Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Greyhound Racing Bill 2018: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to introduce the Greyhound Racing Bill 2018. The greyhound racing sector makes a substantial contribution to the economy in terms of jobs - estimated at 5,000 as recently as 2017 by Jim Power, economic consultant - and contributes €300 million annually to local economies. In addition, it is estimated that there are approximately 7,000 active greyhound owners, with an estimated 12,000 people deriving an economic benefit from the sector. It is further estimated that over 14 mlllion people have attended greyhound race meetings in Ireland since 2002. Bord na gCon, a commercial state body, was established under the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 to control greyhound racing and improve and develop the greyhound industry. It is responsible for the regulation, control, promotion and operation of greyhound racing. Its activities include: the licensing of greyhound tracks and their officials; the authorisation of bookmakers to conduct business at tracks; the operation of totalisator betting at greyhound tracks; the regulation of public sales of greyhounds; the making of grants for prize money; the allocation of grants to improve amenities at tracks; and the collection of levies from on-course betting.
Bord na gCon licences a total of 16 greyhound tracks and owns and operates a number itself, specifically Shelbourne park, Cork, Tralee, Waterford, Youghal, Limerick and Galway. It also has a 51% share in the Mullingar track. Bord na gCon receives direct subvention from the State, through the horse and greyhound fund, to assist with the development of the sector. Funding for the greyhound industry declined significantly during the economic downturn, from a high of €15.3 million in 2008 to a low of €10.8 million in 2014. Since 2014, through a series of annual increases, funding has been restored to pre-recession levels. In 2017, and again in 2018, Bord na gCon received €16 million, accounting for approximately 39% of its total income. In 2019, it will receive a modest increase of €800,000, bringing the total Exchequer contribution for the year to €16.8 million. As I am sure the Deputies are aware, until recently, Bord na gCon was servicing a substantial burden of debt, which has acted as a financial straitjacket on the industry.
The sale of Harold's Cross has lifted that burden, and the surplus of approximately €6 million from the sale will allow Bord na gCon, as set out in its strategic plan 2018-22, to make further welfare enhancements and improve basic facilities at tracks to the benefit of all those who participate in and enjoy the sport.
Before I deal with the substance of the Bill, I will refer to the Indecon report, Review of Certain Matters ReIating to Bord na gCon, which was commissioned in 2014 by the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney. As part of the review, advertisements were placed on the Department's website, in the farming press and in the sporting press seeking submissions from interested parties. A wide-ranging stakeholder consultation process was undertaken by lndecon consultants and a total of 17 submissions were received from a broad range of respondents.
The report made a number of recommendations relating to governance, regulation and financial matters. Following publication of the Indecon report, the Minister invited and received feedback on the report. The Department also consulted directly with Bord na gCon, the Irish Coursing Club, the Bord na gCon stakeholder forum and various representatives on the issues. The report has broadly been accepted as a roadmap for the development of the sector. A number of recommendations in the report required legislative change and these recommendations are being addressed in the Bill.
Recommendations were also made in a 2016 report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine as well as in a 2015 Bord na gCon-commissioned report on anti-doping and medication known as the Morris report. Elements in these reports have also been taken into account in the drafting.
The general scheme was subject to thorough pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine in 2017. I understand the committee heard from all the major players in the industry and Department officials also appeared before the committee. The appropriate observations of the joint committee identified as part of the pre-legislative process were incorporated into the general scheme on 15 May. The general scheme was then approved by Government for drafting by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. While the Bill is now arranged differently to the draft general scheme approved by the Government, its key provisions relating to the greyhound racing industry remain the same. During the course of drafting, and on the advices of the Attorney General, a greater emphasis was placed on fair procedures, particularly with regard to the conduct of investigations by the board relating to possible breaches of racing regulations and with regard to the conduct of hearings by the control committee into suspected breaches. Bord na gCon is now required to consult with stakeholders and the Minister prior to making regulations. In addition, the consent of the Minister is required where regulation breaches lead to criminal offences. During Committee and Report Stages in the Seanad I made several minor amendments of a typographical or technical nature together with amendments regarding the membership of the board and the establishment of a fund for the rehoming of retired greyhounds. I will provide further information on these amendments as I outline the detail of the Bill.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to a number of changes in the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 that were not in the general scheme. A Programme for a Partnership Government states that the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 will be strengthened and enforced. The opportunity is being taken, in fulfilment of this commitment, to revise elements of the Act on the basis of legal advice and experience gained in operating the legislation and to remove some minor errors of a typographical nature.
I will now return to matters relating to greyhound racing. In broad terms, the Bill addresses issues relating to governance and regulation in the greyhound racing sector. It addresses governance issues in Bord na gCon, strengthens regulatory controls in the industry, modernises sanctions, improves integrity, includes the welfare of greyhounds as one of the statutory functions of Bord na gCon and provides the board with powers to make regulations relating to integrity, anti-doping, administration and traceability to improve welfare and integrity deficits impacting the industry.
I will now provide the Deputies with details of the Bill. Section 1 provides for the Short Title, collective citation and commencement of the Bill. Section 2 provides the definitions for the Bill. Significantly, the section provides definitions for "racing code", "sanction breach" and "racing sanction". These definitions provide a basis for administrative sanctions for breaching the rules of greyhound racing in addition to the current criminal sanctions. In addition, the section inserts a definition of a "substance", a "veterinary practitioner", the "control committee" and the "scientific advisory committee" and also includes a definition for disqualification and exclusion orders as racing sanctions. Section 3 amends the definition of "board" and "Minister" in the Greyhound Industry Act 1958.
Section 4 updates the provisions for service of documents and provides that emails may be used to serve documents. Section 5 is a general regulation-making provision and sets out the procedures to be followed by the board, including consultation with interested parties when the board proposes to make new regulations under the Act. Section 6 allows for summary prosecution by the board.
Section 7 provides that existing regulations will be revoked on enactment of the measures in the Bill. Provisions similar to those in the statutory instruments are being brought into primary legislation. However, section 7(2) allows matters before the regulatory committees to continue as though the regulations have not been revoked for the smooth administration of justice. If this provision is not inserted, cases before the committees may have to be reheard by the statutory committees under the Act. Any appeal from a decision of the control committee provided for in section 7(2) shall be appealed to the appeal committee.
Section 8 provides for a change of name for Bord na gCon to Rásaíocht Con Éireann.
Sections 9 and 10 arise on foot of recommendations in the Indecon report and relate to the governance of Bord na gCon. They consist of the following: an increase in the number of members of the board from a chairperson and six members to a chairperson and eight members; an increase in the quorum of the board from four to six; a term of office of five years for the chairperson, as opposed to the current indeterminate period; a statutory prohibition on the re-appointment of a person to the board beyond two consecutive terms to reflect the measures in the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies; statutory powers permitting the Minister to remove a board member where the member falls ill and is unable to perform his or her duties or breaches the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies, as published by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform; and cessation of appointment to the board in a number of circumstances, including if a member is adjudicated bankrupt or is found guilty of offences relating to the greyhound industry, welfare of animals, intimidation, assault, fraud or dishonesty.
On Report Stage in the Seanad I introduced an amendment requiring that at least one veterinarian be a member of the board in view of the animal welfare and integrity role of Rásaíocht Con Éireann and at least one individual with detailed knowledge of the industry, thus maintaining the balance in favour of a skilled board in line with lndecon recommendations while allowing for some flexibility in respect of industry representation. I can expand on this further on Committee Stage.
Section 11 provides for the current standard provisions relating to participation on State boards by elected representatives. This provision is standard in modern law. Section 12 provides for disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. This new provision is recommended in the Indecon report. Section 13 sets out for the first time by statute an overarching statement outlining the functions of the board. It is intended to provide additional legal certainty on the functions of the board. Section 14 provides that the board is statutorily subject to the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies issued by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Section 15 allows the board of Rásaíocht Con Éireann to delegate its functions to the chief executive as the board considers necessary for reasons of efficiency and effectiveness.
Section 16 inserts an explicit provision permitting the board to apply funds to enhance greyhound health and welfare. Section 17 modernises the wording relating to the ability of Rásaíocht Con Éireann to borrow, but retains the requirement for the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, acting with the consent of the Minister for Finance.
Section 17 of the principal Act is repealed. Section 18 explicitly provides for the reporting of the accounts of subsidiaries of the board. Section 19 increases the maximum fine to €250,000 on indictment for operating a greyhound racing track without a licence. This brings the 1958 Act into line with current sanction regimes.
Sections 20 to 22, inclusive, replace section 25 of the principal Act.
Section 20 provides for the making of regulations in relation to race tracks and provides for a sanction of a class A fine. It provides for regulations prohibiting racing officials operating unless they have permits and prohibiting individuals from having beneficial interests in aspects of the business.
Section 21 extends the regulatory powers of the board to control racing officials and to ensuring the integrity of the sport. Subsection (1) deals with the control of racing, subsection (2) with the conduct of racing and the promotion of integrity and fair play in racing including the use of information technology to assist towards this end, subsection (3) deals with the administration of racing including the registration and grading of greyhounds and the promotion of racing, subsection (4) deals with charges for entry of a greyhound to a race and finally subsection (5) states that breaches of regulations provided for in this section carry racing sanctions.
Section 22 allows the board to make guidelines to control the establishment, layout, construction and maintenance of greyhound race tracks or the use of equipment at such tracks. Enforcement of guidelines in this area will be through the track licensing regime.
Section 23 repeals section 25 of the principal Act. Sections 24 to 26, inclusive, are a recasting of the provisions in sections 37 to 39, inclusive, of the principal Act in relation to the training of greyhounds for reward, the public sale of greyhounds and the artificial insemination of greyhounds. The corresponding sections or subsections in the principal Act are repealed. The consent of the Minister is now required for any new regulations made under these sections. It continues to be an offence to engage in these activities without a licence, permit or approval issued by the board. However, the contravention of regulations made under these sections by a licensee, permit or approval holder now carries racing sanctions.
Section 27 details the regulation making powers of the board in the area of doping control and the administration of substances to a greyhound. Among other things it allows the board to list substances that may and may not be given to a greyhound, setting residue limits, withdrawal periods, declaring thresholds and the methodologies by which thresholds can be determined for substances. The board may make regulations requiring the keeping of records regarding the administration of substances, the controls to be operated and records to be kept by persons participating in greyhound racing in relation to doping and medication control. The advice and recommendations of the scientific advisory committee is to be used to determine the processes, methods, levels of accuracy etc. by which samples are deemed to contain a substance. It also provides that a greyhound that fails a test for prohibited substances is disqualified from racing or trialling until it passes a subsequent test etc.
Section 28 relates to regulatory powers for the traceability of greyhounds. The board may make regulations requiring the registration of greyhound owners, the registration of racing greyhounds and the notification by owners, breeders and trainers of greyhounds of many more life events than those currently captured on existing stud book and microchipping databases. The regulations will support the board in its ambition to establish and maintain a new comprehensive tracing database for racing greyhounds.
Section 29 allows the board to make regulations for the health and welfare of a greyhound including requiring those involved to provide information for the sound administration of the industry and to protect the health and welfare of greyhounds. It allows the board to set down provisions for the treatment of diseased and injured greyhounds and the establishment of funds to protect the health and welfare of a greyhound, including the establishment of a fund for re-homing retired racing or breeding greyhounds. I made this latter refinement as a Report Stage amendment in the Seanad.
Sections 30 to 34, inclusive, relate to the board's right to grant or refuse licences, to attach conditions to licences, permits and approvals, make charges for the grant and renewal of licences etc. and to revoke or suspend such licences. The fair procedures to be followed, including the right to reply, where the board refuses, revokes or suspends a licence etc. is provided for.
Sections 35 to 37, inclusive, and 40 relate to the appointment, investigatory powers and functions of authorised officers. This is the first time the appointment of authorised officers for the purposes of greyhound legislation has been provided for in primary legislation. It provides amplified powers for authorised officers to investigate matters including investigating the use of performance altering substances. Section 40 specifically provides that subject to the jurisdiction of the District Court authorised officers may seek a search warrant, including to search a domestic dwelling, where the authorised officer believes that there may be evidence of a breach or an intended breach of the racing code or of the commission or intended commission of an offence under the Greyhound Industry Acts.
Sections 38, 39 and 41 relate to the obligation of persons to provide assistance to and follow the directions of authorised officers when carrying out their functions, including a requirement to produce a greyhound at a specific time and place. In addition it is being made a criminal offence to obstruct, to fail to give information, to give false information or to fail to provide assistance or follow the direction of an authorised officer when carrying out his or her functions. The standard provisions regarding self-incrimination are provided for.
Section 42 sets out the procedures for the conduct of investigations by the board and permits the board to notify the club where there is a possibility that matters known to it may be of concern to the club.
Section 43 sets down the classes of people who are subject to the jurisdiction of the control and appeal committees. It also states that the determination of racing sanctions rests with these committees. Section 44 provides for the establishment by statute of the control committee and details its operations. The control committee will consist of a chairperson and a maximum of eight other members to ensure that there is a sufficient pool of members to deal promptly with control matters. The control committee will require a quorum of the chairperson or deputy chairperson and two other members. Appointments to the committee are by the Minister for a maximum of two terms. The chair has a term of five years with ordinary members having a term of four years.
Section 45 provides for fair procedures in relation to hearings of the control committee. It specifically provides that decisions may be made in absentiain respect of persons who fail to attend the control committee.
To begin, I wish to state that I am a director of a private greyhound track and I have a distinct interest in the Bill. The Bill is long overdue and the industry has sought it for a long time. Fianna Fáil is generally supportive but will table amendments at Committee Stage, including in relation to the composition of the board and stud keepers. The Bill's general purpose is going in the right direction.
The reputation of the greyhound industry has taken a battering in recent years. It is essential that the Bill is sufficiently robust so that people who are found guilty of offences relating to altering the performance of greyhounds can be convicted and banned for periods. There have been highly publicised cases where dogs have been found to carry prohibited substances where unfortunately it was not possible to impose sanctions on either the dog or its trainer. It is essential that this Bill will allow Bord na gCon, or whatever its name is once the Bill passes, to take proper sanctions against people who breech the rules of racing. That is essential to rebuild the reputation of the industry.
People who go greyhound racing and the owners of dogs want a level playing field, with all dogs running on their merits and everyone having a fair and equal chance. That reputation has been shaken to its foundations in recent years by a number of highly-publicised cases. It is essential that this be corrected, and we are confident that the Bill will enable that.
Recently, there was a greyhound racing strike in Shelbourne Park as well as the publicised sale of the Harold's Cross greyhound stadium. The latter has allowed the industry to get on a new playing pitch and relieve itself of a debt that had been hanging over the board. It is important to point out that that debt was historical and was not incurred by the current board. For the industry to move forward, it was essential that the debt be removed. Harold's Cross was an old stadium and many Dublin greyhound owners had great sentimental attachment to it. It was their greyhound stadium. While it was a difficult decision for the board to take, it was the correct one for the industry.
The barometer for the board will be the focus on prize money. With no debts to carry, increased prize money must be made available for racing. No one who keeps greyhounds expects to make a fortune, but the industry must be made attractive. If people can win a couple of races, it would pay some of the bills that come with owning greyhounds. An increase in prize money is essential if entering or staying in the business is to be attractive to syndicates and ordinary dog owners. Attendances have been falling, and we must try to reverse that trend. In that regard, it is important that facilities be kept at a modern standard. We must make greyhound racing attractive as a night out. The involvement of syndicates is essential. While the prize money will never make anyone a millionaire, if it can go some way towards defraying the cost of training greyhounds, it will help the industry and attendances.
Regarding the operation of the tote, it is essential that tote pools be attractive to the ordinary punter if people are to pass through the gates. This part of the industry has slipped in recent times. Successful pick six and pick seven jackpots operated in Shelbourne Park for several years and the pools increased over a number of weeks to an attractive level. That enticed people to attend not only Shelbourne Park on a Saturday night, but also other tracks around the country where they had the opportunity to bet in the Dublin pool. We must get back to the point of people going to the dogs, investing a few euro on the tote and having a good night's entertainment because there is a good pot in Shelbourne Park. That is essential if we are to attract people back through the turnstiles.
The broadcast company Sports International Services, SIS, is a new phenomenon for Irish greyhound racing. It operates at a number of tracks around the country. It can be a source of revenue for the greyhound industry. The strict regulation of greyhound racing is essential if we are to ensure that SIS keeps coming to, and expands at, tracks. It is an income stream that can benefit us. Hopefully, more tracks will get involved. It will also create a market for lower grade dogs that have become virtually worthless over a number of years by providing a good base in the price of greyhounds. A pool of dogs will have to be available at all of the tracks in question for SIS racing. At recent sales at my track, lower grade dogs have increased in value significantly. That is a welcome development for breeders. Greyhound breeders are an essential cog in the industry and we must try to give them the prospect of at least breaking even. Unfortunately, not every dog is in the open race class. The A5 and A6 dogs must be able to be sold as well. SIS and the pool of dogs available for race meetings have major roles to play.
I have raised the issue of track bookmakers in horse and dog racing previously. They are an endangered species, with their numbers dropping to very low levels at greyhound meetings around the country. We must do something to ensure that they survive at our racetracks. If someone went to Shelbourne Park tonight, only one bookmaker would be operating on the rails. On a Wednesday night ten or 12 years ago, there would probably have been a dozen bookmakers. This element must be encouraged. The atmosphere that track bookmakers bring to the industry cannot be replaced. One can see that from the roar on derby final night at Shelbourne Park. We must try to protect that. It is essential that track bookmakers be encouraged to stay in business.
According to the Minister of State, the industry will receive €16.8 million of Exchequer funding this year. That will protect many jobs in what is predominantly a rural-based industry. We must recognise that the welfare of greyhounds has to be catered for by the industry. There is a general acceptance by all involved that the welfare and traceability of greyhounds must improve. It will happen, and a proportion of the funding is being devoted to the welfare of greyhounds. That must continue and improve. The rehousing of greyhounds can be done, just as it is done elsewhere in the world. They make extremely good pets in later life. Much work can be done in that regard, but it will take a bit of financing. Given that the industry is getting a substantial amount of money from the Exchequer, it owes it to the taxpayer to ensure that the welfare of greyhounds is protected.
We must restore the industry to its former glory. This Bill will go a long way towards restoring its reputation. If we are to get young people involved and keep breeders on side, it is essential that proper regulation be seen to be in place, that it be enforceable and that anyone who breaches it suffers its wrath. That is probably what the industry is anxiously waiting for this Bill to do. I am not a legal expert, but the Bill strengthens the position of the board. That is essential, as a number of recent cases have made it clear that the board does not have the ability to carry through on what it wants to do.
Fianna Fáil is generally supportive of the Bill. We will table amendments to it on Committee Stage. I hope that, when passed, it will do what we want it to do, namely, restore the reputation of the industry and put the industry on a proper footing going forward.
I thank the Minister of State for this Second Stage debate. I welcome the Bill and the thrust of the Minister of State's opening statement. I wish to be associated with the words of Deputy Cahill. Speaking as someone who has been involved in the greyhound industry, if Deputy Cahill can be happy, all of Fianna Fáil can be happy.
The Bill arises from the Indecon report, which was more or less a review of Bord na gCon's activities and functions. I welcome the thrust of the Bill. If amendments are required to tidy parts of it up as it progresses through the Stages, I hope that they will be accepted.
The main point is it is an industry in itself. As the Minister of State stated, the number of people actively involved in and making a living from the greyhound industry has to be acknowledged. It means money for the economy and a boost to local areas. In my area, for example, we have a big greyhound track at Curraheen Park in Cork and a small greyhound track in Youghal. They are trying to secure television coverage of their races from SIS, a sports television company. This would generate money for them to subsidise facilities and attract more punters because attendances are admittedly low. To be a bit parochial, the difference between the Youghal and Cork tracks is that the big track in Cork has hospitality services at the track which attracts a crowd.
Regulations were required because there were some bad scandals. There was a case of alleged doping in Cork. If something is done wrong, we need to have a copperfastened and proper procedure in place so that people are either fined or exonerated and cases do not have to go to the High Court or Supreme Court for a final decision. We should have a proper regulatory system in place which can reach a final decision and ensure the greyhound racing industry's name is not tarnished.
We also must facilitate the bookmakers who are an invaluable part of the industry. They ensure proper competition on the track. It is worrying to see only one bookmaker at some tracks. We need to ensure that issue is addressed. I do not know how the Minister of State will do that. Obviously, one way of doing so would be to get more people to attend greyhound races. As we make the industry more attractive, I hope we will get more people into the stands.
As I said, greyhound racing is a business, with dog trainers, breeders and the owners. There is considerable interest in racing in my area. Many syndicates are formed because the cost of training dogs is as high as training horses.
The Fianna Fáil Party hopes the Bill will progress as quickly as possible. As our spokesperson, Deputy Cahill, said, we support it and, as Fianna Fáil spokesman on sport, I welcome it.
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.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute on behalf of the Labour Party to the debate. The Bill is urgently required to deal with a number of significant and relevant issues that arose over the last years. The Bill itself has been a long time in gestation.
The Labour Party fully supports the speedy implementation of this important legislation. We may table amendments on Committee Stage to strengthen it in sections relating to sanctions, appeals structures and so on. We will certainly consider that.
The greyhound industry will be strengthened by the passage of the Bill. If the industry does not take it on board, it will be in the last chance saloon. It is an important opportunity for the industry to put an appropriate regime in place and to remove any cloud that hangs over it. As Deputy O'Keeffe has said, it is an important rural industry that is spread right throughout the regions. People were taken aback that virtually no sanctions were in place, and where there were, people may just have walked free. That removes the element of fairness and people competing on a level paying pitch. All people want is that if a poor person runs a greyhound on its merits, it is not running against a greyhound whose owner has pepped it. That is not running on merits and that is not fair play. It is not a level playing pitch and it undermines people's belief in the industry.
We must also remember that the industry gets €17 million from the taxpayer. Money is scarce and the industry has to appreciate that. I am also glad that an appropriate fund is being provided for rehoming retired greyhounds. This issue was the subject of one of the larger submissions we had during the detailed examination that was carried out. When the Bill was in the Seanad, the Minister inserted such a provision into section 29(1)(c) and we welcome that.
As far back as April 2017, the Bill was subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine when that committee examined the general scheme. That was almost two years ago. The committee, including Deputies Martin Kenny, Cahill and O'Keeffe, devoted considerable time to reviewing same in a diligent fashion, and made submissions with the aim of improving the overall objective of the Bill. There is nothing there that cannot be improved further or refined.
It has always been difficult to ascertain precisely the numbers of people employed in jobs in the greyhound industry. In 2017, the economist, Jim Power, estimated it as 5,000, with 300 people directly employed. That was a charitable guesstimate. Let us be clear that there is nothing proven about that figure but there are 12,000 or 13,000 people spread throughout the State, some of whom generate an economic benefit here and there. There are at least 7,000 greyhound owners throughout the country because anybody can have a greyhound.I used to have a greyhound many years ago but I would not be such a great person to be known as a greyhound owner. A few of us lads had him from the trainer Francie Murray, who is a top class trainer, but I knew very little and our greyhound was not very successful anyhow.
I never walked in my life. I come from a constituency that has two good greyhound racing tracks in Mullingar and Longford. They have survived through recessions and downturns over the years with great resilience. We need to make it attractive for people to visit those tracks. An allocation of funds is supposed to come from the IGB to Mullingar, and it is needed. The tracks offer family outings but we need to get this message out there and get away from it being office based. There are 18 greyhound tracks in the State and we need to sell the idea that they are attractive for a night out. The 2014 Indecon report and the 2015 report into the greyhound industry by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine were part of a number of precipitating calls to action that have served as the genesis for significant change in the governance, integrity and welfare of greyhounds. The Minister of State, Deputy Doyle was the chairman of that committee at the time. I served under him and he was an excellent chairman. There was also the Morris Review of Anti-Doping and Medication Control in Ireland. It took a while to get that report out of the bag as it was slow to come out from the Department. The review was commissioned by Bord na gCon and published in July 2016. It made sobering reading. The necessity for proper sanctions in cases of transgressions was well documented and set out.
The legislation deletes a number of the provisions of the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 and replaces them with strengthened provisions, which is important. Clearly, and correctly, they aim to strengthen the sanction regime for breaches of the greyhound regulations. There is no place for illegal activity in any sport, not least the greyhound industry. All that is wanted is a fair and sporting chance for every dog owner who owns a dog, who pays the fees and enters it in a race. It is about the level playing pitch.
I refer to the substantial taxpayer's funding provided directly by the State to allow the sector to develop. This is done through the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, and it is €16.8 million this year. I supported that funding, but it is incumbent on all stakeholders to get maximum value for the significant State investment, and, at a minimum, to comply with strict governance procedures and ensure the integrity of the industry is never again subject to compromise in any shape or form. The taxpayers could, rightly, start to ask questions.
We are all aware of the sale of the Harold's Cross stadium, and that the greater portion of the sale proceeds were used to alleviate a significant debt that Bord na gCon had accumulated over the years. One hopes that such a state of affairs will never arise again given the new governance procedure and structure that has been put in place. That period certainly left a sour taste in the mouths of many people. I also hope that the €6 million left over from the sale will be used for necessary infrastructure improvements and refurbishment of stadium facilities across the State. Perhaps the Minister of State could find out when funding is coming to Mullingar and Longford. These are two well established tracks in the midlands that serve Meath, Roscommon and all around that area. They are very fine tracks.
The pre-legislative scrutiny permitted the committee to hear submissions from a wide array of stakeholders and interested parties, and the senior officials in the Department who are dealing with the Bill. As a result we put forward a number of amendments, some of which have been incorporated into the Bill. The recommendation pertaining to the export of greyhounds appears, however, to have been excluded. This is regrettable because we had a detailed submission in that regard. The committee also heard compelling arguments and proposals from the Irish Dog's Trust, the ISPCA and others, which struck us as valuable and cogent. We were taken by the force of same. I would like a detailed explanation from the Minister of State on why those recommendations have been excluded and if they could be re-evaluated to strengthen the Bill.
I sincerely hope that the change of name provided for under section 8, from Bord na gCon to Rásaíocht Con Éireann, is more than cosmetic window dressing. It should represent a new beginning: more transparency at all levels, a greater emphasis on the welfare of the animals, and improved board governance and structures and regulations. The board size will increase from six to eight members and each member will come from an appropriate discipline. An accountant is needed on the board while a member to represent the owners is also needed. Owners are a diverse group but somebody needs to represent them as well. We also need to have somebody representing the trainers. We need the people who are on the ground, but we also need people from various disciplines, including animal welfare. I do not mind if animal welfare people are there: they should be in there and there is no reason they cannot be there. Everybody has something to contribute. I hope that they will represent the dog owners. I would say fair play to the Minister of State for the provision of a maximum term for board membership. It is about time. Some people got in there and it was harder to get off the board than it was to get onto it. The board will be refreshed. It should not be allowed to go stale. These provisions are all being laid down in primary legislation so it can brook no argument or entertain any ambiguity from here on. It is consistent with the much vaunted code of practice and governance, and I anticipate that it will add significant improvement. Clearly, any board member who has any interest, however remote, on any matter being discussed or considered should disclose that interest and then go out the door at 150 mph and not even look back. The board member should have no further part or participate in any voting and should be out of it. Before the meeting, he or she should know if anything is to be discussed that might offer a conflict of interest, in which case the board member should send apologies and not attend that meeting.
I note the legal framework provided for in the Bill to ensure that resources are provided for the welfare of greyhounds. That is important. We received submissions from the various organisations that deal with greyhounds and I am delighted to see the framework incorporated. The Bill also incorporates many of the recommendations of the Indecon report pertaining to the functions of the chief executive, day-to-day operations and the functions of the board. That is all set out now so no one can come to the Minister and say he or she thought something was all right. It is only all right if the legislation says so. As such, I will brook no excuses or listen to any nonsense from here on.
The Bill will ultimately improve the reputation of the industry, which is not confined to these shores. The export industry is very important. Most of the greyhounds that run in England originate in Ireland. Sanctions are widely accepted as fundamental to restoring and maintaining the reputation of the greyhound industry. Overall participation and support for the industry is predicated on the involvement of the general public. That includes the taxpaying public, who are providing an invaluable subvention, being certain that greyhound racing is a fair and competitive sport. Integrity and probity are fundamental and appropriate in a sport such as this and there must be appropriate sanctions which can be implemented immediately at administrative and criminal level. A robust system of sanctions is vital and necessary in order to protect the welfare of the participating dogs and the credibility and integrity of the sport . I recall the appearance of representatives from Greyhound Racing Integrity Ireland before the joint committee to support the idea of graduated sanctions linked to the severity of offences. Implementing criminal sanctions, with all that requires, is not readily done. To prove a breach in a criminal case involves a lot of preparation and represents a significant challenge. Nevertheless, such sanctions should be in place as deterrence is critical. The message must be sent that there will be no more tolerance of illegal activity.
I do not have time to outline my views on each section. The Minister has done so in any event. As such, I will focus on a particular few. Sections 9 and 10 provide for the governance structure and time periods for the new board. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform may terminate appointments to the board, including where a board member is adjudicated a bankrupt or is found guilty of offences related to the greyhound industry, animal welfare, fraud or dishonesty. I wonder about bankruptcy, given that a bankrupt may now stand for election to the Dáil. Is that fair? I am sure the Minister has an answer.
Section 7 curtails the board’s ability to borrow unless it has the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform acting with the approval of the Minister for Finance. It can borrow €25,000. We must ensure the board can borrow enough without having to run up and down to the Department. The approval of the Minister is vital in terms of oversight.
Sections 20 to 22, inclusive, are important and provide for the making of regulations in respect of racetracks and sanctions for class A fines. Prohibitions on certain beneficial interests in the business are important too. Section 21 is important in the context of the extension of regulatory powers to promote integrity and fair play.
Section 27 provides for the regulation-making powers of the board in the areas of doping control and the administration of substances to greyhounds. The board may list prohibited or permitted substances, set out residue limits, withdrawal periods and thresholds of tolerance, require records for the administration of substances, medication control, provide for the use of advice and recommendations from the scientific advisory committee and outline the processes to be followed at all steps.
Section 28 provides for regulatory powers in respect of the traceability of greyhounds, which is of great importance for owners, breeders, trainers and when it comes to the registration of racing greyhounds. A traceability system captures all of the many life events of greyhounds. A comprehensive training database is to be established.
Sections 35 to 40, inclusive, deal with the appointment and investigative powers and functions of the authorised officers. This is being done for the first time and outlines the powers in full regarding the specified functions. I am of the view that the Attorney General had a fair look at this. It is now a statutory framework, clearly established, with control committees and a requirement to ensure fair procedures at every step in committee hearings. Provision is also made in respect of the sanctions committees can apply. Appeals committees are likewise bound by fair procedures.
Section 54 relates to certificates to be issued by testing laboratories in the case of adverse analytical findings. I see elements tantamount to the provisions in drink-driving legislation where a certificate is also conclusive proof.
Section 59 was debated at the committee and is important in respect of the application of the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011. It provides that only progeny produced in compliance with sections 11(2) and 11(3) of the 2011 Act may be registered. The first to the seventh litters - and the eighth following certification - are permitted to be registered in the Irish greyhound stud book. It will be an offence to attempt to register litters not in compliance with the Act, which is important. This matter was also raised with the joint committee and the Government has taken note.
As Deputy O’Keeffe stated, most owners and trainers love their greyhounds and care for them. It is like everything in life; only a small few commit significant transgressions. Most owners are based in rural areas and provide their animals with wonderful care. It is a very small number who have led to the identified deficiencies in the governance of the industry and in greyhound welfare and general standards. The Bill deals with the issues that have been highlighted. There is a necessity to ensure that greyhounds are cared for as they reach the end of life, including by way of rehoming. The Minister has dealt with that and fair play to him. Resources are important for the organisations which provide that necessary care. As Deputy Cahill stated, greyhounds make lovely family pets. Dogs of all types are extremely faithful.
The new CEO appears to have hit the ground running and is prepared to interact with Members of the Oireachtas to discuss relevant issues. That is important. There can be no more ivory towers. He must maintain that stance and the board should be ready to come to the Houses to make its case. The members should not have the CEO at their hind ear the whole time. He should come in on his own to make his case and the members should be coming before the joint committee also.
At €16.8 million, this year's money from the horse and greyhound racing fund could be up to 40% of the total income of the greyhound industry. That level of dependence on State subvention is not sustainable. We all know that it will not last. That is why I talk about the last chance saloon. As Deputy Cahill noted, the industry must make its product more attractive. The people must be brought through the turnstiles. The old way will not do. New ideas and new attractions are needed to make it worthwhile and the integrity and probity of the sport are critical in that regard. People will go when they are convinced. The sooner the industry is as financially independent as possible, the better it will be for all concerned. There will always be a requirement for some State input, but efforts must be made to improve the financial situation of this important industry.
The central objective of the Bill is to root out neglect and cruelty in the industry through a significant focus on welfare. The Bill seeks to eradicate the misuse of drugs and will be an important step forward. There is a significant focus on testing facilities and analysis. A new strategic plan is envisaged. The current strategy extends to 2021 but it might be prudent to have an interim review in the next 12 months to see how it is progressing. We need a white list of appropriate countries for exports which have proper animal welfare regimes. This area remains somewhat grey as we do not have precise figures on the number of dogs being exported. We were informed during committee deliberations that some destinations for dogs exported from here have questionable records and even proven deficiencies. That is not something we can support. The need to ensure the welfare of greyhounds is fully protected in destination countries is not adequately addressed in the Bill, which is a worrying shortcoming. A very strong case was made to the joint committee in this regard. In broad terms, however, the Labour Party welcomes the legislation. Legacy issues, such as the scandals we have seen in the industry, should now be eliminated. There is an opportunity now to turn over a whole new leaf by ensuring that penalties for offences fit the crimes.
The Minister said there would be a power to appoint members to the board. The opportunity should be taken to ensure that there are representatives of owners, trainers and other relevant stakeholders. There should also be a member who is qualified in respect of welfare issues such as a veterinary practitioner or representative of the industry. A great deal of promotional work falls to be done. When the Bill is enacted, the opportunity will arise for the new board and CEO to travel with a roadshow to advertise the attractions of a well-run industry. The Bill is a good start and it has been a long time in gestation.
Our minds were sharpened. Some of us, such as Deputy Cahill, are very experienced in this area. We had the same process with the Horse Racing Ireland Bill. It was very slow, tedious and arduous down in the bunker and everybody looking at the Dáil thought we are away from the place altogether and that we were dodging but we were down there giving a lot of valuable time and input and we were learning, which is important. None of us is so intelligent that we cannot learn something new and we have learned a lot, but various areas, to which I have referred, need sharpening and tightening. If we have to address them with more severe sanctions, we will have to look at that. I know they will have to be subject to overview by the Attorney General, and I appreciate that more than anybody else. Nevertheless, we owe it to the people who pay their taxes to make sure the industry is above reproach with regard to its integrity, probity, governance and sanctions and, of course, with regard to the welfare of the animals. This is why the places to which we export our animals must be examined and scrutinised to ensure appropriate standards are implemented there. The Labour Party is very supportive of the Bill.
What is central to the Bill is the welfare of greyhounds and there are considerable welfare issues relating to greyhounds. This is part of a bigger picture in Ireland of wanton, deliberate and sustained abuse of animals in spite of the many individuals and organisations dedicated to animal welfare, some of them without any State funding and relying on their own resources and fundraising. They are picking up the pieces from the mistreatment, abuse and cruelty that has been allowed to continue.
I am looking at the Bill in the context of our other animal welfare legislation, which we know has not seen an end to cruelty. We also know the sanctions have not really been a deterrent. I am looking at this as part of the bigger picture. Looking at particular abuses where sanctions did not work, there was a recent case involving digging out foxes and a terrible example of a hunt chasing a fox into a housing estate. There was a court case and the hunt was fined the maximum allowed under the Control of Dogs Act but because at least 15 people took part in the hunt each person probably paid less than €100. The sanction in the Act was not sufficient. There are also questions about the welfare of the dogs and hounds, how they are bred and how they are kept.
We are one of the few countries where fur farming continues and we know the appalling conditions in which minks are kept and the dangers to the environment when they escape. We know about the cruelty in badger baiting and that of so-called puppy farming establishments. We know about battery hens and now we have battery pups. These are some examples of the wider picture and the shameful way in which animals are treated in Ireland.
With regard to the Bill we have greyhound racing, hare coursing and the export of greyhounds. Beneath all these the guiding rule will have to be the welfare of the greyhound in all situations. I am struck by the irony that we have a ban on the use of wild animals for entertainment purposes in circuses, which is a total hypocrisy when we see it is okay to use a hare for so-called entertainment at coursing meetings. There is also cruelty to the greyhounds. We know about the blooding of greyhounds, which goes on and is ignored. It involves the illegal netting of hares.
While greyhounds are used for racing or coursing there is also the question of the welfare of those greyhounds that do not make it, either through injury, a lack of speed or stamina or whatever.
I know there are responsible owners, who were referred to earlier, but there is evidence of other owners who have no guilt or compunction and they are ready to sell off unwanted greyhounds to places such as Macau and elsewhere. We have well documented cases of the appalling treatment of greyhounds there and in other places in China and Pakistan. The owners first export to Spain or France so they are not seen to be going to Macau but the trade is there. These owners should not be allowed to register or reregister as the case may be.
The reality is that since last November four more Irish greyhounds have ended up in China and 37 Irish greyhounds are on a Chinese dog breeding establishment post. We know the appalling conditions of our puppy farms. One can only imagine the horrific conditions in these Chinese breeding establishments where there is no animal welfare regulation. Clon Eagle, a greyhound that competed in Clonmel in 2018, is now coursing in Pakistan. I saw a post where it was offered for £5,000 by an infamous sales agent transporter who had his greyhounds seized at Kinsley track in the UK such were the horrific conditions his greyhounds were in. I would love to know what has happened that particular owner and what the Bill will do to prevent this. Up to now there has been no follow-up on these issues except by the rescue organisations.
Information was given to me by the Minister, Deputy Creed, on the export of greyhounds to countries lacking animal welfare regulations where we know there is documented proof. We know about the regulations when dogs go to an EU country. There are pet passports, micro chips, valid rabies vaccinations and they are examined by authorised vets. Seemingly, the board can only advise greyhound owners not to send their greyhounds to other countries but that is it. This is not enough. We have owners who continue to send their greyhounds to countries with appalling records when it comes to animal welfare. Deputy Broughan will probably discuss the Bill he has tabled on this. The question on the Bill comes back to how effective it will be. When owners abandon their greyhounds it is left to the ISPCA and the rescue groups to look after them. This is where we need a comprehensive paper trail, micro chipping and tracking so that abandoned greyhounds, whether in Ireland or shipped off to Macau, can be traced back to the owners and their owners will pay for it.
Another point I raised is something I have been looking for in the Bill and perhaps I have missed it. It is with regard to the fact that all greyhound owners pay their registration fee to the coursing club. I am not sure if this will be changed in the Bill. There are greyhound owners who do not agree with coursing. Bord na gCon, or rásaíocht con Éireann, which will be its new name, should have the book to register greyhounds. Then we will see exactly how many greyhounds are racing and how many are coursing.
Bord na gCon has the Retired Greyhound Trust to rehome greyhounds but I want to refer to a particular situation of which I was made aware recently with regard to rescued greyhounds. Irish greyhounds were rescued from Macau and taken to a number of countries, including the UK. A number of them were to be returned to Ireland but because of opposition from animal welfare groups to them coming back to Ireland they have been rehomed in England and this is an absolute scandal.
If the welfare of greyhounds is central to the Bill we will see real action when it comes to their welfare. The maximum fine for conviction on indictment for operating a greyhound racing track without a licence is €250,000. I would like to see similar very harsh fines for those owners who are found guilty of deliberate cruelty to their greyhounds. The sanctions are advice, admonishment, censure, disqualification of the greyhound, exclusion of individuals and revoking licences but they need to be hit harder where it really hurts, which is in their pockets.
Some of the examples I have mentioned also involve breaking the law. Prior to Christmas, I asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of times the Garda Síochána has invoked the Animal Health and Welfare Act when dealing with reports of animal neglect and cruelty. I would have included the greyhound Bill had it been passed. The specific information is not recorded on PULSE; some information is recorded but it is not specific enough. It is good there have been training seminars to familiarise gardaí with the Animal Health and Welfare Act and I hope it will apply to the greyhound Bill also. If there are breaches of the greyhound Bill I want to know it will not just be Bord na gCon that will be involved but also the Garda. Bills must be enforced, which means resources are put in place and they are implemented, and that action is taken when they are not implemented.
I was a bit bemused by section 27, under which a greyhound that fails a test for prohibited substances is disqualified from racing or trialling. I had to go to section 46 to find the sanction for the owner, which is a fine not exceeding €12,500. I feel sorry for the dog in this situation because it has no choice regarding what the owner does with it but it seems the dog gets the more severe penalty.
To summarise, I find it difficult to isolate greyhounds from other animals. We need comprehensive enforceable and enforced legislation when it comes to the neglect, cruelty and abuse of animals. The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, the Control of Horses Act 1996 and the Dog Breeding Establishment Act 2010 are good on paper, or at least aspects of them are. They are not, however, being enforced so the abuse, neglect and cruelty continues. It does not help that there are three Departments involved in animal issues. It does not help that there is no consistency in the way councils apply the Acts and the guidelines. Again, I refer to the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, the Control of Horses Act 1996 and the Dog Breeding Establishment Act 2010.
It also does not help that there are refusals by certain councils to release inspection records. I also refer to the levels of secrecy and difficulties that animal welfare supporters have in getting information, including through freedom of information requests, on inspections that have been carried out by various groups. When that information in secured it can be very heavily redacted. It is also unhelpful that there are authorities that choose to do nothing when cases of animal neglect and abuse are brought to their attention by individuals and groups.
Those authorities then spend their time justifying inaction and close ranks to protect their own. There are also vets who are not enforcing the animal welfare legislation. This Bill will go some way towards addressing those issues but there is a long way to go before we will really see action on animal welfare. I know Bord na gCon is trying to improve things. I have met its representatives. One of its pamphlets states that it loves and respects its athletes, which are the greyhounds. We have to go further than nice booklets. The reality is that there are gaps in the legislation and in enforcement.
I am delighted to be able to contribute briefly on the Greyhound Racing Bill 2018. This Bill has been a long time coming before us. As other Deputies said, in 2014 we had the Indecon report which highlighted many severe deficiencies within the industry, in 2015 we had the report by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and in July 2016 we had the Morris review of anti-doping and medication in Ireland commissioned by Bord na gCon. All three reports, sadly, found major issues with governance and regulation in dog racing.
I commend my colleagues in the Seanad, in particular Senator Ruane and her staff and the Civic Engagement Group, on the amendments they put forward in trying to improve the Bill. There are still opportunities to greatly strengthen areas of the Bill, especially on animal welfare. I agree with my colleague, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, that it is in the whole area of sanctions that we need to be taking action in respect of the well-intentioned provisions of this Bill. I refer specifically to the export of greyhounds. I was pleased to see that the amendment concerning the gathering of export data was accepted by the Minister of State and included in this amended version of the Bill. It seems like an attempt to have a comprehensive look at the major elements of the dog racing industry. I notice that in section 13 the four aims are governance, development and promotion as well as the health and welfare of the animals.
Throughout the Bill references to health and welfare are fairly minimal and that is the big weakness that jumps out of the Bill. In Part 3, for example, which deals with racing and racetracks in sections 20 and 21, all the strengthened regulation that is being brought in concerning permits for people who work in the industry is welcome. Part 4 is also welcome in respect of training and public sale and the similar issue of licensing and permits. That is all welcome, as are sections 27 and 28 regarding substances and traceability. In all that, however, the role of the Minister of State and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the enforcement of these provisions is important. Perhaps the Minister of State might respond to us on how exactly he is going to request the board of the new rásaíocht con Éireann to implement those sections to which I have referred. That is what people who love dog racing and the industry and who want to protect the dogs - I accept that includes many owners and followers - will all be studying in particular.
That is why Part 6 providing for authorised officers is very important. A wide range of functions has been given to those officers as well as powers to protect them from anyone who tries to interfere with their business of inspections and the power of using search warrants with the support of An Garda Síochána. Part 7 and Part 8 relate to investigations and the system of enforcement which could, ultimately, lead to the District Court. Elements of all that are meritorious. All of it depends, however, on the Bill being actually implemented.
Almost two years ago, I introduced the Welfare of Greyhounds (Amendment) Bill 2017 to amend the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and to provide for the control of export of greyhounds and for the publication of a white list of countries to which the export of greyhounds under licence would only be permissible. The white list was to be drafted by the welfare members of the International Greyhound Forum in conjunction with Bord na gCon, which will become rásaíocht con Éireann as determined by this legislation. The countries on the white list are those which "meet minimum standards with regard to the welfare of greyhounds" and the past records of relevant countries, including enforceable welfare protections for greyhounds equivalent to protections available in Ireland, would have to been taken into account.
The horror stories we hear from China, Pakistan and various other countries concerning how our dogs are treated in a savage manner after export bring home to us the essential nature of the provisions to which I referred. I, my colleague Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, and others will try to amend the Bill to reflect such provisions. My Private Members’ Bill would also make it an offence for persons to export greyhounds to countries not on the white list and would provide for related matters. That Bill still remains on the clár of the Dáil. Of course, the Minister of State has said that Bord na gCon is responsible for the governance, regulation and development of the greyhound industry in Ireland. That would include all the elements in respect of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and Bord na gCon's own code of practice. That code of practice, however, is not on a statutory footing and we have had to deal with that.
The problem of secondary exports has also been mentioned. Of the seven or eight million dogs on the island of Britain, 80% of the racing dogs are Irish. A great number of the other dogs are also Irish. It now seems that on the morning of 30 March Britain will be a third country. Is the Minister of State taking any steps, with his colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to negotiate with the British Government on all our agrifood exports but also in respect of our dogs, in particular, and their good treatment and protection? In fairness, most people who buy Irish dogs are dog lovers. They have that tradition on our neighbouring island just as we have. It important, however, that the issues of protection and treatment are addressed.
I also received the support of Ms Nessa Childers, MEP, in Europe on this issue. Ms Childers was very helpful at the time and informed me of the maltreatment of galgos españoles, Spanish greyhounds, in Spain. This not just an issue pertaining to Ireland. She informed me that the European Court of Auditors was to audit the implementation of the EU Animal Welfare Strategy 2012 to 2015. That is another area through which we can approach this issue as well. It is important to note that the Irish Greyhound Board has welcomed the Bill before us today. It stated that the Bill will offer further opportunities to grow the industry and extend its appeal to a wider audience. It also stated that welfare of greyhounds continues its number one priority. If that was the case, however, we would not be here with this legislation today. It cannot possibly be the number one priority of the Irish Greyhound Board.
I commend Dogs Trust, the ISPCA, PAWS and the other animal welfare groups on the work they have done on this issue. I know they have liaised closely with the Minister of State. From working with my colleague, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, other Opposition Deputies and Senators, liaising with the Minister, Deputy Creed, and submitting reports to the agriculture committee, the determination of those civic society groups to improve welfare standards for greyhounds is to be applauded. Dogs Trust, of course, is a member of the International Greyhound Forum, along with the ISPCA, PAWS and the Irish Blue Cross. Last April, Dogs Trust launched the campaign "Greywatch" to highlight what great pets greyhounds and lurchers make. The very helpful Oireachtas Library and Research highlighted that over the last ten years more than €116 million from the Horse and Greyhound Fund, including the 2019 allocation, has been transferred to Bord na gCon. Admittedly, Exchequer income from the fund declined. We were informed that last year, as mentioned by the Minister and others, there were just over 5,000 full-time and part-time jobs in the sector with an estimated 7,313 greyhound owners.
We were told the multiplier effect creates approximately €300 million. These statistics are all the more reason to establish definitively and maintain the highest possible welfare standards in the breeding, racing and export of these wonderful animals, which have in some ways become symbolic of our nation. Other countries recognise the Irish greyhound, as well as the Irish wolfhound, as a dog par excellence.
Other statistics quoted in the research document on the Bill produced by our excellent Oireachtas Library and Research Service give a deep but worrying insight into the industry. Figures provided by the Irish Coursing Club show registered litters declining from approximately 3,000 per annum in 2010 and 2011 to just over 2,500 in 2016, with more than 18,000 greyhounds born in 2010 declining to 15,000 in 2016. In the same period, nearly 3,000 greyhounds were surrendered to dog pounds with just under 2,500 dogs put to sleep. The Greyhound Rescue Association has stated that approximately 10,000 dogs are missing from official statistics for 2010 to 2015. It is disappointing that although such high ambitions have been outlined in reports by Bord na gCon, the Department and so on, the reality can be different. The Minister of State has indicated that there will be another Indecon strategic review of the infrastructure services and the standard of facilities at Shelbourne Park and the remaining 15 stadiums. In 2017, there was the controversial sale of the five-acre Harold's Cross greyhound stadium to the Department of Education and Skills for €23 million, or was it €26 million, which gave a surplus to Bord na gCon to address its financial crisis. It was such a successful stadium that many people in the south inner city considered its sale a strange decision.
I have other points to make but we will have another chance on Committee and Report Stages. While the Bill is comprehensive, its application will be the key, particularly in respect of the welfare of these lovely dogs. I hope this long-delayed and belated Bill will greatly improve the governance and administration of the new Bord na gCon. It will go some way to stamping out the quite serious abuses in the industry. The continuing dangers of dreadful abuse and death for animals through export to secondary countries remain a serious problem. Will the Government work with the UK to ensure that secondary exports to the UK will operate on a white-list basis?
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.
I appreciate very much the opportunity to speak to this very important Bill. When addressing this type of matter, I like to speak about our own County Kerry and the proud tradition of greyhound racing and pursuits there. We are very fortunate as we have the great Kingdom greyhound stadium located in Tralee under the great stewardship of Mr. Declan Dowling, who runs a very efficient show every week. It is very well attended each weekend by people young, old and middle-aged. Everybody enjoys a night at the races in the Tralee stadium. It is a great way of fundraising, and fundraising has been carried out there for years for the likes of Kerry University Hospital. Much equipment has been procured because of great nights that were had in the stadium in Tralee.
I will speak about the people who breed and race greyhounds, and specifically those in County Kerry because I know them. These are people who absolutely adore their dogs. They appreciate them fully every day and they work with them in hail, rain and shine. They are the people I support. These are not the odd few people who have brought this area of racing into disrepute by trying to pep up or pep down dogs for races. The people I speak about are genuine about dogs. They bring up their children to respect dogs, they work with them until late at night, they walk them early in the morning and they train and nurture them. They look after them when they are ill. When the dogs come to retirement, as we might call it, these people take great care of them, along with our vets. I compliment our vets in Kerry too; whether they tend to small or big animals, they are very experienced and take great care of them.
The issue of what happens to greyhounds when their time at the track is finished has been mentioned. The people I know take excellent care in ensuring good homes are procured for those dogs, or they might keep them if required. It is very important to recognise that the true people working with dogs would never want to see a hair harmed on a dog's head. They want to mind their dogs at all times. I compliment the people who work in the dog shelters in County Kerry, whether they are in the pound run by Kerry County Council or the volunteers who take care of all types of animals. There are examples in Kenmare and Killarney. A group called KLAWS, also made up of volunteers, does excellent work in our community. It was always said one could judge a man or woman by the way he or she took care of a dog. If anybody mistreats a dog, he or she would not care much about anybody else either. We were always very fond of dogs because they were always around at home, and we could always judge people by the way they treated all types of animals.
It is very important that this Bill strengthens the welfare of animals and protects the reputation of the industry because it means so much. Deputy Mattie McGrath put the argument very passionately that we in the country want to continue with our pursuits. We do not need people telling us what to do because we can regulate it ourselves. That said, I welcome any regulation that strengthens the welfare of animals and ensures they can be protected at all stages. We must nevertheless keep this sport going. It is great to see buses full of tourists coming to the Kingdom stadium on a Friday or Saturday night. They are delighted to come and have the best of entertainment and food at the track while they watch the dogs running in a very well-organised and professional fashion. The people who bring their dogs come from Tarbert and all over the county. Many of them are located around Tralee, south Kerry and Dingle.
These people have put so much effort into the work. If they did a profit and loss analysis, as the Minister of State knows, they would probably not make money from it. They do it for the love of it. They love going out and meeting other people. Over the years I have met so many nice people and made friends at that stadium on a Friday or Saturday night. The regular attendees sit in the same seats and they can watch racing from tracks around the rest of the country as well as what goes on in Tralee. We are very fortunate as we have a very proud tradition of taking care of our greyhounds in Kerry. We could not say anything bad about any type of legislation that would strengthen the protection of animals. We are all for that. We want to ensure the industry will remain in Kerry as it creates much needed employment in different sectors. People work in stadiums and there are ancillary workers in the bars, kitchens and restaurants. It is a great team and we are all looking for the one thing, which is a bit of sport and enjoyment. We also want to see the dogs being looked after.
It is a great business and we want to see the industry protected. Anything that this Government or any other Government does to enhance that would be welcome. Nevertheless, as Deputy McGrath has said, we will not give up our way of life or tradition for anybody. Some people think it is a good idea to put glass in front of dogs as a form of protest but that is surely outrageous behaviour. It shows that some people will stop at nothing to get their way. We will not allow that.
I am glad to get the opportunity to welcome this Bill. Anything that helps to strengthen and ensure the continuation of this valuable industry must be welcomed. There are many issues we hope the legislation will address. It must first strengthen the industry and eliminate illegal activities, of which there have been a few examples. There is a need to regulate the sale of greyhounds both here and abroad. There should be guidelines for the keeping and training of greyhounds for reward. All of this seems to be in the Bill and we hope it will bring about a constructive process, with people being rewarded by the legislation's fair enactment.
The setting up of the new board will be very important. We recognise the change of the name to Rásaíocht Con Éireann; it has been changed from Bord na gCon because of the problems with the old board. Many people were up here a year or so ago complaining about doping and illegal activities, so we hope the Bill will help eliminate all those activities and give people who love the industry and their dogs the chance to be treated fairly, whether it is in racing, training or whatever side of the industry in which they are involved.
This activity is taken very seriously in most of our county. We could start in Castleisland and Tralee in north Kerry before going back around Ardfert and Ballyheigue and coming to Scartaglin, Cordal and Gneeveguilla. Mr. Tim Kelly lives in Headford and gives every free minute he has to the industry, despite rearing a big family. He works so hard, even with a day job and his big family, and he really lives for his dogs. He may not have many neighbours at it where he lives but it does not make a difference to him.
He is just an example of someone who treats his dogs and takes his business so seriously. We hope that this new set-up will help fellows like him. As Deputy Michael Healy-Rae said, we are so lucky to have the Kingdom racetrack in Tralee where so many people raising funds for important things have race nights and raise up to €30,000 or €40,000. It provides money for communities that need it, whether for sports halls or all kinds of different things or for people who are in trouble with their health or whatever. This racetrack is a place for them to make money and people go to support these race nights and at the same time get enjoyment out of them. Even in the heart of south Kerry into Cahirciveen, through Killorglin, we remember people like Chubb O'Connor who was a Member of the Dáil for 20 or 21 years. He made history with great dogs. David Cahill was very famous in Chicago. He was known as "Red David". He won fierce races in America and in Ireland. Indeed the great Noel Browne, who carries on the great tradition and works so hard in Castleisland, is a mighty operator and has won the biggest of races in Clonmel in the past year or two.
There are people who have given their lives to their dogs, to be honest about it. It is good that we are recognising the need for proper regulation and assistance for these people who provide a great sport – and it is a sport for people to enjoy. I am very proud to be involved with so many of those people around the county because they are great people. As Deputy Michael Healy-Rae said, we can judge a person by how they treat their dogs and these people do treat their dogs very well. Hopefully there will be no place for the rogue operators. There were only a few but the investigators and authorised officers will have the powers to deal with those rogues and villains. I take this opportunity to wish all the greyhound owners in Kerry all the very best for the future.
I was very surprised when I heard Deputy Danny Healy-Rae saying no dog owner would want to hurt a hair on a dog's head but I realised he was talking about a "hair" not a "hare" because hares unfortunately are regularly injured by the activity of some dog owners and the barbaric practice of hare coursing which continues in this State.
This is not a debate about rural versus urban because increasingly many farmers and land owners are objecting to mobs coming onto their land trying to gather hares or engage in that type of activity. There is a certain irony in our discussing this Bill when Deputy O'Sullivan and I came from a court case in Carlow this morning, which was unfortunately adjourned, the Kavanagh case where the accused has pleaded guilty to 120 counts of appalling animal cruelty in puppy farming. There are huge issues around animal welfare in this State which need to be addressed.
This Bill before us is another attempt to update the legislation by regulating the greyhound industry. There have been numerous attempts to clean it up over the years, there was the Act in 1993, two more in 2007 and the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011, and the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013. There have been three reports on the industry in the past five years: Indecon; the 2015 report on the greyhound industry and the Morris Review of Anti Doping and Medication Control in Ireland, all of which serve to highlight how defective and how desperately in need of robust legislation the so-called industry is. To talk about "rogue operators", as Deputy Danny Healy-Rae did, flies in the face of the evidence of those reports. Regulation is urgently needed.
While I welcome the fact that the Government is bringing forward the Bill, it is not enough. Some aspects are of course to be welcomed but there is much that has not been addressed and we would be failing in our responsibility if we did not concentrate our remarks on that. The Bill is weighted towards administrative powers, such as the make-up of the board membership and its expertise. The legislation seems to be more about the marketing, rather than the welfare, of greyhounds, without which there is no industry. I object to the term "industry" when we are talking about the welfare of animals. It gives us an insight into the thinking behind the Bill that it took an amendment from Senator Ruane, which thankfully was included, to get a veterinary surgeon on the board. If the Bill was to deal with animal and dog welfare one would think a vet would have been put on the board without somebody in here having to propose an amendment to do that.
Issues such as governance, animal welfare and the export of dogs, which has been left out of the Bill entirely, need a legislative framework that is not provided in the Bill. I do not know how much we will be able to amend it on Committee Stage but it does need considerable work. We have to be honest and say this industry has been surrounded by scandal, illegality, doping and animal cruelty. It is an established fact that thousands of dogs are surrendered or abandoned to pounds every year and hundreds are put down as a result of injuries received at racetracks, including fractures, spinal injuries, ligament and muscle damage and head trauma. There have also been the very high profile incidents of doping with cocaine and other products that can be bought on the Internet. That was absolutely shocking and brought this State into serious disrepute internationally. I am very disappointed with the governance proposals in the Bill. They do not go far enough.
To suggest, as the Bill does, that it is enough to hand over the administrative powers of sanction to a board that has no real powers of enforcement indicates how seriously regulation is being taken, not very seriously at all. It is akin to lip service. There is no attempt to enhance enforcement or to introduce criminal sanctions of a serious character. The Bill is proposing some form of self policing. We all know where self policing gets us. Self regulation is no regulation. This State has learned nothing if it does not provide for outside oversight and scrutiny. Many of the animal welfare organisations have highlighted some of these points in previous discussions on this Bill. The Irish Society for the Protection of Animals, ISPCA, has questioned the limited powers of sanction and highlighted that the Bill needs to be altered to provide for serious deterrents. It points out that the stewards of the Irish Greyhound Board, IGB, are not authorised under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 to investigate possession of illegal substances, an evolving issue which has featured prominently in the industry.
Let us be honest: people are very creative in finding ways around doping controls in order to have it continue under different guises, all at the expense of the dogs. The Irish Council Against Blood Sports has stated that the sampling strategy currently in place is far too routine. The council has serious concerns about the ability of the Irish Greyhound Board to keep up with the rapid pace of development in doping in the industry. As stated, this is a national scandal. Apart from the reputational damage caused by this appalling conduct, there is a serious welfare issue at its heart.
The welfare of greyhounds and the deployment of funds in respect of welfare-related issues were identified as being key during pre-legislative scrutiny but they not been addressed in the Bill. Why is that? Will the Minister of State address that point? This aspect of the Bill has to be substantially strengthened. I would really like to know why these issues did not find their way into the Bill in its latter stages.
The greyhound racing industry relies on a massive subsidy from taxpayers. This subsidy rose rapidly and steadily during the period from 2010 to 2016. During that time, 2,896 greyhounds were surrendered to dog pounds. Of those, 2,497 were put down. There was no increase in funding from the industry in the same period in order to provide for retired greyhounds. Why is that? The organisations at the coalface, including the Irish Council Against Blood Sports, the ISPCA, the Dogs Trust, and Greyhound Rescue Association Ireland, have all highlighted the need for the industry to increase its contribution in the context of animal welfare. Funds are badly needed to cover the cost of additional inspectors and to ensure that welfare issues, medical treatment, and the rehoming of retired greyhounds are all addressed. It is interesting that the Greyhound Trust receives substantial funding from the industry in Britain each year. Why are we so far behind? Why have we not adopted that practice if we are serious about assisting these dogs?
Greyhound Rescue Association Ireland has reported that in the period 2014 to 2015 there was a decline in the number of dogs being destroyed which corresponded with a rise in the number of greyhounds being transferred to welfare groups. In other words, the volunteer-based rescue and animal welfare groups such as Dogs Trust and Homes for Unwanted Greyhounds, HUG, intervened and stepped in to provide the protection and welfare needed and to home greyhounds abandoned by the greyhound racing industry, which is not paying its way despite being the source of the problem. The Minister of State will be aware that the ISPCA has called for an additional €500,000 per year just to hire additional inspectors. As far as I am concerned, the industry needs to be made to cough up substantially more than that in order to address the welfare of retired greyhounds.
We also need to take note of the figures regarding greyhounds being killed in pounds, which represent only a small proportion of the number falling victim to this industry. As stated previously, thousands of greyhounds suffer injuries at racetracks every year and are destroyed by track veterinarians. As my colleagues stated earlier, there is also the shame of greyhounds that go missing and are presumably killed. Despite the remarks suggesting that every dog owner is a dog lover - and many of them are - not all of them are. The existence of cruelty and bad practice is undisputed. One Irish trainer remarked online, "I’ve seen dogs being shot. It has to be done as there’s too many of them to rehome." A former chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board admitted on radio in 2016 his belief that it is absolutely okay for thousands of dogs to be killed and that racing could not exist without the destruction of dogs. Again, this is an industry that is given State funds. It is responsible for catastrophic injury, death and abandonment of greyhounds and gives dogs over to hard-pressed volunteers. I point this out because some of the language is misleading and not really believable.
In reply to a question from Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan last year, the Minister, Deputy Creed, stated that Bord na gCon's strategic plan is to put animal welfare at the centre of the industry. Let us be honest; profit is at the centre of the industry, not animal welfare. Animal welfare is only involved if the asset is jeopardised and if it will be worth the effort. That does not always tally. It is handled within very narrow perimeters. The language really demonstrates that we are not serious, because we are not putting in the supports in respect of welfare.
The other key issue which is not dealt with in the Bill - this is a matter of great concern in itself - is that relating to the export of Irish greyhounds. My colleague, Deputy Broughan, has tabled a Private Members' Bill on this issue and he addressed some of these points earlier. Could this matter not have been dealt with in the Bill? Why are the issues the Deputy spoke about not dealt with? The Minister of State and everyone else knows that this is a hugely controversial issue because of our appalling record in facilitating exports to China and other countries that have few or no regulations to protect the welfare of dogs.
We know of the very high-profile cases in the media, some of which were cited earlier. We know of the treatment of dogs in places such as Macau where there are no regulations at all to protect dogs during their careers. They live the majority of their lives in cages and face certain death at the end. They are boiled, skinned, and sold off for food, which is, quite frankly, horrific. I see a contradiction in the remarks of some people who would find it abhorrent to eat dog but who have no problem with eating the meat of cows, sheep or pigs. That is probably not a debate for today, but it is linked.
We have also seen the embarrassing situation whereby animal welfare volunteers in the UK had to stop the export of Irish greyhounds through UK airports in 2017. Some airlines have since taken a principled stand on the matter and refuse to transport greyhounds to countries that do not meet animal welfare standards. Australia refuses to export greyhounds to China. This should be a fundamental part of the legislation. The Government's refusal to include it is a reflection of the fact that we do not attend to these matters sufficiently. I note the Minister of State's response to this proposal suggests that such restrictions may not be compatible with EU trade law, but that is a deflection.
There have been really contradictory responses on this over the years. The previous Minister is on record as stating "Once appropriate animal health and welfare certification requirements are met, dogs, including greyhounds, may be exported internationally, including to China." This certification, however, refers only to transport conditions and does not deal with the conditions the dogs will face in the jurisdiction to which they are being transported or with the welfare standards in the state. In March last year, the Department blocked the Irish Greyhound Board from exporting dogs to China as a result of animal welfare concerns. It stated that it considered the risk contained in Bord na gCon's proposal to be unacceptably high from a range of different perspectives. The Department is more concerned about reputational damage than the damage being done to dogs. As was pointed out in the Seanad, we can also call for a derogation under Article 36 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which expressly provides for exceptions based on public morality and the protection of health and life of humans, animals, or plants.
There is a lot more work to be done on this Bill. We can deal with these points on Committee Stage. I welcome that the Bill is here. However, it is not good enough and there is a lot more work to be done.
I thank the Deputies for their contributions. It is generally accepted that this legislation is long overdue and, while people are generally welcoming, I accept that there is a range of views, particularly in respect of welfare concerns. Deputy Daly mentioned that it was about reputation. In fairness, regardless of commercial aspects or anything else, the reputation we have as a country of caring for animals should be paramount. This legislation is primarily an industry Bill to regulate the integrity and governance of the industry. The other legislation that deals primarily with welfare, which is integrated and woven into this Bill, is the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013.
Deputy Daly made a specific point about the authorised officers. I repeat that sections 35, 36, 37 and 40 relate to the appointment, investigatory powers and functions of authorised officers. The Bill provides amplified powers for authorised officers to investigate matters including investigating the use of performance altering substances. Section 40 specifically provides that subject to the jurisdiction of the District Court, authorised officers may seek a search warrant, including to search a domestic dwelling, where the authorised officer believes that there may be evidence of a breach or an intended breach of the racing code or of the commission or intended commission of an offence under the Greyhound Industry Acts. There is enhanced power assigned to the authorised officers which was not there heretofore.
I will try to deal with the main concerns that have been raised. One of them has been about the Bill Deputy Broughan brought in and the so-called white list. Trade within the EU is governed under specific EU law and procedures for export, particularly Council Directive 92/65/EEC, which states that dogs moved to another EU country from Ireland must be accompanied by a pet passport, be microchipped and have valid rabies vaccination. The premises exporting dogs must be registered with the Department in advance of export and before travel, dogs must undergo a clinical examination by an authorised veterinarian who must verify that the animals show no obvious signs of disease and are fit to be transported. Dogs must also have a health certificate issued by a Department veterinarian. These procedures, including vaccination, ensure that only healthy dogs over the age of 15 weeks are allowed to be exported. There are other considerations, in particular with regard to the receiving premises.
I am conscious that I would like to get Second Stage concluded this evening; I know it is in my hands. Under the retired greyhound fund, Bord na gCon in 2017 contributed just over €100,000 to the Retired Greyhound Trust. Bord na gCon contributed €11,000 towards neuter-spay and €93,000 towards the general trust.
The list of countries in which animals were rehomed and the numbers amount to 529 in 2018. The majority of greyhounds are exported to the UK. About 85% is the most accurate analysis. They are the dogs that are actually registered in the stud book in the UK. Our own animal identification and movement system, AIMS, does not allow for the identification of different dog breeds, no more than in any species of animal, so it is not possible to get it any more refined than it is.
The purpose of this legislation is to improve the governance of Bord na gCon, strengthen regulatory controls in the industry, modernise sanctions and improve integrity. The Bill goes a long way to doing that and I accept that there will be amendments which we will endeavour to address on Committee Stage. I thank all Members and my colleagues from the Department, who have worked really hard to get this legislation through. It is long overdue. Since I was appointed in May 2016, we have been endeavouring to get this legislation into the Dáil. We have successfully got it through the Seanad. I accept that amendments were made by various Members. We took them on board where we felt they were valid.
On the appointment of a vet, it is important to point out that it was recommended in the Indecon report. It was never intended that there would not be a vet included but it was accepted that we could specifically put in both a vet and somebody with industry knowledge so that we would have good cross-representation. There are other legal and financial skill sets which are also very important in terms of the overall administration of an organisation such as Bord na gCon. I will conclude at that. I hope to see this Bill concluded before Easter.