I am sure the Minister will continue to ensure that people with experience and an interest in the industry will be appointed to the board in the future. I am retiring from politics and am available to serve if the Minister is stuck for an appointee to the board.
It is important to provide a single transparent structure for the administration and financial management of the industry. As the Minister said last night, the Bill's provisions will eliminate duplication and increase efficiencies in areas such as finance, information technology and administration. The Bill also proposes to establish a new statutory committee to focus on the requirements of persons employed in the industry and represent their interests on the board of HRI. In recent days I have been contacted by several people working in the industry about jockeys and injured jockeys in particular. They have asked about the role of the new board in the context of looking after injured jockeys. A lot of jockeys get injured and people have asked whether a fund will be available, through HRI, to compensate those who have been seriously injured. In recent years there has been a lot of fundraising activity on behalf of injured jockeys. Mr. J. P. McManus and many others have run fundraising events, special races and so forth to raise money on their behalf. Perhaps there should be an in-built fund in HRI for this. It may be the case that such a fund already exists; I am not sure. Such a fund could compensate those injured jockeys who cannot return to racing.
As I am on the subject of jockeys, I wish to pay tribute to the late Pat Eddery, who passed away in recent days. He was up there with Lester Piggott, with over 4,700 winners during his career. Eddery, Tony McCoy and many other outstanding Irish jockeys have done a tremendous job in ensuring that Irish horse racing is to the forefront not just in Ireland but also in Europe and the rest of the world. We should recognise the important role played by jockeys in the promotion of the racing industry here. Last night I referred to the importance of people working in the industry. In my own area of the south east, I am referring to people such as Jim Bolger, Aidan O'Brien, Paul Nolan, Colm Murphy and the Mullins brothers. Willie Mullins is an institution in the horse racing industry. People like those mentioned should be utilised more to promote the industry as we move forward.
The Bill will allow the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to undertake regular value for money reviews of the horse and greyhound racing fund in the HRI. I ask the Minister to outline whether he has had particular concerns in that regard. There seem to have been some problems in the greyhound industry. We have a magnificent greyhound track in Enniscorthy which received very little funding over the years but other greyhound tracks in which there was substantial investment now seem to be in financial difficulty and are finding it hard to survive. The make-up of Bord na gCon needs to be re-examined and changed. I believe there will be a change at the top of that organisation in the near future and I am sure the Minister will appoint someone to that role who will drive on the greyhound industry, which is another very important industry in rural Ireland.
I welcome the proposed change to the Forestry Act 2014 which will mean that the process of getting approval for the construction of forest roads will be easier and quicker. In the past there was a lot of duplication and there were delays in that area.
We must recognise the economic value of the horse racing industry to Ireland.
The horse racing and breeding industries contribute €1.1 billion to the economy annually and provide 16,000 jobs, mainly in rural areas. We hear a great deal about the decline of rural areas. The horse racing industry is the only sector that has stood the test of time and I hope it will continue to make a valuable contribution to the rural economy.
During the recession, many horse trainers were forced to reduce their activities owing to a lack of investment in horses. I understand, however, that investment is increasing. The racing industry will be one of the main drivers of growth in rural areas.
Irish horses valued at more than €200 million are exported to 37 countries every year. Our horse industry has the best jockeys and trainers and breeds top-class horses. Every year, many of the foreign riders who appear at the Dublin Horse Show ride horses that were bred in Ireland. Of the 6,500 horse breeders in Ireland, 15% are overseas investors, spread across every county. Racing festivals contribute €260 million per annum to local economies. The Galway Races, for example, generate between €50 million and €60 million for the local economy every year. In 2013, attendances at race meetings increased to 1.24 million. Race meetings at Wexford's valuable and viable track attract large numbers of visitors, including many tourists in summer. For example, people travel from Wales and other countries to attend race meetings in the town. The track is a major driver of tourism in the south east.
The international reputation of the Irish horse racing sector has facilitated exports of more than €150 million annually. The industry supports sport tourism, which attracts an estimated 80,000 visitors annually. Horse Sport Ireland is different from many sporting federations in that it has 28 affiliates under its umbrella and covers a wide range of equestrian activities, from show jumping and mounted games to polo and harness racing. A report produced by UCD in 2012 showed that there were 124,000 sport horses on the island at that time. Clearly, such numbers generate significant employment. The sector is worth €708 million to the economy each year, supporting the equivalent of 12,500 full-time jobs. If a company promised to create 1,000 jobs in any part of the country, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland would offer it all sorts of incentives and supports. For this reason, I welcome the Minister's decision to increase the allocation to Horse Racing Ireland in 2015 and 2016. If additional money comes into the State coffers, it may be possible to further increase funding to the sector.
As I stated, 29,000 people depend on the horse industry for part or all of their income. The industry counts 47,000 regular participants who are defined as breeders or other participants on a fortnightly basis. It is clear from the Indecon and UCD reports that the horse racing industry is very important to the economy. The Indecon report made 37 recommendations in areas such as funding, the board of Horse Racing Ireland, streamlining of functions, marketing, the competitiveness of the sector and legislative and governance changes. I am pleased that the Minister has incorporated many of these recommendations in the Bill.
As I stated, the Fianna Fáil Party will support the Bill. In that context, I apologise for the absence of my party's spokesman on this issue, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív. We will table amendments on Committee Stage to make improvements to this welcome legislation. I welcome the Minister's recognition of the value of the horse industry in a wide range of areas. It is important that we continue to support and develop the industry, which must remain at the forefront of sporting, recreational and tourism activities.
The issue of doping among athletes is topical. From time to time, people raise with me the issue of horse trainers operating outside the law, although I understand the use of drugs in horses is on a small scale. What will be the responsibilities of the board of Horse Racing Ireland in this area? Will it have sole responsibility for weeding out those in the racing industry who may step outside the law, or will responsibility be shared with the Garda and various Departments? If drugs are being used, the practice should be eliminated and those involved severely dealt with. The industry is too valuable to the country to have cowboys operating outside the law. I welcome the Bill and hope it will pass all Stages as quickly as possible.