Private Members' Business. - Horse Racing Industry.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter. I raise it arising out of a reply I received from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry on 16 November in reply to a question on this topic. The gist of the reply, which ran to two or three pages, was that there was no crisis in the horseracing industry. It reminded me of a former Member of this House, unhappily recently deceased, who when faced with the most obvious possible crisis used to ask, "what crisis?".

The amount spent on betting is at its lowest since 1985. In order to stand still in real terms the amount spent would have had to increase by 3 to 4 per cent per annum. However, not alone has there been no increase but there has been a decrease over a ten year period. Since the Galway races in July the amount spent on betting has dropped at virtually every meeting. Everybody involved in the industry is highly critical of the present situation. The new Irish Horseracing Authority which took over from the Racing Board is certainly not a success. There is considerable infighting and enormous tensions with the Turf Club and this is detrimental to the industry as a whole. Everything Deputy Doyle and I said about the industry and about the Bill setting up this new authority, when it was being debated in this House last year, has unfortunately turned out to be true. The situation which was then bad is, if anything, probably worse now. Only the 1993 accounts of the Racing Board are available although we are now at the end of 1995. The Racing Board has not provided its accounts within a reasonable period and the format of the accounts is unsatisfactory because they give the minimum information. What was disclosed by the 1993 accounts shows the situation is even worse than it was in 1992.

The tote, which should be a major source of income and which is a major source of income for racing in every other country, is still losing close to £1 million each year. It is quite an achievement that a monopoly totalisator can actually lose money but the Irish monopoly totalisator succeeds in losing money. The situation will continue to get worse because the deduction from the tote pool seems to have increased recently — and I would like to know whether the Minister agreed to that increase — and so far as one can work out from the scanty figures available, the deduction from the pool appears to approach 20 per cent which is scandalous. That is borne out by the fact that dividends on favourites are regularly £1.10 which are odds of ten to one on. How the Irish Horseracing Authority can expect people to continue to bet in those circumstances is beyond me.

The Government grant in 1993 was £4.3 million. I cannot get the up-to-date figure exactly, but I understand from somebody who would know that it is now over £6 million. If that is the case it appears the Government grant or subsidy to the Irish Horseracing Authority is greater than the income it generates from the levy. It is absolutely disgraceful that it should be so. In every other country the horseracing authority is able to generate a very substantial income and is able to plough large sums of money back into the industry. The manner in which it might be done here was advocated by the committee chaired by Lord Killanin which reported several years ago but whose report has been ignored. The contrast with other racing countries is enormous. It is particularly regrettable that we should be in these difficulties when we have some of the best horses in the world. We have always produced and bred the outstanding national hunt horses. Happily, the outstanding national hunt horses in the world are not just bred in Ireland, they are now owned and trained here as the results in Cheltenham in the past two years show. This year we have the most outstanding filly in the world, Ridgewood Pearl, bred here by a small breeder who owns her. She was trained in Ireland and ridden by an Irish jockey and has won group one races all over the world. With raw material of that kind at our disposal our failure to make a success of the racing industry and to see it decline year by year is grossly disappointing. I am very anxious that the Minister, whom I am sorry is not here tonight, and has an interest in these things would intervene to try to put a stop to this steady and inexorable decline.

I thank Deputy O'Malley for raising this matter. I appreciate his concern. He is respected by the racing fraternity and by Members for his expert knowledge of racing. My colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, replied to a parliamentary question from Deputy O'Malley on 16 November 1995 regarding "the crisis in Irish racing that is resulting in a severe drop in betting". The position remains as outlined in that reply. On course betting turnover to 13 November was marginally up on the same period in 1994. This increase would have been somewhat greater but for the dispute which saw no bookmakers standing at Leopardstown in recent weeks. I understand from the Irish Horseracing Authority that intensive negotiations with a view to resolving this dispute are on-going and that substantial progress towards a settlement has been made.

With regard to tote betting I understand that, while turnover has been down this year, the tote will nevertheless return a substantial profit for the year as a whole. Tote turnover has been affected by some adverse initial reaction to changes made in its operation aimed at improving the service provided for punters.

On a point of order, Sir, I do not wish to interrupt the Minister of State but I should point out that the speech he is reading out now is word for word the reply that was given by the Minister about which I complained on 16 November 1995. Is it in order for the Minister of State to come in and simply read out again the same reply virtually word for word?

The Deputy will appreciate that the Chair does not have any function in Minister's replies.

It is not totally the same. Deputy O'Malley is a very smart man if he can anticipate my reply in full.

I have it in front of me as the Minister of State circulated his reply.

I presume I am allowed to finish. Tote business which is particularly sensitive to reductions in the number of runners, has also been affected by the reduction of about 20 per cent in the average number of runners per meeting during the month of August and September due to the hot dry weather. With the change in the going in recent weeks, the number of runners has increased substantially and the evidence suggests that tote turnover has been responding positively.

Total attendances at race meetings, which is another indicator of the state of the industry, have remained at or close to one million for a number of years.

In the circumstances I cannot agree that there is a crisis in Irish horseracing. I recognise that it faces a number of problems but I am satisfied that the Irish Horseracing Authority is addressing these problems in a realistic way and that satisfactory solutions will be found. I am also satisfied that the authority, which is representative of the various interests in the industry, is in the best position to find solutions and to plan and implement a development programme aimed at enabling the industry to prosper in the years ahead.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.20 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Friday, 1 December 1995.