Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Greyhound Racing Bill 2018: Second Stage
As the Minister of State will be aware, this Bill emerged from the Indecon report. As many have acknowledged, the report was done because of many scandals and difficulties in the industry. Unfortunately, we cannot rewind the clock and these difficulties have brought much of the industry into disrepute. However, the Bill is an attempt to deal with that.
The Bill has been through pre-legislative scrutiny and work was done on it in the Seanad. It must be acknowledged that it is an attempt to move things forward and make things work. The problem in the past has been that things did not work. This was acknowledged by the need to commission the Indecon report in the first place and the Morris report of 2015 which examined the doping of dogs. All of that brought home to people the significant problem in the greyhound industry and highlighted what was happening on tracks. A company based near me does significant work on the mechanisms used on greyhound tracks and how they operate. I have been told all kinds of hair-raising stories about stuff its employees have seen over the years. While there is no evidence for these stories, when people with no axe to grind say, "God bless us, if you saw the stuff that was going on," it brings home that this is an industry that needs a hell of a lot of reform. If this Bill is to be successful, we must be firm in ensuring its provisions are complied with and work. The new board must have teeth and drive home the message that the industry needs to be cleaned up and cannot be allowed to continue with practices that have been taking place until recently.
The Minister of State discussed in detail the various sections. They cover almost all aspects of the industry, from the management of the industry at board level to recommendations on how dogs are treated when they are being trained, during their racing life and where they end up afterwards. This is an issue has concerned many people down the years. While microchipping and other tracing mechanisms are in place, unfortunately they do not seem to work in many cases.
The Bill addresses the terms of membership of the new board. The chairperson's term of office will be confined to five years. Currently, the chairperson could remain for life, which shows how unworkable the position was in the past.
Animal welfare is what concerns most people. We must ensure the new board and the legislation deals with this issue in a firm and constructive way.
Doping and race fixing occurred in the past. Dog owners were found to be using various means of enhancing or, in some cases, inhibiting their dogs' performance. This was happening in an uncontrolled manner and even when people were caught, there was little or no sanction. We need to drive home in this Bill that this is not only about what we set down on paper but about what happens on the tracks and ensuring the control committee and others do their work properly.
The increase in fines is a step in the right direction. It will provide for proper sanctions when people breach the rules. People will no longer be allowed to get away with breaching the rules. The issue of fair play comes into this. Fair play has not been a byword of the greyhound racing industry, as the House will be aware, which is the reason we are discussing this Bill. It needs to be firmly re-established, which means taking ownership of the entire process, not only by the Minister and the board but by everyone involved in the greyhound racing industry. I look forward to seeing that happening.
The sale and movement of greyhounds to other countries has been raised in the past and needs to be dealt with. Brexit is coming and we are not sure how that will end up. Interestingly, the other evening I had a phone call from a lady who lives on the Border and keeps a greyhound as a pet. Her vet is in Northern Ireland and she brings the greyhound across the Border to the vet and back again. She is wondering whether she will have to get an export and import licence every time she brings the dog to the vet after April. It is such little issues that bring home the impact Brexit will have.
The number of litters of pups a bitch can have is dealt with to some extent in the Bill. We need to take a closer look at this on Committee Stage. As Deputy Cahill acknowledged, the Bill may need to be tweaked and we may need to tighten it up, or perhaps loosen up a little, as appropriate. In general, however, this is a good effort to move forward and change things for the better, which is what we must do.
Clearly, the investigatory powers of authorised officers needed to be brought under a new level of command and control because there seemed to be very few powers available to them. Their ability to do their job effectively and properly was lost in the past. Integrity is an issue that needs to be closely examined. We need integrity in how authorised officers do their job and we need to ensure they do their job. This has been a failure in the past. Some of the stories I have heard indicated that this was one of the critical problems in the industry.
I note the provisions on the make-up of the board and the reasons a board member can be removed.
It is interesting that one of the reasons for ceasing the office of a member of board is if he or she is bankrupt or had made a compositional arrangement with a creditor. I know some of the most outstanding and honest of people who have had to make all kinds of arrangements with creditors. It is strange to include that provision in the Bill. I know it was there previously but in the context of where the country is right now, every second person has had to make some kind of arrangement with a creditor over recent years because of the state they found themselves in mainly due to the actions of various creditors in the past rather than anything they themselves had done. This needs to be looked at. It is an example of how we need to examine the Bill closely in this regard.
In general, the legislation is an effort to make a difference and to put something real in place. It comes on the back of the Indecon and Morris reports, and on the back of an industry that has lacked integrity and had significant difficulties in the past. If we are to restore it or put some sort of shape on it, then the Bill is the first step. It would, however, have to be taken on and not seen as something that comes from on high. It would have to be embraced by everybody on the ground. The bywords of the industry from here on will have to be "fair play". That has not been the situation in the past.