Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Horse Racing Ireland Bill 2015: Second Stage

 

10:30 am

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I am pleased to introduce the Horse Racing Ireland Bill 2015 to the Seanad. I should say at the outset that this Bill has been the subject of a very constructive process of pre-legislative scrutiny by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The final shape of the Bill before the House today has therefore been very significantly influenced by the view of Senators, Deputies and stakeholders throughout that process.

The Irish bloodstock breeding and racing industry is of major national importance in terms of employment - especially in rural areas, and also in terms of exports and tourism. The industry is estimated to employ approximately 18,000 people when breeding, racing, betting, and other elements are included. It contributed almost €1.1 billion to the Irish economy in 2012 and achieved exports of more than €205 million to 37 countries in 2013. It is also estimated to account for up to 80,000 tourists coming to Ireland each year. Those tourists are among the estimated 1 million plus people who attend horse races each year in this country.

The Irish thoroughbred sector has built a global reputation for excellence. In sporting terms, Ireland can certainly consider itself to be among the best in the world. Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, is a commercial State body established under the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. It is charged with the overall administration, promotion and development of this very Important industry and sport. These activities are funded to a significant extent by the Exchequer from the horse and greyhound fund, which comes within the ambit of my Department’s Vote.

HRI also provides funding for integrity services to the Racing Regulatory Body, namely, the Turf Club. The Turf Club, including the Irish national hunt steeplechase committee, a private body, is designated as the racing regulatory body and is charged with carrying out these functions under the current legislation. HRI provided €7.1 million for those activities in 2015. The independent role of the racing regulatory body is protected in the Bill I bring before the House today.

Before dealing with the substance of the Bill, I wish to refer to the Review of Certain Aspects of the Irish Horseracing Industry by Indecon International Economic Consultants, which I commissioned and which was published in July 2012. The Department facilitated a stakeholder consultation process as part of that review, and written submissions were sought from interested parties and forwarded to Indecon for consideration. The resulting report examined the legislation, governance structures, funding and management of the industry, including the streamlining of functions assigned by legislation to HRI and the racing regulatory body. It made a number of clear recommendations in that regard.

Following the Indecon Report, HRI and the Racing Regulatory Body established a streamlining task force with a view to achieving efficiencies, and consultants Smith and Williamson were appointed to act as a facilitator in the discussions. Smith and Williamson prepared a report which contained 18 recommendations and it was estimated that the recommendations could result in savings of approximately €1.8 million.

Taking into account this general background, and the recommendations of both the Indecon and Smith and Williamson reports, my Department drafted the general scheme of the Horse Racing Ireland Bill 2015. I have already referred to the pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I believe the committee heard from all the major players in the industry and departmental officials appeared before it on two occasions. The committee produced a comprehensive report which was useful in finalising the Bill before its introduction to the House.

As I proceed through the detail of the Bill, the amendments taken on board as a result of the process to date will become apparent. I have accepted many amendments. All political parties have been very constructive on the legislation, as have all the stakeholders. However, I should say at the outset that I have agreed to the deletion of an entire section dealing with sanctions and appeals. That was something both the Fianna Fáil Party and Sinn Féin sought. The section provided for detailed procedures for dealing with sanctions and appeals. However, the sport is governed by the rules of racing, and the racing regulatory body is required to have regard to due process and the rules of natural justice in its application of the rules. A broad spectrum of stakeholders, as well as Deputies and Senators from all sides of the House, were concerned that the creation of specific statutory provisions in regard to sanctions in a sport already governed by comprehensive rules of racing which incorporate the principles of natural justice, had the potential to create confusion and legal uncertainty. I have taken those concerns on board. I would also draw the attention of the House to a small but critical and urgent change to the Forestry Act 2014, which was not included the general scheme. During the passage last year of the Forestry Bill the burdensome requirement for two separate consents for a forestry road was raised. Under the existing regime, consent is required from my Department in regard to the construction of a forest road while an entirely separate consent is required from the local planning authorities for the entrance of a forest road on to a public road. I am pleased to announce that in this Bill I am taking the opportunity to introduce an amendment to eliminate this duplication, following consultation and agreement with the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Transport, Tourism and Sport. On enactment of this provision, only one consent will be required. This will be administered by my Department and will cover both the construction of the forest road as well as its entry on to the public road. While this is a small change, it will reduce the administrative burden on the industry and will make the consent process quicker and more efficient. This is urgently required. While this is not an issue relevant to racing we are using this vehicle to make this necessary change. We appreciate the support of the Opposition parties in making the change, which makes a lot of sense.

In addition, I will be introducing an additional section on Report Stage dealing with the recognition of foreign vets and veterinary nurses for the purposes of transposing EU Directive 2013/55 on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. This is being inserted following the advice of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. This directive is required to be transposed by 19 January 2016 and so it is most urgent that we enact this Bill.

Regarding matters relating to thoroughbred horse racing, this Bill builds on the recommendations of the Indecon report and is intended to strengthen governance and transparency within the administration of horse racing; clarify the respective roles of Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, and the racing regulatory body; improve accountability and control over State funding and provide a foundation for streamlining the functions of the two bodies. I will now outline the detail on the Bill. Section 1 provides the definitions for the Bill. Section 2 introduces the new definitions of "jockeys and qualified riders" and "betting intermediaries" to be inserted into the Act for the purposes of defining the membership of the new statutory committees. This section also extends the definition of "integrity services" to allow for off-course activities and of "racing regulatory body" to include limited companies established by that body. The latter two changes are made at the request of the racing regulatory body. Section 2 also amends the definition of "rules of racing" so that the rules explicitly apply to point to point racing.

Section 3 is a minor technical amendment providing for the updating of fines under the 1994 Act and the deletion of continuous offences in line with modern legislative practices. Section 4 adjusts the composition of the board in line with the recommendations of Indecon to provide for three ministerial nominees. While the intention had been to provide for this within the context of a smaller board, I have adjusted this provision to accommodate a representative of stable staff, following a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine during the pre-legislative scrutiny phase. The board will comprise 13 ordinary members and a chairperson, with three members nominated by the Minister, three nominated by the racing regulatory body and one nominated by each of the representatives of the authorised racecourses, racehorse breeders, racehorse owners, racehorse trainers, respectively; two from the industry service committee - one being the chairman of that committee and the other being a representative of the stable staff and one member from the betting committee, being the chairperson of that committee. This section also explicitly requires HRI to have regard to Government policies and guidelines in determining the remuneration or allowances paid to its chairman and to comply with any directions given by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in this regard.

Section 5 consolidates and clarifies the general functions of HRI by providing that HRI is responsible for the overall administration, governance, development and promotion of the Irish horse racing industry - other than the functions assigned to the racing regulatory body. The independence of the racing regulatory body is not compromised and is explicitly provided for in section 11. However, section 5 explicitly provides for the streamlining of certain administrative functions between the two bodies by ensuring that all charges, other than those going directly to the local hunt clubs that organise point to point steeplechases, shall be processed through HRI’s administrative system. This is a sensible streamlining of functions that should reduce administrative costs and lead to greater efficiency and transparency. I have taken great care to explicitly exclude the funding of local hunt clubs from this provision. This section also provides that HRI may use directives to set rules and procedures in order to guide its activities. This is a reflection of existing practice but in addition, I am requiring HRI to consult with the racing regulatory body before issuing directives, other than in cases of urgency.

Section 6 provides for new statutory committees and standardises the structure of the existing statutory committees. Subsection (1) enacts the provisions relating to the race fixtures committee and provides that the chairperson of that committee is appointed by HRI; that the number of ordinary members be reduced from six to five and that the membership of the committee is confined to members of HRI. Subsection (2) provides for the establishment of an industry services committee to focus on the requirements of those employed in the horse racing industry, which I think is a really good development. It provides that the members shall elect the chairperson of the committee, who will be a member of the committee. This subsection also provides for a betting committee to focus on the requirements of the betting sector on the same basis as the industry services committee. Subsection (3) increases the membership of the media rights committee to five and permits non-members of the board to be members of the committee. This is to allow the committee have media rights experts as members. I have amended this provision to require that the board of HRI and representatives of the executives of authorised racecourses must agree the terms of media rights contracts before they are finalised.

Section 7 is a reflection of current practice and provides that HRI may make deductions from monetary prizes in accordance with HRI directives. Subsection (2) protects the interests of certain charitable trusts by providing that HRI cannot make changes to directives governing such trusts or funds without the poor agreement of the trustees. Section 8 is intended to strengthen the governance of HRI and the industry in general by requiring HRI to provide information to the Minister regarding its compliance with the code of practice for governance of State bodies, issued by Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and in the event that the Minister is not satisfied with HRI’s compliance, it provides that the Minister may direct compliance.

Section 9 is a sensible provision providing that the owner or keeper of a thoroughbred foal must pay the thoroughbred foal levy in advance of registering the foal in the studbook. It is intended to strengthen compliance with the existing obligations to pay the foal levy. Section 10 permits HRI to establish companies to carry out any of its functions and substitutes references to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform with references to the Minister for Finance.

Section 11 explicitly protects the independence of the racing regulatory body. It provides that the racing regulatory body is solely and independently responsible for making and enforcing the rules of racing; provides integrity services; licenses racecourses and participants in horse racing; sets charges for licences; is responsible for decisions regarding handicapping, doping, etc.; represents Irish horse racing internationally in respect of areas within its functions; and enforces rules governing point to point steeplechases. I have agreed to the introduction on Committee Stage of an amendment to this section to make it clear that the racing regulatory body, through the Irish national steeplechase committee, remains responsible for maintaining the existing nature of point to point steeple chasing. I believe this amendment deals with concerns expressed on all sides of the House in regard to the status of point to point racing. In other words, it is working and we want to maintain the structure as is. The section also provides that HRI must return to the Racing Regulatory Body, without delay, funds received and processed by the HRI as a result of administrative streamlining in relation to licensing, registrations and fines. The Racing Regulatory Body must consult with HRI when making or amending the rules of racing. I have amended this provision to allow for exceptions in cases of urgency, on the basis of concerns expressed on Committee Stage and in pre-legislative scrutiny. Such consultation does not result in any binding obligation to take on board the views of HRI or compromise the independence of the Racing Regulatory Body in any way but is simply for the sake of consistency and good order.

Section 12 aims to strengthen accountability for public funds by providing that the Racing Regulatory Body must prepare accounts in respect of its statutory obligations. The body must forward the accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor General for audit purposes. Also, the chief executive of the Racing Regulatory Body must attend the Committee of Public Accounts of Dáil Éireann when requested to do so. The section also replicates the onus on HRI to provide details of compliance with Government codes and policies. The section requires the Racing Regulatory Body to provide information to the Minister on its statutory activities, including its compliance with Government codes and policies, so that the Minister may be assured as to compliance of the horse racing industry with the codes and policies. Finally, the section provides that the Racing Regulatory Body must provide information to HRI with regard to future funding requirements and disposal of funds so that HRI may comply with its statutory obligations in accounting for funding for the industry.

I wish to make it clear that there is no intention whatsoever to change the status of the Racing Regulatory Body or the private nature of the Turf Club or its relationship with its members. These provisions are simply intended to improve accountability for taxpayers' money. I believe we have an obligation to do so.

Section 13 provides that bookmakers at point-to-point meetings will be subject to the same rules as authorised racecourses. Section 14 provides that the Minister may withhold payment of instalments from the Horse and Greyhound Fund where HRl or Bord na gCon have failed to abide by the code of practice for the governance of State bodies, where strategic plans submitted are deficient or unreasonable or where either body has failed to progress its strategic plan. It also ensures that moneys paid from the fund through instalments reflect the financial needs of HRI and Bord na gCon.

Section 15 is consequential on section 14. Section 15 amends the Greyhound Industry Acts 1958 and 1993 to provide that Bord na gCon are statutorily subject to the code of practice for the governance of State bodies issued by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. My Department is preparing the heads of a separate and more comprehensive Bill on the greyhound racing industry. We conducted a similar Indecon-style report for the greyhound industry and we will bring in the appropriate legislation on the back of that work, just like we have done for the horse racing industry.

Section 16 is intended to provide for the sharing of data between HRI and the Racing Regulatory Body in accordance with the Data Protections Acts to facilitate administrative streamlining. The provision includes a protection for existing data held by both bodies and ensures that information already held by either body may not be transferred without notice being given to the individuals concerned. It also provides for a facility for the individual concerned to object to the data transfer, in accordance with data protection rules.

Section 17 amends the provisions for authorised officers in the Animal Remedies Act 1993 to allow the appointment by persons other than officers of the Minister. The section also permits the Minister to set conditions within which authorised officers may utilise the functions set out in the Act. It is intended that my Department will develop an agreement with the Racing Regulatory Body, similar to the one already agreed under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, to provide that the Racing Regulatory Body may utilise the powers under the Animal Remedies Act to ensure the proper use of animal remedies in horse racing which, in other words, means drug testing.

Section 18 amends the definition of forest road works in the Forestry Act 2014. I have already explain the section in detail. Section 19 amends the Veterinary Practice Act 2005 which I have also referred to in some detail. Section 20 repeals the Horse Racing Ireland (Membership) Act 2001 because all its provisions are being re-enacted in this Bill. Section 21 contains the normal provisions for citation and commencement of the Bill.

I believe this legislation will strengthen governance and transparency within horse racing. It will lay the foundations for increased efficiency and cost reduction through the streamlining of administrative operations. It will clarify the respective functions of Horse Racing Ireland and the Racing Regulatory Body. It will also strengthen the Racing Regulatory Body's integrity functions and improve accountability and control over State funding in the horse racing and greyhound racing sectors. We have been through a comprehensive process of consultation. I am very grateful to Deputies and Senators on all sides of the House for their constructive approach thus far.

A small number of amendments have been proposed by two Senators. I shall briefly refer to them, if I may, out of courtesy to the Senators concerned. First, Senator Norris has raised, through his amendment, his idea that this legislation should be extended beyond horse racing or the thoroughbred industry. He wants the legislation to cover showjumping, three day eventing, polo and another horse industry disciplines. The purpose of this legislation is to follow through on a specific and detailed report and consultation process on the horse racing industry, and to implement the recommendations that have been generated by that process. We have had very long discussions with all of the key players involved in the horse racing industry which included the HRI, the Turf Club, the many people involved in point-to-point racing, the people who run and operate racecourses, owners, trainers, etc. We are trying to balance everybody's concerns while at the same time ensure there is a proper modern governance and transparent structure. We also want legislation that protects the industry in those areas. It is self-evident, at this stage, that we cannot simply extend the legislation to include a whole series of other sports that involve horses.

This is important legislation for the horse racing industry. We plan to conduct a similar review of the sport horse industry, specifically on Horse Sport Ireland in terms of how it operates, spends money and raises money. The review will look at how we can improve and strengthen the sport horse sector which involves a couple hundred thousand people of which most are volunteers and amateurs. The sport horse sector is a huge industry in Ireland with a turnover of €700 million a year which is little less than the racing sector. We have a big piece of work to do but I do not think its for today's legislation.

Senator Norris has also stated he would like to see a requirement that one of the five members of the media rights committee is a representative of the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners. In other words, he wants legislation to stipulate that one of the five members must be a racehorse owner. His amendment was debated and discussed at length on Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil. I did not accept it because I did not think it was good governance. The HRI has quite a large board which is very representative of all sectors in the industry. We have put a lot of work into making sure that is the case. The media rights committee would be a sub-board of the HRI. The media rights committee would make recommendations that then have to be approved by the HRI board. Therefore, it makes sense that the HRI would pick the best five people for the job and, if necessary, get somebody from outside to be part of the media rights sub-committee in order to get specific expertise. In all likelihood there will probably be a racehorse owner on the five person committee. Those who are best placed to make that judgment are members of the board of the HRI because it must finalise the decisions on media rights. The right thing to do is for us to trust the board to make the right and balanced decisions and to put the right skill set in place. There is already a requirement for racehorse owners to be represented on the main board of HRI. Of the other amendments tabled by Senator O'Brien, the first relates to the membership of the race fixtures committee. It is proposed that this committee would not be limited to Horse Racing Ireland members and that others could be brought in. Again, effectively, this committee will be a sub-committee of the HRI board that will go into the detail of fixtures, get it right and then make a recommendation to the full board to have it finalised. It makes sense that fixtures are finalised by that group, which includes three turf club members, horse owners, trainers, stable staff, members involved in the betting industry, three ministerial appointments, one of whom is required to be from Northern Ireland and, of course, a chair. It is a pretty broad committee which sets up the sub-committee from within its membership and the recommendations come back and are signed off on by it. Everyone is involved in the process. We want decisions to be made on the basis of consensus, in terms of fixtures in particular, which is a very sensitive issue for many race courses. We need to try to ensure we keep that consensus. Ultimately, the Horse Racing Ireland board as a whole is responsible for getting this right.

I have already dealt with the requirement in the legislation to consult with Horse Racing Ireland. The requirement does not mean that the Racing Regulatory Body, the Turf Club, has to seek permission. It just means that there needs to be some consultation except where they need to make a matter of change as a matter of urgency. In that case, they will just get on with it. If there is a change in the rules the racing regulatory body wants to introduce or a course of action it needs to take, we are requiring that it would consult with Horse Racing Ireland, which may well have to put some structures or accommodation in place to ensure the decision can be implemented effectively. They are just required to consult, but "consult" does not mean "seek permission". It simply means consult. Likewise, we expect Horse Racing Ireland to consult with the racing regulatory body when appropriate.

The amendments tabled raised legitimate issues but I hope I have given credible answers that will allow us to progress the Bill this evening. I have shown a willingness to accept many amendments on Committee and Report Stages as well as taking on board the recommendations made following the pre-legislative stage. I hope the Seanad allows this legislation to proceed in a way that we can get it finalised this evening.

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