Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Adjournment Matters

Sporting Organisations

6:15 pm

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Will he outline the action that is being taken to prevent the use of performance enhancing drugs in greyhound racing? What measures will be put in place to implement regulatory controls in that regard? The recent Indecon report highlighted many problems with governance and financial issues in the Irish Greyhound Board, IGB. However, the greatest flaw highlighted was that of the prevalence of positive drug tests in racing greyhounds.

The use of drugs in any sport brings the reputation of the game into disrepute. It is vital that this issue be dealt with in order to restore confidence in greyhound racing, given its importance to Ireland as an industry. The IGB employs 10,000 people and provides indirect employment for thousands more. There are 17 greyhound tracks across the country and more than 26,000 people go racing every week. It is important that the integrity of the industry be upheld.

The Indecon report recommends that rigorous procedures and processes for regulatory control must be implemented. The current legislation and regulations on the provision of integrity services are not good enough. When will more stringent legislation be in place? Indecon's analysis of the divergence between the number of positive tests and adverse findings has shown that this situation was in part due to previous decisions of the control committee, which ruled to dismiss a significant number of positive tests on the basis that, in its opinion, certain internal laboratory protocols concerning storage and temperature were not reflected in the handling of test samples before they reached the laboratory and that there were deficiencies in respect of the samples. Undoubtedly, this has had a negative effect on the perception of the industry. This practice had to be stopped. All processes in the testing of banned substances need to be transparent. We need to determine whether better testing facilities are available, results need to be publicised and greater penalties need to be imposed. Only then can we restore credibility to the greyhound industry. Will the Minister of State outline what he will do about this situation and how soon can we see the Indecon report's recommendations put in place?

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Comiskey for the opportunity to attend the Seanad and to brief it on where we are as regards the Indecon report.

The control, administration and regulation of the greyhound industry are the responsibility of Bord na gCon under the Greyhound Industry Acts 1958 and 1993. Two statutory committees of Bord na gCon, namely, the control committee and the control appeals committee, are central to the regulatory process. These committees operate independently of Bord na gCon.

When appointed as Minister of State in 2013, I identified the need to carry out a review of certain matters relating to Bord na gCon. The organisation faced major challenges. In this regard, I arranged for consultants to be commissioned to assess the suitability of the legal, governance and regulatory framework supporting the greyhound industry and to identify opportunities to maximise the commercial income of Bord na gCon, with a view to assisting the greyhound racing industry in reaching its potential.

On 7 July 2014, I published a report compiled by Indecon International Economic Consultants on the completion of its "Review of Certain Matters Relating to Bord na gCon". The terms of reference for Indecon included the requirement to assess the appropriateness and effectiveness of the systems operated by Bord na gCon with regard to the regulation of the industry and to make recommendations on any change required.

The Indecon report made 27 recommendations aimed at addressing the challenges facing the board. Eleven recommendations related to regulatory controls. These are as follows: the Minister would appoint the members of the statutory independent greyhound racing control committee and control appeal committee, which would constitute a major change; rigorous procedures and processes for regulatory control must be consistently implemented; mandatory penalties including exclusion orders and disqualification orders would be imposed for breaches of regulations; regulations and procedures should be introduced to ensure effective enforcement of penalties; Bord na gCon and the Irish Coursing Club should be able to serve exclusion orders and disqualification orders independently; off-track testing for prohibited substances would be implemented, representing another major change; data on the number of tests undertaken, the number of positive tests and the number of adverse findings would be published; all adverse findings would be published within predefined periods subject to rules for adjournments and appeals; consideration of laboratory testing would be transferred to independent laboratories over time to ensure economies of scale; licencees to disclose on an annual basis any adverse finding and any information regarding matters under investigation as part of their licence applications; and formal information-sharing arrangements to take place with enforcement agencies, including Customs and Excise and An Garda Síochána.

Bord na gCon has indicated that it accepts all of the report's recommendations, including those dealing with the regulatory aspects. It submitted its response to the report to me on 10 October 2014. This included an action plan that contained timelines for implementing the various recommendations. The action plan is published in the news section on the Bord na gCon website for all to see. Bord na gCon has indicated to my Department that it is on track to meet the majority of its objectives.

In the area of regulatory reform, Bord na gCon has confirmed to me that it is involved in a public consultation process with stakeholders with a view to putting in place legislation that will enable the publication of details of all adverse findings after positive results have been returned by the laboratory and prior to consideration of such cases by the control committee.

It is envisaged that the information to be published will include the identity of the greyhounds, the owners and the trainers involved. In a move towards greater transparency, Bord na gCon has recently confirmed a finding of positive results after the analytical phase and prior to the hearing of the control committee. The complete details in regard to the owners and the greyhounds will be available when the control committee and the appeals committee, if appropriate, have concluded their deliberations in regard to findings which are upheld.

Bord na gCon has embarked in a stakeholders' consultation process on regulatory reform and it has commenced a review of standard operating procedures in the areas of sampling at race night operations and also in regard to track maintenance and race track security. It has begun formulating new policies and procedures to enhance regulation, welfare and engagement with stakeholders.

Bord na gCon has launched a review into anti-doping and medication controls under the direction of an international expert in this area. Following the review, Bord na gCon will consider amendments to legislation, modify practices and policies, as appropriate, and assess whether any improvement can be made to the current structures in place. The objective is to ensure Bord na gCon will conform with the best international practices.

Bord na gCon launched the first phase of off-track testing for prohibited substances, like testing at trials. It launched an online resource centre to facilitate the enhanced publication of testing information. It has commenced interviews with licensed applicants, with a view to attaching conditions to licences, where necessary; a process of information sharing with other regulatory bodies; development of intelligence-led strategies in various areas, in particular, anti-doping; a process to introduce mandatory penalties, including exclusion orders and disqualification orders, for breaches of regulation; and regulatory reform concerning prohibited substances, in particular, working on developing an improved regulatory definition of prohibited substances as well as non-exhaustive lists of prohibited substances.

I have been assured by Bord na gCon of its commitment to ensuring that the regulatory system within the industry is aligned with best international practices founded on integrity, education and transparency among all stakeholders. In order to augment this regulatory system, Bord na gCon has appointed a director of racing, governance and compliance. Furthermore, I have appointed a person to the board who has particular expertise in veterinary and related matters. Officials from my Department have already commenced an examination of the greyhound legislation and are liaising closely with Bord na gCon to identify any legislative changes required to underpin a robust and effective system of regulation, including the appointment of members of the control committee and the controls appeals committee by the Minister.

The greyhound sector makes a significant contribution to the Irish economy and I am confident that implementation of the Indecon report can help to ensure Bord na gCon can continue to make a significant contribution to its development into the future for the 10,000 people who work in it. This industry has gone through extreme difficulty but I have no doubt that following the very timely Indecon report, it industry will last into the future.

On 19 February 2014, during a debate on the greyhound industry in the Seanad, I made reference to Mr. Brendan Moore, a former member of the board of Bord na gCon. I advised the House that Mr. Moore had written to me and told me that day that he was not fit to be on the board. In fact, I had received a letter from Mr. Moore dated 21 July 2013 in the course of which he acknowledged that he did not have all the skills or experience necessary to turn a company around that was so indebted.

I went on to state that for a six-month period, Mr. Moore had not attended any of the meetings of the board of Bord na gCon and indicated that when some moves were being made within the Department to effect his removal from the board, I received a letter of resignation from Mr. Moore prior to Christmas. In fact, I met Mr Moore on 25 July 2013, subsequent to receiving his letter of 21 July. Mr. Moore's letter, confirming his resignation from the board of Bord na gCon, was dated and sent on 22 January 2014 and that being so, I obviously did not receive it prior to Christmas, as I stated in the Seanad. I acknowledge that statements made by me to Seanad Éireann on 19 February 2014 were not factually correct. I express my regrets to Mr. Moore for that and I am happy to correct the record.

6:25 pm

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for giving a very comprehensive report on the greyhound industry and I look forward to the measures mentioned being implemented. As the Minister of State rightly said, it is a very good industry and we look forward to it being run very effectively into the future.