Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Horse Racing Ireland Bill 2015: Committee and Remaining Stages

 

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 glad the Senator asked that question. The brief explains it quite well. As the Senator knows, I go off script a lot but the script looks to be accurate in this case.

Section 12 aims to strengthen accountability for public funds by providing that the regulatory body prepare accounts in respect of its statutory obligations and forward the accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor General for audit purposes and that the chief executive of the racing regulatory body attend the Committee of Public Accounts of Dáil Éireann when so requested. The section also replicates the onus on HRI to provide details of compliance with governance codes and policies by requiring the racing regulatory body to provide information to the Minister in regard to its statutory activities, including its compliance with Government codes and policies, so the Minister may be reassured as to the 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 HRI may comply with its statutory obligations in accounting for funding for the industry.

What we are doing here is applying best practice in terms of modern governance. If we are giving €7.1 million a year to the racing regulatory body to perform integrity functions, then it is only a matter of time before somebody raises the question of how it is spending that money, whether we are getting full value for money, how it is being accounted for and where is the transparency. I am not going to allow a situation where the Turf Club gets pulled in front of an Oireachtas committee unfairly, given it is doing a pretty good job at the moment, because of some perception of a lack of transparency in terms of how it spends and accounts for its money. As I said, I think it does a pretty good job and, in fact, I do not believe this section is of significant concern to the Turf Club because it is pretty confident it does a good job.

I have had no real requests to change this section. This is a protection that allows the chief steward to say at any public forum that the Turf Club has to comply with all of the standards any other body that is predominantly funded by the State has to comply with and that it does that and is happy to do it. That is what this section is about. One of the reasons this legislation is so important for me is that I do not want what we have seen other charitable entities go through in terms of getting dragged over the coals due to a perception of a lack of transparency or inappropriate decision-making around how money is spent. The racing industry does not need that and it is not going to have that. We are putting in place proper and modern governance structures. Just as we are demanding of HRI, within reason we also have to be demanding of the Turf Club in terms of complying with the appropriate codes of practice and laying its accounts before the appropriate bodies that are available to the State.

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