Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 15 June 2022
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Strategic Priorities for Horse Racing Ireland: Discussion
Senator Mullen is substituting for Senator Boyhan. Ms Tara Kelly is standing in as clerk to the committee today in the absence of our clerk, who is down with Covid. I remind members, witnesses and those in the Gallery to turn off their mobile phones.
The purpose of this meeting is to examine strategic priorities for Horse Racing Ireland, HRI. The committee will hear from Ms Suzanne Eade, chief executive of HRI, and her officials. Since 28 February, the legal requirement of mask-wearing in all settings has been removed. However, it is still good practice to continue to use face masks or coverings, particularly in crowded areas. The service encourages all members of the parliamentary community to wear face masks when moving around the campus and in close proximity to others.
I must read the note on privilege. Witnesses giving evidence from within the parliamentary precincts are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to a committee. This means that witnesses have full defence in any defamation action for anything said at a committee meeting. However, witnesses are expected not to abuse this privilege and may be directed by the Chair to cease giving evidence on an issue. Witnesses should follow the direction of the Chair in this regard and are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that, as is reasonable, no adverse commentary should be made against an identifiable third person or entity. Witnesses who to give evidence from a location outside the parliamentary precincts are asked to note that they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as witnesses to give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts and may consider it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter. Privilege against defamation does not apply to the publication by witnesses outside the proceedings held by the committee of any matters arising from the proceedings.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Parliamentary privilege is considered to apply to the utterances of members participating online in the committee meeting when they participate from within the parliamentary precincts. There can be no assurances in relation to participation online from outside the parliamentary precincts and members should be mindful of this when contributing.
The committee will hear from Ms Eade, chief executive of HRI, Mr. Jason Morris, director of racing and strategic projects, and Mr. John Osborne, equine welfare and bloodstock director. I call on Ms Eade to make her opening statement.
Ms Suzanne Eade:
I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet with the joint committee this evening to introduce myself and to discuss HRI’s key strategic priorities for horse racing and breeding in Ireland. Joining me are Jason Morris and John Osborne. I joined HRI as chief financial officer in September 2015 and was appointed to the role of CEO in November 2021. I am the HRI representative on a number of industry bodies. Before joining HRI I held a number of senior leadership positions in multinationals in Ireland, the UK and Switzerland.
As members will be aware, HRI is a commercial semi-State body responsible to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and was established under the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. HRI is responsible for the overall administration, governance, development and promotion of the Irish horse racing industry and operates a corporate structure that comprises the main body and eight subsidiary companies. Its functions are set out in legislation.
HRI has a clear vision, as set out within its strategic plan for the period 2020 to 2024, to make Ireland the global leader in horse racing and breeding. The HRI board and the wider organisation’s resources are focused on priorities which will deliver that vision. These include: growing what is already the second-most attended sport in Ireland; attracting footfall and viewers from all over the world; building on the international reputation of our dedicated workforce; investing in infrastructure such as Tipperary Racecourse, through the provision of a second all-weather track there, and the Irish Equine Centre; equine welfare, integrity and traceability; and expanding a sustainable, rural industry.
The horse racing and breeding industries are incredible assets to this country. I am proud they are significant industries across all Ireland, producing in excess of €2 billion in total expenditure annually and supporting approximately 29,000 direct and indirect jobs. These are enormous figures that contribute to the rural economy and my focus will be on growing the business at every level. It is fully our intention to increase the impact of the industry on the economy which is currently estimated at €30 for every €1 allocated to horse racing through the horse and greyhound racing fund.
I represent an industry that delivers on Government investment and a sport that continues to be one of the most popular activities, in both a sporting and social sense, in this country. In 2019, the last full year unaffected by the Covid pandemic, racecourse attendances exceeded 1.3 million, making horse racing the second highest attended sport in Ireland. This figure included an estimated 80,000 tourist visitors.
It is a strategic priority of HRI to broaden the interest and appeal of our sport to the widest possible audience, both domestically and internationally, by investing in marketing, promotion and event creation around racing throughout the year. Our recent research shows that 44% of the Irish population has an interest in the sport, up from 39% last year, and this figure continues on an upward trajectory. During Covid lockdowns, we continued to invest in marketing and content creation relating to racing to maintain engagement with fans and supplement the live broadcasts on television during that time.
Ireland is a global leader in horse racing and breeding. Irish-bred horses and horses trained in Ireland are the envy of the world. We have an outstanding tradition of horse care and this recognised tradition is responsible for so much of the inward investment in Irish breeding and horse racing. Big race wins do not go unnoticed by our overseas competitors. People choose to invest in Ireland because we are world class, which is something we often take for granted. Every industry and sport has its big names and dominant figures and horse racing in Ireland is no different, but the mainstay of our industry are the smaller operators. In the breeding industry, 92% of the almost 7,000 breeders across the island own five brood mares or fewer. Through Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, we are supporting breeders with the IRE incentive scheme, a series of more than 200 races in Ireland and Britain in 2022, with a €10,000 voucher for the winning owner, if the winner is Irish-bred, to be redeemed against the purchase of an Irish-bred horse at an Irish bloodstock sale.
By consolidating and building the industry, I am sure that we can continue to face up to Brexit. The ongoing uncertainty surrounding the UK’s relationship with the EU and the rest of the world is challenging. Broadening our marketplace beyond the UK, which accounts for up to 80% of our exports, is a key strategy for Horse Racing Ireland to counteract potential Brexit impacts. Brexit has caused considerable logistical and financial issues, with significant additional costs, extra paperwork and planning relating to horses' movements that were seamless under the previous tripartite agreement.
Providing extra opportunities to race will be key to further strengthening our industry by increasing participation across all levels. Prize money stimulates investment. Along with competitive racing and a programme geared towards quality at every level, prize money has a positive impact on smaller operators in Ireland. Ireland is a shop window, giving owners and breeders the opportunity to trade. The larger yards and owners are important customers for smaller operations to sell to when they have a horse with form. A constant influx of human talent is essential to that competition, as is equine ability.
On the racecourse itself, there are a number of emerging talents working their way through the training ranks and enjoying a share of the success on the biggest of stages. In a hugely competitive sphere, we can be heartened that 52 trainers from 19 different counties have trained their first winner since the beginning of 2020. There was a terrific spread of winning trainers at the recent Irish Guineas festival at the Curragh, which is a tangible indication of increased competition.
The Chair and members will be aware of the plans in place for the strategic redevelopment of Tipperary Racecourse, which will provide Ireland with its second all-weather track. Our investment in Tipperary Racecourse makes it key infrastructure and the track’s associated training facilities and community amenities will not only be of benefit to its immediate neighbours, but to the county as a whole, building on the more than 2,500 jobs which are supported directly and indirectly by racing in County Tipperary. Those jobs fuel almost €400 million in annual expenditure in the county alone. The training of horses is labour intensive and the number of horses in training is a key indicator of industry employment. It is hugely encouraging that all categories of ownership have grown, with more than 1,000 new owners attracted into ownership last year. A record owner retention rate of 80% in 2021 was a terrific vote of confidence in the industry. However, these figures will be challenging to maintain in the current economic environment.
We are concerned about the significant difficulties felt by the point-to-point and pony racing communities, which are two key grassroots sectors, in acquiring insurance cover. This is a situation that puts the long-term viability of both in doubt. Given the geographical spread of racecourses, it was only right that a number of them were at the disposal of the HSE for Covid-19 testing and vaccination. Cork Racecourse was among the first testing facilities in the country and along with Leopardstown, Fairyhouse, Punchestown, Limerick, Navan and Galway racecourses, it went on to play a significant role. The facility at Leopardstown has benefited greatly from a recent development and the payback will be seen in the years to come as racegoers enjoy the very best of international competition at meetings like the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, the Dublin Racing Festival in February and the opening day of Irish Champions Weekend in early September. Its strategic importance, as Dublin’s only remaining racecourse, should not be underestimated.
HRI will continue to invest in the development of facilities at all 26 racecourses, which are spread across 17 counties of the island and are very much at the heart of their urban and rural communities. HRI is currently supporting two racecourse capital development schemes covering 2022 and 2023. The first is to expand stable yards to maximise their capacities and a second is focused on developing industry facilities.
Equine welfare is an absolute priority for everyone. The industry was heartened by the positive endorsement in the report by the joint committee in November 2021 arising from concerns aired last year and we will continue to work with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, IHRB, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure progress is maintained on both the implementation of the committee's recommendations and those put forward by Dr. Suann’s review.
Disease prevention is a vital part of our equine welfare strategy and the recent announcement of an equine herpes outbreak in a British training yard underlines the constant need for vigilance in this area. The Irish Equine Centre has a vital role in ensuring the health of all the bloodstock involved in our €2 billion industry and Horse Racing Ireland is fully supportive of its efforts to secure funding from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for the complete redevelopment of its current facilities.
Embracing the government’s national climate action plan, we are working on a sustainability strategy to guide and assist the wider breeding and racing industry, which will be finalised this summer. CSO statistics show that equine activity account for over 12% of the land base in Ireland. Equine farming is low intensity, producing lower emissions with paddocks remaining in pasture all year round, and it is already recognised as a green and sustainable way of farming.
The welfare of those employed throughout the country in the racing and breeding industries is addressed through Horse Racing Ireland's education and training department, Equuip. While seeking to attract new people to the industry by showcasing available opportunities, Equuip is focused on developing our people by enhancing their skills in order to build sustainable careers. Through support from HRI, the many employers associated with both horse racing and breeding will be encouraged to grow their businesses by educating, training and providing career pathways for a long and successful career in the industry.
I thank the members of the joint committee for their interest in the horse racing and breeding industries and the work they do in our interests. I thank them for giving me the opportunity to introduce myself this evening and to outline where I believe the industry stands and our plans. I will be happy to take any questions members may have.
A number of members have indicated they want to speak. They will have ten minutes each. If members want a second round of questions, we can facilitate it. We will give everyone a chance to get in with the first batch. I have three quick questions first.
Will Ms Eade give a timeframe for completion of the all-weather race track in Tipperary? When will it be in place? When will racing take place there? Ms Eade mentioned insurance, in passing, for point-to-point and pony racing. Does HRI have any insight in to how we can get the cost of that insurance to what will be a reasonable level? Both are considerable nurseries for horse racing. Point to pointing has become a big business and is the conveyer belt for our success in national hunt racing. It would be a disaster if lack of insurance were to put that in jeopardy. The same goes for pony racing. While it is not producing the horses for HRI, it is definitely producing a conveyer of jockeys. Most of our champions have come out of the pony circuit.
In terms of a database for horses, all thoroughbreds are microchipped. We know where they are. We have had meetings on doping, on rigorous testing of doping in the industry and on making sure that the industry has a clean reputation. Without a database in place for us know exactly which premises each horse is meant to be on, it is extremely hard to give full confidence to the public in the testing regime, especially out-of-training testing. It is imperative that if inspectors are going into a yard to test, they know exactly how many horses are on that premises.
In these days of computerisation, it should not be too difficult to have a movement system in place to simultaneously record the movement of horses from A to B. If one is going in to a yard, one should know the number of horses there. If one has a bovine inspection and has 50, 200 or 300 animals, one has to have that number of animals in place when the inspectors come on to the premises. They will be counted and checked. We need to do the same on the equine side. I know there are issues with non-thoroughbreds with regard to microchipping, but we are talking about thoroughbred horses this evening. We need to get that house in order as quickly as possible.
Ms Suzanne Eade:
In terms of the Tipperary project, we are working very closely with all the relevant bodies in Tipperary on the planning process. We have a design team in place. The plan is that it will be complete by the end of 2024 and that we will be racing in quarter 1 of 2025. That is the current plan, subject to any delays we might face in the planning permission process, funding etc.
Insurance has been a problem throughout the industry and the equestrian sport. We have had problems with premiums for our own insurance. We also worked very closely with the racecourses that encountered some problems in terms getting their relevant insurance, which we resolved. it was a very difficult process for point-to-point racing to get insurance, because of a belief of an issue that had happened in terms of an accident in one location. We are really struggling on the underwriting side. Fewer underwriters are willing to take on the level of risk across that industry. In fairness to the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee and the registrar of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, IHRB, they have got insurance in place for point to pointing but only after a long period of time. They had to work very hard to get it.
In terms of pony racing, I have been liaising with Mr. Colm Sayers from the Dingle racing group. He is trying to resolve the pony-racing situation. My understanding is that they are quite close to getting a solution. I do not know the cost of it, but we are engaging with and supporting the group in terms of what it will cost. I think they were expecting a result either yesterday or today. I have not got an update from Mr. Sayers as to how he is doing with that. I know that pony-racing groups are trying to work in the background on all the safety aspects of how they run their racing, which will in turn help with the insurance matters that they face.
Going in to 2023, we will have to work more closely with both the IHRB and HRI to look at where the potential gaps are, based on some litigation that happened in the UK. Insurance problems will not go away in the short term. We need to work out how we will resolve any gaps that may be in place as a result of insurance companies and underwriters not willing to support it to the level at which we need it.
The Chairman's final question about was about the tracing of the thoroughbred horse. We implemented a new system within the racing system in HRI in order that we have full traceability on all horses, unnamed and named. The unnamed process was implemented just a couple of months ago. We were unable to register a horse until it was named for racing. Now, we have full traceability once it is in a racing yard. That is the complete section in terms of racing. The second piece relates to what we are working on with the Weatherbys traceability system. I ask Mr. Osborne to talk about where we are on that system currently.
Mr. John Osborne:
The point to emphasis is how strong the identification process is. It now has five strands. Every horse is uniquely marked and recorded in the passport. Horses also undergo DNA analysis, are microchipped and are now issued with an e-passport, which is basically access to the centralised database that is built. We are working on the functionality that can flow from that database. We trialled a centralised holding of vaccination records. In the past, a horse whose vaccinations might have been a few days out of date would travel all the way to the races, only to be turned around at the stable gate. Now when the horse is entered, the vaccinations can be checked at entry stage and it will not travel to the races if the vaccinations are known to be out of date. That is a significant technological improvement available to us nowadays.
Identification is very strong within the racing programme. Ms Eade mentioned the fact that unnamed horses are now known, but the concept of a racing pool is also being rolled out. Once a horse is in training, it remains subject to the scrutiny of the regulator, regardless of where it may live. In other words, a trainer with a horse in his or her care is duty-bound to record that the horse has relocated to a different premises, until it is recorded as out of training or retired. We will know where the horse is throughout its racing life. That gives us a much better control of the horse.
One of the weaknesses is post racing and the degree to which we can maintain that record, transnationally. That is a problem with which all countries that have horses are grappling. It is interesting that this coincides with the Department's own equine census, which it completed at the end of last year. As Mr. Michael Sheahan updated the committee two weeks ago, the Department is planning to repeat the exercise again in December. That database will be of all equines in this country. We will be a subset of that but we feel we also will be leading the charge in terms of the technological solutions to some of the challenges and plugging the gaps. We are most keen to make sure that change of ownership is always up to date. It is currently a weakness in the system. We should always be able to name the person who is the keeper of the animal.
If I stick to time, I ask that our answers also be succinct. I congratulate Ms Eade on her appointment and wish her well in her new role. In order not to have to continue to repeat it, this committee recognises the valuable contribution that horse racing in Ireland makes to rural economies, the wider domestic economy and local communities.
We will take that as a given. The sector receives substantial State funding, amounting to approximately €70 million this year. I would like to touch on that area first. I read the strategic plan, which states that the aim of the HRI is to secure an increased multi-annual funding model. Is that a reference to the Oireachtas grant?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
We want to take the industry to the next level. It is difficult for an industry that is trying to grow strategically when it is not exactly sure every year what funding it will get for the following year. We are trying to sustain some of what we are doing. If we consider, for example, the IRE incentive, I do not know whether I can afford that next year. To give the breeders enough time, it would be great if we knew-----
It is interesting that Ms Eade cited the €10,000 prize for smaller owners and breeders but not some of the multiples of that given in some of the big race meets.
To return to the subject of the horse and greyhound fund and any legislative change, does Ms Eade envisage horse racing and greyhound racing being separated in any legislative proposals?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
The horse and greyhound fund has served both industries well. Domestically and internationally, we have done really well. When considering legislative change for the horse racing and greyhound industry and thinking about the funding method, would it be worthwhile for the committee to look at the relative size of each industry and its relative growth prospects based on a change in funding? That is an aspiration but everything is subject to legislation.
Ms Suzanne Eade:
Under legislation, HRI is responsible for negotiating the rights with the Association of Irish Racecourses, AIR. That is part of our role. The funding goes back directly into racing or capital programmes for the racecourses, across all 26 racecourses. It goes straight into the industry.
Ms Suzanne Eade:
Once the deal is negotiated - as I said, that is led by the chair of the AIR and supported by board members of AIR and the executive of both entities - those deals are put to the AIR. All 26 racecourses have voted unanimously on the last two rounds of deals, which have been excellent for Irish racing.
I would expect her to put a figure of €100 million on it to try to get as much as possible. I will move on.
A number of racecourses have raised the issue of how the fixture charge applies. A charge per fixture rather than a percentage charge now applies under these arrangements. I ask the HRI to explain the position in relation to the charge.
Mr. Jason Morris:
I was involved in the last round of negotiations. That was a value that people buying the rights put on the rights at the time. They put on offer to HRI and the AIR and, as Ms Eade said, it was approved by all involved. They valued the data rights that HRI provided. We own the data rights and the racecourses own the picture rights. This was all collectively negotiated by the media rights committee and subsequently approved by the HRI board and the 26 racecourses. That was how they valued the rights at the time. They put a price on it. We get a payment per fixture to HRI.
Mr. Jason Morris:
An offer was put on the table and this was included as part of that offer. We sell collectively in order to maximise our revenues, both for data and pictures.
That strengthens the position at the negotiating table of Irish racing, because we are able to authorise together and sell them collectively, and that has greatly assisted us in terms of getting extra revenues for Irish racing.
Does Mr. Morris see any mechanism or possibility for the current arrangements to be amended in order to provide a fillip or additional support to some smaller racecourses to ensure their viability and perhaps even to raise their profile?
Mr. Jason Morris:
For sure. I have stressed that we are very keen to ensure the viability of all 26 racecourses. In terms of the way those deals are moving, they are now more correlated to the actual turnover that a track generates. For instance, a streaming income comes in based on the volume of streams an individual racecourse has for an individual race and it then receives income from those streams directly correlated to the revenues generated on the track. The way the deals tend to be migrating are from the overall payment model, which was perhaps in a pot, to now being much more closely linked to what each individual track receives.
I have two very brief questions. In respect of that issue, could Ms Eade indicate whether, regardless of the overall figure, HRI intends to look at it or perhaps to have an independent review carried out on the allocation of money for media rights?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
For the current process, we have used independent advice on the overall valuation of the deal, but the providers of that information have told us that it is very difficult to evaluate one separate from the other. We will discuss the allocation with other international jurisdictions to see how they have managed to do it.
So 60% matching funding is required. Does Mr. Morris see how there might be a difficulty for smaller racecourses that might need additional funding in order to expand, but they are unable to do that because of the stipulation on co-financing?
Mr. Jason Morris:
I think the media rights deal has significantly benefited all racecourses and because of that their demands may not be as great. There has been significant expenditure at the major tracks, for example, the recent developments at The Curragh and Leopardstown. Smaller tracks probably do not need to spend as much. These particular schemes are focused on industry facilities like stable yards and weigh rooms, those areas which are fundamental to the infrastructure of racing going forwards. We believe that the racecourses can carry out work. We financially evaluate their applications and check their business plans. We check affordability. We want to make sure they can-----
Mr. Jason Morris:
Historically, we would have paid more for some of the targeted schemes in certain areas. We might consider that, but generally the rule for many years has been to provide 40%. It has served us well and it has allowed Irish racecourses to develop the way they have wanted to develop.
At least he did not fall off. I welcome all the speakers, in particular Ms Eade. I congratulate her on her new role. I will try not to repeat what everybody is saying, but it goes without saying that we are hugely proud of Irish horse racing and the position it has globally. I am very much in solidarity with her stated aim of establishing Ireland as a global leader. That is important to maintain a high profile for Ireland as a country and Ireland Plc.
In terms of attendance at tracks, that has been coloured by Covid, but in the most recent non-Covid year it was 1.3 million. The strategic development plan runs to 2024. What are the attendance figures projected to be? It will be very challenging in the post-Covid era, especially as people's pockets are very challenged at the moment. Could Ms Eade give me some detail on how she expects to ramp up the numbers between now and 2024?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
In the original plan, which was produced just prior to the problems of Covid, we were hoping to get to more than 1.5 million. That was the growth potential that we were talking about. Those two years have been tough. We have been very lucky in that people have stayed very engaged. In fact, the engagement with our sport went up during Covid. We were one of the few interesting sporting events at a time when people could not go and enjoy a lot of sport and racing got a really good platform.
There are a lot of different areas. I mentioned the fact that it is about event creation. People are looking for a lot more when they come racing. The festivals themselves are giving a lot of entertainment to people. If we take Leopardstown, for example, in the next month or so, we have musical events. People can enjoy racing for the day, and they can enjoy a band or music afterwards.
That is grand. Ms Eade referenced the breeders and their success, which was great to see. I have a keen interest in racing, but it is very much from the outside. In terms of the breeders, are we seeing new entrants or is it very much the old guard, people who have traditionally been horse breeders? Could Ms Eade give us any indication of whether there are new entrants coming into the sector? Looking at it from the outside, when we see successful breeders interviewed after a race, they are normally my age or older. Are there new entrants and, dare I say, non-horsey people coming into this area?
Mr. John Osborne:
I think there is very vibrant involvement by the next generation and even the generation after that. We had a great result in the Land Rover race in Punchestown where Micheál Conaghan, who is probably in his late 20s, bred the winner. He tried to sell the horse last summer. He put him in training, and he won the Land Rover bumper at Punchestown. He sold him subsequently for a lot of money. There are a lot of people participating at that level from his cohort of people in their late 20s. It is very exciting.
That is very good. I know it is hard to capture everything in an opening statement, but I am concerned that there has not been any acknowledgement of the threat and socioeconomic challenges presented by gambling, which is a huge problem across the country, in particular with the advent of online gambling. Ms Eade stated the industry benefited from Covid, but so too did the spectre and problem of online gambling in many family homes. In terms of HRI's corporate responsibility and a corporate risk matrix, where does it see itself as an organisation? What is HRI doing to address gambling and to proactively engage? I accept that there is a reference to it in the small print on all HRI's advertising, but there is nothing that tells me it is comprehensively tackling this issue or engaging with the problems it is creating.
Ms Suzanne Eade:
In terms of gambling overall, HRI, and in particular the board, are very supportive of the regulations that are due to come on stream. It goes without saying that we are also very supportive of responsible gambling, but we might need to state it in a bit more of an upfront manner. I take on board that point.
On the other suggestion, we were very supportive of the idea of an element of the take from the Exchequer tax on gambling being ring-fenced for gambling addiction services, and that was something we recommended.
I take on board the Deputy's points. We will do more to make that a bit clearer but, as I said, we are very supportive of the regulation that is coming in.
That is good. I appreciate that Ms Eade referred to equine welfare, although it amounted to little more than a footnote in her remarks. Generally, I see a high level of welfare in the racing industry. There are, obviously, some rogue operators but, generally, it is quite good. Nevertheless, I am concerned our guests did not address in their opening remarks the issue of doping and the threat that poses to the industry. We have had a number of exchanges and presentations to this committee from people who are very exercised about it, so I had thought our guests would have addressed those issues and sought to give us some degree of comfort and reassurance. They might wish to take this opportunity to address that point. There have been a number of TV programmes and a significant number of newspaper articles about the issue. Much as I asked about HRI's focus on gambling and gambling welfare, where does the issue of anti-doping fit into its corporate responsibility and corporate risk matrix? How big an issue is it for the organisation and how much of its resources are focused on dealing with it? What reassurance can our guests give us that it is front and centre in the organisation's strategic plan?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
Overall, HRI has zero tolerance for doping in the sport. It is a given our integrity has to be of the highest quality and all the testing we are supporting through the integrity budget is aimed to deliver that world-class integrity system. It is very important to us. We were very disappointed by the articles last year. We know the work the IHRB has put in place to improve the quality of testing. It now has an International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, IFHA, accredited laboratory and is being more transparent in its reporting of anti-doping.
As for where it is on HRI’s risk register, it is probably the first or second issue. We discuss risk at every meeting of the HRI board, and equine welfare and equine anti-doping are issues discussed in the context of that risk register. It is very high on our agenda and we have no tolerance for doping.
I appreciate Ms Eade stated she was disappointed by the articles, and probably by the TV coverage, regarding the issue. What tangible actions has HRI taken as an organisation? I acknowledge it is on the agenda of all the board meetings, but what action has been taken specifically with regard to the cases raised in those media reports?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
We brought in the IHRB to discuss its testing regime and what it was doing, and we encouraged it to spend time benchmarking itself against the best in class, which it did. The best in class in anti-doping and so on are Hong Kong and Australia, and our chairperson was very clear that he wanted the IHRB to benchmark itself against those countries. We hold it to account. It has a new CEO who will be starting in two weeks. He will be invited to a meeting of the HRI board. The main topics of conversation will be those areas and that is how we will hold it to account.
Given the exchanges and engagement HRI has had with the IHRB, would it be reasonable to say HRI saw some shortcomings in what the latter was doing and that, as a result of those exchanges, those shortcomings have been addressed?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
There are a couple of issues on which the IHRB has greatly improved. I mentioned transparency regarding information and reporting. The biggest issue for me initially was not that it was not doing the work but that there was a bit of a vacuum in respect of the information coming in. It has done a great job at making that information far more transparent in order that people understand what is going on, the level of testing and any adverse findings. The Dr. Suann report-----
Ms Suzanne Eade:
No, that improved before the media spotlight was on the issue. In my view, the IHRB has come a long way in that regard. The Dr. Suann report highlights where it may have some gaps in resource and that is something on which we in HRI need to work with it urgently in regard to the budget for next year to ensure there will be no gaps in providing the outcome of that work it is doing in the background.
I welcome all our guests. On the subject of gambling, I always feel a little conflicted about this issue given I was involved in bringing in the late, great Barney Curley to the Houses when we honoured him in 2015 for his wonderful charitable work for schools and hospitals in Africa. At the same time, it pricks my conscience as a legislator when I look at racing, generally on a Saturday morning, and I see the frankly manipulative advertising by gambling organisations, especially aimed at young men, it seems to me. It seems to be aimed at a class of people who probably have a much poorer chance of being able to own their own home than did the generation who went before them. It strikes me HRI might be involved in something of a conflict of interest given most of the €70 million it gets from the State comes from the betting tax. Is it tempted, therefore, to keep shtum in the hope there will not be significant change here? If there are restrictions on gambling advertising, one would hope there will less betting, which would, of course, affect HRI's budget.
Ms Suzanne Eade:
Horse racing, as a gambling product, is a mature product. We do not face some of the issues that might be seen with, say, casino gambling and that drive some of the very dangerous behaviour. Nevertheless, we are conscious of our role and of what that advertising means. At the moment, there is not a direct link between the tax and what we receive in our funding. I think we would receive funding in any event to keep the industry going, so I-----
Relative to other organisations, however, HRI is certainly in a very fortunate position to have a whole area of tax in the State ring-fenced for the purposes of its activities. Ms Eade would have to agree a lot of organisations would envy its position, as would the promoters of many other activities in the country.
We will move on from that because I want to follow on from what Deputy Carthy asked. He raised a number of issues but I will focus on the core one. I am going to run a number of issues by Ms Eade and she can tell me whether I am wrong. She knows as well as I do that the owners of a number of the smaller racecourses feel aggrieved at the way HRI is collecting and distributing its share of media and data rights money. This goes back to the days of the Turf Club. The original arrangement, as I understand it, was that 7% of the deal being done with satellite information systems was for data, while the much more lucrative media rights, at 93%, were to go to the racecourses, and that situation continued until 2011. The regulator was basically getting 7% and the racecourses were getting 93%.
When HRI was in the saddle as the sole permitted negotiator for all this, when it was negotiating one big cake for the sale of data and media rights, by bringing in the fixture charge of €13,500 give or take in respect of each event, that meant that the overall take from the sale of data and media rights was no longer 7% for HRI but rather was something more like 16%. By definition, this means a smaller percentage of the core of the cake goes directly to the racecourses. I do not think I am misrepresenting Mr. Morris by saying he indicated that the lion's share of the money being spent on capital and racecourse development goes to the larger courses, some of which HRI owns.
Some of the smaller racecourses feel that while it is true that they accepted this new arrangement, they did so under a form of duress because they were not in a position to look elsewhere. Is this not a fact? Horse Racing Ireland is the sole permitted negotiator of this deal and is now getting 16% of the total cake but distributes it disproportionately to the bigger firms. In terms of the money that is distributed from the media rights directly back to the racecourses, the bigger courses get something like €300,000 of a cut off the top whereas the smaller courses get €65,000 and only the remainder is divvied out more or less on a fixture-by-fixture basis.
As I understand from my sources, and others will have similar sources in the racing industry, the smaller racecourses feel that HRI has abused its position, and continues to do so, by taking a much greater share of the overall data and media rights money than it used to take. Moreover, it is distributing it disproportionately to larger racecourses. Not only that but because of the fungibility of money and the fact that HRI effectively takes more money away from the racecourses before anything is distributed, HRI is then using that money for capital and racecourse development and I put it to the chief executive that the authority has distributed that money disproportionately to the larger racecourses, some of which it owns. Of course that frees up the €70 million that HRI gets from the State to a much greater degree.
Please correct me if I am wrong but I think there is a ministerial directive that 50% of the money that comes from the State would be used for development. As far as I understand, in 2021 either €42 million or €46 million was spent on prize money. That is a much greater percentage and is 60% of the €70 million take that Horse Racing Ireland gets from the State. I do not think there can be any issue about confidentiality in terms of deals already done. For taxpayers to assess for themselves or to their satisfaction how HRI uses the €70 million, they need to know the authority has managed to negotiate €35 million a year on a multi-annual basis for data and media rights. As present, HRI is taking about 16% of that.
Does the chief executive accept there is concern among the owners of smaller racecourses that they are in a situation where they can only deal with one auctioneer, which is the HRI? As under legislation, the HRI is the sole auctioneer, the smaller racecourses must take what they get and the authority is taking more than it used to take. Is that not the case?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
One of our jobs, as HRI, is to negotiate, in consultation with the executives of the authorised racecourses, all income from media rights. We do that. To be perfectly honest, the media rights committee has done an excellent job. Going back 20 years when the media rights was at "X" value, it has grown fivefold as a result of the work done by the media rights company so I am very comfortable that racecourses are getting a strong share of a very strong media rights fund.
Together, the HRI and the AIR have worked really hard to improve the quality of pictures of data through investing in systems etc. to make sure that the quality and, therefore, the overall media rights pie has grown for Irish racing. HRI is not abusing its position. I refute that and the Senator has made a regrettable statement because we have invested in many small racecourses. Some of those racecourses are small and they have received a lot of grant funding over the last number of years. I can mention Sligo and Roscommon, which have had significant capital investment.
Mr. Morris has already explained that this is not money we are taking from the racecourses. This is funding that we were entitled to for the fixtures. It is the person who is buying the rights who determines what value that is.
The public expects that when big revenue comes in, for example, in Croke Park, then that would fund what happens around the country in, say, Duggan Park, Ballinasloe, County Galway, but the opposite seems to happen in the horse racing industry.
I accept that there is a bigger pie than there used to be but the HRI used to get 7%. As I understand it, the HRI negotiated a fee or fixture charge, which is well in excess of what the market value of the data rights would be if one were to sell them. Money got off the likes of the Sports Information Services, SIS, in one area means less money for the other area. Am I correct that HRI has negotiated a bigger part of the pie for itself by using the fixture-charge approach? In fact, the HRI gets about 16% of the total pie instead of 7% in the past. Even if it is a bigger pie, as has been pointed out, the smaller racecourses get less as a proportion which, in turn, puts pressure on them to match funding for development and they feel a chilling effect. Some of them feel that if they complain about this, then HRI is the entity that decides whether they will get the capital money they might come looking for. Is that not the case?
One possibility is that because smaller racecourses get less of a percentage of the overall pie because the media rights is a smaller percentage than it used to be, which is down to 86% as opposed to 93%, they are under more pressure to get the money together than they would need to do that.
If the chief executive denies that HRI has been abusing what I suggest is a privileged position, because HRI is the sole auctioneer, will she commit in future to taking no more than the market value for data rights in the agreement on the fixture charges?
It is the complaint that I have put to the chief executive from people involved in the industry who happen to be smaller players. I do not know how independent anybody is in this situation. Since HRI itself owns racecourses, who is independent? I put it to the chief executive that we need an independent review of the data rights element of the package being negotiated as HRI is in a conflict of interest situation. Wheresoever there is a potential conflict of interest, external eyes to look at what is going on are needed. Will the chief executive commit to conducting an independent review of what is going on? Is she willing to commission an independent review of the distribution of the media rights moneys? A review was promised by the HRI when it dealt with the Association of Irish Racecourses in 2016. I have a letter to that effect, which confirms that in a meeting with HRI, the authority was willing to commission an independent review on the distribution of the cake. Is Ms Eade open to that happening now?
I welcome the representatives of HRI. I congratulate Ms Eade on being appointed CEO and wish her the very best in her role. With the exception of one or two questions at the end I shall rigidly stick to seeking information or clarification about some of the points that she made in her presentation.
In the Chairman's absence, it was very predictable when Ms Eade spoke of the HRI infrastructure projects and Tipperary that the Chairman was going to go down that avenue, and rightly so because all politics is local. In that regard, will Ms Eade elaborate a little more on where we are at with the development of the new Irish Equine Centre, and how soon Horse Racing Ireland will look for a finish date on Tipperary? I might not put the witnesses to the pin of their collar to give us a finish date, but where is that project at? It seems to have been on the back burner somewhat-----
Yes. There were numerous different meetings with Horse Racing Ireland representatives here over this term and the previous term, at which this was discussed. Where are we with that at the moment? How soon does Ms Eade see that coming to fruition?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
The Department is helping to deal with the funding on that project. I am aware there are some discussions in the background in making sure of the project and the funding. The Irish Equine Centre is an independent body and it must look into some of the legalities of funding the project. It has kind of stalled a bit. The work is done and they know what they want to do, but in the context of knowing exactly how much funding we have to play with, that bit has stalled. The Department is working on that to see if a mechanism can be found to make that right.
In her submission, Ms Eade touched on Brexit and the issues therein. I have one question about which small breeders have been on to me. I will put on the record that I too have one brood mare, so I know what these people are on about. The question relates to the five-day notice. Has Horse Racing Ireland had any communication with the Department on this? The five-day notice must be given to the Department vet if one is bringing a mare to be covered in the UK. This is becoming a little bit of a nightmare, as Ms Eade can appreciate, and as Mr. Osborne will certainly appreciate. When a mare is in season, she is in season. Before this, one would have been able to just put her in the horse box, go to the ferry and go over to get her covered. If a horse is going over to race we know well in advance of five days and we can put all the information in place and have the Department vet out and so on. Has Horse Racing Ireland had any communication with the Department on this? I have contacted the Department and raised the issue but I do not seem to be making much progress. Is there any way around that for the purposes of breeding alone? We are dealing with nature here.
Mr. John Osborne:
The Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association, ITBA, would do that discussion and negotiation. There are a number of headaches; there is a paperwork headache and a cost headache with shipping to and from. These things are under review. I am not sure how much wriggle room there is. We know it is complicated. As the Senator has said, a five-day notice period is impossible to comply with in the breeding season for mares in cycle, and so on. It radically needs a good examination and a solution needs to be found for it. I am not sure what that solution can be given the complex Brexit situation.
Perfect. There is another point, and I do not want to be negative about what is a positive, but will Horse Racing Ireland thread out a little bit more about the support for breeders and the IRE incentive? Again, going back to the small breeders, if one wins the €10,000 voucher it is used at the sale and that money will filter down to the breeder. If a bred horse has won a race, the value of the horse goes up and the prize money goes up, and the winner gets the €10,000. If a person is a less successful breeder, which I am very familiar with, and finishes fourth in the same race, it has cost the breeder as much to get there but he or she is getting none of the above. The breeder is out of the prize money, does not have the €10,000 and the horse has not increased that much in value. If that is the quality of horse one is breeding, and if that is the sort of luck one is in, then it is probably not going be the horse that the fella with the €10,000 voucher is going to buy at the sale. Has HRI looked at any way it could be spread out a little bit more to get down to the smaller breeder who would use - for want of a better word - the lesser quality stallion, who may not be winning the races or winning the vouchers, and who may not have a horse that will catch they eye of the person with the voucher in the sales? It is still costing them as much to get to the sale or to the racetrack, as it does the successful one. This is a long-winded way of explaining it but can HRI spread the butter a bit thinner across the sector?
Mr. John Osborne:
I do not want to take up too much of the committee's time, but the beauty of the scheme is the four big pluses with it, the first of which is the rewards for winning owners. Mr. Morris will know more about this. Second, we can actually target the bonuses to a specific sector of races. We have specifically gone for median auction, two-year-old races, and fillies' maidens. These are places where the commercial stock are most likely to be participating. The winner of those races, therefore, who gets the €10,000 is most likely a person who is going to spend that money back into the same sector of the commercial end of the market.
The third plus of the scheme is that it multiplies the spend. When the winner with the €10,000 to spend, in the form of a voucher, has to buy a horse, we have seen that it is at least a four-fold increase because that person must put some of his or her own money with it. This raises the market. Obviously, a rising tide lifts all boats, but there are specifics to it. I suppose the challenge for the breeding sector is to present animals that the market wants to buy. As the Senator will be aware, this does not always work but in general terms it is a very good scheme for spreading it as wide as we can in the circumstances of the amount of money available to us.
I am not knocking the scheme. I see its merits. I am not being flippant but one man said to me that under the circumstances at the minute he needs a dig out, and the last thing he needs is a voucher to go to the sales to buy another horse. He told me that he wants to be getting rid of horses.
Mr. John Osborne:
Again, I do not want to hog the meeting but we are trying to balance the amount of money that was available to us and what it can achieve in impact. One could also argue for €5,000 and spread it twice as wide. Then, however, the €5,000 is less impactful. In England we are counteracting the great British bonus, GBB, scheme, which was devised pre-Brexit and was specifically targeted at counteracting the success of the Irish breeding industry. There is no question about it. That scheme attached a £20,000 bonus to it. It would have looked very mealy-mouthed of us to go with a scheme that was not at least up into the five figures. It was a balancing act to come up with a scheme that has maximum impact and bearing in mind the limited resources.
I do get that, but I just wondered about it.
Has HRI had any negotiations with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with regard to getting equine enterprises or equine farms included in TAMS, for example with loading or handling of horses, from a safety perspective? I believe it has been touted and looked at by the Department. Has HRI had any involvement in those negotiations and would it be confident that the equine sector may be included in the TAMS?
Mr. John Osborne:
I believe that everyone is agreed on that. We have had feedback from the Department. This is a big plank of the Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, policy. I think everyone is agreed that it never really made sense that horse production was excluded from TAMS in the first place. I would be very confident. Obviously, it would have to go through the hoops and be specific, targeted expenditure. We would be very expectant that horse production could be included in TAMS.
I have two more points on the race fixtures or race programme. HRI had to run an extra meeting recently in Punchestown to facilitate low-handicapped and low-quality horses that were getting balloted out. Will HRI be adjusting its fixture list to allow for that going forward or is it just a spike in numbers at the minute? I am involved in a syndicate and we were balloted out four times. It was frustrating for some of the lads who might not understand the whole system as well as I do.
In fairness, HRI ran that card in Punchestown. Even having to run it is an admission that the programme does not sufficiently facilitate every type of horse. Will that be examined? Will it be changing? How can that problem within the calendar be overcome?
Mr. Jason Morris:
There are 390 fixtures annually. In 2022, we specifically reserved three of those fixtures. We only published 387 on the original list and kept three in reserve as floating fixtures specifically for the purpose of catering for the demands of the horse population when we saw those spikes. We try to balance the fixture list in light of historical trends for different times of the year but there will always be different trends and peak points each year. By keeping those three fixtures in reserve, one of which was run in Punchestown, we could cater for the maiden hurdles and the low-grade handicap horses. We put on three races and divided them. It served as a pressure valve and we were able to release that pressure. That is something the fixtures committee introduced this year to give us more flexibility to respond-----
I get that. I thought it was a bit of an issue at the time. While I am not going to put a gun to anyone's head here, as the witnesses will know, we have had many meetings with regard to doping. Within our deliberations during those meetings, there was a lot of talk about structure, although it was more about the structure of the IHRB than that of HRI. Will the witnesses comment on the relationship between HRI and the IHRB? It is hard to explain to laypeople who are not into racing that the IHRB is almost a subcommittee of HRI. Why is it not all the one body? Should it be one body? Should it be two completely separate entities? I will not hold anyone to their answer in the future. There was a lot of debate about the structure, the relationship and the links, or the lack thereof, between the two bodies.
Ms Suzanne Eade:
I like the idea of an independent body. That can have a very good purpose. The two executive teams are working together closely to see how we can get better together. We cannot do well without a strong IHRB and it cannot do a great job without a strong HRI. The focus of recent work between the two executives has been on what is working, what is not working and how to make things better. There are areas in which there could be synergies between the two organisations. I am very supportive of that. The change in the IHRB makes me believe it is open to looking at some things very differently. An area in which HRI and the IHRB need to get stronger together is the area of technology. A great deal needs to be spent in this area. I refer to spending on cybersecurity and how we go to market. There is an opportunity for us to be better in that area. We are very dependent on the fact that there is very significant volunteer element to the IHRB. I am not 100% sure whether that could fit into a semi-State set-up. I would definitely like to have a better understanding of that. The creation of a board that is distinct from the club is good. Independent members are now going to be brought onto that board which will bring about a bit of diversity. That should help. There is no doubt that the two organisations work very well in a crisis. We want to get better at working together on an ongoing basis and on information exchange. Those are all areas in which we will work jointly to improve.
I thank the HRI representatives for their answers. They are facing questions on a diverse range of issues. To return to what HRI said it was willing to facilitate, I put it to the witnesses that there is a bit of a PR problem at some of the smaller racecourses and that there is an expectation that they should not be aggrieved in a situation like this. Can we get some action on HRI and AIR working on a review of the data rights element of the package, how it is negotiated and how the media rights moneys are distributed among the racecourses? Is HRI open to acting on that and pushing ahead?
HRI said it was open to this in 2016. It would be helpful if there were some action on that. There is something bothering me. Ms Eade acknowledged the progress that has been made and spoke about HRI's synergies and work with the IHRB. She praised the proposed changes to its board. HRI is the funding organisation for the IHRB. It remains the case that it is a closed shop in respect of appointments to the board. As has been ventilated at length and reflected to some degree in the previous report of this committee, best practice would be for a majority of members of the board of the IHRB to be people who have no hand, act or part in the owning, breeding or selling of horses. It needs to be truly independent both to ensure serious integrity and for there to be the perception that the board is serious about integrity. HRI seems to be waiting to see IHRB is going to do and seems happy enough if it adds in a woman or two to increase gender diversity along with one or two people from the outside. Is it not starting from the wrong place there, however? Should HRI not be insisting that, by a given deadline, the majority of members of the board would be completely neutral and independent so that it is no longer the fiefdom of the Turf Club that it currently is?
The IHRB is responsible for integrity in racing. There is potential for vested interests and people looking the other way. I am not saying that is happening in any individual case but this is all about perception. If you are looking at what is going on with regard to anti-doping bodies internationally, you will see that there is usually a majority of expert outsiders.
Let us be clear that I am not making accusations against anybody but someone who was previously the chairperson of the IHRB, and perhaps still is, sold a yearling for €1.3 million or so. There was absolutely nothing wrong with that but I put it to Ms Eade that the way to assuage the concerns of people who are worried about allegations about doping in horse racing is to have a completely clear majority of independent people on the board.
I have one last question. When a very prominent horse trainer-----
When asked why there was not necessarily and automatically an investigation into people who had been convicted for criminal offences, the IHRB previously said, at one point, that it was its job to look at breaches of the rules rather than convictions. Of course, the reality is that action has been taken when jockeys were convicted for cocaine offences and so on. My problem is that when a very prominent racing trainer was pictured sitting up on a dead horse - an issue which, while not nice, did not involve the abuse of an animal - I understand that the IHRB acted but when a trainer was convicted for mistreating an animal, that person was back on a racecourse within a relatively short period of time and the IHRB took no action. Does it bother Ms Eade that the IHRB does not seem to automatically take action in cases of infractions involving animal welfare?
That would be perfectly reasonable if it were the only reason the IHRB would not take institutional action. Is Mr. Osborne confident there has not been a case, a concluded issue in the courts, relative to animal welfare that did not result in the IHRB also taking disciplinary action?
Mr. John Osborne:
I understand the spirit of the question and I know the spirit in which the IHRB conducts itself. It allows the judicial process to play out and then conducts its own process. Individuals always have the right to defend their good name and the process will play out in whatever way is appropriate. There are much better legal brains involved than me.
Ultimately, Horse Racing Ireland is the paymaster. It is fine to say it will work closely with the IHRB, it is great to have co-operation with it and HRI approves of all the good things it is now doing, but there has to be more than that if the IHRB is still falling short.
I know of no such body that enjoys such independence while being composed of a completely closed shop of directors. The quid pro quo from independence is that there are appointees of board directors from different places, especially by the Minister.
Mr. John Osborne:
If we could wind back the decades, we would say that the very construct of it is independent people who are farmers, shopkeepers, property developers, auctioneers and whatever else. The membership is made up of a wide sector of society. Of its nature, it presents a wide spectrum of insight or interpretation. It is like a jury of one's peers.
The IHRB is not doing its job right in the court of public opinion or any other reasonable assessment. Let us say that animal welfare issues are not being relentlessly pursued by the board in certain cases. I know we are talking hypothetically but I will need to go back and check the information I was given about past cases-----
I am asking whether it is mandatory for it to do so. I put it to Mr. Osborne that it would not be enough to say the IHRB is independent and HRI cannot tell it too much about how it does its job. A much more serious public interest issue arises if there is any possibility that the IHRB is failing to relentlessly pursue an animal welfare issue once it is concluded in the courts and if the conviction stands.
Mr. John Osborne:
Our relationship is collaborative on lots of issues, and this is one in which, certainly personally, I would be very animated in making sure we protect the good name of Ireland and the 99% of participants in the industry whose names are affected by the bad behaviour of a small number.
I thank the witnesses for coming before the committee. I wish Ms Eade the best of luck during her term of office and in areas she intends to look at or change. Regarding corporate rules, should there be a cooling-off period when Ms Eade leaves her job so that she does not get involved straightaway in other parts of the horse industry or is directly employed in the horse industry?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
I am less than a year in the role so I am not thinking of any cooling-off period. I am thinking about the seven years in front of me and delivering for the industry in this role. I have not given it any thought. If the situation were to arise and I was capable of taking on another role that would benefit the industry, I would see no issue with me stepping into another role provided I did not have decision-making or financial control over anything in HRI. Other than that, I would not have a problem. It is good to see people with skills staying in the industry. We are struggling to keep people with capabilities. If I were to lose a-----
I refer to Ms Eade's targets and issues she will look at. As regards the system used for the cattle around the country, if I want to know where a tag number of an animal is at this minute, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine can provide that information through the animal identification and movement, AIM, system. In fairness to the Department, it is one of the best systems in the world. Is it a priority for Ms Eade to make sure we have a system, from birth to death, to allow us to know where a horse is at any time, either based on or the same as the AIM system?
How quickly will that priority be achieved? Officials from the Department appeared before the committee about six months ago and we were told they were working on the system last year. We are now halfway through 2022. What stage it is at? Is HRI providing support? How quickly will the system be in place for horse racing? It would address a perception of horse racing.
Ms Suzanne Eade:
Before I hand over to Mr. Osborne, I will point out that we are working on that system for thoroughbreds. We are working with Weatherbys on a traceability system. As I said, there is full traceability once a horse is racing. The work Weatherbys is doing with Mr. Osborne will give us full traceability pre- and post-racing. We are not waiting on the Department; we are doing that ourselves.
At the moment, if an animal is in a mart, it is accountable no more than if a horse is racing. If it is with the farmer or in bed and breakfast, the Department knows exactly where it is. Is that the system HRI intends to use and how soon does HRI intend to have it in place?
Mr. John Osborne:
Luckily, the technology that exists nowadays makes it much easier. We now have smart scans that are interconnected using the phone networks, so the technology is there. We are working with Weatherbys. We meet weekly on this subject. It is the centrepiece of our welfare strategy because we cannot move forward until we get it to where-----
No. A problem was brought to our attention about when a foal is born. We brought this up at the committee last year. If there was any dispute over the stud fees, funnily enough, the books went out to the stud owner and not the person who owned the foal. Why was that?
Mr. John Osborne:
There may have been situations in the past but I am not exactly sure.
The situation for registration of a foal is that the covering certificate is issued by the stallion master because only animals bred by natural service can enter the thoroughbred register. There always needs to be collaboration between the stallion master and the breeder to get the animal registered. The passport is then issued and it, by law, accompanies the animal throughout its life. That is as it should be.
My understanding is that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine sorted out the problems but I thought Horse Racing Ireland would be aware of that.
In the line of TAMS, do the witnesses expect that issue will be resolved? They stated there was general consensus. General consensus and decisions are two different things. The issue of TAMS grants for the industry has been sitting in abeyance for a good while. How soon in whatever negotiations or agreements there are do the witnesses expect that to kick in?
Going back to the animal identification and movement, AIM, system, the committee in its report was in full agreement that this system is one of the things to make sure there is accountability all the time. Ms Eade stated that HRI is working with Weatherbys and that. How soon is that system expected to be in place?
The opening statement refers to amenities other than those relating to race day activities. Is that something the HRI will be doing or will another organisation be doing it? What is envisaged in that regard?
Mr. Jason Morris:
We are hoping that, subject to where the N24 may be relocated, we will be able to
give the centre a parcel of our car park lands so that it can develop a riding centre for the adults who are cared for in the centre. Obviously, that is something on which we would like to work in tandem with the centre. We would provide the land and it would provide the funding for the development. That is one of the projects we hope to do as part of the overall Tipperary development.
As I stated, it is great news. Racing directly or indirectly supports 2,500 jobs in the county which the Chairman and I represent and brings in it €400 million county-wide. As such, any proposed developments, and the all-weather track in particular, are more than welcome.
I heard part of the discussion earlier on point-to-point racing. What concerns do our guests have in respect of the long-term viability of both formats? Reference was made to insurance. Is it the biggest worry in the context of point-to-point racing and smaller events?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
This year, events not knowing whether they could get the relevant insurance really put them on the back foot. There is more of an onus hitting the IHRB in terms of insurance for participation risk as well. That was the biggest issue we faced coming into the current year. Obviously, Covid was also tough for the organisers as they could not run point-to-point races and then had to catch up. They held some events on the track. This year, they are kind of back on track.
What assistance has the HRI given to the point-to-pointers and pony racers in that regard? Has HRI approached and expressed its concerns to the point-to-pointers? Have any meetings taken place in that regard?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
We provided extra funding last year and then rolled it into the grant to cover some of the insurance increases. That number may go up next year. We met the registrar a couple of times in respect of insurance. That is the sort of support we gave them. We have committed to helping pony racing in terms of insurance costs again this year. We gave them 50% last year and this year we are staying close to them. As we were coming in here today, they did not have a deal in place. I am waiting to hear if they will get a deal. HRI will help out in that way.
I suspect most other issues have been covered. When the IHRB and HRI attended the committee at the start of May, concerns were raised by many members in respect of the pace at which the recommendations of the committee were being rolled out. At that meeting, Mr. Osborne stated he was satisfied that progress was being made on all fronts. It was clear, however, that it was not as cut and dried as was being made out at that stage. One of the delays related to the provision of CCTV cameras in stable yards. We were told that was due to arrive in autumn. Is that still the position of HRI? At what stage is the process now compared with the situation at the start of the month, for example? Are our guests still happy that, come autumn, the likes of CCTV cameras and all that will be in stable yards?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
To go back to the issue of CCTV, it was a much more complex course of action than we expected to get those CCTV cameras in place. We had to conduct a full European tender which began in the middle of 2021. Believe it or not, we had to employ experts in this field. There are no CCTV experts employed in HRI or the IHRB. It was full procurement. We had 11 companies tender for it and we had to work through those that qualified. Coming into this year, we had a challenge so we had to extend the period. I know the frameworks are all in place and the start of the CCTV was to commence this week. I am confident that we will meet the timeframe committed to by the IHRB when it was last in with the committee, subject to any infrastructural issues that we might stumble across. We should not encounter such issues but they would be the only thing that would stop us getting on with that. I appreciate the frustration of the committee. We, too, are frustrated by how long this process has taken. Again, it was far more complex than expected in the context of dealing with all 25 racecourses or whatever that will have this CCTV. I apologise on behalf of the HRI.
In 2019, the most recent year that was unaffected by Covid, 1.3 million people attended races. We have been unaffected this year. Are numbers up compared with 2019? Is there any indication of whether the numbers will be up? Will it level itself out?
Ms Suzanne Eade:
Overall, we are not back to 2019 levels yet.
That is despite having strong festivals in Punchestown, Fairyhouse, etc. We are doing a lot of work around marketing to reach a certain cohort of people. There is significant consumption of our product in terms of streaming going on around the country and people watching our racing. We just have not yet got everyone off the sofa and back to racing. That is a priority for HRI's marking team in the context of working with the racecourses to create events that make people want to come back. I expect to see some good numbers over the next few weeks when there will be music alongside racing. The Galway racing festival will be a litmus test of where people are in terms of coming back post Covid.
Mr. John Osborne:
Last year was probably a little bit unusual because of Covid and everything else. This year, the rate of growth has not been maintained. We have seen growth in categories where there are multiple ownerships, such as partnerships, syndicates and clubs. They are strong, which is great because it gives people a cheaper way to participate, get a feel for the industry and progress if they feel they can. It is working. Syndicates are a huge part of successful racing in Australia, for example. The model is taking hold here and we have seen some really good winners recently involving multiple ownership, which is probably a much more fun way to enjoy racing.
I thank the witnesses for participating. As has been said, this is an important industry for the country. We wish the new chief executive all the best during her term in office.
The first session of the next meeting will be devoted to a discussion of fixed-price milk contracts and Ornua's role in the dairy sector. The second session will focus on ash dieback disease and its impact on the private forestry sector.