Thursday, 27 October 2016
Harness Racing Industry
11. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to provide funding to the Irish Harness Racing Association following its provision of a training course to encourage participants in the sport to come off-road and use safer regulated facilities. [32186/16]
The Irish Harness Racing Association, IHRA, is a beneficiary, for the first time, of an equine infrastructure grant scheme operated by my Department. The IHRA has been approved for grants totalling €21,704 under this scheme, with a view to supporting this sector in a targeted way.
The tender for an independent evaluator to complete an economic evaluation of the potential of the harness racing sector in Ireland is now well advanced and it is hoped that an evaluator will have been appointed by early December. As I stated previously, on publication of this economic evaluation, I will consider the request for funding for this sector. Until that time, no further funding requests can be considered.
That is disappointing considering that in other countries, particularly France, the industry is huge and generates very much income. It has great potential here so it would be appropriate to try to put a small amount of money towards it at this time. Those concerned are not looking for much; they have applied for under €60,000. If this could be allocated to them until they get the industry established, it is quite likely they will be able to develop a self-financing industry in the near future, as in other sectors. The industry needs to be kick-started. We are talking about priming the pump. It would be appropriate to try to do that. Harness racing provides a great social service, as the Minister is aware. People who have engaged in harness racing on the roads in the past, including those from the Traveller community, are trying to regulate the industry, get it indoors and make it something everyone can enjoy and in which everyone can participate. It is an industry that requires a very small amount of money compared to many others. It would be very appropriate to fund it at this time.
I have received quite a lot of representation on this matter. We have discussed it previously also. I acknowledge there is significant interest and that the industry is part of the overall horse racing industry that we discussed previously. The Deputy seems to be able to cherry-pick the elements of the horse racing sector that he likes and dislikes. Harness racing is part of the horse racing family, however.
I am open to paying additional money in principle but the Deputy will appreciate that I would be hauled in here if I did not have a sound economic rationale for doing so. That is why we are appointing somebody to assess the economic contribution, how the industry might develop, how it should be structured and how we should invest in it strategically. This approach is lacking somewhat in the proposals we have received to date.
It would be a dangerous precedent to start getting involved in subventing retrospectively costs incurred without providing any underlying economic rationale. Therefore, we await the evaluators' report. If this sector has potential — I have no reason to doubt the Deputy in this regard — I am sure it will be reflected in the report and that we will have a sound economic rationale on which to consider how best to assist the industry in the future. The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot dispense taxpayers' funding willy-nilly without the rationale. If I did, I might find myself before the agriculture committee.
The Minister would be very welcome at any time before that committee.
The industry sits in a different place from where we spoke about earlier. I refer to the way the money is being spent in the horse racing industry, benefiting those who are very long established and very well established. We have an opportunity to do something that would reflect that the Government is prepared to fund not only those at the very top of the industry but also those at the bottom starting off. It would be appropriate to put some money towards it. Those concerned do not require very much. While I understand a report will be commissioned, could the Minister commit to putting a substantial plan in place for the industry as soon as it is prepared?
I do not want to prejudge the report. Based on the premise of the picture the Deputy painted, it should give us a roadmap as to how best to assist the industry to develop. I await the report and I will have no difficulty publishing it in due course.