Wednesday, 27 January 2016
Horse Racing Ireland Bill 2015: Second Stage
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.
I thank the Minister for the comprehensive overview of the legislation and highlighting the importance of the Irish thoroughbred breeding and horse racing industry to the economy. As outlined by the Minister, it is worth about €1.1 billion in economic output terms to the economy, which is significant. We will not be hindering this legislation. Of the parties on this side of the House, Fianna Fáil has formed the opinion that it is important that this legislation is approved and signed off on before the Taoiseach dissolves the Dáil, whenever that may be, in order to allow the industry get on with the work required.
Today also the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine launched its report, the Irish Horse Industry, which cited 44 recommendations on areas such as funding, breeding, welfare and harness racing, so it is an important day for the horse racing industry in that respect. While not linked to this legislation, nonetheless some of the recommendations contained within the report are addressed in it. I know from the work of the joint committee that the pre-legislative scrutiny was a wonderful success. This is how parliamentary democracy should work and legislation should be scrutinised.
I commend the Minister for accepting in the other House some of the worthy suggestions from all sides of the House which were tabled in amendments. This brings about proper and meaningful legislation. Rushed legislation makes bad legislation. This legislation was not rushed. We may want to finish it off this evening but that does not mean it is being rushed because we had the opportunity through the committee system and in the other House for extensive debate.
The importance of the industry has been highlighted by the Minister in economic terms, including the 18,000 jobs it supports. Irish horses are exported to 37 countries every year at a value of more than €200 million. There are almost 7,000 breeders in Ireland, 15% of whom are overseas investors spread across every county in Ireland. It is interesting that racing festivals contribute some €260 million to local economies. For example, the Galway Races is worth an estimated €60 million and the latest figures available to me show attendance at race meetings in 2013 grew to 1.24 million. It is a vitally important industry, the bedrock of Irish sport and must be supported.
This legislation is coming against the backdrop of the Indecon report in 2012 which provided a comprehensive analysis of the industry. It made 37 recommendations on funding, the board of Horse Racing Ireland, the streamlining of functions, the marketing and competitiveness of the sector and the governance and legislative changes required. I am glad these recommendations have been brought forward in this legislation. Corporate governance, internal controls, board structure, financial autonomy and the oversight role are vitally important, in particular when State finances and taxpayers' money are being used. Strengthening those through the legislative process adopted here will provide the oversight the Exchequer requires. We speak of the Exchequer because we have the horse and greyhound fund. The thoroughbred industry is funded extensively by private investment. I understand it is approximately €400 million. There is then approximately €55 million, of which 80% goes to horse racing, available from the horse and greyhound racing fund.
Time is against us but there are some main points I wish to make on the legislation. As mentioned by the Minister, the legislation will increase the number of ministerial appointees to the board and will clearly assign governance and regulatory responsibilities. I urge the Minister, or whoever the new Minister may be, to ensure those appointments are credible. We saw a recent appointment to the Irish Greyhound Board raised a number of questions from within the industry and was made against the recommendation of the Indecon report. It had recommended that board appointments would not be for more than two terms. Someone was appointed for a third term even though the corporate governance structures within that organisation are questionable. This organisation has a €1 million deficit this year, despite receiving more than €15 million in Exchequer funding. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that those appointed are fit for purpose. I am not making any political charge in this regard because my party was at the coal face of many politically motivated appointments. It is wrong and the system needs to be changed so that we ensure we appoint knowledgeable people who can provide substance while on State boards.
The transparency and new structural arrangements are very much welcome. The new financial management in the industry must be welcomed. Elimination of the duplication role and driving increased efficiencies along with the proposal around the establishment of a new statutory committee must be welcomed. The respective functions of Horse Racing Ireland and the Racing Regulatory Body are clarified.Having incremental payments under the fund is also to be welcomed. We need to build in performance management, and payments cannot be made willy-nilly. If payments are made they must be made with the performance criteria or objectives laid down.
Giving the Department the role of value-for-money audits is good. Those value-for-money audits need to be wide-ranging and should not specifically focus on efficiencies because value for money is not just about efficiencies. Many of the public sector value-for-money reviews and policy changes have focused on efficiencies without looking at equity and effectiveness. Of course, value for money relates to the three e's - efficiency, effectiveness and equity. In an industry such as this, it is important not just to look at the bottom line in euro terms, but to look at the overall picture as well. Of course, the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General is very definitive because he cannot look at the overall effectiveness of value-for-money reviews, which is a shortcoming in the role.
I very much welcome the Betting (Amendment) Act to apply the 1% tax on online betting. As we said this morning, this industry can be self-financing with a betting tax that is fit for purpose to fund the industry. I welcome section 15 of the Bill and the Minister's comments that this is the first step. The second step will be to introduce long-overdue legislation covering changes to the greyhound industry. The IGB requires intervention as well. I know the Minister is committed to that and he will certainly have our full support on this side of the House, although the arithmetic may well be changed after the general election. I hope the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is back in the agriculture portfolio if Fine Gael is returned to power.
As this might be our final opportunity, I thank the Minister for his co-operation in introducing the Bill. It is critical to follow through on the greyhound industry, as a report on that industry was launched today as well. The Indecon report dates back to 2010. We need corporate governance in that industry. Taxpayers are calling for it, as is the industry. The internal controls are very weak.
Fianna Fáil will be fully supporting the Bill and we hope the President signs it into law as soon as possible.
I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss the Horse Racing Ireland Bill. The Bill amends the Horseracing Industry Act 1994 and the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001, the core legislation on the governing structures for the horseracing industry in Ireland. The Bill increases ministerial representation on the board of Horse Racing Ireland, amends the general functions of HRI, alters the structure of HRI’s statutory committees and outlines the general functions of the Racing Regulatory Body. It also provides for the reform of certain administrative functions and the related payment of funds from the HRI to the RRB. Certain provisions relating to control and accountability apply equally to HRI and Bord na gCon.
The Bill originated following an Indecon review of certain aspects of the Irish horseracing industry and a report conducted by Smith and Williamson that made recommendations estimated to save €1.8 million. The Irish sport horse industry is worth more than €708 million to the economy per annum and provides more than 12,000 full-time equivalent jobs. The horse industry is part of our heritage and tradition and we should do all we can to allow it to prosper. For that reason I am delighted to see the Bill in the House.
The Bill will change the composition of the board of Horse Racing Ireland, the commercial State body that is the national authority for horseracing in Ireland, responsible for the overall administration, promotion and development of the industry. Currently the Minister only nominates the chairperson and one other member of the board. The Indecon report highlights this as a matter of concern. Owing to the level of governance, further ministerial control over the process of decision making on the HRI board is required. Section 4 of the Bill allows for three ministerial nominees.
The Bill also proposes that payments from the horse and greyhound fund will only be made on the basis of the implementation of satisfactory business plans. Section 14 provides for greater scrutiny on the disbursement of State funds. This is to be welcomed, as it will ensure there is no wastage of State funds.
The Bill will also establish two new sub-committees to represent the betting sector and the industry services committee, representing the workers and employers. Under the provisions of the Bill, HRI will be subject to a legal requirement to comply with Government directives on governance. Other elements of the Bill relate to corporate implementation of the Bill. For example, the accounts of the RRB will now be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and published.
The Bill updates the functions of HRI. As I mentioned previously, it is important we do all we can to ensure the continued success of the Irish horse industry. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine, and the committee frequently considers and discusses the industry. Today we published the report on the Irish horse industry, which made many recommendations.
I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to the Minister's further comments. The Bill will make our horse industry and governing bodies more efficient and effective. Ireland has the potential to maintain a world-class horse industry and it is important we do all we can to encourage this.
I thank the Minister for bringing the much-welcomed Horse Racing Ireland Bill to the House. Like other Senators, I am looking forward to seeing it through this evening so that it can be passed by both Houses before the Taoiseach decides to call the general election.
I hope the Minister returns. While he might not want to be Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, he has my support in getting that role again. This evening we have a great Bill. This evening may be my last opportunity to speak to the Minister. When I met him first it was at the Global Economic Forum. I was smiling because we were talking about €12 billion for agrifood exports. That seemed to me as being a flash of an eye, but we got to the €12 billion, 45% growth and now Harvest 2025 refers to €19 billion, 85% growth. Who would have ever thought it? I know the Minister has brilliant officials in his Department; I have had a lot of dealings with them in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine. It has been some achievement in the Minister's time. I want to put that on the record. I wish there were more like the Minister, Deputy Coveney, around the place; he has done a wonderful job.
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.
I am not a legal person but neither is the Minister. In business to me the word “consult” is very soft. I am keen to have this legislation bring in new rules, transparency and accountability with the Turf Club making the rules while HRI doers all the other regulatory jobs. It is great that we are going to save money with one Department collecting all the money. Coming from my work background that amounts to what may be termed "lean manufacturing". The rules and regulatory side of racing are vital and it is important we keep them watertight. I might be wrong but the word “consult” seems soft to me. I prefer the word “inform”. If I were making the rules, I would feel stronger if I informed the board. However, if I had to consult with the board, it means it could change what I had done. It also affects the idea of retaining independence. That is the spirit in which I will be introducing an amendment on Committee Stage. In my line of work, to "consult" a little bit soft. The Minister knows what consultants are like too.
I welcome Bernard Caldwell, chief executive of the Irish Stablestaff Association, to the Visitors Gallery. I welcome the Horse Racing Ireland Bill 2015. I followed the extensive debate on the Bill the Lower House last week. The Bill strengthens governance and transparency in the racing industry, which is very important. It increases efficiency and provides clarity of functions between the HRI and the Racing Regulatory Body, RRB. It helps to control State funding in both the horse and greyhound industry. Senator Ó Domhnaill spoke earlier about the greyhound industry. When the Minister spoke about the most recent round of funding for the greyhound industry, he spoke about ring-fencing funds for prize money to prevent funds going into the black hole of Bord na gCon’s debt. This is important because, no more than the horse industry, the greyhound industry at the lower end is going through a difficult period. We know that from statistics and owners.
We also know the horse industry is in difficulty. While over 18,000 people are working in the industry and the headline figures are good, there are many people struggling at the lower end of it. We should not lose sight of that either. It is great to see breeders coming into Ireland, as well as well-heeled owners putting their horses into training here. However, it is also important to remember that the small operator, who in many cases is a part-time trainer or farmer, needs to have some skin in the game to remain in the industry. If they do not, they give up.
I welcome the fact the Minister has taken on board the recommendations of the Indecon and the Smith & Williamson reports and included them in the provisions of the Bill. I also welcome the fact that the Minister has broadened the board of HRI to include a member from the Irish Stablestaff Association. It represents the largest number of employees in the business and it is important their voice is heard at the board. For many years, it was not. They are now better represented and their terms of employment have been greatly improved. This is in no small measure to Bernard Caldwell.
I welcome the provision on fines and the clarification of the functions of HRI, as well as the separation of the roles of the RRB and HRI. I also welcome the deduction of part of the prize moneys for various funds such as the jockey and trainer pension trust and the welfare fund, which is very important. This needed to be enshrined in legislation. There was anecdotal evidence that sometimes the apportionment of these moneys did not find itself where it should have.
The strengthening of governance has been referred to by many speakers already. This is a very important area as people need to have trust and faith in the industry. That can only be done through good governance. We do not see this to the same extent in the greyhound industry. If the Minister is back in office after the election I hope that will be his next task. Senators Comiskey and Ó Domhnaill referred to the agriculture committee report on the greyhound and horse industry, which made 44 recommendations for the horse racing industry and 13 for the greyhound industry.Much of what was recommended in that report has been incorporated into this Bill. The next area for address by the Minister if he is re-elected, and I hope that he is because as stated by Senator Mary Ann O'Brien, he is doing an excellent job in this area, is the greyhound industry, which is extremely ill at the moment. There is no point pretending otherwise. If the difficulties in that industry are not grasped by somebody like the Minister, it will not survive. I am glad to say that the prognosis is better in terms of horse racing, as evident from the already improving figures at race tracks across the country.
I listened to the debate on this Bill in the Lower House, during which there was much interaction between the Minister and members of my own party and the Opposition on the point-to-point issue, which I enjoyed. The Minister referenced in his opening speech today that he has taken cognisance of some of the issues raised at that time and has amended the Bill to take account of others. I would welcome if he could clarify which of the amendments to this Bill arise out of the issues raised during the debate in the Dáil. I have a copy of that debate, 12 pages of which are a report of the interaction between the Minister and Members. However, I am none the wiser as to what changes the Minister has taken on board.
I hope that this Bill is passed by the Seanad this evening and can then be signed by the President within the next week. The horse racing industry is in a good state. My interest in it comes from my father who bred horses at the lower end of the scale, such that they did not qualify as race horses. They were half-breeds as we would know them. I have a great interest in point-to-point racing. I first saw Faugheen in a point-to-point race. He was later sold for €10,000. The nearest point-to-point race track to me is located across the road from where I live and it is run by Mr. Johnny Walsh, chairman of the Kilmoganny hunt in Carrick-on-Suir. Racing takes place on the rawest and wettest winter days. For me, the joys of Cheltenham and what happens there with horses, such as Faugheen, is what this industry is about. I respect that the flat industry is the other side of the coin but I was never introduced to that and I do not know too much about it.
In terms of the introduction of this legislation, the Minister has done a great job. I would welcome it if he could clarify the issues I raised. As I said, I hope the Bill is passed by the Seanad tonight without any difficulty.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. In 2012, horse racing contributed €1.1 billion to this economy. Its exports to 27 countries in 2013 were estimated to be worth €205 million. It is important, therefore, that we get this legislation right and ensure transparency and accountability in horse racing. The entire horse racing structure must be democratised. In that respect, I am concerned about the proposals on ministerial appointments and changes in the structure of the board of Horse Racing Ireland.
The Bill seeks to change the current status of the Horse Racing Ireland board and the committee that submits policy decisions to the board for approval. Since its establishment in 2001, it has been the policy of the HRI board to approve committee decisions and recommendations. It could be argued that the primary reason for the proposed changes to the HRI board is to give more central control to the executive and to dilute the power of industry bodies whose representatives are elected to the board by members. One could also argue that this has allowed large corporate bookmaking companies to exercise control over Horse Racing Ireland, which is a semi-State company.
Online gambling is worth approximately €2 billion per annum while land-based gambling is worth approximately €1.7 billion per annum. As such, the gambling industry is worth almost €4 billion per annum. Many people will argue that vested interests in the bookmaking chains have a strong lobby and exercise considerable influence through Horse Racing Ireland and its connections. This, we believe, sends out a dangerous signal. The proposed changes in the Bill support my argument that the legislation increases the powers of the executive. For example, it is proposed to reduce the number of elected representatives on the HRI board and increase the number of ministerial appointments to the board. Powerful on-course bookmakers now have provision for a seat on the HRI board which they did not have in the past.
The change in structures for certain financial committees, including on media rights, that take power away from racecourses and traditional industry bodies means a move from three seats to five, two of which appointments will be made by HRI but may not be members of HRI. This changes the balance of power in favour of the executive. The Bill seeks to remove any independent financial support from the industry body, the Turf Club, and to give it to the executive of HRI. This will control and further weaken the industry body. Anything that reduces the integrity of a body, such as the Turf Club, or gives the impression of having done so, sends out a dangerous signal. How can the racing and regulatory body be solely and independently responsible for making the rules of racing if it has a statutory obligation to consult with HRI before doing so?
I note there is nothing in the Bill regarding harness racing. The Irish Harness Racing Association recently made a presentation to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I understand the association has also been in contact with the Minister. I would like to see its interests forming part of this Bill, as, I am sure, would other members of that committee. Many would argue that it has been left outside the loop because, as put to the committee by a member of the association, it is a working man's and working woman's sport. That sector of the industry receives no financial support from the Department. It has been ignored continuously. The HRI has been preventing those involved from having access to privately owned race tracks. Perhaps the Minister would clarify in his response whether he intends to take on board amendments to include harness racing in this Bill. We believe this would be helpful.
On forestry, the Minister said earlier that on enactment of this Bill only one consent will be required and that this will be administered by his Department. Currently, consent is required from the Department in relation to the construction of a forestry road while an entirely separate consent is required from the local planning authority for an entrance from a forestry road on to a public road. Sinn Féin reads this to mean that the Department will now bear sole responsibility in respect of consent which means that the Minister will give consent for a private road to go on to a public road. We would like clarification on how this fits into the planning laws. As every elected representative knows, be they local councillors or Deputies, planning rules and regulations must be adhered to and any access to a public road requires planning permission. Is the Minister now saying that his Department will have the power to overrule these laws and allow a private forestry road access to a public road?
I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to the issues I have raised.
I welcome the Minister to the House and acknowledge the great deal of thought and attention given to this legislation by him and his officials. I also thank them for their briefings on the legislation during its passage through the pre-legislative stage and in the Dáil. This legislation is welcome on the basis that it should help in the long-term planning and funding of an industry that is integral and central to rural Ireland in terms of the jobs it provides and the sustainability of our rural economy.
Horse racing is a sport in which Ireland is a world champion. If horse racing was an Olympic sport Irish jockeys would be winning gold, silver and bronze medals. I would appreciate if the Minister, on my behalf, would take up with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, whom I trust has some degree of responsibility for broadcasting, my disappointment at the lack of coverage of Irish racing and Irish racing results on the RTE sports news, particularly on Saturday and Sunday nights. Some weeks ago, an Irish cross-country team returned to Ireland having won a bronze medal, to which significant and appropriate coverage was given. I am sure that on that particular occasion there were significant Irish successes on the racecourses of Britain and beyond - I think there was a big meeting in Hong Kong that weekend - that went virtually unmarked by our national broadcaster. Senator Cummins might recall the RTE "Airs and Races" programme some 25 or 30 years ago.
That particular programme, which was on a Saturday afternoon, was responsible for a huge number of people following the sport of horse racing, although some in only a passing way. Attendance at race meetings has decreased. The failure of a new generation to emerge as racing fans is a cause for concern. We must push those State agencies over which we have some control to ensure greater coverage of this sport.Whereas Ireland succeeds admirably on the international stage in horse racing, we should try to ensure it is covered from a media perspective. I refer not merely to success and prize money but also to jobs created in virtually every county. This is in passing and beyond the scope of the Bill, but the Minister might speak to whosoever has a say in that regard.
The Minister referred to the Indecon report, from which the Bill stems. It was published in 2012 and work probably started on it in 2011 or thereabouts. I compliment all concerned. However, life moves on quickly and what is now needed is another such report on the broader aspects of the economic and other benefits of the industry to the economy, the rural economy in particular, as well as on how to plan ahead. In a sense, the Bill pertains more to the structures, administration and mechanisms of trying to do things properly, but the next report, independently commissioned or, I hope, commissioned by the Department, must examine the future of the industry, its future funding and future participants, how more people are to be engaged in the industry and how to ensure it will continue to go from success to success. One cannot be sure of the permanent success of the horse racing and horse breeding industry as new challenges are emerging. Other governments and countries across the globe are learning from us. I refer to Ireland's engagement to an extent with the Chinese. An entire racing industry is probably about to be born in China. All of these challenges will emerge and we must plan for them. While this is legislation about regulation stemming from the Indecon report, it should be possible to commission a report on the future of the industry and how to ensure its growth, expansion and central relevance to the rural economy.
While I apologise for missing the commencement of the Minister's speech, I was listening to it on the Seanad phone-in service and heard the Minister responding in advance to amendments that had not yet been proposed. I thank him for trying to assist Members in that regard. However, I was taken by Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh's comments about what I still call the Turf Club side of the Bill. My general view of the world is that when something is not broken, one should not deliberately try to fix it. I note progress has been made and appreciate that arising from the Committee Stage debate, the earlier debate and, presumably, from representations the Minister has received and meetings he has held, he introduced further important Committee Stage amendments last week to try to ease the concerns and worries of the Turf Club that somehow this could be the beginning of a takeover. Members must assert strongly that without the absolute independence, integrity and freedom of the Turf Club, the industry would not and will not receive the level of respect it requires. A few months ago I had thought Members would be debating a slightly different version of the Bill and, to be honest, even though it might have been a single voice, I was committed to voting against it. However, I acknowledge that the Minister has made amendments and gone some distance towards assuring the Turf Club of the absolute integrity of its services. Nevertheless, it is necessary to continue to provide such reassurance and one does not need this Bill to be the first part of a five part takeover. The industry has worked well and throughout the country, at race meetings and point-to-point meetings, thousands of people contribute on a voluntary basis, much of which stems from the services being provided by the Turf Club. I was genuinely but pleasantly surprised to learn that the hundreds of stewards who worked across the country did so in an entirely voluntary capacity. There was a time when one thought the same applied to the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, but it certainly applies to the Turf Club. It is great that so many people are willing to be involved and give of their time and effort on an absolutely voluntary basis. That is why the integrity and independence of the Turf Club must be central to the administrative side of the structure. Point-to-point meeting regulation and management gave rise to a major argument at the pre-legislative stage when colleagues on all sides of the House expressed their views to the Minister in that regard. Not being a legal expert, he has attempted to resolve the issue as best as possible. Point-to-point racing has been the nursery of many national hunt champions and worked well, again on a highly voluntary, rural and community basis. Members should try to ensure it will stay as close as possible to that model because it is not broken. Therefore, they should be no attempt to fix it.
I have one question on section 9 of the Bill. While Bills which have been published and passed and memorandums all get mixed up, presumably section 9 is still the provision which relates to the foal levy. This is probably a question the Minister does not wish me to ask, but it is on liability for the foal levy. While it may be extraneous to this legislation, he will be aware of the level of disquiet about the foal levy calculation. It may be the subject of a number of legal interventions and I understand the Minister has had meetings or certainly considered representations on the matter of the calculation of the levey. I am fortunate to be in this House by virtue of my nomination by the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association, for which I am thankful. However, it is fair to state many breeders believe their view of the foal levy is not being represented and presented sufficiently to the Minister, although I acknowledge that the IFA has been making inquiries and representations. I may not have time to go into the issue in full, but there is a significant variation between what is being demanded in the foal levy in some cases and what the owners of foals believe they should pay. It stems from the fact that, as the Minister is aware, the advertised fees for a particular stallion often, if not always, are at significant variance with the paid fees. The argument concerns what the level of fee should be and who should be the final arbitrator. While the Minister might respond to that point, overall I give guarded support to the legislation. It is welcome that the Minister has moved to address some concerns about the regulation and integrity of the industry. Perhaps Members might hear further from him on Committee Stage.
I welcome the Minister. I have been impressed by the depth of knowledge of the Bill and the horse racing industry of the members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture Food and the Marine. The contribution that surprised me was by Senator Mary Ann O'Brien as I had not realised she was so involved. She really shocked me because I had not thought she had been born early enough to even remember the Phoenix Park racecourse. I was aware of Senator Paul Bradford's knowledge of the breeding industry and no wonder he is asking the Minister about the fee for foals.
As mentioned by other Members, the Bill seeks to build on the Indecon report on certain aspects of the horse racing industry in Ireland. Its stated purpose is to strengthen governance and transparency within the administration of horse racing, to improve accountability and control over State funding in the sector, to clarify the respective functions of Horse Racing Ireland and the Racing Regulatory Body and to provide for the streamlining of certain administrative functions. The regulatory impact assessment of the Bill, published in May 2014, of the general scheme, identified two policy options that were being considered at the time, namely, to do nothing or to implement the recommendations made in the Indecon report. In the light of the industry statistics for the period from 2007 to 2011, the evident decline in the industry and the need to address issues that had the potential to enhance the governance issues and create efficiencies, the former was ruled out. The Bill is so good because of the consultation that took place and the people who attended the Oireachtas joint committee meetings.They included the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners, the Irish Stable Staff Association, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, the Irish Jockeys Association, the Irish Bookmakers Association, Horse Racing Ireland, Bord na gGon, the Association of Irish Racecourses, the Racegoers Consultative Forum, the Turf Club, the Irish national hunt steeplechase committee and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I am delighted that a member of the Irish Stable Staff Association is now on the committee. People cannot say that there has been no consultation on this Bill. The consultation has been good, which is why the Bill is so good.
The Irish horse racing sector makes a significant contribution to Irish agriculture and this can be measured in terms of the economic value, employment and tourism it generates. The horse and greyhound industry receives Government support, which is provided under the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund. I do not think people realise how valuable horse racing is to the country. It was estimated that the industry underpinned 14,000 jobs, €1.1 billion in economic output and a value of €205 million in exports to 37 countries worldwide. This is a significant contribution to the economy.
As this could be the Minister's last visit to this House as we are all expecting the Taoiseach to call an election soon, I compliment him on his attendance in this House over the past five years. He has always been on top of his brief when coming into this House. This legislation is based on research and consultation, which the Minister has always valued. I commend the Bill to the House and wish the Minister every success for the future.
I thank the Senators for their very generous comments, particularly those from the Opposition spokespeople. I appreciate that. I obviously appreciate those from my own crowd as well. They are always welcome.
I will answer some of the questions people have put because I want to reassure people about a number of things. People need to realise that the horse and greyhound racing fund is now €74 million per year. We have dramatically increased that in the past five years. We had reached a point in racing looking from the outside in because when I became Minister and took over political responsibility for the racing industry, the first thing it was important for me to recognise was that the people in the industry know an awful lot more about breeding and training horses than I do, even though I take an interest in horses. My role was really about ensuring that this industry was properly funded and legislated for so that we had the right structures and the experts could operate and run a world-class industry and sport with the protections that proper legislation can provide, and with the necessary resources to be able to provide prize money and investment in this sector to ensure it can compete with other countries like the UK, France, Australia, Japan and the US, which are our big competitors in terms of attracting breeders, owners and big race meetings.
We always said that as soon as we could afford to do it, we would start increasing the funding again for the sector, which had been reduced very dramatically due to a very difficult economic period for Ireland. We are back up to the height of the fund. We have a new revenue stream coming from online betting. I would like to see the levy on that increase but we have a very healthy funding package for the sector and a very good piece of legislation to protect the sector in terms of the transparency and accountability needed in any modern agent of the State or one working for or partly funded by the State, regardless of whether that is providing integrity services or management and marketing of this great industry.
The reason I say that is because when I get questions around the changed board structure in HRI, one of the reasons I believe it is not enough for the Minister to only have the capacity to appoint the chair and nobody else on that board is because I believe that if €60 million or €70 million of public money is going into a sport, the Minister must take responsibility for that. It is necessary to have qualified, smart and informed people representing the State, Government and essentially the public purse on that board. One of those appointees must be from Northern Ireland in terms of representing racing interests. We are talking about three people being appointed by the Minister out of a board of 14. The rest requires a balanced representation of all of the stakeholders.
We have really listened to people in terms of who they should be, including the committee. I was delighted to ensure that stable staff were represented on the board. One thing I have tried to do during my period involved with the racing industry was to raise the profile of and support jockeys and stable staff, many of whom are unsung heroes in this sport and who wake up at 5 a.m. preparing to ride out and exercise horses and take the bumps, bruises and breaks that come with that because these are highly charged athletes in terms of the animals. We read about the superstar jockeys and they take the bumps and bruises too but there is an entire ecosystem in the racing industry that involves thousands of people and it is important that they feel part of the representative body that is there to promote and grow this sport.
I do not agree with the criticism that somehow a ministerial appointment is tainted and that it is less democratic to have somebody on the board representing the State that is putting in significant amounts of money. People can give examples of bad appointments in the past. I stand over all the appointments I have made. I think they have done a pretty good job over the past five years, including my appointment to the chair of HRI. People should not forget that we have a PAS system that tests people before appointments can be made to ensure no inappropriate appointments are made.
I have a lot of sympathy with people who have been asking the Department and I to look in a more proactive way at how we could help harness racing to grow in Ireland but it is not the same as racing as we know it currently. One cannot simply say that because harness racing involves horses and thoroughbred racing involves horses and jockeys, we should all of a sudden lump them together in the one piece of legislation and the one sport. It is not the same. We need to build a well-run and properly-regulated, structured and funded sport in Ireland if we are going to build a harness racing industry here. It is a huge industry in France and the US. We have some really good breeders here and people who are passionate about this sport. We want to help them but it would be very unfair on many other equine sports, be they showjumping, eventing or a whole series of other equine-related sporting activities, to simply say that we are going to take harness racing and plug it into the funding stream that the racing industry gets. It would be wrong to do that without going through the proper assessment processes and taking independent advice in terms of how we grow the harness racing industry in a way that supports and guarantees welfare, excellence, proper regulation, integrity and so on. We can do that and I hope we will do that.
I have given a commitment that we will pursue and prioritise that within the Department but we cannot simply say that because we would like to see this industry develop, it must be forced into this legislation. To be fair to Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael representatives, I think everybody is at one here about the need to do this properly and not rush it. I have intervened to ensure that Dundalk has been used for a harness racing meet. There are other venues as well.Let us build this in a proper structured way, so we can stand over what we are doing, and let us look at the funding models, just as we have to look at the funding models for the horse sports sector. At the moment, harness racing is under Horse Sport Ireland not Horse Racing Ireland. There will always be competition for resources and we need to assess how best to do this in a way that is balanced and fair to everybody but we will do it. I have given a commitment on that and I will follow through on it if I have the opportunity to do so.
I wish to provide reassurance and clarity on forest roads. We had a ridiculous situation whereby people who wanted to build a forest road had to go through two different permitting systems that were totally unconnected with each other. It was a very frustrating process, a little bit like when someone is trying to develop – Senator Ó Domhnaill will know this – something on the coastline and one must get planning permission and a foreshore licence. I am pleased to say we are changing the system with the foreshore Bill but in the past, they were not connected to each other which meant it took a long time to do a basic piece of construction work. We said we would fix that and allow the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which has responsibility for forestry, to permit the building of forest roads. Of course, it requires consultation with local authorities to ensure that it is done in accordance with all of the rules and regulations concerning access to roads in terms of lines of sight and all the other things that are required. We will go through that with the local authority and make sure it is done properly. This is a sensible practical legislation to try to make it easier to build forest roads and to reduce the cost but at the same time make sure the regulations are followed appropriately.
There was never an intention for us to undermine point-to-point racing or to change the way in which it operates or for there to be some form of take-over of local hunt clubs and the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee or the Hunt Club by HRI. That was never my intention. That was the reaction to this because people felt threatened. They felt their sport was being threatened by a change in legislation, so we have moved to reassure people that was never the intention. Accordingly, following animated interaction between Deputy Penrose and me, it was agreed that we would stick with the wording agreed at the committee meeting as opposed to the wording I proposed on Report Stage, which I felt strengthened the wording. People were happier with the other wording, which I am also happy to go with. The reference now states:
(i) to maintain the existing nature of point-to-point steeplechases, including making and enforcing the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Regulations for point-to-point steeplechase as made by the Stewards of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee).”.“
In other words, there is no change. The only thing that is changing is the streamlining of the payment to get hunter certificates. When one registers one’s horse as a point-to-pointer, one pays to get the certificate and that payment goes through the single administrative office run by HRI but the money then goes into the Turf Club or the Irish National Steeplechase Committee as it always would have. The functions of local hunt clubs do not change at all in terms of their charging system and decision making system.
I hope we have put that issue to bed and we have reassured people. I am impressed by the fact that people are so passionate about point-to-pointing that they see any change as a threat, which in IFA language, must be resisted. That is what came back to me, often in very passionate language. I had one meeting where there were tears in the eyes of the person making the case that we must not change anything in point-to-points at all and that it was undermining the independence of the sport among other things. There is a reality that we cannot talk about point-to-points as if it is not horse racing. We cannot have bookies turning up to point-to-points with no regulation at all in terms of how they operate, behave and take money from people. We must have some rules and regulations in legislation without changing the nature of point-to-points, which is this free sport run across rural areas with lots of volunteers doing great work. Members should not forget that we provide prize money for point-to-point races as well, which is also public money, and we must also ensure there are safety requirements for jockeys and so on. The racing regulatory body, the Turf Club, is responsible for the integrity of point-to-points just like it is for the integrity services within race meets at race tracks. I hope Senator Bradford and others who raised the issue have been reassured.
I accept the point made about television coverage. I do not know whether I am right but my inclination is to believe that ten or 15 years ago, there was probably a lot more racing on television than there is today but I do not know that for sure. I will raise the issue with RTE to see what it has to say. Sometimes RTE provides great coverage but only for the big races. The coverage of Cheltenham, for example, is often really good.
On the protection of the integrity and independence of the Turf Club, my position is that this is really good legislation for the racing regulatory body or the Turf Club, as we know it. It enshrines in modern legislation its independence, how and where it gets is budget, the process by which that works and the conciliation body that is in place if a problem arises. The Bill outlines in a very clear way the role and functions of the Turf Club. I have also been careful to ensure that in factoring in the budget for which the Turf Club applies from HRI, that other functions must be factored in outside of simply providing a purely regulatory function. Getting the wording for that was difficult because the Turf Club does other things, such as raise the profile of racing and get involved in the operation of the Curragh. It also holds events as an organisation. There needs to be some recognition of the extra activity, which is difficult to define in legislation, in its income streams and the budget it seeks. We have catered for that in a sensible and practical way. People who understand how racing works in Ireland know exactly what I am talking about when I say that.
What we are doing with the legislation regarding the foal levy is saying that before a horse can become registered, the foal levy must be paid. That is all we are saying. We are not determining how the foal levy is calculated. I do not have any problem with having a discussion about that in the future in terms of listening to what people have to say and looking at how the levy is calculated and whether it can be made fairer. The issue is that it needs to remain simple to calculate. It is much easier to calculate a foal levy on the basis of advertised fees as opposed to having to go after people to find out exactly what was handed over after the deed was done in terms of the paperwork. There have been moves to change the foal levy in recent years to make it fairer. We can examine the matter again. I do not have any problem with that but it does not affect the legislation.
In terms of Senator Mary Ann O’Brien's amendments and comments. On the fixtures committee, the legislation states:
(2) The race-fixtures committee, when considering race-fixtures for a racecourse, shall, before recommending the removal of any existing fixture from that racecourse, consult with the executive of the racecourse concerned and seek to agree with such executive how such removal may be achieved having regard to the economic importance of the fixture to that racecourse".
In other words, the whole point is that the members of the fixtures committee, which is a subcommittee of HRI, speak to people, the kind of people to whom the Senator referred, whose life is racing, the detail of racing and the fixtures concerned. They get the right feedback and then they bring recommendations back to HRI to make decisions.It is accountable and answerable for those decisions to the industry, to me and to the Oireachtas committees if it does not get them right. I believe what we have in the legislation at the moment is sufficient.
There was quite a long discussion on the issue of "consult" versus "inform". We have taken advice from the Parliamentary Counsel on the wording. Let us suppose the Turf Club is going to make a change. If the legislation requires it to inform HRI, it could simply write to HRI the hour or day beforehand to inform it. However, a response may be required from HRI to facilitate that change. Therefore, the word "consult" means someone has to pick up the phone to say that the change is to be made and that there will be a knock-on effect for HRI from a management, cost and resource point of view, so the Turf Club is letting HRI know this is what will happen and is finding out if it is okay with that and whether the change should be phased in or not. The decision remains with the racing regulatory body but it is being asked to consult. However, it is also the case that if an urgent change is required, it can just press ahead.
The reason I believe "consult" is the better word is that we are trying to have a relationship between the people who are applying and setting the rules and the people who are responsible for managing the functioning of racing. There needs to be a practical discussion of changes when they are being made. As I said, we had a long discussion on this, following which I considered "consult" to be preferable to "inform".