Thursday, 8 May 2014
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Bord na gCon Remit
3. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the fact that 90% of the Irish Coursing Club's funding is provided by dog registration fees; if he will propose a complete transfer of the function of greyhound registration from the ICC to Bord na gCon; if he will amend existing legislation governing the greyhound industry to include this transfer of powers; his views that the hard-pressed track racing industry would benefit greatly if Bord na gCon were to become a registering body for greyhounds here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20572/14]
The Irish Coursing Club, ICC, has been the keeper of for the Irish Greyhound Stud Book since 1923. The stud book is the property of the ICC. Section 26 (2) of the Greyhound Industry Act 1958, provides that the ICC is subject to the general control and direction of Bord na gCon, which is the statutory body with responsibility for the improvement and development of the greyhound industry, greyhound racing and coursing. The ICC has has built up considerable expertise in this area since 1923. It has established the appropriate structures in terms of personnel, information technology and the procedures required to execute all matters relating to the registration of coursing and racing greyhounds. The ICC is a member of the International Greyhound Stud Registries. The ICC manages the stud book and covers the considerable costs attaching to the operation of the stud book. It is my understanding that the ICC has discharged its function as keeper of the stud book in a satisfactory manner to date. Accordingly, I have no plans to transfer responsibility for the studbook to Bord na gCon.
The Deputy will be aware that my Department has commissioned independent consultants to undertake a comprehensive review of certain matters relating to Bord na gCon. The review encompasses the policy, governance and regulatory framework and the financial situation of Bord na gCon. The consultants will compile a report, documenting the findings of their review. The report will assess the current situation with regard to Bord na gCon and will make recommendations as to any changes required so as to ensure the industry is best placed to meet the challenges that lie ahead in a very dynamic and challenging environment. I expect to get the report shortly. If there are recommendations along the lines advocated by Deputy O'Sullivan then we will certainly take them on board in the same way as we are looking to implement the results of the Indecon report into the horse racing industry.
Greyhounds are kept for two reasons: for racing on the track with a mechanical hare, and for coursing, in which wild hares are captured within an enclosure. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has detailed the extent of the injuries suffered by the hares through mauling and tossing and pinning to the ground and also injuries to the greyhounds. In my view it is incongruous and it does not make sense that people who own greyhounds, regardless of their views on coursing, must pay that registration fee to the coursing club. Coursing is illegal in many other jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland and Britain, Australia and New Zealand and most of continental Europe, yet coursing with live hares is carried on in this country, in spite of the fact that so many polls show that much of public opinion is against it. Why should a greyhound owner who is against coursing have to pay fees to the Irish Coursing Club to register and name a greyhound? It is known that Bord na gCon has financial difficulties and that the track industry is in trouble. I hope the review will make a recommendation and, if so, that the Minister will consider it favourably.
We discussed coursing in the context of the Animal Health and Welfare Bill. I hope the Deputy will attend our animal welfare conference next Friday; I understand she has been invited to attend. If she has not received an invitation, I extend the invitation now.
We will consider the Indecon report on Bord na gCon and the greyhound industry, and if it makes recommendations in this area, I have an open mind about implementation and change. So far as I am concerned, there is nothing untouchable here. Regulation, inspection and enforcement in the operation of coursing and coursing clubs in recent years has changed and improved considerably. I am aware that a large body of people, including the Deputy, would like to see coursing banned. We had that discussion in the context of the Animal Health and Welfare Bill and we decided to take a different route. If the review makes recommendations for future adjustments and changes in that area, we will consider it.
Our point is this: why can the mechanical hare, which is used in track racing, not be used in coursing so that live hares are not used and injured? I will be attending the animal welfare conference. Deputy Clare Daly and I had hoped we would be asked to make an official input in view of our work on animal welfare, but that was not to be.
I have two further points. The website of The Gathering highlighted the positive aspects of our country in order to attract people to come here. However, there was no mention of coursing as one of those attractions.
Both the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht are involved. It would make more sense if one Department had complete control of everything to do with animal welfare.
It would not be correct to say that my Department has complete control of everything to do with animal welfare, but we certainly have taken on board much more than was previously the case, particularly with regard to horse welfare, where we have implemented a significant number of changes, and we need to continue to make appropriate changes because that issue is not yet fully resolved. There has been a dramatic increase in the financial commitment in the area of animal welfare since I became Minister in this Department. We are trying to do a lot. I acknowledge the Deputy's genuine concerns and views in this area. I hope she will have an opportunity to contribute at the conference next week, although probably not as a platform speaker, because the only politician there will be me and I am only chairing some of the sessions. There will be an opportunity to raise issues from the floor.
I take the Deputy's point about some issues relating to animal welfare being cross-departmental, but my Department has taken on more responsibility in this area than was the case previously.