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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 17 May 2001

Vol. 536 No. 4

Horse and Greyhound Racing Bill, 2001: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am delighted to be back here once more with legislation on the horse and greyhound racing industries. As is well known, these are subjects which are very close to my heart but, some might suggest, not so good for my health – financial or physical – when I get a run of bad luck. That said, I enjoy the sports as do many more in this House. The excitement of both horse and greyhound racing and the punting that goes with it is hard to match. However, it is not for that reason that we are now giving this area our attention.

I have said before and I reiterate it here, the Government considers racing to be strategically important because of the employment it creates and sustains at all levels and the significant contribution it makes to rural development, farm and other incomes, the business and services sectors, tourism, the economy as a whole and the international reputation of the State. There are approximately 30,000 people gainfully employed, either directly or indirectly, in these industries and racing makes a significant contribution to the buoyant £1 billion off-course betting market. There is scarcely a town or village in the country that does not benefit in some way from these activities.

Despite its size, Ireland is recognised as one of the leading countries in the world for the production of quality thoroughbred horses and greyhounds. Ireland is an attractive location for many foreigners to breed, own and race horses. Our soil and climate are ideal for the purpose and not only do Irish people have a great love of the horse and greyhound but there is also a breadth and depth of innate skills and experience in the breeding, handling, rearing and training of these often extremely valuable animals. This combination could scarcely be matched elsewhere.

The production side of the business is showing healthy growth. On horses, for instance, the last five years has seen a 23% increase in the number of thoroughbreds being registered annually with a similar increase in the number of runners. The gross value of our thoroughbred sales has more than doubled in that time. I want to give great credit for this to the efforts of IHA company – Irish Thoroughbred Marketing. In the past year alone, ITM has conducted an unprecedented number of promotional visits to 25 established or potential markets for Irish thoroughbreds. It has set up an excellent website on the Internet and distributes information on Irish horses to more than 2,500 contacts in 64 countries. As a result, more than 1,000 foreign buyers availed of its inward buyer programme by purchasing at public sales here last year. All its targets have been far surpassed. There has been a huge increase in percentage terms in customers for our horses coming from Australia, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Tunisia and potential growth to be experienced in the trade to Turkey. Of the emerging markets, Spain and Greece are showing great promise and other countries which offer serious potential include China, Korea, Saudi Arabia and South America.

ITM is also strongly promoting racehorse ownership in Ireland. More than 700 new owners were introduced to Irish racing in 2000 as a result. One syndicate at least was made up of both Houses of the Oireachtas and their purchase, Arctic Copper, did them proud during the year. One of the many things the new guaranteed funding for the industry being proposed in the Bill will facilitate is the continued and planned resourcing of ITM and its valuable activities.

Ireland has always been regarded as the home of the best racing greyhounds. However, when the racing sector was in decline here for lack of investment in and promotion of the sport, there was a serious knock-on effect on the breeding front. Since the home industry has been rejuvenated over the past five years or so, prices for our quality greyhounds have risen and our markets have opened up again. We export Irish greyhounds to the UK, the US, Australia and many European countries. Nevertheless, there remains a very big job of work to be done in developing existing markets and exploring new ones.

I know Bord na gCon has a vision for the globalisation of greyhound racing and associated betting, with Ireland leading the process. It has started with participation in an international carnival in Australia where greyhound racing is very strong and there is a huge betting market. It is now turning its attentions to the US and will participate in planned new international races there next January. We have the quality in stock in greyhounds as much as in horses. We have the skills and the expertise. What we need is much more investment and planning coupled with aggressive marketing. The results will be improved returns for Irish breeders, owners, trainers and rolled out benefits for all those involved in or providing services to the industry.

We have not been short in Ireland of world class thoroughbred horses and greyhounds and famous breeders, owners, trainers and jockeys whom we can rightly describe as legends in their own time. In 2000 alone, Irish-bred horses won 30 Group 1 races around the world. The highlights include the record-breaking performance of Sinndar who won the Irish Derby, the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Istabraq's outstanding run at Cheltenham, Papillon's win in the Aintree Grand National and the Irish-trained Giants Causeway who ran in eight Group 1 races and won five. Just as, and some would say, even more important are the human heroes behind those horses – Aidan O'Brien, John Oxx, the family combinations of Ted and Ruby Walsh and another father and son combination, Tommy and Paul Carbery. I must mention also the legendary Vincent O'Brien who has been our most famous ambassador as a renowned trainer under both codes – national hunt and flat courses. Johnny Murtagh had a tremendous year altogether riding as he did 12 Group 1 winners and Mick Kinane came a close second with 11 such wins.

Irish-bred and trained greyhounds have been winning consistently at home and abroad. Bord na gCon finds it difficult every year to choose their Hall of Fame Award winner, such is the large number of successful and extremely committed greyhound breeders, owners and trainers in the industry. This year I believe it goes to Pat Dalton, a Tipperary man, who would be as well known in the US as he is in Ireland for the extremely high quality of his greyhound breeding and racing on the international scene and is generally regarded as Ireland's leading ambassador world wide for the greyhound industry.

Before I leave the area of breeding and rearing horses and greyhounds and the people involved, I will say a few short words to record my thanks and appreciation of their co-operation and commitment having regard to the recent foot and mouth disease scare. The agriculture industry and the Irish economy has just come through one of the toughest and most difficult periods for many decades. Like all big challenges, if we rise to the occasion we can defeat the problem and grow and learn significantly from the experience. Foot and mouth disease galvanised the country into extraordinary action on a single issue with one goal in sight. I am not saying the foot and mouth disease crisis is over and we cannot become complacent in our attitude to it. However, thanks to a great effort by all, we have been successful so far. I take this opportunity to congratulate and compliment the horse and greyhound people for their voluntary, enthusiastic and pro-active support for the necessary control measures and I acknowledge the difficulties created for them. The sacrifices they made for the overall good of farming and the economy were extraordinary and are much appreciated not only by me but by the Taoiseach and the Government.

If we had any doubts at all about the merits of the level of investment being proposed in the legislation for the horse and greyhound industries and whether it would represent value for money, we need only look at the performance of these industries over the past five years to see their capacity for growth and development. Attendances at horse racing have grown from approximately one million to more than 1.35 million people. On-course betting has jumped from £96 million to more than £160 million. Prize-money has shot up from £14 million to £25 million. In that context the contribution from sponsors and owners has also been increasing. I outlined earlier the consequential and significant growth achieved in the breeding and sales of thoroughbreds over the same period.

Greyhound racing has seen proportionately an even faster rate of growth. Attendances there have grown from just over half a million to 900,000 people with the one million target expected to be broken this year. On-track betting has jumped from £23 million to more than £53 million. Prize money has more than doubled, rising from £1.9 million to £4 million. The contribution from sponsors for greyhound events here is also rising. Therefore, this is an opportune time to introduce legislation to put these industries on a stronger and more secure footing into the future. Despite the progress and growth, both sectors operate in a highly competitive and rapidly changing environment. The time has come to introduce some fundamental changes.

The Horse and Greyhound Racing Bill, 2001, represents substantial changes in both structures and funding, which have been in the starting stalls for some time but are now finally at the off. On horseracing, it builds on the significant developments which took place in 1994, with the establishment of the IHA, and in 1999 when the first rearrangement of the financing of the industry was undertaken. Both of those initiatives which I brought forward were major improvements in their own right. But for those changes at the time, and the forward movement that followed on those developments, we might never have been able to achieve this final and critical phase of the restructuring of the horseracing industry. Given the rapid and impressive growth achieved in the greyhound industry over the same period, we are also including Bord na gCon in the revised funding arrangements and this is well deserved.

As is evidenced by the performance figures I have given for the horse and greyhound industries, the increased State investment in these sectors over the past few years has paid handsome dividends. The measures that were taken then and since, and the hard work and commitment of the people in the IHA and Bord na gCon, the Turf Club, the many representative organisations involved and the various participants in racing at all levels in the industries, all contributed to a good result. The new regime we are now putting in place will go on to yield even greater returns. I am delighted in these circumstances that the industries are united in this effort and I feel strongly that the cohesion created will underpin the industries for the long run and, together with the necessary guaranteed funding we are now providing, will allow both sectors to develop and grow to their real potential.

I now come to the details of the Bill. The Irish Horseracing Industry Act, 1994, was an extensive stand alone piece of legislation which essentially replaced the Racing Board, that had been in existence since 1945, with the IHA. As many of the provisions of that Act could and should rightfully apply to the new body being established under this Bill, we decided to amend the 1994 Act to provide for the new situation and, as a consequence, we also had to amend parts of the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958, the Horse and Greyhound Racing (Betting Charges and Levies) Act, 1999, and the Betting Act, 1931. We have provided an explanatory memorandum for the Bill, which summarises all the major changes and then goes on to explain each section of the Bill and the consequential issues arising in some detail. I look forward to teasing out these issues out on Committee Stage.

I will now deal with the major points of policy involved. The Bill is essentially setting up a new body called Horse Racing Ireland, or HRI, to replace the IHA and take over certain functions from the Turf Club and the National Hunt Steeplechase Committee. It was felt that there was an element of duplication of effort and resources between the IHA and the Turf Club. There were two completely separate and independent head office buildings and facilities, finance and accounting units, IT database management and data processing services, as well as personnel and management functions. There was a large body of opinion in the industry which held the same view as mine and that of the Minister for Finance that better efficiency of operation and cohesion generally could be achieved if at least all the main administrative and financial streams of the racing business could be brought together into one new body. This is what we are seeking to achieve with the establishment of HRI. From now on, all elements of the industry will deal with one body in relation to their participation in racing and their financing arrangements.

This comes about as a result of the transfer of the registry office functions from the Turf Club to HRI under section 8 of the Bill. HRI will retain all the functions currently carried out by the IHA. These include the authorisation of racecourses, the setting of fixtures, the control of on-course bookmakers and the general development and promotion of the industry and the Irish thoroughbred horse. The registry office functions which HRI will take over from the Turf Club will include the issuing of racing passports, handling race entries, making race declarations and holding and managing the race entry as well as prize money funds.

The Turf Club will continue to be responsible for the critically important function of making and enforcing the rules of racing in every respect. This will protect the integrity of racing which the Turf Club has done for over 200 years and in respect of which it has a reputation second to none. These functions are set out in paragraph 6 of the Schedule to the Bill. The costs of integrity services will be met by HRI as they were by the IHA under the 1994 Act. Paragraph 8 of the Schedule inserts provision for an arbitration system to resolve any disputes on the budget for such services.

Further functions which are being added to HRI's responsibility include providing support for the improvement of the health status of the Irish horse and the specialised education and training requirements of the sector. These are issues which have been raised here in the House several times and are very important to the future of the industry and, therefore, I felt that HRI, in its new and central role in that industry, should have a responsibility in these areas.

Other than State and industry funding, the sale of the pictures and associated information on Irish race meetings is the one other key source of potentially high levels of revenue for the sector. The media rights were vested in the racecourses in the 1994 Act. However, it was felt that, because of the huge impact that the terms of any sale of racing pictures could have on the industry as a whole, it would be better if the negotiations on the sale of media rights in future were to be handled, serviced and funded by the State body which will now be directly representative of all the major interests in the industry. This was agreed by the Association of Irish Racecourses. Section 10 prescribes that the negotiations will be undertaken by a committee of HRI. The representative of the racecourses on the board of HRI will chair the committee and the Turf Club will have a member on the committee.

However, racecourses will receive the full income from the sale of media rights for the next five years. After that, HRI will be obliged to negotiate with the racecourses how the income from this source, which by then will hopefully be much increased, might be distributed among the wider industry interests who are contributing to Irish racing. In that context, HRI will be required to guarantee to the racecourses revenue from this source for each of the following five years which will at least equal the average annual income they got for the first five years.

The Turf Club agreed that the property rights it had up to now in the information on runners and riders compiled by the registry office, can be immediately vested in HRI by this legislation, subject to a guarantee that the income over the next ten years will accrue to the Turf Club.

Section 12 holds most of the financial implications of this legislation. Given the exceptional returns achieved over the past five years for the investment to date in the IHA and Bord na gCon and the huge potential for further improvements in this area, the Government feels that the case has already been well made for a permanent and guaranteed provision of State funding at a significantly increased level for these industries. The domestic horse and greyhound breeding and racing sectors are providing the raw material for the off-course betting market and deserve to receive some of the fruits of their labour in this regard.

That is why we are proposing in the Bill that HRI and Bord na gCon will, between them, receive this year from the Exchequer, funds equivalent to the revenue generated from excise duty on off-course betting last year, which amounts to a total of about £46 million. This will be divided between the two bodies on a four to one basis, with HRI getting 80%, or roughly £37 million, and Bord na gCon getting approximately £9 million. In future years, these bodies will receive the equivalent of the revenue generated from the excise duty in the preceding year or the £46 million they get this year, increased by the consumer price index, whichever is the greater. We need to keep the latter as a guarantee for obvious reasons connected to potentially fast moving changes in the off-course betting market. The rate of excise duty on betting may, at any time in the future, have to be adjusted downward from the current 5% to maintain our competitiveness. The UK is putting in place substantial changes in this area and nobody can be sure yet what the full effect of mounting credit and Internet betting will be on our off-course market and how the bookmaking business here will respond.

What we are doing in this legislation is putting a new operating structure into Irish racing, which will be capable of being more effective and efficient in managing what is a very big and important business for us. We want to give this sector the level and security of funding it requires to fully exploit the potential for the benefit of all concerned. It can do this only if it can plan into the future and this will be possible only if it is guaranteed the level of funding promised.

The mechanism of the fund to be managed by my Department, as set out in section 12 of the Bill is, in the view of the Government, the best way to achieve this. However, I also feel that if this House agrees with this procedure, it should also be involved in reviewing it from time to time. The total aggregate limit placed on funds to be made available to the horse and greyhound industries through this guarantee system is £200 million, which may be increased only by regulations that must be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas. This means that the Dáil and the Seanad will have an opportunity to debate this funding again in three to four years' time. I know that Deputy Dukes is also committed to the principle that such regulations and instruments are not just deposited in the Library but that this House is given the opportunity of having a full debate on them if it so wishes.

In the meantime, all of the necessary financial and audit controls required will be implemented. The Department's appropriation account will clearly show, in a special note to the account, the payments into and out of the fund. The Secretary General of my Department will be accountable to the Public Accounts Committee in the normal way. Under sections 13 and 14, the annual accounts of HRI and Bord na gCon will be required to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the chief executives of those bodies will be accountable to the Public Accounts Committee in respect of those accounts. Under section 15 those chief executives may also be required by other Oireachtas Committees to give evidence concerning the general administration of the bodies.

Members will recall the last time we discussed the funding of the horse and greyhound racing industries in this House was on the passing of the Horse and Greyhound Racing (Betting Charges and Levies) Act in 1999. At the time, the Minister for Finance had decided, in order to ensure the off-course betting market here in Ireland maintained its competitiveness internationally, to reduce the excise duty on off-course betting from 10% to 5%. This had the knock-on effect that we had to abolish the 5% on-course betting levies which were an important source of income for the IHA and Bord na gCon. As a result and in order to replace that revenue for the bodies concerned we introduced among other things a new 0.3% betting turnover charge on on-course bookmakers as well as a flat rate charge of between £500 and £2,000 on each off-course betting shop. The revenue went straight to those bodies.

It is considered that these charges are no longer required in the context of the new funding arrangements for HRI and Bord na gCon being proposed in this Bill. I therefore intend to remove these charges as soon as possible. Section 19 removes the turnover charge from 1 July next. However, I may have to look again at that date depending on progress on the enactment of this Bill and will consider introducing a Committee Stage amendment if required. Section 20 removes the flat rate charges from 31 August. As such charges for this year would not be payable under the 1999 Act until 1 September, there will therefore be no money due in respect of these charges in 2001 with the possible exception of any amounts that remained unpaid from last year.

Up to now the totalisator legislation – the 1929 Totalisator Act, regulations made thereunder and licences issued to the IHA and Bord na gCon – restricted these bodies to operating their tote betting services at racecourses and greyhound tracks or by credit accounts. The IHA has examined the possibility of moving onto the High Street with their tote betting and believe that there is a lot of heretofore untapped business for the tote which could be exploited by providing tote betting services through the off-course bookmakers shops. I think this would be a good development and I understand that the off-course bookmakers are also happy with the idea. Therefore I have incorporated authorisation for this move in section 17 of the Bill.

Another extension to tote betting which both the IHA and Bord na gCon are anxious to develop is what is called "co-mingling" with some of their tote counterparts abroad. This would allow Irish punters, through the tote services here, to bet into some of the very large tote pools operated on the big international events abroad and punters in those jurisdictions could bet into our pools, basically making for bigger pools and more excitement and with it, it is hoped, significantly higher turnover and benefits for Irish racing. I have provided for these developments in sections 17 and 18.

I have also taken the opportunity to remove a general restriction which the Betting Act, 1931, puts on punters here preventing them betting with bookies outside Ireland. In effect, this was difficult if not impossible to police or enforce. In fact, no prosecutions have ever been taken under this law. Furthermore, my colleague, the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, and I both agree that it would not be appropriate for us to prohibit Irish people from betting abroad while taking measures here to ensure the international competitiveness of our own off-course betting operation to enable Irish bookmakers to encourage the punters outside the State to bet into our market. This business will survive or otherwise, based on the variety and quality of its products and competitive costing. Section 18(2) repeals the relevant 1931 provisions.

Paragraph 16 of the Schedule to the Bill effectively amends the Schedule to the 1994 Act and defines the new rules on the composition of and appointments to the board of HRI. The board is being reduced from 15 to 12 which will make it more compact and manageable. The only member of the new board to be effectively decided by the Government will be the chairman. All the others will be nominated directly by the relevant representative industry organisations concerned. These organisations will be required to use an open and fair electoral process to democratically select their nominees. Because of the significant transfer of functions taking place from the Turf Club and National Hunt Steeplechase Committee to HRI, their representation goes up to five members on the board. The other interests to be represented on the board will be the racecourses, owners, trainers, breeders, bookmakers, employees and the sector in Northern Ireland, each of which will get one seat on the board. We are putting in a system of board members retiring by rotation. From the outset, three members will retire each year to allow for a regular infusion of fresh blood while constantly maintaining a strong element of continuity for planning purposes.

As it was not possible to accommodate all the interests in this sector on the board itself, I have decided to require the new body to set up and maintain a racegoers consultative forum. This will include representatives of racegoers, their clubs, racecourse supporters and any other interest group which makes a case for itself and is affected by the decisions of HRI or who use the facilities or services provided by HRI. The forum can be used to beneficially explore issues which are important to those interests and puts a formal mechanism in place for bringing their views and recommendations to the attention of HRI. Under section 11(5) of the Bill, HRI will be required to have regard to any opinions expressed by the forum.

I now want to turn to the staffing of HRI and in particular the arrangements for the transfer of staff and the protection for such employees of the IHA and the Turf Club which I have built into this legislation. Section 27 of the Bill provides for the immediate transfer, upon the establishment of HRI, of all the staff of the IHA to the new body. For logistical reasons it may not be possible to transfer all the functions of the registry office and the associated staff from the Turf Club to HRI on the same day. These changes may have to be effected on a separate commencement day.

However, the staff of the Turf Club who are currently engaged on work in this area will be guaranteed the right to transfer to HRI with the transfer of functions. Both categories of staff, those coming from the IHA and the Turf Club are, under the provisions of section 27, being given the same guarantee that, while in the employment of HRI, they will not be brought to less beneficial terms and conditions of employment than those to which they were entitled before the transfer. Paragraph 3 of the Schedule to this Bill affords these staff the same rights in relation to their superannuation entitlements.

Other provisions of the Bill provide for new terms of reference for HRI's fixtures committee to seek to protect important fixtures for racecourses and to give the final decision on such fixtures to the board of HRI. HRI will be allowed to give graded grants of up to 100% for development work at racecourses relating to the implementation of important health and safety measures. There will be improved controls on on-course bookmakers while on-course betting offices will be given authority for extended opening hours to put them on a par with off-course shops.

In conclusion I would like to express my appreciation to the Opposition and to the spokes man on agriculture for facilitating the Second Stage of this Bill today and for their support for this important development. All of these are progressive developments and will lead to even more exciting times ahead for Irish horse and greyhound racing and punters. We must all pull together to achieve the best results from this and I am now confident that such will be the case. I commend the Bill to the House.

Before I say anything about the Bill I should declare an interest in order to comply with the political correctness of how we must conduct business these days. The interest I have is that together with Deputies Power and Wall I represent the constituency of Kildare South which is the southern half of County Kildare and the north-western quarter of County Kildare. It is of course the true physical and spiritual home, not only of the thoroughbred horse industry but of the horse industry in general, and is indeed one of the most important centres of the greyhound industry in the country. In both we have breeders, trainers, owners, races and punters and we take a keen interest in the matters before us here.

Everything except Punchestown this year.

That was most unfortunate. I will not be drawn, even under privilege, into making comments on that but it was a great pity that the festival had to be exported to another county. However they did it well. I should say that I intend to share time with Deputy Bradford.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

It is a matter of some satisfaction for all involved in the industry that we are now looking at a modernised structure for the horse industry in general. Times change, the world changes, customers need change and so it was incumbent on the structures in the industry to change. Customers need good facilities. The racing business generally, and this applies to both horses and greyhounds, has to compete with other leisure activities. There is an expanding range of other leisure activities and if people in the business do not keep up with them they will suffer. As the Minister knows we cannot control the weather. We must ensure that there is enough interest and excitement generated to overcome its effects. When the racing is good, people do not worry about it.

We need good facilities. The Minister stated that in recent years there is an increase in attendance at horse and greyhound racing. At horse racing, it grew to 1.35 million and at greyhound racing to 900,000 with the expectation of more than 1 million this year. We can be happy, but it is not enough to state that. We must ensure continued growth. Good attendance at race meetings is income driven. The more disposable income people have, the more they have to spend on racing, but more also to be attracted to other forms of entertainment. Horse and greyhound racing did well in recent years but cannot rest on their laurels. The Minister, who is more expert than me, will agree that horse racing venues need considerable attention to the quality of facilities and comfort offered to race-goers. The days when people put up with discomfort because they enjoyed racing are gone. They expect good standard of facilities and comfort at their sports. The structures being put in place, and the people involved, show an awareness of that. I am confident the necessary improvements will be high on the new horse racing body's list. I join the Minister in congratulating Irish Thoroughbred Marketing on its achievements. It is an important initiative for the business. The Minister would agree that it represents the recent importation into the business of a new, modern approach to marketing that pays dividends.

This is a good Bill that has secured broad agreement from the main actors. The Ministers for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and Finance had difficulty in getting necessary agreement to put these structures in place. I congratulate the Ministers and those they dealt with in the industry's bodies on reaching a conclusion over them. It was difficult because standing positions and traditional rights had to be modified and rejigged. It took commitment from everybody and I recognise that achievement.

It required much work to arrive at the Bill's proposal in section 8 on media rights. I hope it will work to the industry's general benefit. However, I suggest that the Minister, now that he is not negotiating with the horse industry, speaks to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera. Arrangements for media rights may be scuttled if she does not adapt our structures to the new digital television age. She must take more determined measures than she has done to ensure that in the expanding range provided by digital television we will not lose out. In horse and greyhound racing, we have images that are marketable at home, in the UK and elsewhere. The framework lies in Deputy de Valera's hands. The Minister should awaken that lady and get her to act appropriately for Irish interests.

The punters are the most important people in this business. Section 9 provides for a consultative forum for punters' organisations. The Minister thinks he did a great job on this, but then states that, in the interests of streamlining, the main organisation's board is reduced from 15 to 12 with no punters' representative. I am not happy that he fobs off punters with this forum. He says that it is an improvement, which it is. There was a punters' representative on the old board, but, without being disobliging to that person, she did not do much for them. The Minister presents the forum as an improvement, but it is only better than no regard for the punters' interests. Other interests on the board have more influence than the punters. Not only are they on the board, but they can make separate representations to it. Thoroughbred breeders, and other sectoral and professional interests, can raise issues before a board on which their own representatives sit. Punters from the consultative forum will make their case to a board that has none of their representatives. The Minister and his colleagues tell me not to worry about them because the 12 board members will themselves be punters. They are not there as punters but legitimately to represent other interests. Before we get to Committee Stage, the Minister should reflect on this and instead of reducing the membership to 12, for which there is no reason, provide for punters' representation on it.

There is a great fashion around these days to reduce the size of committees, and it is often a good thing to do. However, a committee of 12 is not a great gain in terms of efficiency over a committee of 15. The Minister's colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach spent a fair bit of time earlier this year and last year in the run up to the Nice Treaty arguing that we did not need to reduce the size of the European Commission to 20. They did not succeed but they were right to make the argument. The Minister is one of a board of 16, the Government and the Attorney General, and I do not think he will say that is a big, unwieldy board. Although some of them are fairly unwieldy people, there is nothing wrong with the size of the institution. By the time we get to Committee Stage, I want the Minister to come back with a proposal to put punter representation on the board of this new body.

There is provision in the Bill, and properly so, for auditing and accounting in the interests of transparency. Those provisions are very good but I would like to speak about one part of it which is important. It has certainly helped to open my eyes and I hope it will open my eyes in the future without me having to go to such trouble. One of the provisions in force here is a thoroughbred foal levy. There has been a good deal of argument about this levy and whether it is fair. I have an anonymous correspondent who I am sure writes to many other Members and I get a good deal of grief about this levy. It took me a long time to try to get some figures about this levy. I could not get them from the Minister's Department or, with any dispatch, from the Irish Horseracing Authority but I found them to my satisfaction in the Irish Farmers' Journal of 31 March 2001. It gave a table that analysed the foal levy income for the year 2000. If one looks at the two highest rates of foal levy, the D rate and the E rate, the business there is done by 18% of the stallions. They produce 12% of the foals and 35.8% of the total revenue from the levy. In other words, those two higher rates produce three times their relative share of levy compared to their share of foals. If one looks at the bottom rate, the A rate, it accounts for just under 25% of the foals and 6% of the levy incomes. They are producing one quarter of what would be their relative share on average.

I began with the belief that the rates structure for the foal levy was a bit skewed but having looked at the figures, I think it is quite reasonable. Whoever the anonymous gentleman is who keeps sending me these things, I would ask him to please give me a telephone number or an address so that I, and maybe one or two others in the House, can discuss the issue with him so that we can dispose of this irritation about this matter once and for all. I have had further correspondence from the Irish Horseracing Authority about it but in the light of that information, there is a defensible structure for that foal levy. It is only a pity it took so long to get the information. I congratulate the Irish Farmers' Journal for producing it before anybody else in the business seemed to be able to get their act together to produce the information.

I am pleased to find a provision that the chief executives of the bodies and people who work for the new body will be available to come before committees of the Oireachtas to discuss their business, because that is important. They have very substantial powers. For example, there is a race fixtures committee, as there should be, in the new body. That is power in the horse racing business. The people who have a say in deciding fixtures, venues and dates, have a real and very substantial power in the business. There have been arguments about it in the past, as the Minister well knows, and a transparent procedure where everybody's interests are properly taken into account is essential.

Allied to that is the power to give grants for the development of race courses. There again transparency in the way decisions are made will be very important. There have been times in the past when some race courses felt they were in a particularly disadvantaged position because they did not seem to have the right connections among the people arranging the fixtures or deciding on the grants. We need a transparent procedure so that we can see there is equity and that particular race courses or parts of the country are not left feeling that they are being unfairly discriminated against.

Hear, hear.

I am delighted to see in paragraphs 8 and 11 of the Schedule provisions under which race course owners and operators can appeal against decisions and that they will not always be faced with a fiat and no opportunity to argue their case. That is important and is an essential component of the Bill.

In regard to the greyhound industry, a number of changes are made here, although not anything like as far-reaching as those in relation to the horse racing industry. The Minister must be aware that there is frequently considerable friction between Bord na gCon and operators in the greyhound racing business. There is often friction between Bord na gCon and people operating or in charge of races. As far as I know there is current friction between Bord na gCon and certain sections of the sporting press. I am not sure what the reasons for this are; it may involve personality problems. It behoves the Minister to look at the situation in Bord na gCon, to consider with the board whether there is an excessive amount of unnecessary friction and to perhaps suggest ways – he has a very emollient personality – in which this friction could be reduced to the benefit and comfort of people in the business.

I thank Deputy Dukes for sharing his limited time. I am glad we have the opportunity to deal with this important legislation. All of the main political parties support what is being done to enhance and improve horse racing not just as a sport, but as an industry. We will co-operate fully with the Minister in his efforts to have the legislation passed and improved, if necessary. Committee Stage will be quite interesting in that regard.

I did not hear the Minister's initial comments but I am sure he gave a very good overview of the lengthy run in to this legislation. I welcome the establishment of Horse Racing Ireland and that the Irish Horseracing Authority and the former Turf Club will now form part of this new structure. We had an opportunity some months ago to debate the wider aspects of this proposals.

On that occasion I reflected on the fact that while the Turf Club must take its share of the blame for delaying the creation of Horse Racing Ireland, it has a proud history of service to horse racing which should not be forgotten as we move into a new era. To the average punter, Turf Club personnel often appeared not simply distant but almost of a different era. However, they did their job effectively and we should recognise that. I am glad the new body, Horse Racing Ireland, has the capacity to ensure that the concerns of the now former Turf Club are fully catered for.

I concur with my colleague, Deputy Dukes, on the need to look at marketing to ensure continuing attendance at race meetings. When we see the crowds and excitement at some of the bigger race meetings, we may be fooled into believing that all is well in racing. However, across the country at provincial tracks, the rate of increasing attendance is not as it should be. At meetings which are not seen as a festival or a fashion show, the age profile of those attending is becoming more and more elderly, suggesting that a major marketing effort is required to ensure that racing as a sport continues to attract new spectators. Racecourses could do a better job of marketing their facilities although, in some cases, the facilities are limited. A better marketing performance by individual racecourses, combined with a national effort, would increase attendance at races and, regardless of the guaranteed budget it will now have, that is essential if racing is to survive and thrive and continue to attract new spectators.

The question of facilities or lack of them was addressed by Deputy Dukes. I fully concur with his view. In that regard, I hope Horse Racing Ireland will look into the possibility of developing an all-weather race track here because there is a gap in the market in terms of horses of limited ability and, from the point of view of punters, all-weather racing under floodlights might prove attractive to people who do not currently go to race meetings. In Britain over the past month or six weeks there has been talk of developing another all-weather track. Anything which affords a further outlet to owners, trainers, breeders, punters and spectators should be encouraged. I hope we will see such a development here in the not too distant future.

That there will be a sound financial basis for racing with better and guaranteed prize money as a result of this legislation is welcome. However, we must ensure that the value of prize money at the lower end of the market continues to increase. The vast majority of people who are in any way involved in race horse ownership here lose money. The statistical base across Europe and worldwide shows that Ireland and Britain are the worst possible places in which to own race horses. In many other countries there can be a financial return from race horse ownership, but that does not happen here. We need to start at the lower end of the market. To that extent I welcome the increase in prize money at that end of the market in recent months. We must try to plough in extra resources to ensure that there is some prospect, however small, of people getting some sort of return on their investment. We cannot expect three or four super owners to keep the industry going.

Stop buying these Cork bred horses.

I will not comment. I have addressed the issue of incentives for breeders on a few occasions. I have no difficulty with the current incentives for people who stand stallions. However, the other side of the equation is that there are no incentives for the person who owns two or three brood mares. That should be addressed if we are to secure the foundation of Irish racing. I hope there will be some way of doing that.

I welcome the recent initiative by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development putting in place a system of grant aid under the alternative farming structure which will allow grants to be paid for the construction of stables and so on. I regret, however, that the scheme is quite restrictive in terms of the income limit. Perhaps that could be looked at because of the need to improve facilities on farms right around the country. More people could become involved in breeding a couple of horses if they had the facilities. The recent grant package is a help in that regard, but more is required and perhaps the conditions attaching to the scheme could be looked at.

I concur with my colleague, Deputy Dukes, on the question of media rights. Will the Minister, in conjunction with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, tackle the issue of the appalling coverage of Irish racing by RTE? It is a disgrace that our national broadcasting service gives such scant coverage to Irish racing. If sports news at six o'clock on Sunday evening reluctantly carries the results of that day's racing, they have disappeared by the time the late sports news is broadcast the same night.

Have you ever noticed that they very seldom get the right results?

There is no live coverage. That is not good enough. I take on board what Deputy Dukes said about digital television and so on, but will the Minister, in conjunction with Minister de Valera, strongly request our national broadcaster to at least recognise one of our finest national sports?

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute on the Second Stage of this important Bill. I will be sharing my time with another great socialist bastion, Deputy Brendan McGahon.

Withdraw that.

The Deputy should be, but he is not.

Like the Minister and many of my colleagues in the House, I am known to be fond of the races. Anybody who had an opportunity to read my column, "My Favourite Share" in last Sunday's Independent will realise that I have more faith in the nags than in shares. I hope I will have more luck anyhow.

I compliment the Minister on bringing forward this legislation. It has been a long time in gestation. One could say it had an interrupted gestation. However, it is the final product that counts, and the Minister has initiated a very important legislative basis for the future of the Irish horse and greyhound racing industry. It was difficult from a number of perspectives. I recall the memorandum of understanding of 19 October 2000 which was issued by the Minister and the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy. One of the difficulties was that the Minister was dealing with people who for a significant period of time had been in control of various aspects of the industry and they had to be persuaded that they were moving into a new era and that it would be more positive for the industry if they were brought under the one umbrella. That would be more sensible in the long-term but there is always some resistance to change. A good job was done by all on which I compliment the Minister.

My party and I broadly welcome the Bill, which obviously presages a significant restructuring of the organisation and administration of horseracing and greyhound racing. Increased funding of both industries on a sustained, guaranteed basis, most importantly, for their ongoing development on a permanent basis is to be heartily welcomed.

I agree with Deputy Dukes that spectator comfort and convenience are now all-important, particularly when there are alternatives. People have more disposable income and will pick pursuits that give them greater comfort and satisfaction. This means if the horseracing industry fails in this aspect, the fundamental reason behind the Bill's introduction, it will lose out to competing sporting interests and alternative leisure pursuits. That is the reason the Bill is so important and welcome.

The contribution of horseracing to the State has been outlined by the Minister but it is particularly important in terms of employment. I concur with the Minister on the significant contribution of horseracing to rural development in particular. It has been a significant alternative industry and will probably assume greater significance because of the alternative enterprise scheme. As Deputy Bradford said, we hope the Minister's colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, will be able to help with other aspects of the industry. It is an important source of income for farms both as a principal and supporting enterprise, particularly in my area.

There are 30,000 people gainfully employed, either directly or indirectly, by the industry. It is, therefore, a significant contributor to the Exchequer; the benefits permeate through the economy and help to sustain rural villages. I hope everyone gains from the Bill: those who work in the yards, the head lads, grooms and stable boys and stable girls. Sometimes they were not overpaid – let us put it that way – and though they are now looked after by the minimum wage I hope everyone now shares in the prosperity. That is very important.

Deputy Power would agree it was disappointing that the Punchestown race meeting was not held this year. Deputy Dukes may think I represent the constituency which includes Fairyhouse but although I would not mind if I did, it is located up the road from me. I would rather have all those festivals brought to Kilbeggan but I, too, was disappointed that there was no race meeting in Punchestown this year. It is an event of particular significance to the racing fraternity and ordinary people in the midlands. It also represented a significant economic loss, as Deputies Power and Dukes would indicate. Deputy Wall told me it was a significant loss to Naas and surrounding areas. I hope it will be back on track in the not too distant future; I am sure the Minister will be working in this regard also.

The thoroughbred sector is very important. The number of thoroughbreds registered annually has increased by one quarter in the past four to five years. This represents a significant contribution to the economy in terms of exports and provides a valuable source of revenue. As the Minister and Deputy Dukes said, there is much potential in the export sector yet to be exploited. I congratulate Irish Thoroughbred Marketing on what it has achieved to date. Last year was particularly memorable, as the Minister said, considering the number of significant successes we had in Group 1 races.

While that is the deluxe end of the industry, I always cast my mind back to where things start – point to points, where the ordinary farmer has some say, be it in Enfield, Castletowngeoghegan, Slanemore or Kilkenny West. I hope some effort will be made to help those organisations which have kept us going through very lean times. I often hear Ted Walsh talking about the importance of point to points and a jockey from my area, young Anthony Ross, is now doing well in England. He is from a renowned racing family and started off in Castletowngeoghegan at point to points. He has now risen through the ranks. That is the reason I have particular empathy with starting small and rising through the ranks. We all glory in major achievements but we should not forget where all this starts. That is very important.

On a parochial level, we are lucky in County Westmeath to have two major venues for racing in Kilbeggan racecourse and Mullingar greyhound racing track. Kilbeggan has risen from small beginnings to having six important evening meetings throughout the year. The Mullingar track is an excellent facility located right in the heart of the town and has two weekly meetings. Great emphasis is placed on quality and comfort and the facilities were recently refurbished; the management and directors have every reason to be proud of them.

Deputy Dukes and Deputy Yates, when Minister, were involved with the Kilbeggan track, a unique course in a natural setting. It is easy on the eye and ideal for viewing. One need only look at it to see how prudent investment has reaped tremendous dividends. It was developed at a cost of £1 million and the entire track was resurfaced and spectator areas were improved. This combines to put Kilbeggan at the top when it comes to spectator pleasure and it is a credit to the industry, to the drive and initiative of a young person involved, Paddy Dunican, and to the local community that we have one of the best racecourses in the country. This illustrates what can be done with a good source of funding and it shows the reason the development of the horseracing industry should be supported. It shows what can be done with vision, effort, innovation, enterprise and, crucially, a sustained funding base.

I have few quibbles with the Bill but I concur with Deputy Dukes's comments. Paragraph 16 of the Schedule deals with the composition and appointments to the board of the HRI, while section 9 establishes the racegoers' consultation forum. That is only a sop. It is less than ideal and basically a toothless tiger. One has no influence; it is at boardroom level that one has influence. One can make all the recommendations one wants but if nobody is listening, they are useless. In the rush to put the new structure in place, and particularly in the context of the memorandum of understanding to which I referred on 9 October, one error was made: there was a failure to provide for specific representation for punters. I was disappointed to observe this glaring deficiency in the memo of understanding which emerged from the meeting. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development has been around for a long time and he knew we were going to come at him. He decided to pre-empt our criticism in section 9 by allowing for a Racegoers Consultative Forum. With respect, the forum is a sop.

Deputy Dukes was right to say that to reduce the size of a committee from 15 members to 12 is an insignificant measure. I am sure the Association of Irish Racecourse Owners would like to have a second representative on the board of Horse Racing Ireland. The Turf Club has five representatives on the board and other bodies are also well represented, but the voice of the punter is not heard which is a glaring omission. While it is claimed that punters' views are taken on board, those who are consulted are not punters in the real sense. The opinions of ordinary people who enjoy going to the races on Friday evenings should be heard as they may have a great deal to contribute to improving matters. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, will demonstrate a cognisance of our arguments on Committee Stage. The structure of the board should reflect punters, who represent an important section of the racing fraternity.

This Bill gives an ideal opportunity to ensure that punters' voices are heard, something which has not happened in the past. I know the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development sought agreement with the Turf Club last October, but it was extremely foolish to agree who would constitute the board and to definitively fix limits. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development may now have difficulties in unravelling the board to allow what we seek. Those who are interested in racing tell us they would like to be part of the board of Horse Racing Ireland. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, considers my comments.

A number of other aspects of this Bill have been brought to my attention. I am glad Deputy Dukes has teased out the situation regarding foal levies, as I received letters on the matter from all over the place. I could not reply to the person who wrote letters to me as I did not have his address, but Deputy Dukes has brought the debate to a rational conclusion.

The Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association is the only organisation within the thoroughbred industry recognised by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. He is aware, however, that not all thoroughbred breeders are happy, especially within the national hunt sector. I am not sure if the ITBA represents all thoroughbred breeders or a smaller percentage. There are 160 national hunt breeders in Westmeath, but only about 5% of them are members of the ITBA.

I am not sure why I take such an interest in this, but perhaps it is as the ITBA is funded by all breeders through mandatory foal levies. Of the 19 elected members of the ITBA council, about 16 come from three counties. The Minister, Deputy Walsh, said the board of HRI would be decided by a fair electoral process to ensure it is representative. If about 80% of the ITBA council is from three counties, I think it is important that representation of the wider industry is taken into account when members of the board of HRI are selected.

Section 12 deals with the funding of Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon. These bodies will receive a sum equivalent to the revenue generated from excise duty in the preceding year, or else £46 million as indexed from the consumer price index. I am glad there is a base and that the bodies will receive whatever sum is greater. The rate of excise duty will probably vary from the current 5% rate, as bookmakers are waiting for a signal from the Minister for Finance to abolish betting tax, a signal I am sure will be sent in the budget. If Gordon Brown places a betting tax of 1% or 1.5% on profits in the British budget next October, as he has indicated, there will be pressure here to reduce or abolish betting tax.

The advent of telephone and Internet betting, which I did not know much about until it was referred to by Deputy McGahon during a debate, will open a new avenue of betting for Irish punters. Such services, if based in the United Kingdom, will not impose charges on clients following the budget there in October. The charge imposed will be related to the level of what is available from betting tax there. The base of £46 million has been put in as a floor to be updated by the CPI. The British Government is changing its betting tax system to attract some of the bookmakers who have relocated to tax-free areas, and we will have to wait to see if it will be a success. What measures are being considered by the Government in relation to the current 5% betting tax?

I recall points made vociferously by Deputy McGahon and me when dealing with the Horse and Greyhound Racing (Betting Charges and Levies) Bill, 1999. We felt the flat rate charge of between £500 and £2,000 on each off-course betting shop and a 0.3% betting levy were unfair. I welcome sections 19 and 20 which removes those charges. The Bill allows Tote Ireland to offer its products in high street betting shops and to participate and bet in overseas pools.

I am always glad when legislation removes anachronisms and unenforceable laws. The Betting Act, 1931, which made it illegal for Irish residents to place bets in Britain and elsewhere, is clearly an anachronism of the highest order. It brings the law into disrepute and can be perceived as a joke as it cannot be policed. I realise the Act is 70 years old, but it is totally foolish. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development admitted this morning that no prosecution has been taken under the law to which I refer, and I understand why. I am glad it has been removed as it was an anachronism.

In the 19 years I have been a Member of this House, this is one of the few Bills on which I find consensus. It reflects the pride those of us who are interested in the horse racing industry have in Irish racing.

The Minister itemised the tremendous successes by jockeys and owners during the past year. The English racing industry seems to be dominated to a large extent by Irish jockeys, not alone national hunt jockeys but flat jockeys. Every second trainer in England, apart from the Arabs, is an Irishman. We have, understandably, great pride in Irish racing as it can hold its own with racing anywhere in the world.

There are, however, a few items I wish to address. The restructuring of the racing industry makes common sense, but I too would like to pay tribute to the efforts of the Turf Club, which has been there from the very beginning – it was probably there 100 years ago – and has played a large part in the creation of the current Irish horse racing industry. There was a tendency to rubbish its efforts in recent years and the struggles the Minister and the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, had to encourage this merger. We must acknowledge the contribution made by the Turf Club.

One of my beefs is that the fixtures committee down through the years has shown a definite bias and nobody can deny that. There is a three tiered operation in place. The glamorous tracks like the Curragh, Leopardstown, Punchestown, Fairyhouse and, dare I mention, Clonmel seem to get the plum dates. The second tier are the southern holiday meetings. It is a case of the devil take the hindmost for the rest of the tracks, the poorly supported tracks, such as the track in my town of Dundalk, in Sligo and places like that. I acknowledge the great success of the Kilbeggan track which was threatened with closure but due to local initiative is now a resounding success. The weaker tracks need more attention and more lucrative dates. Dundalk needs a continual guarantee of racing on 12 July and other meetings, including Sunday meetings etc. if it is to continue in operation.

I wish to address the impact of the foot and mouth disease on the Irish racing industry. It has definitely put a damper on revenue for this year. Many meetings were curtailed and much money, including prize money, was lost, and much additional expense was incurred by owners – hapless people. The racing industry has taken a bit of a hammering this year. Compensatory measures should be introduced for the Downpatrick and Down Royal meetings, as they have suffered more than most and meetings should be given to those two tracks.

I am concerned about propriety in Irish racing and there is a need for surveillance. Some years ago I suggested that a well known West End musical "Fiddler on the Roof"—

Do not open old sores.

It may be a case of old sores with some of the Deputy's friends down on the Curragh but not with the ordinary punter. I suggested that perhaps "fiddler on the hoof" might be a more appropriate name for Irish racing. It was resented by some trainers and owners but appreciated by the ordinary Joe Soap – the man who punts – who keeps racing going. While it was maybe a little unkind, there was a degree of truth in it. That is why one will find more punters in Irish betting shops than at the average race meeting. That is because there is a suspicion that all is not always right with Irish racing. Only last night at Gowran Park a prominent jockey was fined £1,000. I am not sure what the alleged offence was – it was probably for not riding his horse out – but the explanation he gave was that he was looking after his horse's interest. That is very commendable and laudable, but if there was a problem concerning the horse's interest, he should not have been racing because he should have been racing to win. The fact that I backed a winner was incidental.

It was a unique occasion.

The question I pose is, what about the punters' interests. That is the kernel point. If racing in Ireland is really to take off, apart from the fashion shows and the visit by Joan Collins to the Derby, we must have clean racing here. That is a question that probably no one else but myself will address in this Chamber. There was a question mark over Irish racing and it remains in place. While surveillance may have been improved in recent years, that is the way it should be if punters are to continue to go in sufficient numbers to Irish racing.

There was talk about media rights in the context of the Bill and the Minister, Deputy de Valera, seemed to get a bit of a hammering, which was met with a smile by the Minister, Deputy Walsh. I would like to pay tribute to Stuart Kenny of Paddy Power for his initiative in making daily television available in his betting shops for Irish racing. Until that happened betting in the average betting shop was limited. Kenny's initiative resulted in a significant upsurge in betting turnover in every betting shop in this country. He is to be commended for that as for his initiatives in the betting industry generally.

I would like the Minister to take on board the threat posed to one of the loveliest tracks in this country, Leopardstown, a track on a par with any track in the UK.

I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy, particularly in Leopardstown, but he will have to come to the finish line.

I did not mention Arctic Copper yet but that will do for another day. A threat is posed to Leopardstown's spring track. The thought that a roadway could be driven through that track is appalling. I appeal to the Government to use its influence to ensure that Leopardstown, with its attractions, continues to be made available to Irish racing.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Collins.

Acting Chairman

That is agreed.

Coming from Kildare it is only natural I would have a keen interest in the racing industry. My parents also took a fairly keen interest in it. I would have to give more credit to a parish priest who nurtured and cultivated my interest in it by bringing me to many of the race tracks throughout the country and also to greyhound tracks and the odd coursing meeting. It was a great education. He used to go to Cheltenham each year and one of the highlights I had as an altar boy was when I gave him £20 to back Comedy of Errors in the Champion Hurdle – the only reason I tell Members that is that the horse won.

In Kildare, we appreciate the importance of the horseracing industry and the Minister outlined some of our wonderful successes, particularly last year. That success continued last weekend when an Aidan O'Brien trained filly won the French 1,000 Guineas and an Irish jockey, Jamie Spencer, landed the biggest prize of his career. These are triumphs we take for granted. We are as good, if not better, than the rest of the world when it comes to breeding, training or riding race horses, and it is important that we give the industry every facility and opportunity to develop and to continue that wonderful success.

The Bill attempts to restructure the organisation and administration of horse racing and, more importantly, guarantees future funding for both the horse and greyhound racing industries. It will establish Horse Racing Ireland to replace the Irish Horseracing Authority and take over some of the functions of the Turf Club.

Reference was made to the role of the Turf Club. It carried out its duties with an efficiency and honesty that is not matched in any other industry. We salute its members for all they have done and wish them well in their future roles.

For a long number of years the greyhound industry seemed to be dying on its feet. I acknowledge the tremendous effort made by Bord na gCon, under Mr. Paschal Taggart. The Minister outlined the wonderful success and transformation of that industry. In a short time, prize money and attendance at race meetings has almost doubled. It has become fashionable to attend greyhound race meetings, but it is important that the investment which has taken place at the Dublin tracks is mirrored in tracks around the country.

And not only in Dublin and Cork.

The work which was promised some time ago at Newbridge, the track nearest my home, has finally started. We can no longer expect people to turn up out of loyalty at race tracks, either for horses or dogs, unless there are proper facilities.

In the horse racing industry, there has been significant expenditure on improving facilities and providing new facilities at many of our tracks. While this is welcome, we have neglected facilities for the stable staff and that must be dealt with immediately. The racing industry has enjoyed tremendous success over the years, even from the point of view of horses in training, runners, races and prize money. The number of horses in the industry increased from 4,666 last year to 4,776 this year. Last year there were more than 25,500 runners, while the figure for the previous year was just over 24,000. There were 1,119 races last year, compared to 1,866 the previous year. Prize money increased from £20.4 million in 1999 to £24.2 million last year. There has been a 74% increase in prize money since 1996, a gigantic increase in anyone's terms.

While it is important that there is group 1 races and that the status of Irish racing is protected, it is also vital that we look after the people in the industry who are competing for the smaller prizes. Last year, 22.5% of all races were worth in excess of £10,000. That is a huge advance which has taken place over the past number of years and that is the sort of improvement and progress we must encourage.

Reference was made to owners' cost. When one considers that there were fewer than 5,000 horses in training last year and the prize money was just over £24 million, it is obvious that most people will not make money and that the investment is more about entertainment. We have seen this here in the House where a number of Members have formed a syndicate which has enjoyed a good few wins. The horse has more than paid for itself, but it is a good example to others of what can be achieved. For a small investment, people can get a great pay-back. There is a wonderful social side to racing and this is what we must encourage. It was once said in relation to horse racing that if one wants to make a small fortune, one must invest in a large fortune. Perhaps that is truer today than ever, but people are still prepared to support the industry and many are making a living from it. There is room for large and small investors and we must treat them all in a similar fashion.

I want to return to the stable staff and the way they are being treated. There are 26 race courses in Ireland and the facilities at some of them are nothing short of a disgrace. What stable staff seek are normal facilities which would be available to any other industry. In many cases, such as in the case of the Killarney race meeting last weekend, a number of horseboxes leave the Curragh and travel for perhaps for four hours to the track. There are no proper washing facilities at many of the courses and stable staff are unable to get a hot meal and are forced to eat in cold, unhygienic buildings. This would not be tolerated in any other industry. We have provided many new facilities for the race-goers and improved prize money for the owners, the trainers and the jockeys, but the stable staff are the forgotten people in all this and this must be addressed. Stable staff, in general, earn meagre wages, there is scant recognition or reward for their effort, and in many cases they are in poor accommodation, work long hours and have very little time off. There are inconsistent levels of training for young people starting out and no obvious career development structure.

The economy has improved greatly and today most industries are crying out for staff. Unless the racing industry treats the stable staff in an acceptable manner they will seek work elsewhere. Just as we all cannot be Ministers, stable staff cannot all be top jockeys or owners of prize winning horses, but we need owners, trainers, jockeys and stable staff. They are all important ingredients in the success and continuation of the racing industry. I appeal to the Minister to ensure the position of stable staff improves. In that context, Part II of the Bill states that Horse Racing Ireland can assist educational and other institutions and organisations in providing improved training and education facilities and courses for the thoroughbred horse industry to satisfy the training and educational needs of that industry at all levels.

The Race Centre on the edge of the Curragh, which has been in operation for approximately 20 years, provides courses for a small number of such people and it has been very successful. It gives them a good grounding in education, not only in riding horses but in the entire horse industry. The rate of success achieved by the people at the Race Centre in finding employment for people who completed its course has not been achieved by any other industry, even when it was difficult to find employment in Ireland.

We have the nuts and bolts of what is required and we should expand on that type of model. By its very nature, people going into the racing industry, particularly the stable staff, start their working lives at a very early age and can therefore be quite vulnerable. They need all the assistance that is available. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that they get that assistance.

There were 2,816 stable staff working last year, with 50% of that number in full-time employment. That is a huge increase on the previous year when there were fewer than 2,000 stable staff in employment. It is obvious that major changes are taking place in the industry and it is important that such progress be monitored.

The stable staff bonus scheme was introduced last year. This was an excellent development. It gave recognition to the contribution of the stable staff. There were problems with the scheme and I raised the matter with the Ministers for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Social, Community and Family Affairs and Finance. The financial controller of the Turf Club has informed me that the Revenue Commissioners have approved of the scheme. We must reward stable staff and ensure that there are sufficient numbers to meet the requirements of the racing industry. Schemes such as this and other attractions must encourage workers to stay in the industry and make the industry attractive to new recruits.

Persons employed directly in the horse racing industry will be nominated to the new body. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that a representative of the stable staff is nominated to the new body. It is important that the stable staff, comprising nearly 3,000 in the industry, represent a significant number of the total employed in the racing industry. They should be given a voice on the new body. The body will be given a large amount of funding and it will secure the future of the racing industry. It is important that this money should be spread evenly among all sections of the racing industry. We must ensure that the wrongs of the past are redressed and the stable staff have a voice.

I acknowledge the interest shown by the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh.

I wish to declare my keen interest not only in horse and greyhound racing, but also in coursing. I commend the Minister and his officials for bringing this Bill before the House. On a parochial level, I thank the Minister for providing funds for the new racecourse in Patrickswell, my own townland. It is a magnificent facility and it only remains for a few problems to be sorted out. There is a proposal for a new greyhound track in Limerick. I read in the local newspapers that Bord na gCon is having a problem disposing of the existing tracks. Perhaps the Minister could be of assistance to them. The land is available now and it would be a pity to lose the opportunity of acquiring it.

The Horse and Greyhound Racing Bill, 2001, will serve a positive purpose in terms of developing these two industries in the future. Horse racing, greyhound racing and coursing are all part of our culture and our heritage. They also serve a very strong economic purpose. It is vitally important that the Government is open to suggestion as to how best improve the competitive position of these industries. The Government must also be open to suggestion how best to improve the image of these industries to maintain their very high worldwide reputation. This House is aware of the importance of the horse and greyhound racing industries. While both horse and greyhound racing attract a large following from sporting interests alone, they are both more important than that. The horse and greyhound industries do much to promote tourism. They provide a high level of employment. They serve as a positive image abroad of what is best in Ireland. International observers and investors know that the Irish horse and greyhound industries have high standards.

I wish to talk about the greyhound industry. I compliment the Minister on his foresight in providing statutory base funding on an ongoing basis. This is a dream come true for the Irish greyhound board, a realisation of the hopes and aspirations of successive Bord na gCon administrations, from the days of the chairmanship of the late Dr. Paddy Maguire, and those who followed him. The annual subvention now assured to Bord na gCon is indeed a far cry from the initial once-off sum of £50,000, provided in the late 1980s, and the £250,000 allocated by the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Albert Reynolds, in 1991. I compliment the chairman and members of Bord na gCon for their success in the management of the industry.

Now that the Irish greyhound industry has been assured funding, I ask the Minister to ensure that an equitable amount of this annual subvention be directed towards the arm of the industry which, since the start of the last century, has regulated all aspects of greyhound sports, racing and coursing, until the advent of Bord na gCon in 1958. The services provided by the Irish Coursing Club, based in Clonmel, are vital to the ongoing success of the Irish greyhound industry. It provides a role and function in compiling the stud book for the entire island of Ireland. It ensures, with unequalled professionalism, the integrity of the Irish breed, and for this it is acknowledged worldwide. It controls and registers the country's stud dogs and has wide ranging programmes in vital areas such as DNA, artificial insemination and the development of a major international market in the future export of frozen canine semen.

The Irish Coursing Club has 10,000 affiliated members on both sides of the Border. For reasons which I have difficulty comprehending, it receives no subsidy or benefit from moneys collected from betting revenues within the industry nor from annual Government subventions to the industry. The legislation governing the Irish greyhound industry clearly defines the role, functions and responsibilities of the Irish Coursing Club in the development of the greyhound industry. It is now time that some meaningful funding be set aside to enable this voluntary organisation to go about its business.

Acting Chairman

I call Deputy Burke. In doing so I express regret that the time for this debate is so short. The debate on this important Bill is guillotined to two hours and 40 minutes. Like many others, I would like to have spoken on this Bill but I cannot. That is a pity. I cannot speak on Committee Stage either because it will be taken in a committee.

The Acting Chairman can still speak.

Acting Chairman

I am not a member of the committee.

The Acting Chairman can still speak.

Acting Chairman

It is a pity. The Bill is important, whether one agrees with all of it is another matter. That is all the more reason one should be allowed speak on it. I do not know why it is guillotined in this way, particularly when it is broadly non-controversial.

I endorse the Chair's comments regarding the shortness of the debate. I wish to share time with Deputy Belton.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is obvious from the Horse and Greyhound Racing Bill, 2001, that greyhound racing, as Deputy Collins said, is the poor relation. In Part 3 the ratio of 4:1 in the allocation of funding is an indication that it is the poor relation. That is clear from most of the contributions on horse racing, the horse racing industry and its location and development.

In his contribution the Minister said Bord na gCon has a vision for the globalisation of greyhound racing and associated betting with Ireland leading the process. I respectfully suggest that rather than going global we should go national and regional. I endeavoured to table a question to the Minister on the issue of funding for Galway race track but it was disallowed because the Minister has no responsibility in that area. I attempted to raise it on the Adjournment on Tuesday night but it was ruled out of order by the Ceann Comhairle.

I wish to outline what I consider is a shame in regard to what has happened between Bord na gCon and the Galway greyhound track. I have the utmost respect for the efforts and endeavours of Paschal Taggart, chairman of Bord na gCon, and the work he has done to revolutionise the whole greyhound industry in Ireland. Having said that, once more the west is neglected. Worse than that, Bord na gCon has reneged on a commitment which I witnessed on 28 June 2000. Mr. Taggart, at the Connacht Derby, the greyhound track in Galway, announced that approximately £6 million would be provided for the upgrading of the facilities at Galway greyhound racing track sports ground, facilities shared by the Galway Show Society in co-operation with the IRFU. I have no doubt about the amount mentioned on that night. It was witnessed by some of the Minister's colleagues, the Minister, Deputy Molloy, and Deputy Fahey, now Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, who were present. Everybody welcomed it as an initiative by Bord na gCon through the Department to recognise that Galway, as the fastest growing city not only in Ireland but in Europe, was entitled to proper facilities for greyhound racing.

That commitment was well received by dog owners, the managers of the track and especially the punters. Alas, for some reason, because Lifford track has been bought by a Derry consortium and presumably because of the connections with members of Bord na gCon, somebody has torpedoed Galway's entitlement to £6 million for upgrading purposes. There was also the statement by one member of the board that foot and mouth disease was partly to blame for the reduction in the funding available to Galway, but I take it with a pinch of salt as being totally untrue. The Minister's county has benefited to the tune of £10 million from Bord na gCon. That is welcome. Anybody who has been to Cork greyhound track since its upgrading would welcome that funding. Shelbourne Park, Harold's Cross and Enniscorthy are in the pot for development.

I appeal to the Minister to ask Bord na gCon to honour its commitment by providing the funding to which Galway is entitled. How can anybody in the west who has been involved in the industry for so long accept it as other than "to hell or to Connacht" even for the dogs, if the money is siphoned away to every other area? Not one track in Galway or Clare, which supports Galway, has received substantial funding since 1987 when we received a small contribution towards the upgrading of facilities in Galway. If that is fair and if that is equity within Bord na gCon's distribution of funding, it is time the Minister intervened and honoured the commitment given on 28 June 2000.

I do not know why it has to be the west and Connacht that is affected at the expense of Donegal. We know that is politics. Not one member of the board is from Connacht, hence the west is losing out. I hope the Minister will have an opportunity to redress that issue in the near future. I would not have confidence in a board that can blatantly commit funding on the one hand and on the other withdraw it. I have no confidence in it and I hope the Minister will intercede in the strongest possible terms with the chairman who has to do so much for dog racing to redress that serious grievance. Those involved in the industry in Galway are crying to high Heaven to know why it has been done again to us. Why is it us always in the west? We have the facilities. There is no location in Ireland where potential facilities are available and suitable for development other than in Galway.

The plans presented for the use of that £6 million were fantastic. One of the duties of Bord na gCon is to develop the greyhound industry. Globalisation of the greyhound industry rings hollow on the people who are striving against the odds to promote and continue the tradition of greyhound racing in Galway. I appeal to the Minister to intervene in the strongest possible manner to reverse that decision. The proposed alternative and the excuses used by members of Bord na gCon are not acceptable. We are now offered a two-tier stand with reduced facilities whereas in the past, as is common in all other greyhound tracks, we would have the inclusion of corporate boxes, which would bring people, and support from industry and from many other areas into the development of greyhound racing. That has been stifled to meet the demands of internal politics in Bord na gCon to allow places like Lifford to continue. The sale of the Lifford track to a family in Derry only took place in February and the withdrawal of the Galway track happened just after that in March. If the Minister looks in detail at the politics behind this decision, he will see that all is not well within Bord na gCon. I say that in the context of acknowledging the work that Pascal Taggart has done in his efforts to make changes there. I want the Minister to find out how he was made the fall guy for what happened in Galway and to inform me.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I congratulate the Minister and the Minister for State on the efforts they have made on this. This Bill addresses some of the problems in the industry.

In recent months the horse racing industry has been hit by the foot and mouth disease crisis. It is now "business as usual" again. The numbers attending race meetings are not as high as normal but that is due to continuing restrictions in agriculture and people are somewhat short of cash. When all restrictions are removed the numbers will rise.

The horse racing and greyhound racing industries give huge employment in breeding, training and at the various tracks throughout the country. I thank the Minister and Bord na gCon for their interest in Longford greyhound track. A new all-weather sand track will be installed there and this is welcomed. My colleague, Deputy Ulick Burke, expressed concern about Galway. Longford track is the only one in that area of the north-west and it is vital that it continues. John Dooris, now in his 100th year, was responsible for bringing greyhound racing to Longford and I am glad to say that he is still to the good. His niece and all concerned have now worked out a deal with the local committee and Bord na gCon. Longford has always been a great area for greyhounds with people coming from Roscommon, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Donegal and East Galway. There was many a coup pulled off on a Friday night, but they would not let on until it was over. Will the Minister convey my gratitude to Bord na gCon and I ask for continued support for Longford dog track.

As the Minister said, last year was an exceptional year for national hunt racing. It was good to see the Irish back at Aintree and winning there. We had excellent results on the flat also. This proves how important the industry is and it is appropriate that the Government gives its wholehearted support to it. Ireland is recognised throughout the world for horse breeding and racing and resources need to be put in to maintain standards. There is significant competition internationally and we must not lag behind. This Bill will provide the funding in a planned manner into the future for the upkeep, running and organisation of the racing industry.

In the Midlands we have horse racing tracks at Roscommon, Kilbeggan and Sligo. I am a member of the supporters of Sligo track. It deserves support and I would like to see racing continue there. We also have a direct connection through Autotote in Ballymahon, which provides the tote services nationally. It has achieved high standards and has given important employment to the area.

There is nothing as entertaining as racing especially during the summer when we have our evening meetings. The greyhound tracks in Shelbourne Park, Harolds Cross and Cork are great facilities and are used for other functions as well. We need to continue to improve the facilities we have and the industry deserves this. There are 30,000 people employed right across the board. I look forward to the continuance of the support, interest and financial backing for the whole industry.

We can look to the future with optimism. I congratulate all the people involved over the years including some successful punters. I know the Minister has not been unlucky in the past and I wish him well in continuing to back the odd winner.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Keaveney.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Going to the races and going to a night at the dogs are two great national pastimes. There was a time when going to the track meant just that. Horses or dog tracks had very limited facilities and were somewhat primitive. In recent years greyhound racing stadia with state-of-the-art facilities have been developed while racecourses have equally developed magnificent facilities. Both sports have seen huge increases in attendances. The Bill will allow the further development of the two industries and help simplify the funding, management and development of all aspects of the sports. It is long overdue and will receive a near unanimous welcome from all those interested in the racing of dogs and horses. I am sure the Minister will not take offence if I say the Bill will enable the country to go to the dogs, dogs and horses to race in style and thousands of punters to enjoy racing in comfort.

There are many important provisions in the Bill relating to both the greyhound and horseracing industries, among which is the establishment of a new State body called Horse Racing Ireland and the establishment by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development of a fund to provide annual support for the horseracing and greyhound racing industries. This will be linked to the revenue generated from excise duty on off-course betting. It also provides for the lib eralising of legislation governing the tote, which will allow foreign operators to become involved in the Irish tote. The Bill will cost money but I contend it will be money very well spent. The governing and management of the horseracing industry will be simplified, which, in turn, will make it a leaner and fitter body ensuring dynamic management and development.

Horse Racing Ireland will have a partnership approach and be representative of all aspects of the industry. Although ordinary racegoers will not have direct representation, there will be a mechanism for them to present their views and proposals for consideration through the consultative forum. This is an example of how the Government views the partnership process and its importance to all aspects of Irish life.

Another aspect of the Bill I wish to address is the media rights committee. Horse Racing Ireland will be given significant powers and responsibilities. It will be answerable to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts. In recent times too many individuals and groups have endeavoured to ensure they do not account for themselves to Dáil committees. The Bill ensures Horse Racing Ireland will not be able to shirk its responsibilities in this regard.

Some would say there is little about greyhound racing in the Bill. This is because the industry has been regulated and managed effectively for many years by Bord na gCon. In fact, Bord na gCon will provide a model of good practice for Horse Racing Ireland in this respect.

This is progressive legislation for two important and vital industries. The Bill cannot be enacted soon enough to allow the industries grow, prosper and develop.

There are a number of bodies and organisations involved in regulating and managing horseracing. Some of them, such as the Turf Club, go back a very long way. Some are older than the State and have very long traditions and procedures. Horseracing is sometimes known as the sport of kings. Fortunately in Ireland we are low on royalty but have thousands who enjoy a day at the races. For some Members a day can stretch to a week in places such as Galway or Listowel. There has been a resurgence of interest in horseracing in recent years and huge sums have been invested in improving facilities at tracks throughout the country. In my constituency Fairyhouse and Navan racecourses are prime examples of the improvements made. As I said, going to the races in years gone by was a fairly primitive affair – a stand was a shed, catering was a chip van, the ring was secured by a rope and car parking often required the services of a tractor to ensure one got out and home. That image and the reality have changed in recent years.

It is all too easy to establish a body such as Horse Racing Ireland. Formulating strategies and plans is also a relatively simple task for an industry that is confident and knows where it is going. Providing funding to ensure plans are realised is often not so easy. The Minister is ensuring Horse Racing Ireland can function effectively by ensuring a funding mechanism is provided for in the Bill. Apart from modest capital funding, the industry will have a self-funding mechanism. Funding will be provided for by excise duty paid on off-course betting, a simple and effective mechanism to ensure the survival of the live event. In this age of technology and interactive events it is wise to ensure armchair and high street punters contribute to the live racing industry through excise duty. At times it appears that technology freaks would be happy if horseracing and greyhound racing were all virtual or the equivalent of fundraising race nights where punting takes place on old races from far away. Nothing can replace the live event and it is very welcome that support is available for live sporting events which ultimately do not cost the Exchequer money.

For those not closely involved with the industry it appears that funding horseracing is unnecessary as it generates huge income. They see that horses are sold for millions of pounds, racecourses are full of helicopters and large cars and champagne flows freely. However, this picture is only one part of the spectacle and not reflective of the industry as a whole.

That is just when the Minister is there.

Development finance is vital for any business, in particular horseracing. Providing top class facilities which will, in turn, attract adequate numbers of punters is vital. Media reports concentrate on the high rollers, the helicopters and the champagne. It is, however, a tough hard industry with early mornings, late nights and hard toil. Many trainers struggle to make ends meet. They survive on winnings and training fees. Prize money is the lifeblood of the industry and linked to punting and punters turning up at race facilities as opposed to the racetracks I described from many years back. If the industry does not receive a share of the income it generates, it will not be able to survive. The State's coffers cannot lose with a successful industry. More punters attending race meetings means more betting taxes and spending on food and drinks. Both industries are significant direct and indirect employers. Increasing funding in the industry will be the responsibility of Horse Racing Ireland. By running successful well attended meetings and having exciting racing which will attract off-course betting they will ensure a revenue stream. Unlike betting on horses, it is a win win situation. Modest investment will ensure rich rewards for the industry, the country and the State's coffers.

Horseracing is a tough hard industry in which to work. It must constantly strive to recruit a workforce. Stables and trainers are finding it increasingly difficult to find workers willing to join the industry. As is the case with most industries, vacancies are increasingly being filled from overseas.

The Minister of State, Deputy Davern, has for a long time championed the cause of the urban cowboys, the young men and women from, by and large, west Dublin who have an unbelievable passion for horses and horsemanship. Their skill on bareback ponies and horses is rivalled only by Hollywood stuntmen.

I welcome the Horse and Greyhound Racing Bill, 2001, which will provide for the significant restructuring of the organisation. It will guarantee increased funding on a permanent basis for the administration of both horseracing and greyhound racing. In that respect, it is long overdue and very welcome. I had to smile when the Minister referred to this as being a subject very close to his heart. That is probably an understatement. I would debate the fact that it might not be so good for his health. Being out in the open air, whether in rain, hail or sunshine, enjoying the best animals in the world participate in races in this country must lift the heart, even when matters are not going so well on the betting front. I do not think that everyone who travels to race meetings must necessarily bet to enjoy themselves. That is one of the main advantages of the industry. Some go to the Galway races and never see a horse. The whole social fabric and excitement of being among the crowd indicates the extent to which the Irish racing industry has developed. One is almost not socially acceptable nowadays unless one attends the big race meetings regardless of whether one is interested in horses.

The existence of the fund is very important and it is essential that it is ringfenced. The funding will be linked to the revenue generated from excise duty on off-course betting. I assume if more bets are placed, more money will be received. Will the removal of the general prohibition in the Betting Act, 1931, on people in Ireland placing bets abroad take revenue away from Irish bookies? I assume, given the competition Acts, Internet betting and the increasing popularity of a day at the races, that this aspect cannot be avoided.

In the short time available to me I would like to concentrate on an important issue and one of the first statements the Minister made. He said that the Government considers racing to be strategically important because of the employment it creates and sustains at all levels and the significant contribution it makes to rural development, farm and other incomes, the business and services sectors, tourism, the economy as a whole and the international reputation of the State. While we have a very good and well supported track for the dogs in Lifford, I would like it to be developed. As Deputy Brady said, it is no harm to go to the dogs the odd time and I am sure the people of County Donegal would like me to go to the dogs more often. It is important not to place an upper limit on the grant aid available for small tracks. Up to now many tracks have survived on a shoestring and deserve to have their standards improved to the same degree as other tracks.

I am often criticised for being parochial. However, I do not mind this because my constituents like me to be parochial. In regard to horseracing, there are some facilities north of the Galway to Dublin line, including Sligo, Roscommon, Downpatrick, Down Royal and Dundalk but there is nothing in the north west. Perhaps grants could be extended to assist small establishments and provide new establishments, which would encourage people to get involved in the activity. As the Minister will be aware, the employment statistics are such in County Donegal that we would like to have our own racing track, which would be very well supported. The high standard of horses is not limited exclusively to the south of the country. There is serious money involved in the industry. I have done my bit to support the racing industry by travelling to courses as far away as Mallow, Listowel, the Curragh and so on. I would like the horses, jockeys, bookies, trainers, stable personnel, course clerks and breeders whom I follow to have facilities in my constituency. I trust this will happen at some stage.

Some may say that those who are addicted to gambling lose a lot of money. However, the vast majority who attend race meetings enjoy themselves without venturing too far astray. Many enjoy race meetings without even betting. I would like to see our racing establishments go from strength to strength, as would the Minister, and I commend him on the Bill.

As it is now 1.45 p.m. I am obliged to call the Minister. He has agreed, however, to allot four minutes of his time to Deputy Stanton and four minutes to Deputy Deenihan.

I thank the Minister for agreeing to share his time and giving me an opportunity to speak on the Bill and the industry in general.

I welcome the Bill with which I have no major difficulty. I visited the track in Cork which, as the Minister will be aware, is a fantastic facility. Everyone involved in the track must be commended for the work and investment put into it. It recently took a knock as a result of the foot and mouth scare, which is regrettable. However, they are working to get over this difficulty and move on.

There is another track in Youghal at the other end of the constituency. Will the Minister indicate the developments planned for this track? If he cannot advise me on the matter now, he might organise to send me a note at some stage on its future. As he will be aware, Youghal is very important from a tourism point of view and much development has recently taken place in the town. Much building has been taking place and many visit the area for the summer. Unfortunately, the area does not have many activities apart from the beach and the greyhound track. I would like to see the track expanded and developed and I am sure the people of Youghal would welcome any help from the Minister in this regard. I would be interested to hear if the Minister has plans for the track and whether the passing of the Bill will help the people in the area, many of whom are very interested in greyhounds. The sport of greyhound racing is great fun but, as the Minister said, there is also a downside to this activity when people lose money.

Youghal is a thriving town and a bypass is being built which will develop it further. I would be very disappointed to see the track closed and not developed. The funding which is available will create an opportunity to enhance the facility. I will be interested in what the Minister has to say on the issue.

I am pleased to contribute to the Bill, which I welcome. It is not before time that both horseracing and greyhound racing was properly funded on a permanent statutory basis. As the Minister will be aware, during the term of the last Government I had responsibility for greyhound racing. Some of the officials involved during that period are present. I am pleased that such great strides are being taken in regard to this activity. The sport needs extra prize money and breeders on the ground need more support for breeding schemes, kennelling, runs and so on. Unless breeders, owners and trainers are supported, the facilities provided in the past five to six years will be of no benefit. The man to look after is the man on the ground who is providing the "athletes" for those who support greyhound racing. I understand that this will be funded by moneys provided from excise duties and off-course betting.

The Minister will be aware that betting tax was abolished this year in England. A newspaper report which came to my attention in recent days has the headline "Bookies seek new deal on betting tax." It goes on to say: "Irish bookmakers are waiting on a signal from Finance Minister, Deputy McCreevy, that betting tax will be abolished here in the next budget. Unless this is forthcoming, they will move telephone and Internet betting sites to the UK. The threat was confirmed by a leading Irish bookmaker yesterday. He said that unless the Irish industry was put on an equal footing with its UK counterpart, where betting tax will be replaced by profits-based tax from October, there will be a mass exodus of bookies from the country. If betting tax is abolished in Ireland, will there be a decrease in the fund available for the purposes of this Bill? If so, how does the Minister propose to make up for any such reduction? That is an important matter which needs to be clarified.

In general, I welcome this very positive Bill. The racing fraternity, in both the horse and greyhound sector, deserves this kind of support. There is a net return from both of these industries to the taxpayer, as well as the economic and recreational benefits. Accordingly, the Bill has merited strong support on all sides of the House.

I thank each of the Deputies who spoke in this debate for their well-informed contributions, their empathy with the industry and their constructive attitude towards it. Deputy Dukes referred to the fact that attendances are increasing at both horse racing and greyhound racing events. As he said, that trend is income-driven and is influenced by the extra leisure time which people now have. I totally accept that better facilities are needed. People expect standards comparable with other entertainment industries. I recommend to the IHA and Bord na gCon that whatever development they are undertaking should be up to the highest international standards, both in relation to tracks and facilities.

I particularly emphasise the importance of good quality tracks, including consideration of the animal welfare aspect of the horses and greyhounds, as well as the comfort of the racing fraternity and the safety of jockeys. One contribution to horse racing which I particularly admire is that of the jockeys, especially national hunt jockeys, who often literally take their lives in their hands when they go around a steeplechase or a hurdle course. As we know from the experience of people such as Shane Broderick, serious injury and possible permanent disablement is a real risk. I am not sure that this aspect is always appreciated by those of us who sit comfortably in our boxes or stand seats and are entertained. I hope all track operators will take account of the need to have tracks up to a very high standard.

Deputy Dukes referred to section 8 of the Bill and, as he requested, I will certainly consult with my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera. Digitalisation is the new form of communication. It is a huge advance on analogue TV and facilitates international communication. The sooner it is widely extended here in Ireland, the better.

Deputy Dukes criticised the absence of an opportunity for representation of punters on the main board. As I said in my introductory speech, I am appointing a consultative forum which will give an opportunity to punters and racing clubs to air their views. That forum will have to be serviced and the new horse racing authority will be obliged to do that and to take the opinions of the forum into account.

I agree with what Deputy Dukes said about the Irish Farmers Journal horse section, which is an excellent publication and provides valuable information. In particular, it highlighted the issue of the foal levy and indeed it is time that matter was tidied up.

In relation to accountability and transparency, which Deputy Dukes addressed at some length, I have tried in every possible way to ensure that requirement is fulfilled. The funding involved is very substantial and taxpayers are entitled to expect transparency and accountability. The chief executives must also give an account of their stewardship and bring forward medium and long-term plans, in keeping with the permanent and long-term funding which we are placing at the disposal of the industry. This House and its appropriate committees are entitled to debate those matters.

Reference was made to friction between Bord na gCon and the sporting press. I understand that there was a problem in that regard up to the end of last year but it appears from meetings which have taken place that it has subsided. I hope it is now out of the way because there is no room for it in the industry.

Deputy Bradford asked that consideration be given to an all-weather race track, complete with floodlights. That should, of course, be considered, with the possibilities now being provided for medium and long-term planning. I will bring it to the attention of the authorities concerned. I also share the Deputy's views on the importance of the prize money available at the lower end of the market. The bulk of the attendance at race meetings is made up of national hunt supporters, who certainly deserve their fair share of the prize money. Deputy Bradford also suggested that grants for alternative farming should be improved and made more available. With regard to Deputy Penrose's comments about punters, I refer him to the section of my speech dealing with the consultative forum.

Deputy Power made a very strong case for stable staff. Undoubtedly, they have been very shabbily treated. They have been poorly paid, left to operate in appalling conditions, having to change in horse-boxes and, in many cases, not provided with hot food facilities. That is just not good enough and I take on board the Deputy's comments.

Deputy Collins said that coursing should get greater consideration in the context of the overall greyhound industry. He also made a case for Limerick greyhound track. Deputy Ulick Burke made a case for Galway race track. While I obviously was not present at the meeting to which he referred, I understand Bord na gCon met with the Galway action group on 10 May to explain the situation and to assure it that there would be no compromise in relation to the Galway project. The action group representatives took the plans away to consider them and a further meeting is to take place. As I have said, my position on all of those developments is that they are up to the very highest standards, without penny-pinching.

Deputy McGahon referred to Leopardstown racecourse and the implications of the road development plans in that area. There have been meetings involving the secretaries general of the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and representatives of the National Roads Authority. I hope an amicable solution will emerge.

Deputy Stanton inquired about Youghal greyhound track. There was a problem about the lease, which may have been cleared up by now, and there will be plans for development there once the lease is in order.

Deputy Deenihan spoke of the importance of increasing prize-money, especially for small breeders. He alluded to a threat by some bookies or their representatives. I do not take kindly to threats from anybody. We are in the process of building an internationally competitive racing and betting industry and we will ensure that is what happens.

Deputy Belton spoke of a need for further support for Longford track. I will ask the authorities concerned to consider that. Deputy Brady and Deputy Keaveney also made cases for their localities.

I again thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate. I listened carefully to all of them and will consider the various issues raised. I understand that we will be able to begin Committee Stage of the Bill next Wednesday afternoon and I look forward to discussing the details then.

Question put and agreed to.