Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2016: Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine
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Members and all attendees are asked to exercise personal responsibility in protecting yourselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19. You are strongly advised to practise good hand hygiene. I urge you not to move any chair from its current position. You should always maintain appropriate levels of social distancing during and after the meeting. Masks, preferably of a medical grade, should be worn at all times during the meeting, except when speaking. I ask for full co-operation on these issues.
Today's meeting with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Charlie McConalogue, will deal with two items. The first item is to consider the motion referred to the joint committee by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann in relation to the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations fund 2021. When this item is concluded, we will discuss Ireland's nitrates action programme with the Minister.
We now begin session one on Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2021. I welcome the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and the officials accompanying him from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Dr. Kevin Smyth, assistant secretary general, and Ms Caroline Ball, principal officer. You are all welcome to the meeting. The Minister will be given ten minutes to make his opening statement before we go into a question and answer session.
Before we begin, I must read an important notice on parliamentary privilege. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. However, if you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and you continue to do so, you are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of your evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected to the subject matter in these proceedings is to be given. You are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you 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.
I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.
I thank the Chair and members for the opportunity to be here today to discuss this issue. An important pillar of Government policy is to ensure that the horse and greyhound racing industries achieve their maximum potential and, in so doing, contribute to economic and social development in a very wide geographic distribution around the country.
The horse and greyhound racing industries make a valuable contribution to our economy. It is estimated that the thoroughbred industry has an annual economic impact of €1.84 billion with direct and indirect employment of 29,000 people, and the greyhound sector provides an estimated 10,000 people with economic benefit. The thoroughbred industry, in particular, brings a high level of international investment into Ireland. Government funding, in addition to supporting these key industries, presents an excellent opportunity to yield a high return for its investment, leading to a flow of income right through the economy, thereby providing widespread benefits to our society. The Irish equine breeding and racing industry is extremely competitive at an international level. We are the third biggest producer of thoroughbred foals in the world and estimates place Ireland only behind the United States as the biggest seller of bloodstock by public auction globally.
Successive Governments have acknowledged the importance of these industries and have supported them through legislation and policy initiatives. The support provided by public funds through investment in these industries has enabled Ireland to develop a world-class reputation for excellence in horse racing, greyhound racing and breeding.
Thanks to the hard work and exceptional support of Irish people for the vaccination programme, the Government has been in a position to continue to gradually reopen society over the last period of time. Since 22 October 2021, following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions and in line with the Reframing the Challenge - Continuing our recovery and reconnecting strategy, full attendance has once again been allowed at outdoor events in both greyhound and thoroughbred racing. This situation is being kept under review as the winter months continue.
The horse and greyhound racing industries receive financial support from the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, which was created under section 12 of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. My Department makes payments from the fund to Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, and to Rásaíocht Con Éireann, RCÉ. In the period from 2001 to date, a total of €1.46 billion has been paid from the fund to the horse and greyhound racing industries in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The cumulative upper limit on payments from the fund, provided for under the relevant regulations, has been reached. Exchequer support provided from the fund is crucial to the survival and continued development of both industries. In order to give effect to the provisions of budget 2022, this cumulative upper limit must be increased by regulation.
The Estimates for my Department, passed by both Houses as part of Budget 2022, include an allocation of €80 million for the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, which will be distributed in accordance with section 12(6) of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001, with 80% of the funding going to Horse Racing Ireland and 20% of it going to Rásaíocht Con Éireann. In order to allow my Department to provide for these fundings, it is necessary to comply with the technical requirement under section 12(13) of the Act to increase the cumulative limit on the amount payable from the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund by €88 million to €1.54 billion. This is achieved by way of regulations, which I have submitted to the committee today. The aggregate limit on the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund has been increased in this manner in 2004 and in 2009 to 2021, inclusive.
On the horse racing industry, the 2017 Deloitte report, Economic Impact of Irish Breeding and Racing, commissioned by HRI, indicates that the total direct and stimulated expenditure of the Irish breeding and racing industry was estimated at €1.84 billion in 2016. In addition, it is estimated that there are 15,200 jobs at the core of the racing and breeding industry or in directly related industries.
Horse racing generates a very significant return to the rural economy in Ireland, in particular, and a positive international profile for the country. Of course, behind all facts and figures are the thousands of men and women who, directly and indirectly, make the Irish racing and breeding industry what it is today. While the Covid pandemic has had a major impact at all levels of the industry, particularly in the area of racecourses and attendance, the metrics of horses in training, owners, runners, fixtures and race numbers have all shown strong growth this year over the corresponding pre-pandemic figures for 2019. Figures published by HRI for the first six months of 2021 show horse in training numbers, which is a key driver of rural employment in the industry, are up 24% on the last comparable figures from 2019, with ownership also up by almost 24% and new owners registered showing a 30% increase on the 2019 figure. Those are very significant increases across the board and across those key metrics. Turnover in 2021 is estimated to reach €154.7 million by year end, which would be an increase on €48 million in 2020, but down €10.5 million on 2019 levels. HRI continues to engage with all racecourses to crystallise losses incurred due to Covid-19.
As proven in 2021 to date, Irish owners, trainers, jockeys and horses are setting standards globally, and their stellar achievements and enduring influence underscore Ireland’s international prominence. The Irish equine breeding and racing industry is extremely competitive at a global level, despite other major racing nations having much larger populations and economies.
The importance of a strong welfare and integrity foundation to this highly successful industry is crucial and this is well recognised throughout the industry. My Department and I will continue to work with HRI, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, IHRB, and other relevant stakeholders to ensure the highest standards of integrity and welfare are maintained. In that regard, I am in receipt of this committee’s report on integrity in horse racing which the committee issued earlier this month. This followed a series of meetings with this forum involving officials from my Department, HRI, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board and the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association in the summer. My officials are examining the report and they, and I, will fully consider its findings.
It is of note that Government funding, in addition to supporting this key industry, also presents an excellent opportunity to yield a high return for its investment leading to a flow of income throughout the economy. Support for certain strategic industries is important for future economic growth and can provide widespread benefits for our society as well as for our economy. The EU-UK trade and co-operation agreement reached in December 2020 which included the Northern Ireland protocol was a welcome development for the sector. It should be noted however, that challenges remain in regard to the movement of horses between Ireland and Britain, and between Ireland and mainland Europe, for those animals transiting via the UK land bridge. The global nature of major breeding operations illustrates that while Ireland arguably now holds a leadership position within Europe our pre-eminence is never guaranteed.
According to the 2021 Power report the greyhound industry provides and supports considerable employment both directly and indirectly across the Irish economy. It is estimated that in 2019 the industry supported more than 4,000 full-time and part-time jobs in the economy. In addition there are more than 6,000 active greyhound owners. The total number of people deriving economic benefit from the sector is estimated at more than 10,000. The funding provided to the greyhound sector helps sustain a long-standing tradition as the industry is part of the social fabric of our country, both rural and traditionally urban. This funding underpins economic activity in what are, in many instances, highly rural areas. The future of the industry is dependent on a strong governance platform and on the industry having the highest standards of integrity and welfare focused and founded on a strong regulatory system.
There is a strong commitment to improved animal welfare in the sector. That commitment is clear in the programme for Government. My Department is committed to the continued strengthening of welfare standards in the greyhound industry. Future funding of the sector is contingent on welfare standards being upheld and this is reflected in annual parameters set out by my officials in their liaison with Rásaíocht Con Éireann.
Provisions in the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 which came into effect in May 2019 are making a real difference in this regard. This legislation strengthens the legal basis for the industry with a view to fortifying the integrity of the greyhound racing sector and improving provision for greyhound traceability as well. The new Act improves the governance of Rásíocht Con Éireann, strengthens regulatory controls in the industry, modernises sanctions and improves integrity within the sector. It provides the industry with real tools with which it can effect fundamental change and reform.
A key element of the new legislation is the provision for the first time for a full IT traceability system for racing greyhounds. The Rásaíocht Con Éireann Traceability System, RCÉTS, came into operation on 11 January 2021. The system provides a mechanism to ensure that racing greyhounds are properly registered and traceable throughout their lives. The sections of the Act commenced on 1 October 2020 signal a new era for greyhound racing. They facilitate the board in focusing on its priority objective of achieving the highest standards of care and welfare of greyhounds. Further commencement orders to commence the majority of the outstanding sections are currently being drafted. The Greyhound Racing Act 2019, when fully implemented, will enable Rásaíocht Con Éireann to ensure the important heritage associated with greyhound racing in Ireland can continue under the appropriate rules and regulations.
The greyhound industry is predominantly a rural industry with a strong urban support base. The Covid-19 crisis has, similar to other sectors of the economy, resulted in a collapse of commercial activity in greyhound racing and a significant reduction of activity generally also. Recovery of the industry will require ongoing support to aid restoration of normal levels of activity over the time ahead.
Given the wide geographic distribution of these two industries, they are fundamental to the achievement of more balanced regional economic growth. Nurturing rural economies is a key priority for Government and in this context, these industries should be given recognition for the considerable contribution that they make to rural economic activity and employment. The welfare of horses and greyhounds is a cornerstone of both industries and I am assured that HRI and RCÉ are striving to ensure the highest standards for the sport and its participants, on and away from the racecourse. The Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund has played a significant role in providing for this investment and has been instrumental in shaping the destiny of both industries.
Brexit poses an array of threats to the Irish economy and coupled with the fact that we are a small and open economy naturally prone to volatility, it can be somewhat difficult to fully predict what the future holds for both industries. It is therefore crucial that we support both of these important industries and their continued navigation through the challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit as we enter 2022.
Accordingly, I am seeking the committee's support to ensure that Horse Racing Ireland and Rásaíocht Con Éireann receive the funding provided for in budget 2022 and that the very important role played by these industries, and the economic activity generated by them, are sustained into the future. I commend the regulation to the committee, and look forward to discussing any matters arising.
I welcome the Minister and the officials. As always when we are dealing with racing, I put on the record, although it is probably well known at this stage, that I am chairman of Kilbeggan race committee. I also have one brood mare and its progeny. I suppose I could be called a breeder, although small one.
I welcome the Minister and pledge my support and that of my party for the increase in the cumulative upper limit. The Minister stated the figures - I will not rehash them - of the jobs created, maintained and supported through this fund in rural Ireland. One of the big mistakes people make when looking at this fund is to categorise horse and greyhound racing as sport, which it is. The three to five minutes that a horse is racing is sport. However, the journey from breeding, to rearing, to training and to transportation to get that horse to the start line on the race track creates and supports so many jobs in rural Ireland where there are few other employers. It is necessary to speculate to accumulate. The return, based on the figures the Minister gave, to the State from the money it invests makes it a worthwhile investment.
I welcome the fact the Minister mentioned the committee's report and acknowledged receipt of it. I will hold him to his commitment to follow through on it. The report cannot afford to end up on the proverbial shelf. It may not be the silver bullet or may not have all the answers. The starting point of the report was probably based on accusations and reports in the national media and we then undertook to do the report. While not all the answers may be included in it, I said at one of the meetings that when accusations are made in the media, traditional or social, many people take them as fact. By virtue of some of the statements made, reputational damage has been done to the industry. As I said at one committee meeting, one is innocent until proven guilty, and I still believe that. Once accusations are made, in the eyes of the public, you are guilty until you prove your innocence.
It is vitally important the Minister and his officials, through that report and whatever complementary things they need to bring in, help to undo the reputational damage done and keep the good name of Irish racing to the fore. I also welcome the Minister's commitment to animal welfare. It is important HRI, the Department and Rásaíocht Con Éireann, RCÉ, remain committed to animal welfare at every juncture of the horse's and greyhound's life. Again, there was serious reputational damage done to the horse racing sector through a "Panorama" programme. We cannot have a repeat of that. It is incumbent on the administering bodies and the Department to continue the funding for animal welfare and ensure it is a central and integral part of all activities.
The Minister will have seen correspondence from Midlands Horse and Pony Racing which needs a small amount of money. It is vitally important it gets it from some source to keep the show on the road. We all sing the plaudits of our top jockeys, whether at Cheltenham, Ascot or wherever, but the majority if not all of those jockeys start out in the incubation that is pony racing and the pony clubs. They would not make it to the lofty heights they reach if not for pony racing. They have a shortfall, and Senator Murphy will probably mention it. If it is at all possible through the fund, the HRI or whoever, it should receive some funding. It is looking for a very small amount of money to cover its insurance. This is money it normally raises through fundraising but in the pandemic, this has not been possible.
People in the racing world have asked me about a matter, and unfortunately it is on the back of the well-documented raid in Monasterevin a couple of weeks ago. When IHRB came before us, it explained how it was going to get on top of the perceived or reported drug issues. Its staff had been granted the status of authorised officers which meant that they could enter premises, both licensed and unlicensed, with horses in or out of training. However, the report about the haul a couple of weeks ago was definitive in saying that the Department carried out that raid and that IHRB was called to the site only when the Department and the gardaí had sealed off the premises. Many people have asked me about the reason behind that. As said on the record during a committee meeting, IHRB staff are now recognised by the Department as authorised officers.
I thank Senator Daly. I recognise, as I did in my opening comments, the work of the committee in putting together the report which it submitted to me in the past week or two. It was important work to which the committee gave significant time and attention. It is an example of how this committee has been effective and can operate effectively by engaging with stakeholders and doing reports on particular issues. Certainly the committee was responsive in addressing this issue. In regard to the 11 recommendations made and the arguments put forward on how to proceed and respond, my officials and I are considering them in detail.
On the question of horse and pony racing, this matter comes under the remit of Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, which is funded, as is the greyhound racing board, Rásaíocht Con Éireann, through the horse and greyhound fund. The HRI and the IHRB met with representatives of Midlands Horse and Pony Racing earlier in the year. Following on from those meetings, the HRI agreed to provide funding to assist with the costs associated with running pony racing meetings in 2021. The funding will go directly towards assistance with essential insurance cover. It was provided on a one-off basis. The HRI invests each year in supporting young jockeys through the EQUUIP programme. A number of fully funded courses are available to young jockeys at the race training centre in Kildare. As Minister, I provide the funding to HRI and it engages with its representative members and various aspects of the industry to spend that funding as prudently and as effectively as possible. The horse and pony racing sector, in particular, is important. It has been engaging and I look forward to that continuing. I take on board the points made by Senator Daly. It is something Senator Murphy has raised with me on a number of occasions outside of this committee.
In regard to the final point the Senator made on the work of the special investigations unit, and the particular investigation led by the Department on 9 November, given the fact that it is an active investigation, I am constrained from commenting on it in any detail as it is ongoing. Suffice to say, it is normal practice whenever there is a special investigations unit investigation, it would engage with other appropriate authorities, including the IHRB and the gardaí to support it in that. Of course there is a role, as the Senator pointed out, for the IHRB. It has the capacity now to carry out monitoring and testing in yards directly. That is open to it at any stage, to do as part of its normal business. This particular one was a special investigations unit led operation, which then engaged the IHRB and the gardaí, as would be appropriate and standard practice.
I welcome the Minister and appreciate he has looked at the report. It would be remiss of me not to refer to the report this committee published. The committee made a number of recommendations in regard to the issues that came to the fore. Those recommendations include the need for transparency in its governance as well as independence and gender balance on the board. Has anything been done in that regard? The report also recommended that, as the IHRB receives public funding to provide for its regulatory role, consideration be given to reclassify the IHRB as a semi-State body under the aegis of the Department. Can the Minister update us on that? Given that public moneys are directed through the HRI for the functioning of the IHRB, what are the Minister's views on this recommendation? Is the Minister amenable to this? When would be start to see some change there?
The public contribution to the sector of €70.4 million for next year is considerable. While those moneys are important for the progression of the sector, the correct spending of public funds is crucial for public confidence in this sector. Can the Minister outline what changes the public can expect to happen in the sector in return for funding that is discussed each year?
On welfare in both sectors, coming from the same constituency as the Cathaoirleach, which is steeped in horse and greyhound racing, I can say welfare is taken very seriously in the industries. They want to maintain the high standards that they already maintain. Looking at the figures, there are 15,200 indirect jobs created by the horse industry and another 4,000 by the greyhound industry. It is a big employer in our area. That does not take away from the organisations we are discussing to which the moneys will go.
Will the Minister outline what specific engagements his Department has had with both sectors ahead of deciding on the level of funding to be issued next year? Has his Department audited all the welfare commitments given by all the organisations and the level to which they have lived up to those commitments?
On the greyhound issue, I wish to raise two small points. Recently, it was reported that further funding will be needed to continue the roll out of the traceability system. How much more money are we talking about? Can the Minister tell us the extent to which the system has been rolled out to date? Has his Department maintained contact with the traceability system on the matter, and what has been learned? Is the roll-out on schedule?
As I mentioned, we received the committee's report in the past week to two weeks. Obviously, the committee put much work and effort into it. I am considering the recommendations and each of the points the committee made before responding. I will take the required time to give that a full assessment before reverting to the committee and giving clarity on how I intend to proceed.
The Deputy made points on the make up of the board the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, IHRB. That was one of the points the committee made in the report on which I will be reflecting.
On the greyhound spend on welfare, the Department ring-fenced 10% of the fund allocation to Ráisaíocht Con Éireann, RCÉ, in 2021 for welfare initiatives, and similar criteria are being implemented for 2022. A major expansion of the overall care and welfare programme in RCÉ is ongoing and has been progressing. The projected spend by Ráisaíocht Con Éireann for this year on welfare matters, including integrity, is €1.97 million. There is ongoing bilateral engagement between RCÉ and my Department on the achievement of these objectives. As I said, funding is contingent on ensuring that progress is made and that there is very significant prioritisation of it. It is something in which RCÉ has significantly invested from the point of view of finance, resources and time to ensure there is very significant oversight and that progress is being made.
On the traceability aspect, the resets came into operation in January of this year. Under that, owners and trainers were brought into the system on a phased basis. Data from the system at the end of October indicated the total number of greyhounds subject to traceability was 20,784. As the Deputy knows, the key objective behind it is to ensure that important life events in the life of a greyhound racing dog, including birth, microchipping, registration, the dog's racing career, changes in ownership or trainers, the location of the dog at any time, the retirement and end of life are accurately recorded as part of that. It is an important step forward and it is something in which RCÉ will be significantly investing resources continuing on from where it started this year. That is the update with regard to it.
Overall, it is 10% of its State funding, at a minimum. It is spending more than that as things stand. Looking at it across the board, the projected spend of RCÉ for this year on traceability, in particular, was €336,000. For care and welfare programmes, it was €750,000; for veterinary care at tracks, it was more than €300,000; for the national greyhound laboratory, it was €400,000; and for welfare inspections, it was €175,000. The total is over and above the 10% RCÉ required under the funding arrangement I, as Minister, and the Department have set as a requirement of funding.
I appreciate the Minister has only had the report for the past couple of weeks. The welfare issue has been known for months and promises were made months ago. Has the Minister had any specific engagements with sectors to see what they have done ahead of getting any funding? Has the Department been in contact with them? If they have not improved welfare, I would stall the funding. As Senator Daly said, the whole thing that blew up earlier in the year has affected both sectors. If there is not going to be accountability or if there have not been improvements in welfare in that length of time, it is not fair that they are starting to get money.
The funding is absolutely contingent on the highest of welfare standards and our prioritisation of welfare is part of that funding. There is ongoing engagement between our teams. Dr. Kevin Smyth is the assistant secretary responsible for that, and Ms Caroline Ball also works on an ongoing basis on the oversight of that. Will Dr. Smyth give us a flavour of how that engagement works over the course of the year?
Dr. Kevin Smyth:
With regard to oversight, there are quarterly liaison meetings and welfare is a permanent part of the agenda, so it is always discussed. Whether they are meetings with Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, or RCÉ, welfare is always discussed. Another thing is the shareholders letter of expectation sets out the requirements on welfare. The Minister writes exactly what is required. We set out the requirements in terms of the minimum 10% for greyhounds and all the commitments being met. We have the metrics on the rehoming of greyhounds and so on. We are seeing both the financial spend and the statistics in terms of what is being done in regard to animals.
I appreciate welfare is on the agenda and I imagine it is was on the agenda before the television programmes exposed it all. Have there been improvements in both sectors since those television programmes aired? Is funding contingent on improvements being made in those sectors so that confidence can be brought back into both greyhound racing and horse racing? As I said, the Chair and I are from a big area where there is horse racing and greyhound racing. The general public is looking at money being spent in these two sectors and it wants accountability; it wants to make sure things have improved. I have no doubt the Department is still talking to them. However, the general public wants to know that if its money is being spent, there is accountability and things have improved from six or seven months ago.
Dr. Kevin Smyth:
Things have changed immeasurably over the course of the two years since the programme. A number of things have been brought in and the key here is the traceability. It is the ability to be able to recognise what happens through the lifecycle of a dog or horse to ensure they are looked after. We now have metrics. On the greyhounds, €0.5 million has been put into the cost of the IT system and there are ongoing costs in terms of monitoring what is going on. We are about to see the first year's results. That means that the dogs are in the system and we are capable of following them. That is a big change since the television programme on welfare was aired on RTÉ.
I welcome the Minister and his officials to the committee. They are always welcome. It is great to see the Minister here. He is fiercely committed to the committee and to engaging with it. That is something the committee really appreciates.
I will go through a few items in the order the Minister set out in the statement he submitted. I will focus first on the HRI allocation of €70.4 million rather than the 20% going to the dogs. That is a very substantial amount of money. The Minister and all of us on this committee know that horse racing and horse breeding are an integral part of agriculture, rural life, rural employment, rural communities and rural economy and are massively connected both directly and indirectly to rural employment. Therefore, I am with the Minister all the way. I see the significance and the importance of this industry.
I spoke last year on this and I pulled up some notes today on my contribution then.
I said we should not have any more reports about this industry or the dog industry but that we should dust down the Indecon report. I had a look at that report again today. We had the Indecon International Economic Consultants report and the Deloitte report, so we have reports falling off the shelves in regard to both sectors. There is still a sizeable number of key recommendations that I am not fully convinced have been fully implemented. We should look at that again. It is a healthy exercise to go back and look at reports that are sitting on our shelves and those in the Department. There are matters we should follow up on. It is my intention to bring this up at a future meeting of the committee. I am going to dust down some of the these reports and focus on some of those key recommendations because they are important.
The other thing I liked about the Minister's report was the heavy emphasis he placed on integrity and confidence within the sector. That is a big issue and a recurring theme. As yet only two members have spoken and both mentioned it. The Minister mentioned it in his report. I welcome that focus and emphasis on its importance in his statement. However, that integrity, governance, accountability and animal welfare must be conditional. There must be a measured conditionality in regard to this very substantial funding of €70.4 million for the horse racing industry and €17.6 million for the greyhound racing industry. That it a great deal of money. It is interesting to observe that a significant number of Members of this particular Oireachtas are very focused on animal welfare. It is a recurring theme in the Dáil and the Seanad, and I welcome it. There is a renewed interest in animal welfare. We need to reassure the public. There was the famous "Panorama" programme as well as other investigations into animal welfare, and this is of concern to the Irish people. It is something they expect the establishment and the authorities to pursue.
The Minister referred earlier to our report into the racing industry, and I am delighted he is going to take a look at it. I would like to think he will do more, such as run it by his chief veterinary officer and key personnel in his Department and add to it. It is the beginning. I acknowledge the Chair and his work in guiding us through that. We spent a great deal of time on that. One of the good things about this committee is that we work in partnership with one another and really focus. We believe this is a particularly important industry that we want to see it protected, grow and do well.
I ask the Minister to come back with a timeline. I respect that he has a busy schedule and many priorities but he talked about considering it. I ask him to consider it in the next quarter, if he can do so given all the demands on him. Can he look at how much of this can we implement and proceed with?
In the same week we launched our report, there was much negative comment in the media and subsequently we had the Monasterevin case about which I do not propose to talk. The Minister is right that it is an issue for Revenue, the investigating personnel and An Garda Síochána but again it raised very serious concerns. The paper does not always refuse ink. We do not know how much of the story reported in public is true or false but the investigation will run its course. When the investigation has run its course, it is important it is put into the public domain so that we know what happened and what sanctions were imposed. Clearly it has raised more questions than answers and is of concern so it is something we need to look at.
In regard to the EU and Brexit, and we discussed this last year, we had the tripartite agreement between Ireland, the UK and France. At that stage we were talking about the challenges around Brexit and the movement of bloodstock across those jurisdictions and, of course, mainland Europe. Some concerns were flagged and we are not yet out of the woods in regard to that. Could the Minister touch on that, and on where it is going?
I welcome the proposals and the comprehensive report but my asks of the Minister are simple. Will he expedite his consideration of our report, seek advice from officials in his Department and others, as appropriate, and come back with strong recommendations on how we will implement the key recommendations of both the Minister's report and of this committee's report, if he finds them acceptable? Will the Minister dust down the Indecon and Deloitte reports to see if there are outstanding issues that need to be followed up? Will he place greater emphasis on the conditionality of animal welfare in regard to both sectors and that this be a condition of funding? How will we measure that? I note the Minister published an extensive animal welfare policy document. We need a mechanism or metrics to measure that and reassure the public as well as this committee, the remit of which is animal welfare and agriculture. We want to see both of these industries prosper within a tight regulatory framework that is fair, appropriate, open, transparent and professional.
In regard to the national stud, we may not have time now but I am interested in the State's financial commitments to it and the funding mechanisms around that. It is a wonderful organisation. That is not specifically on our agenda today but at some time the Minister might follow that up with the committee. I thank the Minister and his officials for their time this evening.
I thank Senator Boyhan. He outlined the importance of the funding through the horse and greyhound fund to the horse racing sector. I agree with him on the importance of that. He also outlined the importance of ensuring that welfare is at the core of all racing. That is absolutely the case, and it is crucial that it be the case. The public expects it. It has to be uniform and consistent across the board. In the current environment, an exceptional case can be perceived to be closer to the norm. It is not tolerable that any situation can exist where welfare standards are not upheld. The Department as well as horse and dog owners take this very seriously. It is what we all owe to the animals in our care who bring such enjoyment to their owners and to the public.
In regard to Brexit, there have been challenges over the year but we have worked closely with horse owners to navigate those and ensure that trade and travel have been able to continue. This is essential for racing, which is an international industry as is breeding. It has been more challenging between Ireland and the UK and also Ireland and mainland Europe where the land bridge is concerned. It brought challenges in particular at the start of the year but we worked closely with the industry to manage the new requirements now in place.
In regard to the key recommendations of the Oireachtas committee report, that is something I am considering in strong detail and I will engage with the committee further on that. I am also assessing the Indecon and Deloitte reports and ensuring the advice and learnings are followed through on. We are open to further advice and guidance on those matters, where appropriate.
I welcome the Minister to the meeting. I strongly support the horse and greyhound fund and the finances that go towards it. On the IGB and the greyhound industry, as the Minister is aware a number of years ago we had the Indecon report and the proposed closure of a number of greyhound tracks. Some closed while other were able to negotiate and work their way out of it, including my local track in Enniscorthy, which is now doing very well.
Is the Minister aware of any proposals to close any more greyhound tracks in the future? Is he aware as to whether IGB is going to carry out any more reports on proposed track closures? What departmental oversight does his Department have on the closure of tracks? Enniscorthy track, for example, was proposed for closure but after working with IGB and the then CEO, and huge credit to all involved, the track is running extremely well. Can the Minister answer that question for me?
I thank the Deputy. I know how important tracks are to each area. They are fondly regarded and a key part of the character of the areas in which they are located. Overall, it is a matter for Rásaíocht Con Éireann to consider and manage. The Department asked NewERA to produce a report on Rásaíocht Con Éireann's financial situation and the health and future of the industry. There has been ongoing engagement between the Department and Rásaíocht Con Éireann on the outcome of that and to help inform the future business development and potential of the racing industry. In terms of management of, and investment in, tracks, that is a matter for Rásaíocht Con Éireann to assess, advise and take forward.
I ask the Minister to ensure his Department has more of an oversight on the proposals for any future track closures. It is not in the best interests of the greyhound industry to have some tracks closed, sometimes for the wrong reasons. I know there are private tracks and public tracks. Millions of euro are being invested in some tracks where there are not big attendances, and tracks with small attendances being financially supplemented by IGB. This is a mistake as some tracks are making money but do not get the same financial supports as others that are in financial ruin.
I welcome the Minister's comments on the report that this committee carried out. I compliment the Chair on his work and leadership on the report on the horse racing industry. I plead with the Minister to look at the 11 key recommendations in that. The committee was careful in compiling recommendations that were workable and achievable. If the horse racing industry is compared with the IGB, we have all seen that the IGB has done much recovery work. I do not want to see the horse racing industry going down the same route. It is a proud industry in Ireland. Some of the members spoke about the public commentary, whether it is true or untrue. The committee did not find evidence of any wrongdoing. As we delved into the workings of HRI and the IHRB, it became clear that transparency is required. It is up to the Minister to look at the key recommendations and, along with his officials, to implement the recommendations. I hope this report does not gather dust on a shelf like many other reports and that it receives the respect it deserves because of the work that went into it. Can the Minister comment on some of the key recommendations, one of which is closed circuit television, CCTV? If there are financial shortcomings in terms of putting CCTV in place - this should have been done years ago and I understand IHRB has given a commitment it will be finished soon - will the Minister look at that? I am not going to ask him to give a commitment, because they are already receiving millions of euro already, but for the good of the industry, CCTV on and around tracks is urgently required.
I want to touch on insurance for some of the activities on greyhound tracks. The tracks are finding it extremely difficult because attendances have been down right across all tracks in recent times. The other issue coming down the tracks, pardon the pun, relates to horse racing, point-to-point, pony clubs, hunting and so on. Insurance is crippling them and they are often unable to get insurance from insurance companies. Has the Department done any work on this issue? Has the Minister heard that this is an issue? What actions, if any, will the Department take?
I thank Deputy Kehoe. Before the Minister replies, I wish to reinforce Deputy Kehoe's point on insurance. A number of point-to-point meetings have been cancelled in the past couple of weeks because of insurance. The point-to-point sector is the cornerstone of our national hunt industry and the nursery for producing those champions we all like to see in venues such as Cheltenham, Aintree, Leopardstown or Punchestown. There is a serious issue there. One insurance company, Liberty Insurance, was providing insurance cover, but it has now pulled out of the market. This is a huge issue. Hunting is also facing problems. It is not only an equestrian issue; all outdoor activities are affected. We see headlines that ice-rinks cannot get insurance. Water activities are likewise affected. Water parks closed during the summer due to insurance problems. I brought this up as a Topical Issues matter the week before last and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Fleming, answered my questions in the Dáil but we need a resolution to this. I support Deputy Kehoe in this regard. Where can these activity sports go to ensure they can get insurance cover?
I thank Deputy Kehoe and the Chair. The first point Deputy Kehoe made was on the importance of integrity and the highest standards in oversight in the racing industry. We all agree that is critical. Maintenance of the highest standards is essential to the future of the industry and the sector. I know from the committee's report that it found that the testing regime and the systems in place domestically were strong and comparable with any international systems and other major racing countries. Much of that oversight work is carried out by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, which received €10.3 million funding through HRI this year to carry out those regulatory functions. In regard to the work it carries out, it has an extensive testing programme. Some 5,000 samples were tested in 2021, including every race winner being tested and additional race day samples and out of competition samples being tested. There is also testing at point-to-points.
As colleagues will know and as I mentioned previously, I granted authorisation to 12 authorised officers in the IHRB in May this year, which strengthened the work on anti-doping in Ireland. That officer status allows those IHRB officers access to sample any thoroughbred at any time. It also gives the veterinary team in IHRB increased powers, which include access to unlicensed premises and the testing of these operates in the same manner as it does for licensed premises. Tests can take place without any prior notice. Tests involve blood, urine and hair samples. It is critical that we properly fund and invest to ensure that the highest standards are maintained.
It is also essential that everyone in the industry maintains the very highest standards. We are very fortunate to have a strong industry in this country and one that has been built up over many years through great work on behalf of all stakeholders. Maintaining good and top class standards and integrity is essential to maintaining the success it has had over the years into the future. This is why we put so much effort and emphasis on it and why we will fund it so strongly. It is also why those in the industry are aware of the uniform, consistent highest standards right across the board.
On CCTV, €500,000 was provided by HRI, to the IHRB as part of its integrity services funding this year for the installation of CCTV in all racecourse stable yards. The tender process for the project has been completed and the contract is to issue shortly, subject to board approval. Most racecourses will have a CCTV system installed before their first meeting in 2022 and all 25 racecourses will be completed by the end of quarter 1 in 2022.
Deputy Kehoe and the Cathaoirleach both mentioned insurance as a real issue and it has been a real difficulty for a number of point to point meetings this year. The HRI is working with relevant stakeholders to assess potential solutions. The Minister of State, Deputy Seán Fleming, has done significant work in his Department to address competitiveness in the insurance sector in general as well. The HRI is engaging with stakeholders on the challenges in its industry and to examining potential solutions as well.
I thank the Chair and I welcome the Minister and his officials. The most successful system probably ever brought in in this country was the animal identification and movement, AIM, system, by the Department of Agriculture. There is low-hanging fruit in the report that we did, which could be moved on pretty rapidly, that would give confidence in the whole sector in terms of traceability. I understand he will examine the entire report and I do not expect him to say that he will do X, Y or Z today, but I ask him to look favourably on that.
I concur with the previous two speakers who mentioned pony racing and point to points that there is major problem with insurance. We are facing a situation where, because of companies leaving the market - and I acknowledge it is a private market - but we are leaving ourselves under ferocious pressure and I ask the Minister's officials to liaise with the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Fleming, or the Department of Finance, to try to find a solution to that.
I would like to mention the equine farming cap in the context of horse breeders and so on under the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS. Does the Minister envisage that he will be able to broaden some of the supports under TAMS? I believe they were included in the scheme but were never kicked into gear, and that is the big problem.
Every Deputy supports as much animal welfare as possible because it is -----
I apologise for that; something went wrong even though I am in Leinster House, but I do not know what happened. Those are my questions for the Minister. Deputy Carthy can then go in straight after.
I thank the Deputy for his questions. I acknowledge this is in one of the submissions that he has made as part of his report on traceability, and it is certainly something I will reflect on further. HRI is working with Weatherbys Ireland and the IHRB to develop a comprehensive thoroughbred database to improve traceability via improved Weatherbys' e-passport functionality, and that work is ongoing. I will certainly reflect on the submissions made by the committee and the suggestions that the Deputy has made.
I have dealt with the insurance issue and it is something I have engaged with the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, on as well. I have spoken to a number of people in the sector about it and they say HRI is engaging with stakeholders on the issue as well to explore potential solutions.
On TAMS, it is an issue that has been raised with me over a period of time and I have asked our TAMS section to reflect on it. I will engage with them further to assess the merits of extending the scheme. TAMS is not available currently for most facilities and types of investment in the equine sector. However, as I said, it is something that has been raised with me and that I will assess further.
No problem. How is the allocation to the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund arrived at? We are all on the record in this committee in agreeing that both sectors are incredibly important. The figure brought before us this year is a reduction on last year, but it in itself was a substantial increase on 2020 and the reason cited was the Covid emergency. The figure is still a €4 million increase on 2020. How was that figure decided upon?
I will ask the assistant secretary, Dr. Kevin Smith, to go through the process in respect of the assessments that have been made and the engagements that are in place to work out the requirement and the final funding allocation.
Dr. Kevin Smyth:
The way in which the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund is determined is based on the budgetary bids that are put in by both organisations. It is considered to be part of the Estimates process. Basically, they put in bids and it is dealt with as part of the budgetary process. They ask for the money - normally they would look for increases and things they would like to do - and then it is finalised with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is put into the Department's Vote as part of the budgetary process.
The Deputy is absolutely correct that there was an increase for this year in the amount for the fund. An additional €12 million was put in to help protect both sectors against the effects of Covid because they were both very badly economically affected by the closures caused by the Covid pandemic. Some of the additional €4 million this year is actually residual Covid money that is being given to the two sectors for 2022 because the economic effects are still being felt. In general, the way in which the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund is determined is part of the budgetary process. It is done as part of the Department's Vote and it is agreed with the Minister and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
That essentially is my question.
Obviously, both organisations would make claims in terms of what they would like to get but I assume there is more depth in terms of the consideration given as to what is actually provided. Am I correct in saying that it would be rare that both organisations would get exactly what they want?
Dr. Kevin Smyth:
The Deputy is absolutely right. What they put in is two detailed budgetary submissions, one for each. They detail what they require and that is usually sent to both the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. That is followed up by meetings with both Ministers, where they outline their budget bids and then the actual amount of money for the horse and greyhound fund is determined as part of the Department's Vote in budget 2022.
How is it that on an annual basis the agreed funding to the greyhound board is precisely 20% of the overall funding? I would imagine that both the HRI and Greyhound Racing Ireland would have different priorities in different years. In that context, is it not an unusual circumstance that the funding is divided in such a precise way, regardless of the mitigating factors in one sector or the other?
As Deputy Carthy has said, it is open to the Minister to change that at any time but the two industries can be subject to similar challenges. There are lots of similarities between them and the last year to 18 months speaks to that in relation to the impact of Covid. Both industries are very much subject to race attendances and have very similar models in that regard. By and large, in terms of the engagement I have had with both organisations in the course of the two budgets I have done, the dynamic has been quite similar from both in relation to the challenges they have had to deal with. I have not seen any reason to alter the ratio but the opportunity is there to do so at some stage in the future if a Minister sees fit.
It seems strange to me that the system is such that if, for example, the horse racing sector managed to bring forward a really good proposal, another organisation would get the benefit of that on a pro ratabasis as standard. I would argue that we need to move away from the set percentages and actually allocate funding on the basis of merit. That is not to say that either organisation's allocation would increase or decrease.
In his opening statement the Minister said that Government funding presents an excellent opportunity to yield a high return for investment, leading to a flow of income right through the economy. We all agree on that but my question is whether we can be sure that is actually what is happening, that is, that Government funding is delivering the highest possible return. Has the Minister had discussions with HRI on the level of Government funding that is allocated through prize money? Has the Department looked at other avenues to ascertain whether there are better ways to ensure that money is distributed across the sector to the benefit of the widest number of players in the sector and the widest number of geographical areas?
This is something that Deputy Carthy raised at the committee last year as well, when he made the same point. Indeed, he has also brought it up in debates in the Dáil. A key driver behind the health and pre-eminence of the sector nationally is that we are able to compete in terms of horse racing. The competitions that take place attract international horses and ensure that right throughout the racing ecosystem there are very strong and attractive races for all types of horses. That is an important driver for the industry and that is the rationale behind providing competitive funding pots for different races. The Government funds a competitive prize money structure and that helps the viability of the various businesses, including the extension of the prize money down to fifth place in races which are supported. It is a key driver of investment in the sector.
According to the HRI fact book, for example, in 2020 there were over 300 fixtures around the country, with 7,500 individual runners and 25% of those horses would have won at least one race over the course of the year. There were 5,000 individual runners which would have won prize money at some stage, equating to around 70% of individual runners. Of the 2,500 individual races, over 2,000 would have had prize money of under €25,000, with over 50 having prize money of greater than €100,000. Obviously, there are also further opportunities for Irish-trained horses to win prize money abroad as part of the equation. A key part of our industry is having strong and attractive races at elite level and at other levels within the industry. That is a key driver in terms of those who become horse owners and put those horses into training. It is also a key driver of the significant employment in training yards across the country. It is very much driven by horses racing and the prize money that comes from those races justifies individual business cases and personal decisions that owners make, either on their own or coming together with friends to get involved in the sport. The prize money is a real driver of that and it permeates down throughout the industry. It very much drives and populates the financial system within the industry.
I am not disputing the fact that prize money makes an impact. What I am asking is whether this level of funding could make a greater impact or a more positive impact. No matter what way we set out the figures and the numbers, the facts speak for themselves. A huge proportion of the prize money goes to a very small number of players. I was stunned in recent weeks, when this was raised by other Deputies, to learn that even though we have invested as a State almost €1.5 billion in the horse racing sector since 2000, the horse and pony racing sector actually gets none of that even though that sector is such a core component of this industry. The Minister has referred to discussions with HRI but as the person who is going to be signing the HRI cheque for approximately €60 million, will he ensure that a proportion of that money goes to the horse and pony racing section which is so important to the overall industry?
It is really important that we support all sectors. HRI is aware of that and has ongoing and continuous engagement with all stakeholders and all of those involved at all levels within horse racing. It is important that all levels are supported because the next level depends very much on the health of the level underneath it and on the foundation levels, going right back to the small breeders, trainers and owners. As I said previously, we have just over 50 races nationally that have a pot of over €100,000 from a total of 2,500 individual races that are supported for prize money. It is really important to have those significant races that are really competitive and sought after from the point of view of our national sector but that also attract international players.
If it were not the case that racing was significantly supported like that and if there were not internationally competitive pots, then the sector would suffer.
I know they are not a direct example, but I will refer to draws. Deputy Durkan is not here but if he was he might compare pots with the national lottery. The latter is very much driven by the opportunity to win and everybody contributes in a small way by buying a ticket for an extremely successful lottery draw that involves a very large pot. That is because there is potential to win a big prize. Maybe we will see, through Deputy Durkan's efforts, that one or two balls will be dropped from the national lottery and that there will be more winners as a result. Having competitive racing pots available allows all of those in the industry to have hope that they can have winners. In other words, that during their lifetimes they might have one or, if they are lucky, two horses that might win significant prizes. The latter will encourage people to invest their money. In most cases, people invest because this is a hobby and a sport. People do not make money; they bring their money to it because they have a great passion for the sport and they hope that they will get lucky one day by having a really good horse or greyhound. In both industries, competitive races and funding pots are important, which drives the health of the industry overall. It is important that we keep an eye on this matter. Deputy Carthy is right that all sectors throughout the system and the wider ecosystem are supported. That is something of which HRI and Rásaíocht Con Éireann are very aware.
If it is a lottery, then it is the taxpayer who pays for all of the tickets. As a result, we need to ensure that taxpayers get the best value for money. Every time I have raised this issue with the Minister, I have been struck by what has been said people in the industry who contacted me. They have stated that there has to be a better way to ensure that all parts of the industry receive supports.
The Minister did not answer directly as to whether he would ensure that the horse and pony racing groups will be catered for. I ask him to inform HRI that it must pony up or that he will find alternative ways of examining that matter into the future.
I want to touch on some of the committee's deliberations. I will not go through the facets of the report. I heard what the Minister has said. It strikes me that the argument for distinguishing and separating the IHRB, which is the regulatory body away, from HRI, which is the governing body, makes eminent sense in order to ensure that we have maximum public confidence in animal welfare, anti-doping and other regulations for which the board has responsibility. In the modern era, I do not think it is feasible to have a situation where a regulatory body is dependent on the governing body for its annual budget. Will the Minister pursue the agenda to break them up in order to ensure maximum public confidence? Will he ensure that there is maximum transparency in how these organisations, which, in essence, are publicly funded, operate, including ensuring that the salaries of senior executives are published and publicly available?
To respond to the earlier point about public investment in HRI, as the Deputy will know, this year funding has been set at €70.4 million. The Deloitte report was published in 2017. It showed that the industry is worth €1.84 billion to the economy and is responsible for 28,500 jobs. The Government has a national funding commitment of €70.4 million this year, which is a really important driver and generator for the industry. However, the industry can be worth up to €1.8 billion to the wider economy. It is a small part of the overall industry, but it is an important part and driver.
I spoke earlier about the recommendations made by the committee. I have received them. The committee members have given great thought and consideration to the report. I very much respect the work done by the committee and the hours they invested in their deliberations. The members have played an important role. I am considering all of the recommendations put forward and will revert to the committee with my views. Likewise, in terms of transparency about salaries, where the State has a role and provides funding, I am assessing that in terms of the general practice and will review it in the context of what the standard practice is across the public service.
I am sorry that I missed the Minister's opening statement, but I have read it. Will the IT traceability system come from the 10% of funding that has been ring-fenced for welfare expenditure or will an additional amount be needed?
I will focus on the data that is collected in respect of greyhound welfare. Many committee members are passionate about greyhound racing and horse racing. Although I am not one of them, I know that if we want this industry to survive then it is in the interests of the industry to have the absolute best welfare standards that are available. I submitted questions to Greyhound Racing Ireland and it has confirmed that no vets are present at official and unofficial trials, even though they are present at races. Would the Minister consider making it mandatory that vest attend trials? I ask as such a provision would shorten the amount of time that it takes to seek treatment for an injured animal. I also ask that data on injuries be collected. I understand from the responses I received from Greyhound Racing Ireland that the injuries fund is for race-ending injuries and is only accessible at official trials. I do not think we get the full picture on the number of injuries that are sustained. The organisation has admitted to not collect the data at unofficial trials. Will the traceability system come from the 10% of funding or is additional funding needed? What is the Minister's view on the fact that vets are not present at trials?
I mean both the unofficial and official trials. When an injury occurs at an official trial, the name of a local vet is given for contact reasons and people can access the injury fund when there is a race ending injury. At unofficial trials, which involve younger dogs, there is no vet present and people cannot access the injury fund if there is a race ending injury.
I will pass on the concerns of the Senator to Rásaíocht Con Éireann for review. Obviously, there is a system in place whether it is sports in which humans participate, such as local matches, county matches or whatever. In some places we would have doctors present, but not at more local matches. It does not mean that medical care is not sought when somebody has an injury. There is a similar system for races.
I will pass the Senator's views to Rásaíocht Con Éireann for its views and consideration. Whenever one transpose this to things in which we would participate ourselves, one can have different attitudes. For example, for county GAA teams, a doctor will be in attendance at training and matches.
I suppose we can make the choice to play a sport.
We do. Horses and greyhounds are bred to run as well. They do not like hanging around doing nothing. The greyhound industry support scheme was introduced in 2020 to provide financial assistance to injured greyhounds to enable them to continue to have a healthy life after their injury. The applications for the scheme were assessed on the basis the greyhound would be immediately retired from competitive action, whether competing in trials or racing, following treatment. Initially, the scheme provided for up to €500 per application. However, it was further increased to €1,000 per application in October last. By 31 October, 18 applications had been received, of which 12 had been processed. The scheme was extended at the start of quarter 3 to include injuries to greyhounds that were incurred during official qualification trials and plans are under way to expand the scheme further in 2020.
Until 2020, no such fund was in place. Significant progress has been made on this matter. Plans are afoot to expand the scheme. Under the care fund, a range of care and welfare initiatives were introduced, including incentivising the rehoming of greyhounds through additional supports provided by the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust. Financial supports are also provided by rehoming agencies. The total spend in that respect was €23,000 last year. In 2020, the greyhound injury support scheme provided financial assistance to eight injured greyhounds. As I mentioned, the organisation has plans to continue to expand the scheme. I do not know the full detail of how it plans to do that. It has made significant progress on which it seeks to build.
On the horse racing industry, I have a question on traceability and responsibility for horses that are found abandoned. Who is responsible if a racehorse that has been fitted with a microchip is found abandoned? For example, if a racehorse is owned by a syndicate but being cared for by a keeper who finds it has been abandoned, where does the buck stop or who is responsible for that horse if it is found to be abandoned?
My understanding is a horse would not be allowed to run if it is not fitted with a microchip. All thoroughbreds are microchipped. About 19% of horses are not microchipped but these are non-thoroughbreds. That is an issue I raised at this committee a good few times. I do not think the Department is working hard enough on ensuring compliance with the microchipping of horses. Those that are not microchippped are non-thoroughbred horses.
Yes. It is the person who is named on the microchip. There is the same issue with the microchipping of dogs. If the microchip information is not updated, a dog can be found that is still registered to the breeder. If a microchipped racehorse is found abandoned, can we ensure it is established who is responsible for it? If it is the person named on the microchip, people might be very keen to ensure that information is updated.
Individual local authorities play a role with respect to animal welfare where horses are found abandoned. In the vast majority of such cases, the horses will not be microchipped. If they were, there would be a capacity to identify the responsible owner.
Much ground has been covered and I will try not to rehash any of the questions. I am proud of our horse and greyhound racing industries but that does not mean we cannot challenge them, particularly with respect to accountability and animal welfare. I remember when I was young growing up in rural Ireland there was a horse dealer who said most horse dealers can say they have good horses but it takes a very good horse dealer to admit he has a bad horse. There are many bad horses in horse racing and by "bad" I mean horses that do not cut the mustard or meet the grade. For example, a broken down three or four-year-old gelding is pretty much worthless. Accountability and traceability come into play in what happens to such horses. The Department and its officials did tremendous work in this area, particularly after the horsemeat scandal. I raised this issue with the Minister last November and with Department officials at this committee. I am still concerned about the efficacy of registration and traceability in the equine sector. It is light years behind bovine registration and traceability.
I raised the case of a sports horse breeder from County Longford last November. It is a different genre but the similarities are probably relevant to the discussion. The breeder flagged with Horse Sport Ireland last November that when he checked the ownership breeder records, 18 horses on the Sport Horse Ireland register were still registered to him. Of the 18 horses, two were dead, two had been exported and subsequently died, three others had been exported, nine had been sold but the registrations had not been updated, one he had never owned and the final one had been sold, subsequently exported and the records had not been updated.
There is much work to be done but it would provide great reassurance to the public if we could significantly improve traceability in the sector. I cite the example of that broken down three or four-year-old gelding. In particular, if a horse is a thoroughbred, there would not be much meat on it and there is a concern about where these animals end up. We are conscious of that. There is a lot of movement of horses. Anecdotally, we are told a large percentage of those that do not make the grade are culled by the big yards and big owners. This is probably more a question for the officials. In light of the information I shared on the case that was flagged with Horse Sport Ireland, are they satisfied with the current position or do they consider some work needs to be done on the registration and traceability of equine records?
Dr. Kevin Smyth:
The Deputy is correct in his point on the need to improve traceability. The system for horses is not as good as the system for cattle. We all know that and it must be addressed. We are doing more work on equine identification, ID, and horse passports. It is one of the areas we will be addressing in the response to the committee report with regard to equine ID. It has been highlighted by the members also. We will come back to the committee on the matter. A good development I should make the committee aware of is an equine census which will take place this year. It was announced recently. We will get a more comprehensive overview with regard to it but we agree we need to sharpen the system on equine ID.
I will reinforce a few points made by members. The Minister has addressed the insurance issue. I urge him to use his influence to ensure insurance cover is sorted out for all recreational activities of an adventurous nature. This point has been made by numerous Senators and Deputy in respect of pony racing and I would also include harness racing. The funding sought by both those sports does not amount to a great deal of money. They have an important role to play in the equine sector. The horse and greyhound fund is needed for those two industries. Will the Minister consider a fund for pony and harness racing? The sectors are not seeking a large amount of Exchequer funding.
While we are talking about the equine sector, Horse Sport Ireland and the sport horse industry in general were disappointed that they did not get more of an allocation in the budget. Theirs is a 26-county industry. I ask the Minister to engage with Horse Sport Ireland to see what funding can be found for the industry for the forthcoming year. Horse Sport Ireland has ambitious capital projects for which it is seeking help. While it does not fall under the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, I ask the Minister to consider the sport horse industry, which encompasses the 26 counties.
I will put on my constituency hat and discuss the capital plan for the country's second all-weather track. A site in Tipperary is the one HRI has picked as being most suitable for the track. Will the Minister use his influence to push that project onwards? A significant amount of capital is being sought. HRI is also talking about putting a training academy there as well as many infrastructural improvements for the industry as a whole. It would be a great project and Tipperary is a central location with excellent rail infrastructure for young students going there to learn their trade. I ask that the Minister take my points on board.
On behalf of the committee, I thank the Minister and the departmental officials for assisting us in our consideration of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2021.