Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Greyhound Racing Bill 2018: Second Stage
I should begin by declaring that I have no interests in the greyhound industry and I am not related to the famous greyhound, Master McGrath, of which there is a statue in Dungarvan. There is no bloodline between us.
As the Minister of State made clear on Second Stage in the Seanad, the greyhound racing sector contributes a substantial number of jobs to the economy, estimated at 5,000 by Mr. Jim Power, an economic consultant, in 2017. It also contributes €300 million annually to local economies. In addition, it is estimated that there are approximately 7,000 greyhound owners, with an estimated 12,000 people deriving economic benefit from the sector. That is not small change in rural Ireland. It is further estimated that more than 14 million people have attended greyhound racing meetings since 2002, which is a lot of people who enjoy themselves and contribute.
On a positive note, I welcome the Minister of State's clarification that during the course of the drafting of the Bill, a number of changes were made. One such change places a greater emphasis on fair procedures, particularly with regard to the conduct of investigations by the board in respect of possible breaches of racing regulations and of the conduct of hearings by the control committee into suspected breaches. It is important that the sector is above board, open and transparent, with animals being 100% looked after. At all times we should try to improve fair procedures.
I welcome section 12, which provides for disclosure of potential conflicts of interest, which is why I disclosed that I was not related to the great Master McGrath. I understand it is a new provision which was recommended in the Indecon report. Nevertheless, we have debated the issue for some time. In April 2017, when the matter was very much in the public sphere following the sale of the Harold's Cross track, which was done in a strange fashion, I called on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to engage immediately with the members of the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation in an attempt to resolve the ongoing crisis in the greyhound sector. At the time there were many calls for the removal of the entire Irish Greyhound Board, IGB. The crisis was made worse by the refusal of the board, which was appointed by a Fine Gael-Labour Party Government, to listen to the frustrations and concerns of the ordinary members. I will not now attack members of the Labour Party because my colleagues chastised them enough earlier, but Deputy Kelly told us all what to do, appointing the board and he wanted to get them sacked. We are not defenders of the board, unlike Deputy Michael Lowry, who attempted to shift the blame onto members and to insist that problems are simply down to misunderstandings over the role of the Irish Greyhound Board. That was utterly nonsensical and its condescending attitude can now be seen. The rank-and-file greyhound breeders and owners know their industry just as well as the apparent experts on the board. They can see what needs to be done and should be listened to. We should always listen to na daoine beaga, daoine na tíre, the people on the ground.
A change of the existing governance arrangements will go some way towards addressing these concerns as it will be the first indication that the priority is not simply to maintain the status quoand the interests of the board but rather to put the good of the industry first. We cannot allow the situation to deteriorate further. I am glad the Minister of State, the board and its defenders are coming to their senses and are willing to take account of the unanimous vote of no confidence that occurred at a meeting in the Horse and Jockey on this issue in March 2017. Bhí mé ann and it was comprehensive.
On the greyhound racing sector in County Tipperary, I was delighted that a successful meeting, which I attended, was held last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. I am pleased that it went off well. I have not yet received the figures on whether there were accidents or incidents of hares being injured or hurt but I hope there were not. It is well policed by Bord na gCon and independent arbitrators. Naturally, there was the usual cabal of protestors, which I sadly missed because I entered through a different gate. I did not know they were at the next gate because I would not have avoided them but instead I would have welcomed them to let them see what goes on. I ask them to concentrate on another ongoing practice. There are excellent coursing clubs in County Tipperary, such as Knockgraffon and Clogheen; Cappoquin in County Waterford; in east Cork, in Deputy O'Keeffe's area; and in Cashel and Galbooly in north County Tipperary.
We have been unable, however, to hold coursing meetings for the past number of years because a certain protected species of people goes out with lurchers and terriers and set five, six or eight of them on a little hare or rabbit and tear it asunder. No one says a word about it. These people go out lamping at night, terrorising farmers, but if a farmer tries to stop them because they are frightening cattle and intimidating the public, they will threaten the farmer. They will then cut the farmer's water pipe and there will be a massive water bill when the cattle are put out in spring time, and the leak will not be noticed until then. They will also cut the electric-fence wires. It is terrorism by a band of protected species that no one can deal with. No one wants to deal with them, yet we complain about muzzled greyhounds.
I raised the issue in the Chamber when Mr. John Gormley was in government, and I spent two hours one night at a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting with the then Taoiseach, Mr. Brian Cowen, and the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. Gormley, discussing when a breeding bitch is a breeding bitch. I gave up that night on what we were listening to. There were 70 or 80 of us in attendance. The country was going down the tubes before the crash and we were talking about when a breeding bitch is a breeding bitch. I said the next thing they would stop was the cat chasing the mouse, and that is the folly of it.
Our rural pursuits must be protected. We do not come up to Dublin saying its people cannot have this or that. They have enough to hear about the number of people who are being shot and murdered every night, and they do not have time or interest to concern themselves with what we do in County Tipperary. We are working alright. The Minister of State should do his best. We want our country practices and our sport protected. It is not a sadistic sport. The hares are well nurtured and the coursing clubs look after and nurture them. A few years ago, hares were ready for the coursing, and - hey presto - animal rights activists came along, cut the wire and left them on the M8 motorway to be crushed by trucks. Another time, quite a few years ago, activists broke glass and put it on the tracks. Imagine the injury that would do the greyhounds' or hares' feet.
We must have a balance. Ordinary country people are trying to have a bit of fun in the industry but everyone who has a greyhound must have a box and a kennel and must pay veterinary fees. It is an industry and we can see that. We do not try to shut down what goes on in Dublin, where Deputy Broughan and others live. We respect them. We do not interfere or stop people in Dublin having their pursuits. We must stop the marauding gangs who are terrorising the people and looking for places that they can use. They terrorise the community in County Tipperary and it is not good enough. Why are the animal rights activists not focused on that? They post on Facebook that so many hares have been torn asunder by lurchers, terriers and everything else. They say there is no muzzle or anything else - only slaughter - and that there is a considerable betting industry behind it.
Gangs of men are in fields frightening housewives, farmers and everybody else.