Tuesday, 6 December 2016
I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss this Commencement matter, which relates to the Irish greyhound industry. I wish to question the modus operandiof the Irish Greyhound Board, which is in receipt of a taxpayer subsidy of €285,000 per week this year. However, its level of communication with and flow of information to the Irish Greyhound Owners And Breeders Federation, which represents the owners and breeders of greyhounds in this country, is abysmal and shocking to say the least.
This is an ongoing issue. I could talk about the greyhound industry until midnight. It is a highly-funded industry that has had many shortcomings, some of which were addressed by the previous Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine under the Minister of State's stewardship as Chairman. An excellent report on the greyhound industry was produced and is available in the Oireachtas Library for all Members to read. The report highlights the significant shortcomings of the industry, particularly regarding corporate governance of the Irish Greyhound Board, the drugs issue and the need for new legislation to be brought forward to deal with transparency in the sector.
The most recent report, which was commissioned by the Irish Greyhound Board, was on anti-doping and the medication review, the findings of which are alarming. The report was published last summer and it highlights the shortcomings of the Irish Greyhound Board in dealing with the drugs issue in Irish greyhound racing.
This is a sector of huge significance to many people throughout the country. The greyhound is often referred to as the poor man's horse. This is a wonderful industry and it deserves to be supported by the State. The industry is being significantly supported by the State but, unfortunately, it appears that it continues to lose money. The State agency involved refuses to engage with the breeders and owners of greyhounds. That is shocking, alarming and unacceptable.
The Minister of State was probably given the line today by the Irish Greyhound Board that a forum has been established to deal with all of these concerns but, unfortunately, the breeders and the owners have no confidence in that forum. They have made a decision not to be part of it.There may be questions around that. I believe the reason the breeder and owners have done that is because they want to keep their own integrity. Given the fact the chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board, IGB, is also the chairman of the forum, it would appear the forum is dining à la carteas to who is on it and who comes before it.
If questions have been raised by the industry - they have not been made up by me here today - then they have to be addressed. The only way to address them is through proper and meaningful legislation. To be fair, this was dealt with by the then Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, with the Horse Racing Ireland legislation in the previous Oireachtas. The Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, has written to me recently about his own efforts to bring in legislation for the greyhound industry. I cannot emphasise enough, however, the need to do this quickly to save this great industry from its near collapse and to secure its future.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I agree it is critically important that Bord na gCon seeks to interface with representative bodies for the sector. With that in mind, Bord na gCon recently established the national greyhound consultative forum, bringing all stakeholders together on a wide variety of greyhound related matters, including anti-doping and medication control.
The first meeting of the forum was hosted by the board and the executive of Bord na gCon on 15 March 2016 with representatives from a cross-section of groups. I understand from Bord na gCon that representative groups are invited to the forum on the basis that they are mandated to represent their members. Several matters were discussed, including proposals for the allocation of additional funding, the SIS TV contract, the breeder incentive scheme and public trainer funding.
The second meeting of the national greyhound forum took place on 14 July 2016. I was in attendance at the most recent meeting of the forum on 10 November 2016, together with a cross-section of stakeholders and members of the board and executive of Bord na gCon. The meeting lasted three and a half hours and a legal representative from the Department was with to me to discuss the heads of the proposed Bill for the greyhound sector. The meeting was informative with a frank and interesting exchange of views. For my part, I provided an outline of the proposed measures in the new Bill, the chief executive officer provided a brief update on progress on the implementation of the Indecon and Morris reports while other attendees contributed to discussions on a range of topics, including welfare, the Harold's Cross stadium and Brexit.
As the controlling body of several greyhound owners and breeders associations, the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation, IGOBF, has been invited to the forum to represent those affiliations. Other groups, including but not limited to greyhound owners and breeders associations which are no longer affiliated to the IGOBF, have also been included on the same basis. The other groups invited included Greyhound Racing Integrity Ireland, the Greyhound Group, the Trainers Association, Limerick and Clare Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association, stud keepers and private stadia general managers.
We are about to embark on the publication of the heads of a new Bill for the greyhound sector. The new Bill presents an opportunity for all stakeholders to act as a collective group and move forwards in the interests of the greyhound industry. There are common goals shared by all stakeholders such as to improve welfare, to tackle the use of prohibited substances and invigorate greyhound racing. There will be an opportunity for representatives from various interested parties to make presentations to the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine when the pre-legislative scrutiny phase of the legislation begins, like what happened with the Horse Racing Ireland legislation. This will be an opportune time to contribute to the creation of the best and most enduring legislation possible which will empower and future-proof the industry. I sincerely hope the various representative groups can come together and cohere their efforts in the context of that exercise.
In broad terms, the new Bill seeks to address the deficiencies in the existing legislation, which dates back to 1958, as identified in the Indecon report, by the Joint Committee on Agriculture. Food and the Marine and the Morris report. It addresses the governance of Bord na gCon, strengthens regulatory controls in the industry, modernises sanctions and improves integrity with a view to building a reputation for exceptional regulation in the sector. An improved reputation will instil confidence in the industry and attract larger sponsorship which will, in turn, revitalise the industry. The heads of the new Bill have been drafted and will shortly be presented to Government - I am hoping to get them in to the Government before the Christmas break - and then to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine for pre-legislative scrutiny. I look forward to the continued joint efforts to modernise the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 so as to provide the strongest possible statutory regulatory response, in particular, to medication control and anti-doping.
I believe that the new Bill will strengthen the Irish greyhound industry, enable it to deal with the existing challenges and maximise its future potential.
In spite of recent difficulties in the sector, I am, nonetheless, confident that the greyhound sector has tremendous growth potential, with sporting, leisure, tourism and cultural appeal across a wide national demographic. However, in order for the sector to realise its full potential, it is imperative that all stakeholders work together towards this common goal and maximise the contribution of the sector to the Irish economy and to the social and cultural fabric of this country. For its part, Bord na gCon has assured me that it will continue to prioritise relationships with its key regulatory partners and the wider greyhound bodies in the pursuit of policies to benefit the sector at large.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, for the comprehensive response. He understands this. I thank the Minister of State as well for his efforts in bringing this legislation forward and his commitment to try to have it before Christmas. We will welcome that.
The Minister of State is correct. The path of engagement is one which can solve some of these issues on both sides.
The only supplementary I would add is to ask the Minister of State to use whatever influence he can to encourage the Irish Greyhound Board to reply to representations that are made to it.
I hope to be in a position to brief Oireachtas Members before the legislation goes to the committee. We are also, likewise, hoping to alert the committee to the fact that it will have to put this into its work programme for 2017.