I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy on the death of Pat Eddery. Pat was from a Newbridge family that gave so much to racing in Ireland. Apart from Pat, many other members of his family participated with many of the great trainers around the Curragh. Pat then went on to England and became world famous by riding many winners. He was always one who gave everything. On the radio yesterday, the English trainers said it did not matter whether it was a seller race or a derby he was running in, they knew that if Pat Eddery was on board, they would get full value for their money. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I commend the Minister on bringing forward this legislation for an industry that is so important locally, nationally and internationally. I am also pleased that the Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine played a part in preparing the Bill. That is one aspect of Bills that perhaps we do not use enough. We should ensure committees participate in putting forward ideas, which is what happened in this case and is to be commended.
Many heroes have been created over centuries of racing - too many to mention here. I am sure that, like myself, everyone has well-known names to which they can readily refer. I remember my first winner at a Punchestown festival meeting many years ago. It was a black horse trained by the late Bunny Cox called Jungle Cry. I am afraid, however, that in the interim many a horse went by the post there without my own wager on it, but that is just the name of the game.
The Minister has accurately and rightly set out the critical importance of this iconic, flagship industry. The Bill deals with the statutory functions of the racing world which are very important. The figures for the value of horse racing to Ireland speak for themselves. Some 18,000 people are employed in the sector across rural Ireland while it earns hundreds of millions of euro in exports to almost 40 countries. In addition, the industry contributes well in excess of €1 million to the economy annually. It also attracts more than 80,000 tourists to our world-renowned racetracks which are attended by in excess of 1 million spectators each year.
Nearly every one of the country's 26 racecourses now has its own festival. These are developing into wonderful occasions for loved ones to return home and visit their families as well as seeing their friends and acquaintances. We can see this aspect being developed in various areas by Tourism Ireland and local authorities. Such festivals can be developed around racecourses and, as such, are proving to be valuable to local authority finances as well as those of the racecourses themselves.
This industrial side is vital and central to my community in south Kildare. In many such rural communities it is the main employer. I could cite many of the large studs in south Kildare, including Kildangan which is a major player in employment in that area. Other parts of the industry provide thousands of jobs in stables, racecourses, tote facilities, ancillary facilities, transport, farriers and agriculture. I could go on.
It is also important to the small farmer who may also be a trainer with a private licence for one or two horses. Their day comes too when at a race meeting we suddenly see the small man winning out against his more famous or well-heeled rival. Perhaps many of us go to too many race meetings, but we want to see locals with badges representing their horses in the parade ring. It gives a new value and a sense of involvement to racing which is growing. We used to see it with the derby and dog racing but we are now seeing it on a wider scale with horse racing, especially at some of the major festivals. It is bread and butter for small farmers, trainers and breeders. If they are lucky at Goffs or Tattersalls they may make a breakthrough with one foal, so their year is made. If they are lucky on the day it may be for more than one year.
The spin-off effect of any one day in the racing calendar at any of the three County Kildare racecourses is a major financial input for local communities. Many factors are involved, including restaurants, bars, shops, garages and transport used by visitors and commuters. They ensure there is significant investment in the area surrounding the race meeting.
We hear that the industry has vast potential for growth and expanded investment as the economy shows good signs of recovery. County Kildare's three courses play a major part in our sporting and tourist attractions. The Curragh is the home of all our classics. Last week, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the chairman of the Curragh racecourse, Padraig McManus, explained the new development plans there. It was an exciting moment not just for the racing fraternity in Ireland but certainly for the people of Kildare who love the open plains of the Curragh. Apart from horse racing, the application process includes the development of the Curragh plains and gallops, the Curragh camp and increased training facilities. Many other aspects of community life in the area are of significance to those who use them.
The investors are household names not alone in Ireland but also internationally. In his speech, the Minister mentioned that he had invited more investment via an open door. I was pleased to hear that there is potential to attract more investment to the Curragh and other areas. The way the Curragh is being developed will set a trend thus attracting investment in other areas. It was a great day for Kildare and is something we are looking forward to. With the help of God, the planning application will be made at the start of 2016.
As part of that expansion, Horse Racing Ireland has also approved a substantial development in Naas. Two weeks ago, I was in Naas as the chairman of Club Kildare which is the Kildare GAA supporters' club. It is a beautiful facility on the edge of the motorway which is open for development and investment and will now get a new stand. It will be open for groups in Dublin that go to Naas because of what will be there in the near future. Mr. Tom Ryan and his committee could not have been more helpful to us in ensuring everything was available to us on the day.
Certainly, we will be passing that on to other groups that are interested in having race days and so on. It augurs well for Naas that it is seen as being one of the areas that Horse Racing Ireland will develop.
Dick O'Sullivan and his team at Punchestown have done wonders in developing the festival there. The festival is now matching Cheltenham in National Hunt racing and is the equivalent on the Irish scene. Furthermore, we are now attracting more visitors from the United Kingdom. All the major players in the training game in England are now coming because they want to have their horses run against the best in Ireland. They want to have their horses winning major races at the festival in Punchestown.
As we go forward, it is vital that we look at the industry and ensure that those participating are protected and looked after. There are four main players as I see it: the jockey, the stable lad, the owner and the horse. I gather we are going to provide facilities for stable lads. A former colleague of ours, Seán Power, undertook considerable work to establish the Irish Stable Staff Association. It is good to see that we will have a representative from that association on the racing board. It is important that they are given recognition and that the hard work they do on a daily basis to ensure the industry survives is recognised.
The jockey should be respected too. Under section 7 the funding provided to the pension trust for jockeys and other funds will be protected. It is vital to ensure that all the funds, including the funds for jockeys and the benevolent funds, are secure. We need to look at them on a constant basis. I am unsure whether that is possible under the legislation, but perhaps the Minister could seek to ensure that they are investigated on a constant basis. Perhaps the Minister can ensure that funding is available for hardship cases and cases involving major injuries. We have seen several such cases involving our famous jockeys of late. Two or three of them were badly injured. I am keen to ensure they will be looked after and that the relevant facilities will be put in place not only from an insurance perspective but also in respect of the funds provided.
Recently, I spoke to John Weld, chairman of the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners. The owners want to play their part as well. They have no wish to take over but they are keen to be involved in the running of the various organisations and courses. They want to play their part in anything that goes on. We know that the numbers in ownership are dropping. That is only a passing phase. We will see the strength of the overall package that is Irish racing develop again. This is likely because of the improvement in the economy and because we have never lost the quality of horse running in all the major tracks in Australia, America and the United Kingdom. Indeed, the horses from those areas pose challenges for us when they come here. Yet the breed of horse here has always been well able to look after itself. That is due to the many wonderful trainers we have in this country. I have referred to the small trainers already, but we need to consider the major players as well, including Aidan O'Brien, Jim Bolger and Willie Mullins. There is strength in their depth and experience that cannot be bought. I am sure that will be reflected in the continuing growth of the industry.
Previous speakers referred to the welfare of the horse. Of course it is of paramount importance and we must not ignore that. I do not doubt the views of the Minister in respect of how this should be part of any legislation. As the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, he is familiar with that aspect of the racing world. In that way, one of the most important aspects will be looked after.
People in Kildare have concerns in respect of two aspects of the natural progression of industry. One relates to wind turbines and the other relates to pylons. The question of pylons seems to have been put to rest at this stage. However, there remains a constant threat and there is much concern among the major players, especially in stud farms, with regard to wind turbines and the problems of flicker, noise and the height of the turbines. According to the experts in the bloodstock industry, they pose a major challenge. It would be a major imposition and a concern to us if the development of the wind farm industry continues to the point at which we cannot control it in areas of major importance. Obviously, a person's house is his castle. To my knowledge, that must be and will be protected by legislation. However, we must also look at the other aspects of it. The bloodstock industry is certainly an interested party. I know strong representations have been made to the Minister as well as to other Members on the matter. I hope that common sense will prevail and that, as we go forward, not only the homes of Ireland but also the industry that is so important will be protected. Not every area of Ireland is affected, but in many affected areas, such as mine, stud farms play an important role in employment and community activities. I am not aware of any stud farm in Kildare that does not play a major part in the local community. Those involved look after the facilities in the small villages where they are located and contribute to the overall impact and sponsorship of the areas. Certainly, it would be of major concern if anything were to undermine in any way what we see as being vital to those communities.
I welcome the legislation. I know it relates to a statutory body and regulation and so on. However, in speaking on the Bill we should acknowledge what the industry means to people and to public representatives. No matter where we go in the world, if people mention Kildare they talk of the thoroughbred county where the major stud farms are located. They talk of the home of the classics and the home of the Punchestown festival. In that way we can see the renowned tourism attraction for Kildare. I attended a meeting last week with the chief executive of Kildare County Council, Peter Carey. We spoke about reinventing and reinvigorating the thoroughbred county signage and so on to ensure that Kildare will benefit further from the growth we are seeing. As the Minister said at the Curragh previously, the development of the racecourse will be a central focus for the Irish bloodstock industry. It will ensure benefits for the overall development of the area as well. It was satisfying to hear that the racecourse development will envelop all of the Curragh, including the camp and all the other amenities. One need only go across the Curragh any given morning to see hundreds of people walking, running or riding bicycles. It is a vast area of importance to us. I was delighted to hear this was not solely a racecourse issue but one that would have an overall impact and make a major difference to Kildare and the local people who use the facility.