I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The purpose of the Bill is to repeal the Horse Industry Act, 1970, and to wind up the affairs of Bord na gCapall.
In the context of the 1987 budget the then Government decided to abolish Bord na gCapall because continued expenditure on the Bord could not be justified in the current financial situation. The essential functions of the Bord, that is the maintenance of the Irish horse register and the list of approved stallions, have since been carried out by my Department. The register is the stud book for non-thoroughbred horses and its maintenance is fundamental for the continued breed improvement of the industry.
In 1966 a survey team established by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries recommended the establishment of an Irish Horse Board to co-ordinate the activities of the various associations dealing with equestrian matters and to set up a national training centre for riders and instructors. As a result Bord na gCapall was established under the Horse Industry Act, 1970, in order to promote and develop the non-thoroughbred horse industry and to advise the Minister on matters relating to breeding, sale and export of horses.
One of the Bord's earliest achievements was the setting up of a farriery apprenticeship scheme under which over 70 young people became qualified farriers. The Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association and other interests have now organised a new farriery apprenticeship scheme. This is a welcome development which, I hope, can be further developed to meet the demands of both the thoroughbred and non-thoroughbred horse industries. Under the Bord's tutelage a number of people were prepared for and passed their equestrian science examination. This function has now been taken over by Teagasc.
The Bord's most important and significant achievement was the foundation of the Irish horse register in 1974. This incorporated the approval of stallions for breeding and was essential for maintaining the high standard of the Irish sport horse. During the Bord's existence the number of sport horses increased by 50 per cent — from 21,000 to 34,000 — and the value of exports reached £3 million. Since the Bord ceased its operations the value of these exports has continued to rise, to £4 million in 1988.
In 1983, following considerable adverse publicity, the Bord was restructured and staffing levels were reduced from 34 to 15. Following the then Government's decision to abolish the Bord, these remaining staff received redundancy payments in April-May 1987 and provision was made for preservation of the pension entitlements which will increase in line with future pay awards.
Subsequently I appointed a new board, comprising of three civil servants from my Department, who were charged with the winding-up of the Bord's affairs. Considerable progress has been made in this regard and the remaining tasks include the disposal of the Bord's leased stallions, its main assets. The present lessees of the stallions have been offered first option to purchase them but if satisfactory sales are not concluded it is the intention to offer the horses for public tender.
Conscious of the needs of the industry generally I felt it necessary to redefine policy against the background, on the one hand, of restoring confidence to the sector and, on the other, that in the present economic climate the scope for financial incentives was limited. In the event, I believe a fair balance has been struck in the new national programme which I announced last November. For the benefit of the House I would like to mention again the objectives of the programmes. These are: to maximise output and exports by exploiting to the full our national resources in breeding stock, soil, climate, expertise and reputation; to maximise returns to breeders and to develop further the equestrian and leisure side of the industry.
Many of the qualities and much of the international reputation of the Irish sport horse derive from the breeding system whereby Irish Draught and Irish Draught-type horses are crossed with thoroughbreds. The complementarity of traits between the Irish Draught and thoroughbred and the associated hybrid vigour result in horses having strength, courage, stamina and good temperament. The continued breeding and production of such horses is dependent on the maintenance of a viable nucleus of the Irish Draught population. However, the future of the breed may be endangered if insufficient numbers of mares are being bred pure to maintain population size and enable selection with the breed for quality improvement.
A grant of £400 will be paid to the breeder of each pure Irish Draught foal registered in the Irish Horse Register. This will compensate for the difference in value between pure Irish Draught and thoroughbred crosses. The scheme will operate for a five year period commencing in 1990. Conditions for this scheme are being drawn up and will be announced shortly. In association with the Irish Draught Horse Society, I will be taking initiatives to increase the number of progeny by top mares and to conserve rare blood lines utilising artificial insemination and embryo transfer technology.
Beginning this year, headage payments will be made in respect of eligible registered mares in all disadvantaged areas in which cattle headage grants are paid at an increased rate of £70 per head for up to eight mares and £66 for the next 22. These payments will be calculated separately from any other headage payments to which the producer may be entitled.
As part of the new western package, my Department are finalising a new scheme to provide incentives in the less favoured areas of the country towards the cost of providing facilities which will enable them to diversify into alternative farm enterprises. My intention is that this scheme will include for the first time grant aid towards the cost of basic housing for non-thoroughbred sport horses.
Again, as part of the package, I hope to make an early announcement on a scheme to encourage agri-tourism which would include grant aid for farmers investing in facilities for leisure activities, such as pony trekking and horse riding.
The Irish Horse Register will now be administered on a permanent basis by my Department. I have, in fact, arranged for the instalment of new modern computer facilities to ensure its efficient operation.
Accurate identification of individual animals and complete accurate recording and registration of pedigree and performance data are fundamental to successful breed improvement, marketing and trade. Operation of the register by the Department should ensure that:
(a) Standards and procedures will be followed for the registration and documentation of horses which will allow the register to be approved under proposed EC zootechnical legislation;
(b) A reliable basis is available for payment of grants. The requirement that the grants should be paid only on registered animals will have the very beneficial indirect effect of increasing the proportion of horses registered. The result will be a widening of the base for genetic improvement and an increase in the range of Irish sport horses for marketing;
(c) A reliable data base will be built up for objective evaluation of the breeding merit of animals which is a prerequisite for constructive breeding programmes;
(d) The Connemara and other Irish pony societies who currently maintain non-computerised stud books will be encouraged to join the Irish Horse Register;
(e) The register will be the authentic source of all genealogical and zootechnical information included in the passports of all Irish sport horses and ponies.
Selection and approval of stallions to sire animals for registration in the Irish Horse Register, the publication of their pedigree and breeding value in the register of approved stallions are also crucial for breed improvement of Irish sport horses. This task which will also be undertaken by my Department, will involve: the organisation of centres for carrying out inspections and suitable riding-jumping tests, in association with industry representatives; ensuring that best estimates of breeding values, based on all available progeny and performance test data, are used in selection; investigating, in association with the industry, how some proven National Hunt thoroughbred stallions might be approved for inclusion in the Irish Horse Register.
Given the current state of development of artificial insemination and embryo transfer technology and the potential of these techniques for genetic improvement, conservation of rare blood lines and eradication of sexually transmitted diseases, I intend to sponsor new legislation to facilitate their development and application in the non-thoroughbred horse industry. I would encourage the industry to utilise these techniques. European Community legislation on animal health, zootechnical and genealogical conditions governing intra-Community trade in horses is currently being drafted. The objective is to liberalise trade in horses, horse semen and embryos. Close liasion with the relevant interests will be maintained in relation to these.
In association with the horse industry and Teagasc, initiatives will be taken to develop advisory and training programmes to improve fertility, breeding merit, feeding and husbandry of sport horses.
The introduction of the single European market in 1992 will bring great opportunities. Effective marketing will be required if the horse industry is to take advantage of the opportunities opened to it when barriers to free trade are removed. In the horse industry marketing encompasses a wide range of activities from the production of the foal, through schooling and training of the animal, to the sale of the finished riding horse for export. I envisaged the establishment, with national and EC aid, of a small number of equestrian centres, strategically located, so as to provide high quality facilities for the final preparation, evaluation and marketing of sport horses. The establishment of these centres should result in: more foreign buyers thus increasing exports; promotion, publicity and the orderly development of markets; greater awareness by producers of the requirements of the market place; greater opportunity for breeders to reap a high proportion of the final value of sport horses.
The activities of Córas Tráchtála Teoranta and Bord Fáilte in promoting the sport and leisure horse area are invaluable to the industry and I have requested both organisations to review the scale and intensity of their marketing and promotion of the sector.
A feature of the non-thoroughbred horse industry in Ireland is the large number of representative bodies catering for the various interests. I propose to forge stronger links between my Department and these interests through an advisory committee which would advise me on policy and on planning and co-ordination of the different elements in the national programme. I intend to appoint the most capable people available but I have, however, decided to give representation to the main organisations. My Department will write to them for nominees to the committee.
I believe that the new national programme for the development of the non-thoroughbred horse industry will prove much more effective than any pursued by Bord na gCapall.
One of the main areas of potential to enhance farm incomes will be the programme for rural development to be launched by the Commission next year. In fact, we in Ireland are already moving in advance of that launch and we are the only country in Europe which has pilot scheme programmes in various parts of the country. The potential for generating new or extra income for small farmers through the non-thoroughbred horse programme is very considerable. Linked to the agri-tourism scheme which I will shortly be announcing, pony trekking, riding and holiday competition can be a major tourism attraction in rural Ireland.
With all the curbs on production being imposed by the Commission in the dairy, beef, sheep and cereals sectors it is essential that we exploit every opportunity in this area where there is shortage rather than surplus and no restriction on production. The programme I am putting in place now will give us a headstart over other countries and I am determined that we will stay the course and negotiate any obstacles with courage and skill. The prize money and the awards will richly repay our efforts.