Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Horse Racing Ireland Bill 2015: Second Stage


10:30 am

Photo of Mary Ann O'BrienMary Ann O'Brien (Independent) | Oireachtas source

Horseracing is a passion and love of mine. I welcome the Bill and in particular the sections that strengthen the corporate governance, transparency and accountability, with clarification of the roles of HRI, the RRB and that they will come under the codes of best practice. It is the only way to go for the industry.

While the Minister has probably not had the chance to see it, this morning the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine launched the report on the Irish horse industry. It contains some extremely good recommendations. I hope the incoming committee and Minister take it up and run with it. We recognise that Ireland has raw materials in terms of land, climate and knowledge to maintain a world-class equine industry. As the Minister said, Ireland is near the top of the tree in world-class racing and breeding. However, we need to continue to invest, grow and evolve to compete with our near neighbours in Britain, France and the USA.

The Minister spoke about the 80,000 visitors and the 16,000 mainly rural jobs, which are so important to us all. Some €400 million is invested by owners, much of it foreign direct investment.We have a new American gentleman on the scene who has invested upwards of €50 million in the past year and a half in Ireland. Who knows how many jobs he has created? He has two large stud farms and is planning to make a home here. Why are individuals like that attracted to Ireland? It is wonderful they are bringing their money here.

Sometimes it is claimed at the committee that horse racing is an elitist sport. All Members here know we are not talking about an elitist sport. I agree we have some high-end players in the industry who are world class. However, there are many small breeders, small trainers and syndicates of owners with a collective interest in a racehorse. I challenge anyone to go to Goffs or a race meeting and call it elitist because there is much fun and camaraderie at these. That is why we spend so much time on this legislation and we all want to get it right.

I have several amendments that I intend to introduce on Committee Stage. I want to delete the requirement that membership of the race fixtures committee should be limited to members of Horse Racing Ireland, HRI. I was the do-everything man at the Phoenix Park racecourse for 11 years and race fixtures was one of my jobs. I liaised with one of the most wonderful human beings I ever had the luck to work with, a gentleman called Sam Waller, who was part of the Turf Club and head of race fixtures. To me, the term “race fixtures” also involves the make-up of every race meeting. It is important if a race is five furlongs or six furlongs on 7 August at Leopardstown or the Curragh because it may have ramifications for the horse. It could affect where the horse might run in England in the following month and whether it is a grade 1 or grade 2 race.

It is all about having somebody like Sam Waller who had a global perspective. I do not know if he was even paid but he was passionate about the sport. He would telephone me on a Saturday night at 11 o'clock about whether a race would be for two-year-olds, under five furlongs or over six furlongs for the following year. It made much of a difference because it tied into the European and international pattern committees. It is in that spirit I brought this amendment. There are many passionate people who are expert and knowledgeable in this industry. I could name many of them for the Minister. However, they might be outside of the HRI board because they are in the Turf Club, an ex-owner or ex-trainer with amazing international horse-racing knowledge. It could be somebody like Henry Beeby from Goffs. There are so many good people around. I found this provision in the Bill somewhat exclusive and I wondered if the Minister understood how vital it is to the industry. I hope the term “race fixtures” used in the Bill does not simply refer to dates.


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