Thursday, 14 July 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Why should we continue to give tens of millions of euro every single year to the greyhound racing industry? For me, the key issue is animal cruelty. However, even from the point of view of value for money, over the last few weeks The Sunday TimesIreland edition has exposed the fact that greyhound industry insiders make up over half of all race attendees and that all of the State funding into the Irish greyhound industry is effectively being lost because it ends up subsidising the low-cost sale of dogs to the UK.
I thank the Deputy for the question. The 2021 Power report found that the greyhound industry provides and supports considerable employment both directly and indirectly across the Irish economy. It is estimated that in 2019, the industry supported over 4,000 full-time and part-time jobs in the economy. In addition, there are over 6,000 active greyhound owners. The total number of people deriving economic benefit from the sector is estimated at over 10,000. The Department provides dedicated financial support under the Horse and Greyhound Fund to Rásaíocht Con Éireann, RCÉ, the statutory body responsible for the operation and regulation of the greyhound industry. Since 2021, my Department has ring fenced 10% of the RCÉ allocation from the horse and greyhound racing fund for welfare matters. In addition, the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 develops the legislative basis for the industry, strengthening the integrity and welfare of the industry. A key element of the new legislation is the provision, for the first time, for a full IT traceability system for racing greyhounds. The funding provided to the greyhound racing sector helps sustain a longstanding tradition as the industry is part of the social fabric of our country. The funding underpins economic activity in what are, in many instances, highly rural areas.
The future of the industry is dependent on a strong governance platform and on the industry having the highest standards of integrity and welfare. There is a strong commitment to improved animal welfare in this sector in the programme for Government. The Department remains focused on ensuring that RCÉ is compliant with the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies, including an oversight agreement in the form of a shareholder's letter of expectation, which is produced annually and updated as required. The annual report and accounts of RCÉ are audited by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and are presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas. We are very committed to the continued strengthening of welfare standards in the greyhound industry. Future funding of the sector is dependent on welfare standards being upheld. That is reflected in the annual parameters set out by my officials in their engagement with RCÉ.
The public is funding not only an industry that is responsible for the deaths of 6,000 greyhounds a year because they are not fast enough, but we are also funding the British greyhound racing industry. An analysis conducted by Preferred Results business consultants, and reported in The Sunday TimesIreland edition, found that 6,300 Irish greyhounds are exported annually to the UK and sold at a loss of almost €5,000 each. Effectively, it is a direct subsidy from the public, through the greyhound racing industry, to the British greyhound racing industry. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of funding the Irish greyhound industry, why on earth are we effectively funding the British greyhound racing industry? Why are we funding the greyhound industry when over half of those attending greyhound races are getting complimentary tickets? In other words, they are to some degree insiders. There is not a big public appetite for greyhound racing. We do not see big queues of people going to events. Why are we still providing public funding for the industry?
The reason that we are providing funding is that there has been a structure and support in place for the greyhound racing industry for many years now. It is particularly important to support it. It is something that we are continuing to do. The structure and the oversight of the industry is also important. The legislative underpinning of the whole sector was significantly changed and strengthened through the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 that we introduced in the Dáil and the Seanad. Going forward, while the provision of funding is important, public support, through attendance and participation, is crucial for the industry. RCÉ must focus on that and on its engagement with the wider public to ensure that its racetracks have strong public attendance. That is really important for the future health of the industry. Both of those aspects are important. Certainly, the public funding plays a significant role in underpinning the industry.
The public has provided €310 million for the greyhound racing industry since 2001. That is a huge amount of money, without which I do not think the greyhound racing industry would continue in this country. I think that would be a good thing in terms of animal welfare. Of course, I wish to emphasise that nobody should be out of a job as a consequence of that. There needs to be a just transition for those involved in the greyhound racing industry, with everybody guaranteed a job of at least equivalent terms and conditions and so on.
I ask the Minister to respond to the reports published in The Sunday TimesIreland edition, in particular, those highlighting the fact that we are subsidising the low-cost sale of dogs to Britain, that the majority of Irish public funding that is provided to RCÉ effectively goes to supporting the British greyhound racing industry and that the Irish greyhound racing industry is sustaining a shortfall of over €30 million a year in supplying greyhounds to the UK.
The public funding goes into our racetracks and funding prize money, which helps to support and underpin the industry and the jobs in the industry. The funding also goes into welfare measures and supports the welfare of greyhounds. As the Deputy said, without the funding the greyhound racing industry would be very much undermined. I am aware the Deputy has no problem with doing away with the industry altogether. He is not a big advocate of industry or business in general. I know that he would like to see the industry erased altogether. However, the industry provides employment. While it is not important to everyone, it is an important part of our social fabric and of many people's lives. We have to value that. Going forward, it is important that alongside the public funding, we see economic revenue generated through participation. That is a significant task for RCÉ in ensuring that revenue streams are improved.