to Article 6 of the International Agreement on Racing and Breeding. This is a formal agreement between global horse racing authorities which commits countries to meeting best international standards in drug testing and forensics.
While drug testing is an area where one can be never complacent, Horse Racing Ireland takes assurance from the following aspects of the IHRB testing programme. All winners in Ireland are tested, focusing on the most successful performers. A selection of non-winners are tested on the track, including poor performing favourites. Horses are tested out of competition at trainers' premises. This year, out-of-competition testing has been extended beyond trainers' premises. This means that the IHRB can inspect and test any thoroughbred anywhere in the country whether it is in training or not. This is a unique power among major racing countries. Testing can now take place at sales, breeding farms, point-to-point meetings and at various other sites such as barrier trials and pre-training yards. All adverse findings are dealt with through the IHRB disciplinary process.
A detailed equine anti-doping report is now formally presented twice yearly to Horse Racing Ireland.
It was published for the first time last week and will be published every six months from now on.
Proportionally, Ireland races more horses overseas than any other country. In 2019, 1,733 Irish-trained horses raced in countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, USA, Hong Kong, Australia and Japan, and were tested under various international regimes. These international runners represented the equivalent of 6% of the total runners in Ireland and included horses of all standards and ability. No adverse findings were returned.
HRI is committed to working with the IHRB to ensure that its systems are fit for purpose and operate to the best international standards. Our spending on doping control has increased by 27% in the last four years and HRI has advised the IHRB that funding will never be an issue for meaningful initiatives to improve capability or increase capacity in this area.
All winners in Ireland are tested and 25% of testing is out of competition and away from the racecourse. Out-of-competition testing now covers all horses at all times, whether in training or not. All samples are analysed at an internationally accredited laboratory. Samples from Irish horses are tested regularly at international laboratories when racing overseas and the samples include blood, urine or hair, as appropriate.
I am grateful for the opportunity to outline these points and I hope they are helpful. I am happy to address any issues or questions which the committee members may have.
Mr. Denis Egan:
On behalf of the IHRB, I thank the Chair and members of the committee for their invitation to appear before them. The IHRB was pleased to accept the committee's invitation and the opportunity it provides to address statements in the media which have been made about integrity and drug usage in Irish racing. We appreciate the fact that the Chair and members have given time in what is a busy work programme to allow us to set the record straight. We look forward to answering the questions that the Deputies and Senators may have.
For those who do not know me, I am Denis Egan, chief executive of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board. I am joined today by my colleague, Dr. Lynn Hillyer, who is the head of anti-doping and chief veterinary officer for the IHRB. Lynn joined the IHRB in 2016, having worked as a regulatory specialist in anti-doping for the British Horseracing Authority since 2005. She is recognised globally in her field, having published specifically on the detection of prohibited substances, and is chair of the International Group of Specialist Racing Veterinarians, a member of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, IFHA, and its advisory council on prohibited substances and practices, and a member of the , EHSLC.
We are also joined by Dr. Clive Pearce, laboratory director and director of sport and specialised analytical services at LGC Laboratories, who has been working with us since 2018. As a racing chemist and laboratory director, Dr. Pearce is active in major international organisations associated with the regulation of animal sports. He is a board member of the EHSLC, a member of thelaboratory and prohibited list groups, and theIFHA's reference laboratory technical committee and its advisory council on prohibited substances and practices. LGC Laboratories analyse all our equine samples. LGC is one of only five laboratories in the world certified by the IFHA to analyse racing samples to a benchmark which exceeds accreditation. My colleague, Niall Cronin, IHRB communications manager, is also in attendance.
I will now provide some background information on the IHRB. The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board CLG is a company set up by the Turf Club and Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee to carry out the functions assigned to the racing regulatory body under the Horse Racing Ireland Act 2016. It is responsible for the integrity of Irish racing, including doping control and forensics. It carries out its functions through a team of highly trained professional racing officials and administrative staff, as well as dedicated and experienced voluntary race-day stewards and committee members.
In 2016, the Irish racing and breeding industries came together on a single issue, namely, tackling doping in the wake of the John Hughes case which had been prosecuted in the courts. The subsequent recommendations of a task force comprising industry representatives which were reiterated in an updated policy document in 2018 are the foundation for our work today. The appointment of Dr. Hillyer as head of anti-doping, an established expert in her field; a public procurement process to appoint one of the best laboratories in the world; and a seismic shift in increasing out of competition testing were all early tangible outputs from those industry agreements.
The IHRB’s equine anti-doping programme has developed into a sophisticated and extensive risk-based and intelligence-led strategy in which it is not just the numbers of samples which matter, but from what horse they are taken, where and when. Regarding the where and when, in addition to the authority the IRHB has under the rules of racing in respect of licensed people and premises, 12 IRHB officials, including five qualified veterinary surgeons, were appointed as authorised officers under the Animal Remedies Act on 21 May last. These officials can identify and sample any thoroughbred at any time and in any place, and have the authority to seize products, documentation or other evidence as necessary. The ability to do this is ground-breaking and part of our armoury in protecting the integrity of Irish racing, which no other racing authority has.
I will briefly outline what we do on the anti-doping front and how we do it. The IHRB samples horses both on and off the racecourse, taking blood, urine and-or hair. Using these different samples allows us to detect a range of thousands of substances for varying lengths of time. Taking the right type of sample from the right horse at the right time is an essential part of any modern anti-doping programme's test distribution. The IHRB continually refines this, for example, now taking more out-of-competition samples than ever. We are the first racing authority to take hair samples routinely on the racecourse.
All sampling is witnessed by a representative of the person responsible for the horse. A sample is split into an A and B portion and anonymised and sealed in a tamper-proof bottle. The process is automated using an app-based system which ensures integrity, real-time data transfer and minimises the risk of human error. The process is similar to those used in all sport bodies, whether for human or animal athletes. As Mr. Kavanagh stated, I would like to emphasise that all samples are analysed, with screening results usually reported to the IHRB within seven working days. All adverse analytical findings for prohibited substances are prosecuted via a disciplinary procedure. The trainer has the right of appeal against any penalty.
LGC Laboratories in Newmarket has been the contracted laboratory for IHRB samples since 2018. Established in 1963, LGC has a long history as a world leader in the development and application of cutting-edge approaches to detect existing and emerging drugs, from anabolic steroids in the early 60s through to more complex biological threats and gene doping in 2021. In a typical year, LGC carries out analysis on over 50,000 equine and canine samples and has an ongoing commitment to investing in new technology, with contractual requirements to share with the IHRB the outputs of new methods of testing and research as well.
LGC is one of five IFHA-certified laboratories, enabling the IHRB to continually benefit from data and intelligence shared between the best racing laboratories in the world. An extensive programme of ongoing technical work to evidence performance is required to maintain this certification. LGC's reputation in anabolic steroid and hair analysis is recognised globally. In LGC, the IHRB has access to the most pioneering laboratory in the world in these two areas, as well as meeting the highest standards, along with the other laboratories, in the context of analysis of samples for other prohibited substances.
In carrying out its equine anti-doping programme, the IHRB applies a risk analysis and intelligence-based strategy to its selection of premises and horses for testing. In the six months since the start of the year, the IHRB has inspected 33 premises, testing at 18 of these, seven of which were unlicensed. The unlicensed yards included studs, pre-training yards and sales consignors' premises. We also tested at the recent barrier trials.Prior to the appointment of the 12 IHRB officials as authorised officers, it would not have been possible to access and test at the unlicensed premises.
The IHRB has unique anti-doping powers that are unparalleled in any other jurisdiction.
The appointment of IHRB officials as authorised officers is a game changer as it enables those officials to access any thoroughbred at any time, in any place, without notice.
We continue to work with LGC, one of the leading laboratories in the world, which is a pioneer in the analysis of hair samples. We have a top-class anti-doping team, headed up by Dr. Lynn Hillyer, and while we continue to evidence that there is no systematic attempt to cheat through doping in Irish racing, we will continue, with the assistance of the industry and those outside, to effectively detect, disrupt and deter such behaviour. It will not be tolerated. We will continue to seek it out and where discovered, we will take all actions within our power to combat it without fear or favour.
I thank the Chairman and committee members.
I welcome our witnesses, Mr. Kavanagh, Mr. Egan, Dr. Hillyer, Mr. Cronin and Dr. Pearce, this morning. I thank both groupings for their presentations.
At the outset, while it may be well known, I am probably obliged to put on the record that I have skin in the game. I am a member of the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners, AIRO, and the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association, ITBA. I have a brood mare and the first of her progeny is commencing a racing career out of Mr. Pat Martin's yard. I have, therefore, skin in the game in that regard but I also have a dedication and personal passion for the business, industry and sport by virtue of the fact that I have been the voluntary chairman of Kilbeggan Racecourse for more than a decade. I am, therefore, putting all that on the record. I have interest in the industry and the sport and a passion for it.
It struck a chord with me as a young man, back in the day. When I had a newspaper, I would read the sports section and my reading ended there until later in life when my political involvement led to a keener interest in public affairs. I would start at the front of the paper and finish before I got to the sports section. I will say reservedly, however, that unfortunately, on three out of the past four Sundays, I found myself starting at the back of the newspaper and what I read has not been good for the industry and the sport for which, as I said already, I have a passion.
The old justice motto of being innocent until proven guilty is actually read in reverse when it is a person in the public domain or a public body spending public money or if it is a public representative or an organisation that is of public interest. Unfortunately, in that situation it has to be read as guilty until proven innocent. Once accusations or assertations are made, one is then duty-bound almost to prove one's innocence.
In that regard, I have some questions for the industry. Mr. Kavanagh and Mr. Egan will probably know who is best suited to answer them. The questions are along the lines of what actions the organisations have taken since this scenario started and what further actions they intend taking, as I probably say bluntly, to prove their own innocence. As I said, in the public eye, one is guilty once the accusation is made. I say that with the greatest of regard; I am not making any accusations myself.
I would like to hear from the industry's side from whichever body believes the question is most appropriate to it. We are here today, with the best interest of everybody at heart, to get to the bottom of the situation. As has been outlined by the Chairman, we are not a court of justice.
Have or would the witnesses consider holding their own inquiry into any of the allegations that have been made? As licensing bodies, all people out there who are in the industry either have a permit or a licence, which would be overseen or issued by one or other of the witnesses' organisations. Would they not think it appropriate that this hearing or inquiry should have been, could be or perhaps still will be, hopefully, held by them to get to the bottom of and put to bed or solve some or many of the allegations or if they are false, maybe take some action against those who are making them?
With regard to the IHRB, and in particular, the third article in the Sunday Independent, there was some coverage on some anonymous letters and correspondence received by the IHRB. Anonymous whistleblowing correspondence is how I would put it. Very strong allegations were made that complaints were not acted on. I would like to hear the IHRB's comment on them. Does it have a file of complaints which, as has been said, have not been acted on? I believe the board deserves the right to explain that one a little bit further.
I have some questions for Dr. Hillyer and Dr. Pearce on the testing side. In preparation for Dr. Hillyer, when she does a bit of googling, a number of articles come up which to which she contributed. One that struck me from not long after her appointment bore the headline, "mucking out the Turf Club’s stables". I would like to give her the opportunity to explain that a little bit more. What was she saying she was going to muck out there? That headline reads badly now. It may not have at the time.
As I said at the outset, while the numbers of tests being carried out is impressive, we are where we are now and changes need to be made to go back to prove the innocence of the associations and the industry. I believe 2,449 tests - just shy of 2,500 - have been carried out, be they on racecourses or private properties. Is there an available record of the results of all those tests on file in the IHRB? Can they be accessed by somebody through a freedom of information request or are they always forwarded to the people responsible for the horse post testing? Do they get a copy irrespective of whether it is an adverse analytical finding? Is there a record of all those samples taken having been actually tested?
I would also like a little bit more clarification in that regard. The IHRB in its submission stated, in particular when referencing winners on track, that samples of blood, urine or hair or both are taken. The IHRB, therefore, takes both blood and urine and, on occasion, also hair. In that situation where it would take both blood and urine, are both tested? Again, when hair is also taken, are all three samples tested? I would like a little bit more discussion or explanation from the experts, Dr. Hillyer and Dr. Pearce, on the whole hair issue. Hair testing seems to come up a lot for discussion and debate when we are discussing this issue. It seems to be the better of the three samples for testing and seems to give a more historical reading of what substances may have been administered farther back or previously in the horse's career. Even in humans, one hears of somebody testing clear but if one uses a hair sample, it will show if they have a history of taking substances. I assume it is the same with horses. While the numbers the IHRB is testing are good and impressive, perhaps less is more. If we were doing less and concentrating more on hair, would we perhaps be coming up with better results? I would like to hear the witnesses' comments on that.
Based on the accusations, for want of a better word, to have ten adverse analytical findings, all of which were not of substances that are fully banned, would portray the image that things are rosy in the garden but unfortunately, as I said, we must prove they are at this juncture.
In that regard, perhaps Dr. Pearse will comment a little bit more on the actual testing. Are the same substances tested for in the Irish samples as would be in the British Horseracing Authority, BHA, samples? I know the laboratory caters for both Irish and UK racing. Is his brief to test or look for the same substances in both jurisdictions or do we have a different test?
In addition, perhaps he would enlighten us a little more about how the drug developers seem to be able to stay ahead of the testing. How quickly and adequately are the powers on the other side of the fence developing new drugs for which, perhaps, we are not even testing? Mr. Egan or Dr. Hillyer might also comment on the recent food issue that was detected in France but which did not come up in any of the Irish tests. Could they explain that? Are the French and English tests more severe than ours? Could there be an issue with our tests?
I have covered a great deal so I will give the witnesses the opportunity to respond. If there is time at the end of the meeting, I may come in again.
Mr. Denis Egan:
I reiterate that IHRB was pleased to accept the committee's invitation and to have the opportunity to address statements in the media, mentioned by the Senator, which have been made about integrity and drug use in Ireland. We are very frustrated and disappointed by the recent allegations. In our responses today, we will set out the factual details in order to set the record straight. I will make one point before I hand over to my colleague, Dr. Hillyer, namely, that any information we get is assessed and acted upon. That is the first thing I wish to say, but I will hand over to Dr. Hillyer because there are many technical issues which she and Dr. Pearce will be better able to address than me.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
I echo Mr. Kavanagh's and Mr. Egan's thanks for the invitation to this meeting and for the opportunity to set the record straight. As a veterinary surgeon and a scientist, it grates me when the truth is not reported correctly. I am hoping that we can set some of the facts straight this morning, and to clarify and explain matters. That is what we are here to do.
Before I deal with some of the questions, which were detailed and extensive and which I look forward to working through, I echo the three points Mr. Egan made. Every sample that we take is analysed at LGC, with the exception of the B samples which are analysed at Laboratoire des Courses Hippiques, LCH, in France. Every finding is followed up unequivocally. That goes some way to answering whether there is a database or record of all the results. There is. It is sitting on our systems. Third, there has been much talk of our contracted laboratory being somehow substandard. That is not the case. We work with one of the best laboratories in the world. I have worked with it for some time. There is a history and a trust there, which is very important when one is working in partnership with experts. The laboratory won the contract for our work in 2018 through a public procurement process. It is leading in the world, but I will let Dr. Pearce speak to that.
On the questions, I will start with one that was directly for me to answer. With regard to the mucking out the stables headline, I do not write the headlines. I was asked to do the interview and, in the interests of transparency and talking about my favourite subject in the world, which is anti-doping, I accepted the invitation. To go back a little in time, I was brought into the new position of head of anti-doping and chief veterinary officer as has been set out and according to the recommendations of an independent anti-doping task force. I say "independent" because it comprised stakeholders who had many different views. It was not the Turf Club as it was then. In 2018, those recommendations were reinforced again by the industry. The industry has signed up to wanting this to be done.
I was appointed in 2016 and we immediately began to make changes. In no particular order, it was clear to me that the out-of-competition testing needed to increase in line with best international practice. We moved from 7% in 2016 to 18% in 2019. It is now approximately 28%. That is best international practice. These animals spend the majority of their time at home and it is very important that we have coverage in that area. The access that we have now, since 21 May, means that my team can go to test any thoroughbred on the island. That is unparalleled. I have a team out this morning doing exactly that, what it is meant to be doing. The mucking out headline was not something I would have chosen. I have great respect for what has gone before, but there is no doubt that we have moved things on. The main evidence of that was in 2018 when the IHRB was formed, as distinct from the Turf Club and the International Horse Sports Confederation, IHSC.
The results of all the tests we carry out are logged, catalogued and documented to within an inch of their lives. They have to be. That is our process. There is a continuous chain of custody from the moment the sample is taken on the horse side, and witnessed by the representative of the trainer or the person responsible, through to when it is received anonymously at the laboratory, analysed and reported. From the moment it is taken, it is a number. It is not a name, a horse or a person. It is a number, and it has to remain that way in order that any decisions that are made along the way in terms of further analysis or whatever might need to be done are made absolutely anonymously.
As regards reporting, yes, all results are reported. The vast majority of them are negative. The positives or the adverse analytical findings, to use the full term, are always reported. We have had instances where a drug can be detected in part. It is a so-called screening finding. It is part of the fingerprint, but it does not confirm to a full result. Those are also reported back.
We have lost sound from Dr. Hillyer for some reason. Can you mute and unmute again, Dr. Hillyer? We have lost sound, unfortunately. We will move to Dr. Pearce and then return to Dr. Hillyer. I do not know what gremlins are at work and I am sorry about that. Does Dr. Pearce wish to comment on Senator Paul Daly's questions? We cannot hear Dr. Pearce either. Can Deputy Kehoe or Deputy Carthy speak so we can check if we can hear them? We cannot hear anyone. I will have to suspend the meeting until we can resolve the communications problem. My sincere apologies for this, but it is outside my control.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
In terms of blood, hair and urine, urine is the traditional matrix or substance or part of the body that we take to analyse. The reason, and Dr. Pearce may explain it further, is that we get a very good window on what is happening with the horse.
Blood represents a much smaller window of time. Each of these matrices has its strengths and weaknesses. Some substances show better in blood and some will show better in urine.
Regarding hair, we started administering substances to experimental horses and researching on hair some 15 years ago. Hair has been a research tool for 15 or 20 years where horses are concerned. The Senator is right, in that hair testing is used in respect of people. With horses, we have the advantage of having much more hair - mane hair and tail hair, which can go back years. It was clearly going to be an exciting opportunity to be able to understand better how long we can detect drugs in our horses.
Operationally, we have been using hair in Ireland since 2018. I was using it across the water before then. It is important that Dr. Pearce speak to the committee on this because he is the expert. From an operational and regulatory point of view, hair gives us a larger window of time, more confidence in the blood and urine results that we find and more of an understanding of how long the drug has been in the horse or for how long the horse has been exposed to it. It also allows us to take samples in a non-invasive way. Taking a blood sample has to be done by a veterinary surgeon. Taking a hair or urine sample can be done by a non-vet, which makes it more applicable across a wider field in terms of our strategy.
The straight answer to the question of which of blood, hair and urine is better is that they are all good in their own way. The best way to use them is together in a complementary fashion and to be careful about when to use which one. We have used all three successfully to prosecute cases or to see cases through to a proper conclusion. In every case, the hair has added value, the blood has added value and the urine has added value. In the ideal world of limitless resources and time, we would take blood, hair and urine from every horse, but what we have to do is use the three together strategically. On the racecourse, we typically take blood and urine for a period of time as a period of target testing. If we want to follow up on a case, we take a mixture of the matrices. I hope I have answered the question, but I will leave it to Dr. Pearce to go into more detail.
The only other matter I wish to comment on is the idea of less being more. I am a great believer in less being more. It is about quality, not quantity. We are keen to try to do both in our anti-doping strategy, though. Not only have we increased the numbers - the numbers for June were significant - but we have had to balance out an absence of activity earlier in the year due to the pandemic. We had to be cognisant of the landscape within which we were working, but we have made up for that in June by taking advantage of our authorised officer status from 21 May. It is not just about numbers, though. It is a question of what is being tested for and how it is tested. This means that the expertise of laboratories must be relied on.
Without further ado, and if it is okay, I will pass across to Dr. Pearce and allow him to fill the committee in on the technical laboratory side of matters.
Dr. Clive Pearce:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to explain a little more about how LGC has helped the IHRB. We have been in this support role since 2018 and we work according to operational documents, which are reviewed and updated on a quarterly basis. We also have business meetings with the IHRB.
LGC is a world-leading racing chemistry lab and has extensive animal sports testing and research and development programmes that have been developed over many years. We are well known for our pioneering research and continued investment in detecting the use of banned substances such as anabolic steroids, which have been a specialism of ours for many years, and erythropoietins, or EPOs, which have large biological molecules and now feature strongly. As Dr. Hillyer mentioned, we have introduced many novel testing methods, including hair testing.
I will pick up on some of the points made regarding hair testing. It is a useful matrix for performing an analysis because it provides a long window of detection. Typically, blood provides a window of days or sometimes a week. With urine, the period is generally a little longer. Urine has an advantage, in that drugs and so on tend to concentrate in urine, meaning that there is more to be seen in urine. Hair provides a long window of opportunity to detect. The concentrations of drugs found in hair are generally very low because it relies on the drugs circulating in the animal's system and then being incurred in the hair. There is a large advantage in terms of the window of detection, but the concentrations are small. It has only been in recent years after the analytical technology advanced to the point where we could detect such very low concentrations that hair testing has become a useful addition to urine and blood testing. As Dr. Hillyer mentioned, though, since the concentrations in urine and blood are generally higher and they are much more convenient matrices for testing, it will be some time before hair testing comes alongside urine and blood testing completely. Urine and blood testing will always be the main matrices for the foreseeable future, supported by hair.
I wish to emphasise the large amount of international collaboration that goes on around research and development programmes. LGC is part of the Association of Official Racing Chemists and the European Horserace Scientific Liaison Committee. We also have representation on the advisory council of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, IFHA, and in the US, the scientific advisory committee of the Racing and Medication Testing Consortium, RMTC. The laboratory is well placed in terms of its interaction and collaboration with racing interests around the world.
I will pick up on a couple of the questions that were raised. The matter of zilpaterol was raised in terms of LGC's detection capability versus LCH's. LGC and LCH are two of the five IFHA reference laboratories and we are seen as being at the vanguard of racing laboratories. We are top of the tree, as it were. However, it has to be remembered that what both laboratories are detecting is close to 3,000 different substances. A large array of chemical molecules are being detected as the drugs themselves and after they have metabolised. Many of those chemicals are medications or known and naturally occurring contaminants. Associated with these are reporting and screening limits or international thresholds. There is a number of the 3,000 where there are definite concentrations that all laboratories-----
Dr. Clive Pearce:
However, the vast majority do not have such concentrations, so it is up to each laboratory to cover those 2,500 or 3,000 molecules as best and as sensitively as we can.
Zilpaterol, which is where interest lay last year, is a known feed contaminant, but not in Europe. It had not really been raised as an issue in Europe prior to 2020, which was the first time zilpaterol was detected by a laboratory as a feed contaminant in Europe. Zilpaterol is a banned substance.
As I said, laboratories are encouraged to report concentrations as low as possible for such substances. Modification of doping control labs is required in order to detect many hundreds of such prohibited substances, particularly if it is constant, but every lab uses a range of what we call multi-residue methods. There is potential within those methods to focus on particular areas and drugs but there are usually trade-offs. A lab has to work conscious of the fact it is trying to cover as many substances as possible in this multi-residue method. It simply cannot set up methods to detect 3,000 separate compounds. It has to bolt them together in multi-residue methods.
Prior to 2020, LGC's routine methods were capable of detecting zilpaterol in, typically, two to three weeks in urine. That is how the method was set up. When LGC was made aware of LCH's findings, we quickly assessed, in collaboration with LCH, our detection capabilities. We discovered that while we were detecting at about one part per billion, which is a very low concentration, typically giving coverage for three to three and a half weeks, LCH had better methods set up, at about five times greater sensitivity. As soon as we were made aware of that issue, we took it on board and adjusted our method in order that we could be at least as sensitive as LCH, in the space of 48 hours. At the same time, there was a great deal of international interest. The issue was discussed at the advisory council of the IFHA, and within EHSLC. Internationally, within a matter of weeks, agreed reporting levels were decided for zilpaterol in both urine and blood. LGC, LCH, the other European labs and labs throughout the world are now operating to those reporting levels. That is a good example, in many ways, of how communication and collaboration among the regulators and testing laboratories can adjust to an incident or threat, and that is exactly what we do. All the time, through the various racing and analytical bodies we are involved with, we pick up intelligence, act on it and adjust and refine our methodologies in order that we counter these incidents and the new threats to the integrity of racing and the safety of competitors.
That is how it all works. It works through communication. LGC, as one of the world's major racing laboratories, is at the heart of much of that communication and collaboration, in both our testing programmes and our extensive research programmes.
Dr. Pearce will have an opportunity to come in again. Many members wish to ask questions. I have given our guests great latitude to outline their work because it is important to get a comprehensive background to the testing going on.
I thank our guests. I put on record my esteem for the success of Irish horse racing and echo Senator Paul Daly's comments that the objective of this committee is to ensure that the international reputation for which we are renowned will be protected and enhanced at all stages.
Mr. Egan concluded his opening remarks by stating that there is no systemic cheating within the horse racing industry, and it is important to state clearly that the committee has no evidence that there is. Does he believe there is any cheating at all?
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
Given that we have an extensive modern anti-doping programme in place and that we detect, deter and disrupt behaviour, we are on top of it. As for whether there is cheating, people will always try to go close to the edge in any sport. The Deputy will no doubt be aware that there have been four cases in the past three years of anabolic steroids being found, to pick a drug most people would associate with cheating. Of those four, two were completely natural and normal for the animals concerned. It is important to understand that the nature of the drug and why it is present is just as important as the type of drug.
When I took up the position of head of legal, licensing and compliance, alongside another new position, I was passionate about ensuring we put in an investigative structure for every case. Every analytical finding is investigated because it is one thing to say a drug is there but it is another to understand why.
I am not really a figures person but sometimes it is important to-----
I might just return to the questions. Our guests mentioned that blood and urine samples are routinely taken from winners. Is it the case that both types of sample are taken? My understanding is that it is primarily urine samples that are taken and that blood is taken only when urine has not been passed.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
That is on the racecourse. The urine is part of the picture. When we take out-of-competition sampling, it is typically the other way around. It is blood, with hair in addition. As I outlined earlier, all these matrices are important; none is better than the other. They do the job according to what we are trying to detect on the day. On race day, it is important that we have a deep, extensive coverage of what is present. When we take out-of-competition samples, because they are unannounced and people do not know we are coming, the blood sampling together with the hair sample is, generally, the correct combination.
Mr. Denis Egan:
There six directors on the board of the IHRB, three of whom are nominees of the Turf Club, while three are nominees of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee. The current chairman of the board is Mr. Harry McCalmont and the vice-chairman is Mr. Martin O'Donnell. The board meets approximately times per annum and is heavily involved in policy, but it is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the IHRB. That is a matter for the executives.
It is the governing authority, however. The reason I ask is that the US anti-doping agency is to put in place a new governing body comprising nine members, five of whom will be completely independent of the industry, while four will be experts of the industry who have no current engagement.
Does Mr. Egan see the merit of that type of structure whereby there would be a clear difference between the industry and the governing body?
Mr. Denis Egan:
Plenty of our directors are not involved in the industry as such, although some are. The situation in the USA, where there are 38 or so racing commissions, is completely different from here. Our board sets policy on drug testing and our policy is based on what is happening internationally. If a horse comes to run in Ireland, the sample is tested at one of the five IFHA-certified laboratories, which is LGC. Similarly, if a horse runs in Hong Kong, it is tested by the Hong Kong laboratories. There is uniformity in drug testing and policy on drug testing is similar across all the main racing jurisdictions.
There is some confusion regarding the distinction between where the responsibility of HRI ends and that of the IHRB starts. Some questions are often put to the two bodies because there is confusion as to which of them is responsible. To get a sense of the relationship between the two bodies, will Mr. Egan advise if there was any interaction between HRI and IHRB before this meeting?
Mr. Denis Egan:
We work regularly with HRI on many matters, including budgeting and everything else. I will briefly outline the position as we are tight on time. As Mr. Kavanagh said, the IHRB is solely and independently responsible for making and enforcing the rules of racing. We are responsible for employing racing officials, doping control and forensics and representing Ireland internationally in the context of our functions. I cannot remember our fifth responsibility. It is all set out in the Horse Racing Ireland Act 2016. We interact regularly with HRI. As Mr. Kavanagh said, we meet on a quarterly basis to go through our budgets and accounts. Horse Racing Ireland provides our funding and it is important our funding is spent in accordance with the budget we have submitted. If we see something coming down the line which has financial implications, which is not budgeted for, we liaise with HRI. We are in touch with HRI at least two or three times a week on budgetary or integrity related matters. In the anti-doping area, HRI has been a great support. As Mr. Kavanagh said, we are pushing an open door on anti-doping with respect to funding and everything else, and that is something we welcome.
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
We operate under a service level agreement with respect to integrity services each year. That cascades down to an annual budget, which is approved by the board of Horse Racing Ireland. As Mr. Egan said, there is a quarterly review meeting at executive level. Aside from that, there is day to day contact to do with racing. The functions are set out in legislation. They are separate but they impact heavily on each other. We would talk to each other on a day to day basis. Certainly in the run up to today's meeting we would have been in touch with each other regularly.
The two gentlemen referred to the budget. HRI gave the IHRB funding towards CCTV coverage which has not been carried out. As far back as 2017, the privacy statement on the IHRB's website was updated to reflect the installation of CCTV in multiple stables but that has not yet happened. Does Mr. Egan accept the lack of CCTV allows for a situation where doping could potentially happen?
Mr. Denis Egan:
I do not think so. CCTV is one part of the process that would assist. We welcome HRI’s commitment to provide funding for CCTV cameras in stable yards on Irish racecourses. We are working towards having the cameras in place on all racecourses prior to the commencement of the 2022 season. This will provide an additional layer of security to our existing measures. The Deputy is right to say that money had been allocated previously to cover a small number of racecourses but that work did not proceed as the money was allocated elsewhere. We very much welcome a state-of-the-art CCTV system, which is the subject of public procurement and the tenders are in the process of being evaluated.
When somebody, be it an individual or an establishment, reports concerns and outlines how an operation might have happened, Mr. Egan might describe briefly on whose desk in the IHRB does that land first and how is that dealt with?
Mr. Denis Egan:
It depends on who it comes into. It could come in via the confidential hotline or to me, or directly to Dr. Hillyer. I might ask Dr. Hillyer to outline how she has dealt with some allegations or intelligence reports she would have received. It might give the Deputy a better idea of how we operate.
That would be useful. In the first instance, I want to establish if there is a streamlined or universal position whereby there is a designated person on whose desk a report of such an allegation lands and how it is then processed as opposed to it being dealt with generically.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
Yes, if it relates to anti-doping. Mr. Egan was right in what he said. The process is very simple. In broad terms, information will come to any one of us, whether it be one of my team on the racecourse today, Mr. Egan, somebody in HRI, a trainer, stable staff and so on. The information can come in via a number of routes. Once it lands on someone's desk in our organisation it will come in to either me or to the head of the legal licensing compliance, Dr. Cliodhna Guy. Dr. Guy manages the confidential hotline. The matter is dealt with unequivocally. I need to be clear about this. Sometimes information can be scribbled on the back of an envelope, it can a recorded taped conversation and sometimes I will receive envelopes in the post with leaflets of products. We do not care how it comes in. The important point is that it comes in and is assessed. We need to be careful to differentiate between information coming in and hearsay. I am not saying we disregard either. We consider everything but we have to process it and assess it. That is basically converting information into intelligence. We work very closely with the BHA, which manages the database on which the intelligence is logged. Every single piece of information is logged.
A piece of information could come in today which, on its own, would not seem to make much sense but it might make sense in two months’ time when it is put together with another piece of information. That is how we work. That is the way modern anti-doping is dealt with.. The Deputy mentioned Travis Tygart of the US Anti-Doping Agency, USADA. I have had quite a number of dealings with that agency in the past. It has stated repeatedly that information coming in, for example from whistleblowers who are prepared to step up and give that information, is really important.
I will give an example of where information that came in from another racing authority was acted upon last year. It links in with Senator Paul Daly's comments, to which I wanted to respond, about having to prove our innocence. One of the things that rankled the most was reading last Sunday’s article about the six Irish horses that were alleged to have anabolic steroids on board and the claim that we were doing nothing about it, but the opposite was the case. The minute that information came into the BHA it acted on it. It communicated with us. We were across it and were prepared to act. The BHA did the most extensive piece of the work I have ever seen, apart from investigation of an adverse finding, by going into that within an inch of its life. It analysed tail and mane hair, and samples repeatedly at LGC Laboratories. I will not go into again where LGC stand in the world of hair and anabolic steroid chemistry and nothing was found. That is not a criticism of the other laboratory involved, but this is expert stuff. LGC has been dealing with anabolic steroid profiles since 1963. It knows the difference between the normal profile of a cult compared with an animal that has been administered an anabolic steroid. It has done it for us numerous times in investigations. It has dealt with live samples.
What I am trying to say is staying ahead of that, being on top of that and dealing with information in a timely fashion is critical because if that had returned a positive result, we would have been in those yards immediately on unannounced visits. It would not have just been us; it would have been us in conjunction with the Department. With anything like that we act with our colleagues in the investigations division of the Department.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
As in any anti-doping case, it is investigated as thoroughly as we possibly can. I work with my colleagues in the security division to interview and to assess the information. My part, as one would expect, it more limited to the horse side, the drugs side and the chemistry side. In that particular case, I assessed the amount of acepromazine, ACP, present in the horse in the sample against research data to give us an idea of the window of time within which we believed it would have been exposed to or administered the drug and so on. CCTV clearly was not in place and I am not going to go back over that ground again. What I will say on CCTV, having been involved for 15-odd years across the water in anti-doping investigation------
-----does Dr. Hillyer think it is acceptable that with something so damaging to the sector - this issue was exposed in October 2018 - we do not know the culprit and it is possible he or she is still active in horse racing?
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
I think the important thing is it was detected, it was disrupted, it was stopped and it was brought to book. The statistic I was going to give before we stopped is we have had 60 cases to 2018. In 55 of those we have been very sure of the source of drug. That is a percentage which exceeds that of most racing authorities. I would love to identify the categoric source in every single case but that is just not possible. We will do what we can and we will not stop until we have done everything we can. As I said, in 55 of 60 cases we are very clear we know what has happened. Viking Hoard was one of the ones where we have to hold our hands up as we did not get to the end of the line. That is it.
I am about a quarter of the way through my questions. In deference to the other members, I will waive and the Cathaoirleach might let me back in if there is any additional time at the end of the meeting. Thanks again.
We are going to have a problem today. We are definitely not going to get to the end of the questions. Members' questions are so central to the topic I do not want to stop anyone. I was lenient with the witnesses at the start because it was important we got an overview of the situation but this is something we are going to have to reconvene on. I appreciate Deputy Carthy stopping. Deputy Kehoe requested this meeting and he is waiting to come in.
I welcome Mr. Kavanagh and Mr. Egan and the other representatives from HRI and the IHRB. I am indeed the person who sent in the correspondence after reading of a leading horse trainer in some of the national newspapers. I got very concerned because I have a very keen interest in horse racing, which is a very important industry to Ireland and I do not want to see it going down the same way other industries have. Beginning with Mr. Egan, I do not want him to pass the questions over to anybody else. I ask he answer them himself. He said the information he gets is assessed and acted upon. I wonder whether it is anything like the amount of information I have got over the last number of weeks since I sent in this correspondence. I have been absolutely horrified and am very concerned. I am more concerned by the day about what is happening within the IHRB and maybe what is not happening within it. People who have been contacting Mr. Egan's organisation are saying information is not being assessed or acted upon. I have to believe these people who come to me and the witnesses have to prove themselves not guilty.
I have a couple of questions about the IHRB accounts for 2018 and 2019. I have been contacted by people in the industry who are very concerned by what they have seen in the board's accounts. Why was the budget for the forensic equine unit cut by almost €500,000 between 2018 and 2019? Mr. Egan has repeatedly stated the IHRB increased its testing for prohibited drugs but the figures for this show this to not be true. Why did the racecourse samples decrease between 2017 and 2019? In 2017 there were 3,074, in 2018 3,034 and in 2019 3,004. I ask Mr. Egan to answer those and then I have further questions for him.
Mr. Denis Egan:
I thank Deputy Kehoe. The first question was on information coming into the IHRB and not being acted upon. I can categorically state if information comes into the IHRB, it is assessed and followed up on. We have no reason not to follow up information if it comes in to us. Dr. Hillyer referred to the structure that is in place. I am going to talk about another issue for a second, where we got information recently and it lead to a matter being investigated and dealt with by the referrals committee. We got information from a third party. All information is assessed and followed up so if people have information, it is, as I have said before on many occasions, incumbent on them to give us that information and we will act on it. It will be assessed, fed into our database or whatever and acted upon. That is the way we operate.
The second question related to the accounts and anti-doping. There was a transfer from our original laboratory back in 2018 to LGC. LGC was appointed as part of the public procurement process and we felt that as Ireland was a world leader in horse racing we needed a laboratory which was a world leader. In order to terminate the existing contractual relationship that was in place at the time, we entered into a mediation process which resulted in a figure being paid. That was included in the 2018 accounts, which is why there appears to have been a reduction between 2018 and 2019. On the number of racecourse samples that are taken, as Dr. Hillyer said earlier that is related to the number of winners and we also test other horses randomly. Again, Dr. Hillyer is the expert on that and I would like her to comment on that specific point because it is her area.
Mr. Denis Egan:
Okay. There has never been a positive finding where no action was taken. I made that point in my opening statement and want to make it again. I thank Deputy Kehoe for giving me the opportunity to make it. I can categorically state there has never been a positive finding with no action taken. I think there are in the region of ten hearings waiting to be held at the moment. They are in the process of investigation and we are expecting them to be held in the next month or two, certainly in the next two or three months. I think there are ten in the system.
That is okay. Why does the IHRB not disclose the salaries of its staff? The board gets, I think, €10 million of taxpayers' money from the HRI. The board has no competitor in the game. There is no commercial sensitivity here that I can see. Maybe Mr. Egan can outline how there is some.
Mr. Kavanagh said HRI gives the IHRB €10 million annually to carry out its functions. Why will Mr. Egan not disclose IHRB staff salaries?
Mr. Denis Egan:
We are a small organisation. If we were to disclose salaries it would be easily identifiable who is earning what. The other point is that while HRI provides funding, there is also another source of income from licensing revenue and so on which is taken into account under legislation when determining our budget. We are not fully funded by public funds, but we are substantially funded by public funds.
I do not accept Mr. Egan's explanation that IHRB is a small organisation. Does he understand that this is taxpayers' money? For the taxpayer to have value for money, the IHRB should disclose the salaries. On the IHRB accounts for 2018, I understand they were incorrect and had to be restated to the amount of €1.6 million. Is that correct?
The Comptroller and Auditor General concluded in his remarks as follows: "My opinion on the financial statements does not cover other information presented with those statements and I do not express any form of assurance on the conclusion thereon." Was Mr. Egan surprised at such a statement from the Comptroller and Auditor General?
Mr. Denis Egan:
I will answer that question in a moment. The key point in regard to the Comptroller and Auditor General's conclusion is that he said the accounts gave a true and fair view of the state of the IHRB's finances. All money that was received by the IHRB has been account for. The audit only covers certain areas. It covers the financial aspects. It is not surprising that the Comptroller and Auditor General did not express any opinion on areas that he did not cover. I want to stress that there was a clean audit opinion from the Comptroller and Auditor General. If there were any issues with the accounts, that would not have been the case.
To return to the salaries, Mr. Egan mentioned that in addition to the €10 million in funding provided by the taxpayer the organisation receives income from other sources. In regard to the €10 million, there is no accountability for the taxpayer as to how that is spent, where it is spent and who gets what and so on.
Mr. Denis Egan:
The Deputy could apply to become a race day steward. There is a training scheme in place for all race day stewards. It takes about 12 months to qualify. It is important that all race day stewards are appropriately trained because they carry out a very important role. In terms of value for money, I want to stress that race day stewards receive no payment or travel expenses. They are not paid. Many of them sit on IHRB disciplinary committees. We are fortunate that we have a lot of experts in the industry. We have experts from all walks of life who voluntarily give their time to the IHRB for the benefit of the sport. That is often overlooked. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the members who do that. The industry recognises the contribution that they make.
As in any sport or organisation the volunteerism is important. Many people have said to me that the IHRB is not fit for purpose. I am only repeating what has been said to me. I would welcome Mr. Egan's opinion on that.
Mr. Denis Egan:
We believe the IHRB is an excellent and progressive organisation. The Deputy will be aware of the huge strides we have made in regard to anti-doping. We have unique powers and authorised officers status. No other authority has that status. We can walk into any stable yard and test any thoroughbred horse. We have a fair disciplinary system. We were challenged in the Supreme Court in 2013. We won that case. In fairness to the person who challenged us he said there was no issue with the fairness or impartiality of the system. I am proud of the IHRB and the work it does. I have represented the IHRB internationally on many committees. The fact that it is progressive is reflected in it being represented on every international committee in racing. That is important for the benefit of Irish racing. I am proud of the work that the IHRB does.
I have two more questions. Can the HRI confirm that all gallop fees in the past 12 months have been properly accounted for? The second question is to Dr. Hillyer. Prior to arrangements being made for the IHRB to visit non-licensed yards, was it aware that some trainers - this information was given to me anonymously - were moving horses to non-licensed yards where they may have been getting drug treatment? Was the IHRB aware of this abuse and does it concentrate its efforts on trainers engaged in this practice?
I welcome our witnesses. I have two questions. Horse racing is a great sport enjoyed by so many. I have no issue with the Government providing funding for horse racing, as it does in respect of greyhound racing and so on, as long as the funding is divided equally among all sectors of horse racing down to ground level. I am not big into horse racing. Farming and fishing are the main areas of interest in my part of the country. At the same time, I do attend local trotting races in the Durrus, Goleen and Drimoleague roads and in Bandon. These clubs have huge difficulty meeting insurance costs and so on. I would like to see the funding being provided by Government reaching the people on the ground as well as the people at the top.
As I said, I do not have massive skin in the game but I have a careful eye on what is going on. There are a lot of issues in this area that need to be properly explained for the sake of accountability in respect of taxpayers' money. I believe the IHRB should be dismantled and that an independent policing body needs to be established to police and regulate Irish horse racing. This body could be answerable to the HRI, the Government and this committee. I am sure at this stage it has become obvious that there are serious issues within the IHRB that are unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue.
As I said I have two questions, the first is to Mr. Kavanagh and the second to Dr. Hillyer. If any other witnesses wish to answer them they are welcome to do so. Is it acceptable that a self-elected gentlemen's club which receives Government funding of up to €9 million last year is not answerable to anybody?
My second question is about the steroids situation. Are there any current positive results not dealt with?
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
The first question is above my pay grade. I do not think it is fair to say the IHRB is not answerable to anybody. As Mr. Egan has explained, it is required to account monthly to Horse Racing Ireland for the spending of its funds, it is audited annually by the Comptroller and Auditor General and there is a regular, day-to-day relationship with Horse Racing Ireland. I outlined at the start of the meeting the legislative framework that applies to horse racing. That is a matter for legislators to set out. We work within the framework we have. As I said, the structure has delivered an industry which can be and is a source of pride for the country. It is also a sector in which Ireland performs exceedingly well internationally. It is a sector in which Ireland has natural advantages: our climate, our soil structure, our people and a history of political support, which has created a very strong structure. It is a valuable industry. The structure is set out in legislation and we apply it, but I do not accept the suggestion that the IHRB is not answerable to anybody.
The second question is, I think, one for Dr. Hillyer.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
I can answer very simply, categorically and very clearly: No. That is in spite of taking nearly 2,500 samples this year, with all the complexities I have gone into, which, in the interests of time, I will not go into again unless the Deputy wishes me to do so. The answer is "No" - not a hint, nothing.
I do not care whether he is or is not. I am a member of the committee, I attend the meetings and I expect to be brought in before those who are not members of the committee. I have had my hand up from the very beginning of the meeting and I am disappointed, but that is fine, Chairman. Go ahead. I just want to put on the record that I am disappointed. It has always been an unwritten rule of the Houses of the Oireachtas that members of the committee always get the right to contribute first and that any guest who attends may contribute afterwards. The members of the committee have always been let go first. I am disappointed.
No, he does not. The members of the committee do. You can check that rule, Chairman. I have been a long time in the Dáil and there has always been an unwritten rule in the Houses that the committee members get in first and other people who come in when it suits them are let in afterwards. You can check that as Chairman, but that has always been an unwritten rule in the Houses, and I have been here a long time.
I had intended at all points to attend this meeting. If I had done so just as a guest, as an ordinary Member of the Oireachtas, what Deputy Ring says would be true: I would have had to wait until all members of the committee had had their chance. I am here, however, having substituted for a member of the same group as Senator Victor Boyhan. He is a full member of the committee and, under Standing Orders, in that context, I sit as though I were a member of the committee. It is a different situation from my just turning up as an ordinary Member of the Oireachtas without substituting for a member of the committee. That is my understanding of the Standing Orders, and this was checked with the clerk yesterday. I am not seeking to jump in ahead of anyone - I am not entitled to do so - but I am here as a member of the committee.
We want to get on to that, and if we have to stay another hour or two, I do not mind, but there has always been an unwritten rule in committees that whoever is on the committee gets the right to speak first. I have nothing against Senator Mullen. He is a good representative. He may be substituting, but a substitute is only a substitute in any sport.
I have togged out and lined out now so I had better try to play. I will address my first question to Mr. Kavanagh. From what he said a moment ago, I understand the IHRB has a level of accountability to the taxpayer, but is it the same level of accountability as HRI has? The IHRB will get, if I understand correctly, €9.6 million this year. Certainly, €9 million out of €13 million is taxpayers' money going to the IHRB through HRI. Is the IHRB as accountable to the taxpayer as HRI is? Is the taxpayer in a better position to know, for example, the salaries in Mr. Kavanagh's organisation than the salaries in the IHRB?
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
As I understand it, it is a broadly similar accountability. It is set out in legislation. I understand that the chief executive of the IHRB since 2016 - it was the Turf Club at the time - is liable to appear before an Oireachtas committee when requested and to answer to it. I do not believe the chief executive is an Accounting Officer in the same sense that I am an Accounting Officer of a State body, but the IHRB is not a State-----
Mr. Brian Kavanagh:
I believe it is broadly similar. I believe that if the Committee of Public Accounts wished to invite the chief executive in to discuss the accounts of the IHRB, that would be possible. I ask Mr. Egan to correct me if I am saying something wrong, but that is my understanding of it.
I think the point has been made that nearly €10 million and the bulk of the money of IHRB is coming from the taxpayer through HRI and that people are not in a position to know the salaries involved. That is an interesting and important point.
I wish to ask about the Turf Club and the IHRB. The IHRB is an emanation of the Turf Club. It is effectively a self-selecting organisation that includes in some cases the owners of horses. How is it acceptable for an organisation that is a self-selecting club to be the regulatory organisation for that sector, particularly when it comes to something as sensitive as integrity and drug testing? Is that not an anachronism?
Mr. Denis Egan:
No. We have a very detailed governance manual, and top of the list is conflicts of interest. Every member of the organisation has to declare conflicts of interest. That comes up at every single meeting, and members opt out if there is anything which may present a conflict of interest.
Yes, but, of course, I am not suggesting I have any evidence that people intervene in favour of their own situations. Perception is everything, however, just as in a court justice is not just to be done but has to be seen to be done. There are examples internationally of regulatory bodies for this industry in which nobody who is involved in owning, breeding or training can have hand, act or part. To take an example and a perfectly legitimate case, the IHRB's own chairman, Mr. McCalmont, was reported as having sold a yearling for €1.3 million to Coolmore. There is nothing wrong with that, but is it not wrong that a person with a financial interest in the industry could have any role in the regulatory body, even if he or she is not in an executive role? Is it not a bad look?
Okay. Would it be inappropriate for anybody who is in any way involved in selling or trading with horses to have any role in a regulatory body with responsibility for anti-doping? I am not suggesting that they are involved in the executive or the day-to-day business, but am referring to the perception of things and the perception of this being a clean situation. Given that the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, IHRB, is a self-selecting body and its directors are not appointed by the Government, is there not something out of date and unhealthy about the whole appearance of that?
Mr. Denis Egan:
I do not agree with the Senator there. The majority of people involved in the IHRB have expertise that is important for horse racing. I reiterate that we have a very strict conflict-of-interest policy. Anyone who has a conflict of interest does not get involved in any decision that may be of benefit to them. I believe there are some 100 stewards around the State. I am not sure how familiar the Senator is with horse racing, but if he looked at the stewards' inquiry reports at the end of any given day, he will see that a "Mr. Whoever" had absented himself from that inquiry. They all stand out. The advantage we have in using such expertise is that we have very good experts available to us and it is beneficial to the sport to have that expertise. One cannot have experts in sport who do not understand the sport.
I see racing every weekend on two channels because I have a family member who is passionate about it. I follow it somewhat vicariously but never unwillingly. From all that I see it is clear to me that racing is a family. In any such family situation there must be a scrupulousness about keeping certain people away from decision-making. The concern is that the IHRB is, effectively, a closed shop. It is a closed shop that is getting taxpayers' money. Some of the people involved in it might well be owners and people who are involved in the buying and selling of bloodstock. I put it to Mr. Egan that there are examples internationally of regulatory bodies in this type of situation where the directors involved cannot have hand, act or part in owning, buying or selling.
Mr. Bolger is, quite clearly, a thorn in the side of IHRB right now. He has, as you have said, frustrated-----
Okay. Claims are made by people who have a high reputation, people of long standing in the industry, people who have a completely clean record, and people who say that they have moral certainty, that drug taking is the number one problem. The representatives from IHRB come in here and say that they are frustrated and disappointed by recent allegations. With everything we have heard so far the IHRB has been telling us it has the powers, and that because of that there is no systemic problem of drug taking. All that the IHRB has proven to us is that it has not found evidence itself of the systemic problems. If I am to ask the witnesses about out-of-competition testing, only now is that happening. If I ask if there is CCTV at racetracks, the answer is not yet. The detailed equine anti-doping report to be presented twice yearly was published for the first time last week. It seems to me like the IHRB is getting serious now and that the board might owe a debt to the very prominent people of high reputation who have been expressing concern about what they have said is going on in the industry. Would Mr Egan accept that?
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
This goes back to what we said earlier. We welcome intelligence information from anybody and we will deal with it. If people come to us, be they a world-leading trainer, a member of stable staff or a vet, we will listen to them. I must stress that they are not a thorn in our side. People are entitled to their opinion. They may have views and they may have evidence or information-----
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
Let me just set that straight. The frustration and disappointment relates to some of the headlines that have been incorrect. We have already mentioned the piece and the British Horceracing Authority, BHA, has also come out. There were six horses that were quoted as having anabolic steroids onboard. That was simply untrue. We have been quoted as not analysing every sample. That is simply untrue. We have been said to have a rubbish lab. That is simply untrue. The frustration is from the reporting and the headlines not from the people coming forward and telling us information. I would listen to everybody every day of the week if they could give us information to help do our job. The Senator is right that-----
-----the IHRB and Mr. Egan are not frustrated and disappointed by the claims that drug taking is the number one problem in horse racing and that we have a problem coming down the tracks? Am I clear that the IHRB is not frustrated and disappointed, and that it has no issue or problem with the statement being made?
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
We are here to do our job and we believe that we are doing our job to the best of our ability. We have fantastic resources. I have a fantastic team. It is almost being seen as a criticism that we are saying this, but that is the reality and the truth of it. We can always get better. Every anti-doping authority in the world will always want to get better. It is absolutely true that we have gone up a gear since we received our warrant cards on 21 May. That was always going to happen. It was a coincidence that this current process is happening, which we welcome. I am looking forward to the next six months, the next year and the next 18 months. We have more to do and, as Mr. Egan has said a number of times, the more that we can rely on people in the industry to come forward without fear and knowing that their information will be treated in confidence, is the most important thing of all to me. It is the most important thing of all.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
Dr. Pearce has probably explained it very clearly. It was headline stuff. We ask or tell our lab to detect as much as it can of prohibited at all times substances, which are the drugs that should not be there. That is exactly what happened here. With any of these prohibited at all times drugs there will always be one lab moving ahead a little bit quicker then another, and that is exactly what happened here. Perhaps Dr. Pearce would like to step in briefly now.
I do not have an issue with the findings in the lab. My issue is what happened in Ireland arising out of that case. This case is associated with the withdrawal of certain horses from a race card. What are the consequences? What was the net issue that arose in that case? Was there wrongdoing in that case? Who was to blame for that wrongdoing and what action was taken against whoever was to blame?
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
There was no wrongdoing so there was no action to be taken against wrongdoing. Two laboratories were doing their job. The Laboratoire des Courses Hippiques, LCH, was doing its job detecting what it thought it should detect, and the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, LGC, was doing its job detecting what it thought it should detect. With regard to our role in this as the regulator, the minute the news broke we were on the telephone immediately to our laboratory and then to our colleagues in France and Britain, in that order, and we convened immediate meetings. I mean immediately, whatever time it was at night. We then triggered an international meeting of the powerhouse of international anti-doping decision-making which is the advisory council of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, IFHA. This was led by the chairman Mr. Terry Wong, who is the lead analyst in Hong Kong. There were actions and outcomes from that. It is very important to stress that nationally I also worked with colleagues within the Department and with the feed manufacturers involved. It was a very extensive and very rapid process.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
Please correct me if I am wrong but my understanding of the question is around what has happened now and what was the upshot of that. The laboratories are harmonised on that particular substance and we continue to work on it. It has actually triggered new professional relationships with feed manufacturers and the groups associated with them here, which are ongoing.
I am trying to establish whether the case was where a substance was in an additive that went into feed that was supplied, and where the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine was interested.
It was established that it was in feed that went to horses, but only in certain stables. What was found? Was there wrongdoing in that case? Why was that substance in the feed?
Senator Mullen, just in case there is a misunderstanding I am chairing the meeting. The Department will come before us next Tuesday and we can ask questions on its actions in regard to that. That is a question more appropriate for the Department.
I thank the Chair. Dr. Hillyer heard what I said about the regulatory body and the fact that it is, in effect, a closed shop. It has no directors appointed by the State. It does not have an independent State appointed chairperson. There is no perception that there is a complete separation if there are situations where directors could be involved in the industry.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
There is absolutely no crossover between what we do as an executive and, for example, the board or members. It might be worth mentioning that I come from a background of having worked in an independent regulatory authority in the form of the Jockey Club before it became part of the BHA. I support wholeheartedly the concept of an independent regulator. It is crucial.
As Mr. Egan said, there are experts in the form of members and stewards who benefit the organisation. However, I need to be crystal clear that they have absolutely nothing to do with our disciplinary or regulatory processes, or our processing or knowledge of cases. There is no knowledge of cases. The first a member will hear of a case is when it is presented to the referrals panel. That will usually be the first time the board will hear about it.
The only time the board will be made aware of such a matter is if it has already been processed, investigated, documented and catalogued. The board is made aware of a case if it has a particular profile or has a particular significance that it needs know about. The Zilpaterol event was something the board clearly needed to be briefed on.
I have a few simple questions. Dr. Hillyer said 2,449 samples were taken in the first six months of the year, 28% of which were taken as part of the out-of-competition testing programme. Is there a list of who was tested? How do we get that list? Has it been published? If it has not been published, why not? I was advised that certain yards are constantly tested while others are not. I would like Dr. Hillyer to respond to that point first.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
On whether there is a list of which horses have been sampled, there is a database in a number of different places because, as I said, the horses are anonymised. There is a list of sample codes which can be decoded to give a list of horses. In all honesty, that is not done unless we have an adverse finding. I ask the Deputy to remind me of his second question.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
The way yards are selected for testing or inspection is on a risk basis. I have a database, which we have developed over the past couple of years, of all our licensed trainers and handlers. I use a traffic light system of red, amber and green to rank them. A red yard could be one where there has perhaps been a positive test, there is a concern or intelligence information has come in. A so-called red yard will be visited more frequently than a so-called green yard. Any yard that has never been inspected will be a so-called red yard, by definition, because we need to go in and establish whether there is a post-licensing issue.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
Yes, as I said, we immediately contacted international colleagues and made sure that we had a handle on what was going on. As we have not had such dialogue before, we worked with the food standards agency to make sure that we could help it wherever we could with samples. There are ongoing actions from that now.
I thank the Chair. I refer to the whistleblower and Mr. Paul Kimmage. I was Minister of State with responsibility for sport. Mr. Kimmage has been consistent, brave and honest all his life regarding all sports. Horse racing is a sport and we must protect it and the industry. There are a lot of jobs in the industry that are very valuable to the country. At the same time, spectators must also know that whatever horse they are betting on is equal to the horse it is running against. Has anybody from any organisation made contact with Mr. Kimmage regarding his allegations?
An earlier question concerned allegations that were made. Everybody around the table, except the witnesses, is a politician and we regularly get anonymous letters and have complaints made about us which are not true. Are all complaints that come into the IHRB investigated?
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
Yes. As Mr. Egan explained, anything that is received, however much it may not make sense at the time and no matter how small or large the information is, has to be logged because we do not know what it could lead to in two weeks, months or years when put together with other information. It is really important. It takes a lot for somebody to pick up the phone, write a note, put a stamp on an envelope and send things to me. It is imperative that we take note of such correspondence.
I thank the witnesses. I want brief answers because I know Deputy Flaherty wants to come in.
Mr. Egan referred to 12 officials as authorised officers to inspect yards and unlicensed premises. This is like farmers regulating themselves. Is this not a bad system?
I refer to a previous regime where the Department took the lead on inspections, especially some high-profile inspections. Was it not better to have the Department looking after it?
When authorised officers go to yards, there is obviously a lot of security and all of that. How long does it take them to get in with security and everything? Is there a danger of horses or substances being moved?
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
I will step in to answer, having been at the coalface for the past few weeks. Most of the time, the gates are open. As regards warrant cards, we made a policy decision that all of our inspections will be under the warrant cards, rather than going in under other powers. We are proportionate. If we have reason to believe there is an issue - and I have been on inspections with the Department where that has been the case - measures are taken, such as proper reconnaissance, including of back gates, as well as vehicles not being allowed to leave and that type of thing.
Maybe that is the case. I will move on.
Are there plans to increase the rate of out-of-competition hair testing? What specific plans are there in that regard? Is it correct that 383 samples were taken in the first six months of 2021? I ask our guests to briefly address that issue.
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
We will be increasing the rate of testing. The reality is that we were affected by Covid and had to be sensitive to it. When restrictions eased in February, we were able to do a little more, but then went back to a minimum level of emergency-only, if one likes, testing in March. We do have plans to increase the rate of testing. As regards when, where and how that will be done, it will depend on intelligence and risk, as I stated.
The witnesses basically stated that 5,000 samples will be taken in 2021 and one quarter of those samples will be taken on race days. Veterinarians are of the view that steroid use during training can improve performance, so why is the IHRB taking most of the samples on race days rather than trying to take them earlier in light of this problem?
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
It is a good question. This is why we have shifted our focus from 9% out-of-competition testing in 2016 to nearly 30% now. That is a direction of travel that I wish to maintain. The Deputy is absolutely right that the horses spend most of their time in the yards and that is where we have to focus our efforts. What I wanted to do was to get the authorised officer warrant cards in place in order that we could undertake even further testing. That is where we are now.
The witnesses have basically stated that Ireland is a world leader in drug sampling. Some 12% of runners were tested in 2019, compared with 15.5% in Britain, 17.5% in France and 31.7% in Japan. Do our guests stand over that claim in the context of those figures for 2019 in other countries?
Dr. Lynn Hillyer:
I do stand over it because, as I stated, it is about the quality and nature of sampling, not just the numbers. It is about the two together. In the case of our nearest neighbours, approximately 10% of horses that run are sampled. We are running at the same percentage. We have a greater percentage in terms of out-of-competition testing. We have just discussed the importance of such testing and that is a direction we will maintain.
I have one final question. I want to let in Deputy Flaherty. I noticed that a problem arose last year relating to smaller breeders. The Department was involved, as were authorised agents. When a foal is born, one is supposed to get a book but, mysteriously, these books were heading towards the owner of the stud. Why was that the case?
There have been very intensive discussions and this is obviously a very important issue. I know Deputy Flaherty is waiting to get in but we are over time. Three or four other Deputies indicated they have more questions to ask. Deputy Browne had to leave to attend another committee. He represents the same part of the country that I represent and I know he is extremely interested in this topic.
If it is okay with the witnesses, I suggest that we reconvene this meeting on Tuesday week, when the committee is due to meet outside the Dáil sitting term, in order to finish the questions to the HRI and the IHRB. I want to be fair. I gave great latitude to members and witnesses during the meeting because this is an extremely important topic and I want it to be fully understood and to give all members an opportunity to contribute. If we were in non-Covid times, we would continue the meeting for another hour or two but we are restricted to two hours because of Covid. I propose that we reconvene on Tuesday week to finish our discussions. Is that acceptable to everyone?
That is correct. If we were in non-Covid times, we would continue for another hour or two but I am under strict orders from the Ceann Comhairle to conclude the meeting within two hours. The committee is due to meet that Tuesday anyway, so I suggest that we have a second session to finish our discussions on this issue. The committee is now adjourned until 3.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 13 July, when we will be joined by representatives of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.