Thursday, 29 November 2018
Greyhound Racing Bill 2018: Report Stage
I remind the House that a Senator may speak only once on amendments on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion. On Report Stage each non-Government amendment must be seconded. Amendment No. 1 is in the names of Senators Ó Domhnaill and Norris. Amendments Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive, are related. Amendment No. 4 is a physical alternative to No. 3. Amendments Nos. 5 to 13, inclusive, and No. 15 are consequential on amendment No. 3. Therefore, amendments Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive, may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 12, line 14, to delete “8 ordinary members” and substitute “6 ordinary members”.
I thank my colleague, Senator Norris, for seconding the amendments. the first of which, amendment No. 1, relates to the composition of the Irish Greyhound Board. It brings us back to the discussion we had on Committee Stage. A board of six members would be of sufficient size, given that its performance has not been good. It has not performed well in the financial stewardship of the industry. However, I am willing to withdraw the amendment if the Minister of State is willing to accept amendment No. 4 which is similar to an amendment proposed by my colleague, Senator Paul Daly, which was accepted in the early stages of debate on Committee Stage. It proposed that two members of the board be representatives of the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation.
One of the big bones of contention within the greyhound sector up until now has been the fact that ordinary owners and breeders have not been heard or listened to. As key stakeholders, they have had no input into the running of the sector. They have many concerns which we have discussed about the drugs issue, animal welfare, artificial insemination and many other issues which are covered in various amendments. Having these key stakeholders represented on the board is absolutely essential. It is my understanding the current forum structure, although welcome and a step in the right direction, does not give the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation statutory powers. It is a little like the health forums; it is a bit of a talking shop. It has no statutory powers to represent the views of those in the grassroots. Input at board level is required.
The Minister simply selects an owner and a breeder at will. That has been the position up until now, not just under Fine Gael but also under previous Ministers of other parties. I fundamentally disagree with the making of political appointments to State boards and preferred candidates being selected based on the colour of their political skin. That is wrong. The membership of the Irish Greyhound Board should be decided at arm's length from the Minister and the only way to do this is to allow the federation to propose two members to represent it. They could be chosen at its annual general meeting or under whatever structure on which it might decide. There would be a gender balance in the names proposed in that there would be one woman and one man who would be representative of the federation. The names would be forwarded to the Minister and, if acceptable to him or her, accepted as the democratically elected representatives of the federation. The significance of the amendment and having two people representing the owners and breeders on the board cannot be overstated. It is important to have stakeholder buy-in at every level.
Amendment No. 14 also concerns the composition of the board. Under the current structure, where a board member's term expires, there is no necessity for that member to vacate his or her position and be replaced. It is a very grey area in the legislation. The term of a board member may have expired, but he or she can continue for an indefinite period. That is wrong. There should be definite periods of board membership. I am proposing that a member of the board "shall, with immediate effect, vacate their Board position which will be immediately filled by the appointment of another person so that no vacancy arises”. That is important, as otherwise there would be a person sitting on the board for longer than the time period prescribed in the legislation and who could remain on it indefinitely. Whether that is the intention of the legislation, it will be its effect. Therefore, the matter needs to be cornered off at this juncture.
We are trying to improve the accountability, transparency and governance of the organisation. There have been questions about all of these issues in the past, particularly the stewardship of the organisation, as highlighted by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. A proposal made to the committee was that any member should serve no more than two consecutive terms for no longer than a total of six years. Under the Minister's proposals, a member could serve two consecutive terms of four years each, or for a total of eight years. Without a definite duration, someone could end up with continued membership of the board for much longer, which would be wrong. That is the basis of the amendment.
They are the amendments in my name. I believe the rest of those in the grouping are Government amendments.
I second the amendment. I will be uncharacteristically brief, particularly given the fact that I can only speak once.
It is fair enough to delete the reference to "8 ordinary members" and substitute it with "6 ordinary members". I support that proposal, although I am not passionate about it.The amendment which is of critical importance is the one the Government has accepted, amendment No. 3. It deals with something for which we argued very strongly on a previous occasion. It proposes:
To delete lines 26 to 34 and substitute the following:“(2) Of the ordinary members of the Board—(a) one or more than one shall be a veterinary practitioner of at least 5 years standing, and
(b) one or more than one shall be a person with a detailed knowledge of the greyhound industry."
The Minister of State has done well. This is a very important amendment because it brings detailed professional knowledge right into the centre of the forum, where it is required. It is a very good deal. Most of the Government amendments are technical amendments which tinker around with words and phrases and so on. Therefore, I do not intend to speak to them.
Again, amendment No. 14 seems logical, although I do not know whether it is necessary. I wonder if the Acting Chairman could tell me what other amendments are included in this grouping. I only heard the reference to amendments Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive. There were other scattered ones and I would like to see if there is any important one.
I welcome Government amendment No. 3, which deletes my original amendment on the veterinary practitioner. I thank the Minister of State. We are always concerned that when a Bill comes back to the Seanad or goes to the Dáil, an attempt will be made to remove our amendments. It is nice to see a good amendment being introduced which will ensure the provision we are seeking stays in place. This is an extremely important measure.
I would welcome some clarification on these amendments. I beg to differ with Senator Ruane. The Government amendment proposes to delete line 26, whereas the Senator's amendment concerning veterinary practitioners is included in the text prior to that line. This amendment waters down my amendment, which was accepted on Committee Stage, providing that there would be representation from the independent small tracks, and the owners, breeders and trainers. The provision regarding veterinary practitioners remains. In opposing this amendment, which waters down the amendment I had passed on the last occasion, I will not be interfering with the provision on representation from among veterinary practitioners because that is provided for prior to line 26.
To reiterate what I said on the last occasion, it is vitally important that independent tracks are represented among the eight members of the board. I am glad Senator Ó Domhnaill is not pushing his amendment to reduce the board to six members because that figure is much too small. The board will control fixtures and the regulation of racing in this country, and if small track owners do not have a voice on it, I can guarantee, based on my experience in another area, that the board will make decisions that favour bigger tracks over independent tracks and the smaller operators will not have a voice. As Senator Ó Domhnaill stated, a representative from the owners and trainers is a person who has experience as well as knowledge. We all have some knowledge of the greyhound industry. Anyone who has been to a greyhound racing track will know how it works, how to place a bet and the principle of racing. We all have that level of knowledge but what is required here is experience and people who have had an input into the industry. My amendment, which was passed on Committee Stage, makes provision for the inclusion of such persons on the board. The Government amendment waters down my amendment and I cannot support it.
I recognise the concern about this amendment. The inclusion on the board of a veterinary practitioner was our key focus. Does amendment No. 4, proposed by Senators Ó Domhnaill and Norris, which deals with having members of the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation on the board address one part of Senator Paul Daly's concern? If the Minister was able to accept amendment No. 4, would it perhaps ameliorate one of the Senator's concerns? While it would not address the issue of small track owners, perhaps the inclusion of a member from among the owners would help allay his concerns. I hope we are able to progress the Bill.
I will discuss amendments Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive. Amendments Nos. 5 to 13, inclusive, and amendment No. 15 are consequential to other amendments in this group.
When Indecon carried out its review of Bord na gCon in 2014, the organisation had debts of €23 million, largely due to the investment in Limerick stadium. This debt has hindered the development of the industry ever since. That report was critical of the skill set of the board, or lack thereof. While there was an implicit criticism that the lack of skills was a contributing factor in the decision to develop Limerick stadium without proper capital appraisal or cost-benefit analysis, there was explicit criticism of the Limerick development and its governance. Indecon stated: "Based on the analysis and documentation available to Indecon, it is hard to conclude anything other than the fact that there was inadequate appraisal of the Limerick capital investment."
Indecon identified a number of skill gaps in the make-up of the board. Principal among these was the need for a depth of financial expertise, with a requirement for more than one board member to have financial qualifications and senior professional experience. In addition, the board identified the requirement for a senior legal professional, a marketing expert and a veterinary expert. While I am not entirely in favour of singling out one specific skill to be set down in primary legislation, in view of the animal welfare and integrity role of the board I am happy to set down the requirement for veterinary expertise. However, based on past experience, where the board was dominated by industry representatives, I believe it would be wholly inappropriate for the majority of the ordinary members to be made up of industry representatives. I accept Senator Ó Domhnaill's intention not to press his first amendment, but if it was pressed, it should be noted that a board of six with four representatives from the industry would have a 66% representation from industry. A board with eight members would have 50% ordinary members. These amendments totally disregard the recommendations of the Indecon reports, commissioned by the then Minister, the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and I believe they would be a totally retrograde step.
The industry must change its approach to avoid any danger that it will repeat the mistakes of the past. It should also be pointed out that this board is responsible for regulating the industry, unlike Horse Racing Ireland, where the Turf Club carries out the regulatory controls, and will be responsible for drafting regulations to give effect to provisions set out in this Bill. It would, therefore, appear to be wholly inappropriate for 66%, or indeed 50%, of the board to be made up of representatives of those to whom those regulations will apply. I accept, however, that there should be some industry representation on the board. I am, therefore, proposing an amendment to allocate one or more places on the board to persons with detailed industry knowledge, which would allow for some flexibility while maintaining a balance in favour of a skilled board. Owners, trainers and members of the various stakeholder groups have the ability to become members of the board. In the past, they have come through the Public Appointments Service, PAS.
It is amendment No. 3. Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment No. 14 concerns board members stepping down immediately once their term ends. The current wording is a safeguarding provision and is a standard provision in modern legislation, including the Horse Racing Ireland Act 2016. The board will have to take into account the skill gaps that have to be filled at any point in time. This provision allows time to find a suitably qualified board member to fill that gap.
The Minister of State is absolutely correct in saying that the Indecon report, at section 3, dealt with the composition of the board and made recommendations. It even expanded on the Australian review which considered board composition. The recommendation of the Indecon report was that a board comprised of between six and nine members was optimal for effectiveness and efficiency. He is correct that the skills gap was identified, and I am glad it will be addressed. I agree fully with the Minister of State about the absolute lack of financial oversight and skills on the board. There were serious shortcomings in Bord na gCon in terms of internal financial reviews. In fact, no internal financial reviews or audits were carried out. There was no internal audit committee. These are very serious issues, particularly given that this board was receiving almost €310,000 per week from the State. This is an opportune time to deal with this issue, and I welcome the Minister of State's intervention.On the particular amendments, I fully understand Senator Paul Daly's concern that amendment No. 3 will remove his previously accepted amendment. On amendment No. 3, I agree that there should be veterinary expertise on the board. I am not sure if that is provided for in the composition of the board.
If it is, that is fine. It was something we discussed on Committee Stage the other day. It is crucial from an animal welfare standpoint.
My amendment No. 4 is important because it takes the grassroots into consideration. I am not suggesting that the Minister of State will do it but there will be many Ministers coming after him. The Minister of State might even have the senior portfolio after the next general election. Who knows? He might be in a different Department. There will be other Ministers. I merely want to put at arm's length the ministerial appointment of two ordinary members representative of the sector given the interference that could happen if they do not come through the democratic structure of the federation. The federation should decide who it wants on the board and put those names forward to the Minister. That would be more democratic and acceptable to all of the stakeholders to whom I have spoken. That is certainly what they want.
The reason I included in the initial amendment the reduction of the board to six members is because the federation was quite happy to have no membership on the board if it saved resources. It gives an insight into the thinking of the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation that it was willing to give up even membership of the board if it thought the board would run more efficiently and effectively. I am suggesting here, however, that there is a need, given all of the concerns and given the depressed nature of the sector. We are dealing with a lot of people whose hearts have been invested in raising pups into racing dogs for the greyhound racing sector down through the years and they are deeply depressed at the state of the sector because of what has gone on. That is why they need a voice at the table where the decisions and the oversight take place. I ask that the Minister of State would consider amendment No. 4 in that regard.
In terms of amendment No. 14, I accept what the Minister of State stated about the expertise. However, I am trying to create certainty with amendment No. 14 because then we will know for certain that someone's term has expired in July 2019 and we can be planning ahead to have another person in place. If we are not doing that, what will happen is July 2019 will roll around, the board member will not be replaced, he or she will continue on indefinitely and there will be no urgency in replacing that person. That sends out the wrong message. It is one of the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which the Minister of State chaired successfully.
It is crucial that we include this amendment because then we can plan forward. It is not a question of reducing the pool of potential candidates to fill positions. If two members of the board are coming from the federation anyway and there are six members who will have certain expertise, there would not be any difficulty in finding excellent candidates to fill these board positions, whether they are linked to the sector or not, as long as they have the relevant expertise, whether that is veterinary, finance or whatever else.
Given what has happened, this is important for the planning of board appointments in this case. I would even ask that the Minister of State accept this and review it in three years to see if it is working. If there is a difficulty with it at that stage, he could return to the fallback position. This is an important amendment to the composition of the board. It provides clarity and certainty. It will ensure that there is a turnover when there should be and that it is not allowed to roll on, with people serving on the boards for almost two decades, which is wrong. There should be a finality to board membership. That is the purpose of that amendment.
Victor Boyhan, Colm Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Martin Conway, Maire Devine, Frank Feighan, Alice Mary Higgins, Kevin Humphreys, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, David Norris, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Niall Ó Donnghaile, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 13, lines 28 to 30, to delete all words from and including “the” in line 28 down to and including line 30 and substitute the following:“the member shall, with immediate effect, vacate their Board position which will be immediately filled by the appointment of another person so that no vacancy arises.”.
Frances Black, Victor Boyhan, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maire Devine, Alice Mary Higgins, David Norris, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield, Diarmuid Wilson.
Colm Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, Denis O'Donovan, John O'Mahony, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
There is an equality of votes. Therefore, pursuant to Article 15.11.2° of the Constitution, I must exercise my casting vote. I vote against the question in this case, the result of the vote now being: Tá, 14; Níl, 15. The amendment is declared lost.
I have tabled amendments Nos. 26 and 29 as they were tabled on Committee Stage to ensure we keep the health and welfare of the greyhounds at the centre of this industry among our top considerations as we debate the Bill. My amendment No. 29 would give the greyhound board regulatory powers to set out the provisions for the health and welfare of a greyhound after it retires from its racing career. We need to ensure we take as much responsibility for greyhounds' welfare after their time in racing is over as we do during their time racing. I welcome Government amendment No. 28, which has the same policy intention and which I will happily accept before withdrawing my own amendment No. 29. I thank the Minister of State for his engagement and for listening to our concerns in the Seanad and in our meeting. I very much appreciate that and the Bill is stronger as a result.
We debated amendment No. 26 extensively on Committee Stage and I do not propose to rehash the arguments. This section would be strengthened a great deal if our amendment is effected. In other sections the Minister of State has proposed exhaustive lists of regulatory powers for the board and the use of the word "may" can be argued to be appropriate but we are talking about five subparagraphs in section 29(1). We simply cannot say this is an unreasonable regulatory burden. That it is untrue. This section is important and it should be compulsory for regulations to be made on every issue listed in the subsection. The Minister of State is wrong with this and I urge him to accept the amendment.
I give my support to the Senator's concern for the welfare and treatment of greyhounds after their time racing. I recognise that the Government refers to their racing and breeding careers. As my colleague mentioned, we are willing to withdraw our amendment No. 29 in recognition that the Government has come a distance to meet us by proposing amendment No. 28. I have a small remaining concern that will need consideration. Our amendment No. 29 speaks specifically to the health and welfare of a racing greyhound but amendment No. 28 speaks about provision for the "rehoming" of greyhounds. I recognise that the Minister of State has come a distance to meet us on this and previously he spoke about prevailing animal welfare legislation.
I would have liked the phrasing around welfare to have been explicit in the Government amendment as it is important there should be some monitoring of what welfare and health conditions tend to apply. For example, if a pattern emerges perhaps it could be dealt with through animal and welfare legislation but maybe animal welfare inspectors should be apprised of the matter. Perhaps there should be checks on rehoming processes to ensure no bad patterns emerge in terms of health and welfare. I welcome the Government amendment and that the Minister of State has taken this concern seriously and addressed it. I just wanted to flag that some follow-up work should be done to ensure the Minister of State's amendment achieves what I accept to be its good policy intention, which is to serve the health and welfare of greyhounds.
I will speak briefly to amendments Nos. 16 and 18. We will not rehash the full discussion of "may" versus "shall", as my colleague noted. However, I have put forward a complementary approach that would make it easier for the Minister of State to accept the substitution of "shall" for "may". When we spoke previously the Minister of State expressed the concern that if the Bill stated "shall make regulations" rather than "may make regulations", there is a danger that the regulations could, in some sense, be contradictory to other legislation and provisions therein. In amendments Nos. 16 and 27, I indicate that we might put the word "appropriate" before "regulations". By inserting the word "appropriate", there is a clear indication that only such regulations as are appropriate and which are compatible with existing legislation or regulatory regimes should be made. This is an attempt to respond to the Minister of State's concerns and to be constructive. If he accepts amendment No. 27, he should perhaps be in a position to also accept amendment No. 26. The same issue applies in respect of amendments Nos. 16 and 18.Will the Minister of State consider accepting this amendment? Even if not, I hope he will ensure this legislation is effective and not just aspirational. If we have the term “may make regulations” in every section, there is a danger that regulations may not be made in respect of all of these issues. I am sure the Minister of State does not want to put forward a Bill which runs the risk of being toothless. Will he accept this amendment or come up with his own version for the Dáil Stages?
I support the amendments tabled by Senators Ruane and Higgins. I acknowledge the Government’s amendment No. 28, which is welcome. Amendment No. 22, in my name, is in the same thrust as that of Senators Ruane’s and Higgins’s, namely, the necessity to ensure the board actually does its job instead of giving provision that the board may do its job. My amendment is simple and concerns artificial insemination.
As I stated on Committee Stage, I am opposed in principle to compelling Rásaíocht Con Éireann to make regulations. The provisions set out here are enabling provisions, all of which may not be required to be made at this time. By necessity, this is an exhaustive list of the principles and policies which Rásaíocht Con Éireann may wish to regulate for. It was never intended that Rásaíocht Con Éireann would make regulations in respect of all of these provisions in the immediate future. These provisions will future-proof the legislation in order that, should it become necessary or desirable to regulate those matters in future, Rásaíocht Con Éireann would have the power to do so. In particular, regulations would also have to be examined to determine their compatibility with other domestic and European law.
The discretionary nature of the regulation-making power is essential to ensure there is no conflict with other legislation. Different policy considerations may also arise with regard to whether such legislation is necessary or desirable in the future. I have examined Senator Higgins's suggestion for the inclusion of the word “appropriate”. As the making of regulations could only be appropriate to the enabling provisions, taking into account other legislation, the addition of the word would make no difference. For these reasons, it would clearly not be appropriate to impose an obligation on Rásaíocht Con Éireann to make regulations in respect of matters as set out in the Bill.
With particular reference to amendment No. 29, making provision for the health and welfare of a racing greyhound which has been retired by its owner, breeder or trainer, I have tabled amendment No. 28, which addresses the Senators’ concerns but does not oblige Rásaíocht Con Éireann to provide for greyhounds in perpetuity. My amendment will allow Rásaíocht Con Éireann to create a fund for the rehoming of greyhounds at the end of their racing or breeding careers. Once rehomed, the greyhound will be the responsibility of its new owner. The risk with the Senators’ wording is that it could be interpreted as meaning that Rásaíocht Con Éireann would be obliged to provide for the greyhounds after rehoming.
It is the intention of Rásaíocht Con Éireann to include a section on retirement planning in its code of practice for the welfare of greyhounds, advising owners that if they are not in a position to look after their greyhounds in retirement or otherwise, to find the greyhound a suitable family home. The Irish Retired Greyhound Trust, funded through the Irish Greyhound Board, arranges new homes for retired greyhounds in Ireland and abroad. In addition, many private rehoming agencies are active in providing similar services.
I will have to make an amendment to amendment No. 28 to rectify a typographical error later when we come to it.
I thank the Minister of State for accepting the amendment with regard to the retirement of greyhounds.
On amendment No. 16 and the inclusion of the word “appropriate”, however, I do not think the Minister of State's response made much sense and was actually contradictory. He spoke about how the list is never meant to be exhaustive, that there may be regulations we want to make in the future, that they may not be necessary now, and that they may regulate but not necessarily for all. Inserting the word “appropriate” would ensure that animal welfare was not compromised. Animal welfare is a problem now and it is not about future-proofing it. It is about ensuring it is as strong as it can be now. The term “to have as appropriate” would fit perfectly with everything the Minister of State has said about the necessity of different regulations at different times, some of which are not necessary now. That means it would not be appropriate to have them now but it might be appropriate to create regulations at a later date.
I do not think the Minister of State’s response made much sense.
I thank the Minister for accepting amendment No. 17 which was originally tabled by me and Senator Norris. These amendments relate to the area of artificial insemination. I spoke at length on Committee State about the artificial insemination of greyhounds, frozen semen and the need for this to be comprehensively dealt with once and for all. Amendment No. 19 endeavours to have a maximum service by any one sire of 120 in any calendar year.At the moment, there is no maximum limit. As I said on Committee Stage, the issue with frozen semen is that there are dogs that have been dead for years and yet their semen continues to be used. That is despite the fact that a death limit was applied under regulations brought in in 2005 by the then Department of Agriculture and Food. I read a copy of the statutory instrument which said that there was a two-year death limit. That was revoked in 2014 but the revocation did not have retrospective application, as was outlined by the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, in the Dáil.
Semen taken from any dog prior to 2014 cannot, therefore, be used legally, yet it does continue to be used and used in facilities licensed by the Irish Greyhound Board. As it happens, I went on to the website of one of those licensed premises. There are dogs there that are dead since the 1990s and their frozen semen is still being advertised online this morning. That is in total contravention of the regulations set out by the Irish Greyhound Board and by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is, however, allowed to continue.
I do not know why that is the case. Every time I ask a question on this I get some kind of vague answer from the Irish Greyhound Board. It is not being dealt with. The background to the issue is that it is a major cause of concern in the industry. Why is that? As I understand it, anyone who has money can avail of the frozen semen. The price comparison is between €500 up to about €7,000. Many ordinary owners and breeders cannot afford to artificially inseminate their dogs because of the cost involved. Given that there are, according to the figures I have, about five or six operators in the State licensed by the Irish Greyhound Board. This is effectively a cartel. Those operators should be complying with the regulations set down by the Irish Greyhound Board and they are clearly not doing this.
As I said the other day, there is one operator, based in the Six Counties, flaunting the fact that he has £5 million of frozen semen available and that he is going to become wealthy as a result. That is wrong and that is the background to these amendments. Amendment No. 19, my first amendment, is a reasonable one. It is to have a maximum service, by any one sire, of 120 in any calendar year. It would support the ordinary grassroots industry because it cannot compete with this industry within an industry. It is turning into an economic minefield.
Amendment No. 20 refers to line 16 on page 26 of the Bill and concerns the controls put in place by the board. Amendment No. 21 is to compel the board to act on this situation by inserting into the Bill: "The Board shall, within three months of enactment of this legislation, make regulation prohibiting to use of frozen semen for artificial insemination of greyhounds.” That would deal with the regulation issue as well. I am not a scientific expert but what I have read suggests frozen semen has an indefinite lifespan. That is to say that it can be frozen back in 1962 and still be used today. It has an indefinite lifespan. That is wrong.
These amendments are intended to create competition within the sector, to protect the interests of current owners and breeders and to allow people who want to breed dogs to stay in the sector. From what I can gather, if what is happening at the moment is allowed to continue, what will happen is that we will end up with a situation where the ordinary owners and breeders will not be able to compete. They will leave the sector and we will end up with very few stakeholders in this great greyhound industry in years to come.
The industry is at a crossroads. The question is whether the board can be trusted to deal with this when it has not dealt with it thus far. We read stories of dogs that died back in 1992 and 1997 and their semen is still being used today to impregnate other dogs and then the dogs that result from that impregnation run and win. If a person has money and is able to invest it in the greyhounds, it seems he or she can get ahead in this sector. That is wrong. It is not a level playing field. I am trying to correct that and that is the rationale behind amendment No. 21.
There has been no limit since 2014 but prior to that there was a two-year limit. Amendment No. 21 is, therefore, compatible with the objectives of the 2005 regulations from the then Department of Agriculture and Food because they refer to frozen semen of two years or more. One part of that was amended in 2014. These amendments on artificial insemination are to clean up this area. If the Minister of State is not willing to accept the amendments, what are the alternatives to deal with this issue?
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine report, which I referred to previously, stated that this issue had to be dealt with immediately. That was in January 2016. We are now nearing the end of 2018 and it has not been dealt with yet. If the Minister of State is not willing to accept these amendments, does he really have confidence that the Irish Greyhound Board is dealing with this issue? Has he been informed as to why the board is not dealing with this issue and why it licensed operators to provide frozen semen centres and licensed premises that continue to flout the law? I refer to those premises that continue to advertise and promote, right up to this morning, the sale of semen from dogs that have been dead for more than 20 years. Those are my questions in the event that the Minister of State is not willing to accept these amendments.
With regard to section 26 and to deal with the Senator's amendments, the Irish Coursing Club, ICC, is responsible for the identification and registration of greyhounds in the Irish greyhound stud book. Detailed rules governing the practice of artificial insemination of greyhounds were set down in the Artificial Insemination of Greyhounds Regulations, SI 561 of 2005. They were made by Bord na gCon under section 39 of the 1958 Act. Those regulations included a two-year time limit on the use of semen for artificial insemination following the death of a stud dog. Any unused semen thereafter had to be destroyed.
I understand this measure was introduced to lessen the possibility of an increase in inbreeding in the population caused by owners using only a limited set of sires. The measure would have created greater genetic variation in stud dogs being used, hence reducing inbreeding. As a result of the operational difficulties, such as verifying the date of death of certain stud dogs, particularly foreign-based dogs, in the implementation of certain provisions of the Artificial Insemination of Greyhounds Regulations, Bord na gCon consulted industry stakeholders, including the Irish Coursing Club, in June 2007. That consultation was on the suitability of the 2005 regulations in the context of meeting current industry requirements. A decision was taken at that time to request the board to vary the limit by removing it from the 2005 regulations.One of the reasons cited at the time was that such a limit does not exist in any other jurisdiction. Bord na gCon decided in 2014, having consulted with the Irish Coursing Club, to remove the two-year limit on the use of semen following the death of a stud greyhound. Arising from this decision and with the consent of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, new regulations were introduced by Bord na gCon which came into effect on 1 November 2014, removing this two-year limit on semen from an expired sire.
To assist the board in respect of the development of this area, in 2015 Bord na gCon commissioned a scientific study into inbreeding in Irish greyhounds by Professor Donagh Berry, a Teagasc geneticist. The conclusions of the report by Professor Berry were that excellent pedigree information exists for the Irish greyhound population, which is crucial for the quantification of inbreeding levels at an individual animal and population level. The rate of accumulation of inbreeding in recent years is 0.15% per year which translates to a rate of 0.89% per generation. This accumulation of inbreeding is lower than the maximum recommended threshold of 1% per generation, set out the by the World Food and Agriculture Organization in 1998. In summary, Professor Berry's conclusion is that there is no inbreeding problem in the Irish greyhound population, inferring that this measure was never required in the first place.
I thank the Minister of State. Let me give an example of how the issue of a level playing field was dealt with in 2014. Prior to 2014 an issue arose when the popular sire, Top Honcho, died at the age of 14 years back in 2007, but litters were bred from his semen in 2010, 2011 and 2012. His 2010 offspring had won 361 races in total, taking home a combined €51,545.
There is a financial incentive for those who can afford to breed from him. I have not heard anything from the Minister of State or the Irish Greyhound Board, IGB. I appreciate that the Minister of State's contribution is based on the information provided to him through his Department from the Irish Greyhound Board. The IGB has failed to deal with this issue. It has failed to listen to the recommendations or heed the recommendations of the agriculture committee report. If this is allowed to continue, it will diminish the number of breeders that we have in the country. If that continues, we will not be talking about the greyhound racing industry in Ireland in ten years' time because there will be no industry.
In Florida and in different US states they are shutting down the greyhound racing sector because of lack of interest due to the vested interests. Breeding by artificial insemination is a vested interest in the sector. There is a cartel in the sector and there is an economic rationale and benefits for those who are involved. Unfortunately those who are involved in the cartel are growing and it is becoming financially more viable for them to sustain the dogs, yet the ordinary punter, the breeder and the owner cannot compete, in particular the ordinary man who breeds a litter of greyhounds. The objectives of the different types of breeders are not compatible and then one will have a winner and a loser. The only way to intervene is to have a policy intervention. That was the rationale for these amendments.
I appreciate that the Minister of State's hands are tied, but I will be pressing these amendments.
Colm Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Martin Conway, Paul Daly, Frank Feighan, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Ned O'Sullivan, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 26, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:“(2) The Board shall, within three months of enactment of this legislation, make regulation prohibiting to use of frozen semen for artificial insemination of greyhounds.”.
Colm Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Martin Conway, Paul Daly, Frank Feighan, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Ned O'Sullivan, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 27, to delete lines 4 to 6 and substitute the following:
“(e) stringent prohibition, in line with best international practices, class A substances (drugs) that may be found in samples taken from a racing greyhound by reference to the substance and the nature of the sample taken from the greyhound;”.
This amendment is based on the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine report of 2016 and the recommendation around having a zero-tolerance policy on prohibited substances made therein. Class A-type drugs are administered to greyhounds for a multitude of reasons, including to make the greyhound faster or slower, depending on how the betting arithmetic works in a given race. There are criminal links to that sector, with some of the criminal gangs of this country involved. I know the Minister of State is aware of that. The difficulty is the perception that this is creating. It also raises the issue of animal welfare. Nobody should be feeding banned class A drugs to greyhounds. As I mentioned on Committee Stage, those drugs include cocaine, beta blockers and other performance supporting drugs like Viagra. Many types of drugs are being fed to these greyhounds for one reason or another. This is happening on an ongoing basis. We see dogs winning races involving big stakes which subsequently test positive for drugs.
The purpose of this amendment is to introduce an internationally-acceptable standard to replace the grey area which suggests it is okay if greyhounds are given some drugs, which is the impression given by the Irish Greyhound Board. It may not be the intention, but it is definitely the impression given. While that impression remains, a certain perception builds up around the entire sector. I am seeking a stringent prohibition, in line with best international practice, which would mean that class A drugs found in samples taken from a racing greyhound, by reference to the substance and the nature of the sample taken from the greyhound, are banned completely. There is no place for those who indulge in such practices in greyhound racing.
We all have pets at home. We may have dogs that we care for. Family members often say that a dog is like an extension of the family, or like the son or daughter some couples never had. Would anyone here feed their dog Viagra, testosterone, cocaine, amphetamines, beta blockers or a mixture of all of those substances? There is no way anyone here would do that to his or her pet, so why the hell should we be allowing such substances to be fed to greyhounds?
The efforts of the Department to ban them have not worked to date. It is very unfair on many in the sector that this grey area is abused by a small number of individuals in the industry, either to try to win races, lose races or manipulate the probabilities and increase or decrease the chances of winning the stakes with the bookmakers. It is very wrong and is an area which certainly must be cleaned up from an animal welfare standpoint and in order to bring transparency to the industry. With this amendment I am suggesting that we take a zero-tolerance approach to drugs.
I gave the example of what is being done in Australia. The laboratory which tests for drugs in Australia, where there is an industry comparable with the Irish industry, has a zero-tolerance approach. It is true that there is a laboratory tolerance, but I understand there is such a threshold in laboratories all over the world. The laboratories in Australia, however, have a zero-tolerance approach to drugs within the greyhound racing sector. We do not have such an approach and my argument is that such an approach should be introduced. This Bill presents an opportunity to do so. It is in line with the all-party, cross-party recommendations in the 2016 report. The Indecon report indicated-----