Horse Racing Ireland Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

As I stated earlier, I welcome the opportunity to speak to this Bill as I grew up beside a fence, most probably in Punchestown. I have been involved with the legislation from when the heads were first put before a committee or even before that.

It seems that some of the Bill is seeking to legislate on what I would call common sense in that people are using common sense already but we seem to be legislating for it. It is not evident in many practices but in the horse racing industry, much common sense prevails, both in the Turf Club and Horse Racing Ireland, HRI. Some of the pernickety elements of the Bill try to rule out the use of common sense. If we were to look at this again, we might eliminate the pieces that might rule out using common sense.

Part of the Bill arises from the Indecon report and there is a move to eliminate duplication. One of the key areas mentioned is HRI and the Turf Club having individual financial structures, but I find it difficult to see how we can eliminate that when representatives of the Turf Club are asked to appear before an Oireachtas committee to account for its finances. It would need a full accounting section within the Turf Club for that to be possible, so why are we examining means of eliminating this duplication? I do not see that happening. It is one of the questions I asked the members of HRI when they came before the committee. Specifically, I asked how many staff would be lost arising from this partial amalgamation but I was told nobody would lose his or her job. When I asked about savings, I was told they would not amount to an awful lot. One must ask why many parts of this Bill are in place. Has there been a value for money review of HRI? Indecon produced an overall report but has a value for money analysis of HRI been done?

The real concern is the independence of the Turf Club because whatever opportunity it had for generating income, although it is not being removed, is being directed somewhere else through HRI and then back to the Turf Club. I am concerned about this because of what happened in the UK with the amalgamation of the regulatory body and the people who run the sector to form the British Horseracing Authority. The Minister is aware of an issue from a few years ago arising from the close links between the regulatory body that would follow up on a matter and a major owner. There were serious concerns about that and I am worried that something similar could happen here, although I hope that will not be the case. The Turf Club is being pulled in more. The Jockey Club ran the regulatory side of the Turf Club in the UK but it is now gone completely. I am concerned about that. The Turf Club is like any other club around the country, including the rugby or GAA club in the Minister's constituency. It is filled with volunteers who steward at racetracks and point-to-point meetings throughout the country. I hope what happened in the UK is not repeated here.

The Turf Club must be independent and part of that is about its ability to access its own finance as quickly as possible instead of having to go cap in hand to HRI all the time. If it does not have that ability, its integrity may be compromised. I am fearful about that as we have tremendous integrity in the racing industry.

On the appeals issue, when a judgment is made by the Turf Club, the person has a right to appeal the judgment, but in certain circumstances the legislation indicates that during the appeals process, whatever punishment was issued to the appellant is suspended. In certain circumstances, a position could arise where the offence is abhorrent but the appellant would be allowed to practise under the rules of racing. That should not be allowed. A fellow tried and convicted for murder is not released when the appeal is ongoing. He would be in jail. This goes back to the issue of common sense. In such cases, the waiving of a sentence while an appeal is taking place should not be allowed.

I apologise for going on but I have a good few more points to cover if I can. I am really passionate about the area. The foal levy-----

I must call the Deputy's colleagues, Deputies Andrew Doyle and Martin Heydon. I am sorry.

Okay. I know where the foal levy goes and I heard what Deputy Catherine Murphy stated earlier.

The Irish Equine Centre is one of the places the funding from the foal levy goes. I have appealed to the Minister before that its funding be increased. It is a hugely responsible body within the whole horse-racing sector and it is having difficulties at the moment because of staff shortages. I have a couple of questions. Will someone from the Tote be on the betting committee? That should be important. I also want to be clear about owners. They invest €300 million per annum in the horse-racing industry. The Government only invested €68 million last year. It was very much welcomed and it is hoped that the investments will come to the racecourses along the way.

I have to be fair to all the Deputies, so I will have to call Deputy Lawlor's colleagues.

I am just wrapping up. It is very important that we have owners on both the race fixture committee and on the media rights committee, because their rights are also implicated with regard to the media. They are the owners of the colours and the owners of the horses that are named. The Minister might include owners on the media rights committee.

I have a couple of points on the language in the Bill-----

Deputy, please-----

I just want to highlight this. I do not know whether it is a discrepancy, but what concerns me-----

Sit down, will you?

-----and I have not got around to mentioning point to point-----

I am sure Deputy Lawlor could put those questions in writing to the Minister and he would be glad to help him. I have to call Deputy Doyle now.

I just do not understand why the Bill mentions "the provision, at its discretion, of financial support for point-to-point steeplechases".

Deputies Doyle and Hayden are sharing 20 minutes.

Financially in point to point-----

Go raibh maith agat. Deputies Doyle and Hayden are sharing 20 minutes.

I will try and limit myself to nine minutes to give Deputy Hayden time. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the general scheme of the Horse Racing Ireland (Amendment) Bill and to thank the Minister for his and his officials' active engagement with the committee. The aim of the Bill is to strengthen governance and transparency within horse racing, to clarify the respective roles of both Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, as the promotional body, and the racing regulatory body, known as the Turf Club, to improve accountability and manage integrity functions.

Last year, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, referred the general scheme to the joint committee and requested that it consider undertaking pre-legislative scrutiny, which we acceded to. Over a period we held a series of meetings, starting on 1 July with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, bringing in all the stakeholders and ultimately bringing in officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on 8 October. We completed a comprehensive process of hearings and made a number of recommendations and observations on foot of that. One of the recommendations I would like to acknowledge, which is referenced in the Bill itself, is that the board of HRI be reduced from 13 to 12 ordinary members plus the chairman. We considered this and heard, in particular, from the Irish Stable Staff Association that the industry services committee on the board would include the chairman of that committee and a member of the stable staff, who comprise the biggest cohort of people working in the industry. While we all see and hear about the princes, millionaires and everyone else who are involved, the people who do the most on the ground are the employees within the business, and without them the whole industry would not function. It was important to recognise that they would have a seat on that committee and ultimately a seat on the board. It is very important that we acknowledge that through an approach by all members of the committee and others, including Deputy Lawlor, who came in on some of the hearings, of engagement and partnership with the officials we achieved something that makes sense. For the sake of one extra person on the board, it was well worth it.

A couple of other things came up. Regarding the issue of regulatory functions and the Turf Club and the fears that it is being held accountable, it already is and there is already a binding arbitration process in place for any disputes. They are binding if it goes that far. Thankfully that has not happened too often. Bear in mind that HRI provides €7.1 million of taxpayers' money to the Turf Club. It is not interfered with. There has been some dispute about this, but in reality, if a body is charged with the integrity functions and is receiving funding from the State, if in a hypothetical situation it were to get funding from another source to do the same thing, it does not seem to me to be unreasonable to expect it to account for why it needs the money. This has not happened, but it could happen: that is the provision.

On point to point races, there is no interference with the hunt clubs, except the administrative process of registration, and in reality, under the current legislation, the point to points get €1.5 million, but this is not referenced at any point in the Horse Racing Ireland Bill as it stands. There is no mandate on the HRI to provide it. It is something to bear in mind and we must put these things in context.

With regard to the foal levy, we have had a good bit of representation from a number of owners, who make the point that the biggest number of owners across this country own five mares or fewer. They have proposed a sales levy, on which I have yet to be convinced, but there is one point: the foal levy, as it is constructed, is based on various different levels, so one triggers into a higher levy based on the advertised fee. The tables are very transparent but the advertised fee is the guiding fee, as opposed to the invoice fee.

I do not know whether it is for the Bill itself, for a statutory instrument, or for the HRI to decide this when its new board is formed, but there is merit in saying, as is the case in many other sectors, that one should pay based on the invoiced amount rather than the advertised amount. That removes the ambiguity whereby some people are getting a deal and paying less because they have two or three mares with the same stud owner but they are not being acknowledged for that. Some of the fees seem to be set just marginally above a trigger point, which is a bit of a coincidence. I suppose that is the way it works.

I agree with what Deputy Lawlor said about the Irish Equine Centre. It is like many other semi-stand alone entities in that it needs to be funded properly. People will say when they go to it that there is a health and safety risk down there with the level of clutter and everything else in a building that is not fit for purpose. Provision has to be made for that and a better stream of funding must be secured. They do carry out other functions on behalf of other bodies, including BVD testing for bovines, and they get paid for it, but a proper structure of funding for the Irish equine sector, although it goes beyond the remit of this Bill, is very important.

On funding itself, we have referenced in our report, and it is referenced in the Bill, the whole idea of State funding and support. It is to be welcomed that this has increased over the last two budgets. However, in the long term it is interesting to see some of the figures on the robustness of this industry. The number of owners has dropped significantly, as has the number of people working in it, but attendance at racecourses has been maintained quite well, as has betting. In many aspects, betting has increased, but we are not capturing it. I know the Betting Tax (Amendment) Bill is taking a while to get through, but we have to look long-term at a stand alone funding model for the horse racing industry so that the State has to continue to invest in it. It is too important and there are too many people - 17,000 - working in it to leave it to struggle without that support. There is an alternative if we get it right. I am somewhat disappointed that the Gambling Control Bill will not be completed in the lifetime of this Dáil, because it is comprehensive legislation which deals with, among other matters, betting revenues and betting on- and off-course.

The Betting (Amendment) Act 2015 goes most of the way, particularly for the horse and greyhound sectors, but it is important that we get this finished. I ask the Minister to urge his colleagues to ensure that this important Bill is enacted as quickly as possible.

I would like to record and acknowledge the support that the committee received from both the Library & Research Service and the secretariat in preparing a report. This process should expedite Committee Stage and make it more efficient. Indeed, officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine briefed us, both formally and informally, and took our views on board as we progressed, so that by the second time they met us they were well aware of our thinking as a committee, and we were reflecting what the sector's stakeholders had articulated to us during our hearings.

I commend this comprehensive Bill. The Minister and his officials are to be commended on it. It is a vital sector, particularly for rural areas, and one that gives us a good reputation both at home and abroad. It is something that deserves this type of attention to detail.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this important Bill, which has seen a significant amount of work. As Deputy Doyle pointed out, it is the first time that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, of which I am a member, has been able to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny, a new process that Government has brought in, which allowed us to examine thoroughly with the relevant stakeholders in the sector the impact of a change in legislation, and will hopefully allow us run the Bill through the House with greater buy-in and a better understanding of everyone involved.

As a Deputy representing Kildare South, I have always been an advocate for the horse racing and breeding sector, not only because I like horses and going to the races but also because I know so many employed in the sector in my constituency and who employ others in the sector also. This economic activity, which was worth €1.1 billion to the Irish economy in 2012, happens in rural parts of Ireland where there is little other economic activity. Of the 18,000 employed in the sector, 4,000 are in Kildare alone. Those are 4,000 real jobs and pay packets that help drive the local economy, never mind the positive image Kildare enjoys as the thoroughbred county.

This Bill comes after a lengthy period of review of all aspects of the horse racing sector. It started with the Minister's commissioning of a review of the sector by Indecon, and the Department facilitated a stakeholder consultation as part of that review, which included written submissions from interested parties. The Department then drafted the Bill and it came before us in the Oireachtas joint committee for the pre-legislative scrutiny. The process was a really good exercise during which we invited in all of the key stakeholders. Discussions took place over a number of months, and the officials in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine paid close attention to what was said and some of the concerns that were raised. It is a good way for us to do business in the House.

This Bill looks to strengthen governance and transparency within the administration of horse racing. It also clarifies the functions of Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, and the racing regulatory body, the Turf Club, as well as streamlining certain administrative functions. It extends the definition of integrity services to allow the racing regulatory body to ensure that horses are run fairly and properly without being limited to on-course activities, which is a key change.

Representation on the board of HRI is set to change also, with ministerial representation increasing from one to three members, including a representative of Northern Ireland. The racing regulatory authority will have three representatives. Other representatives on the board will include one from the race courses, one from the horse breeders, one from the horse trainers and one from the owners, who are important because they contribute so much to the sector.

Two board members will be from the industry service committee. I am delighted that one of these will be a dedicated representative of the Irish Stable Staff Association following the recommendation from the Oireachtas joint committee. The stable staff are the lifeblood of the sector, working seven days a week and all hours of the day to care for and prepare the horses. Without these skilled workers, the excellent horsemen and women who work in yards all over the country, we would not be world leaders in this game. This additional seat is a recognition of the position of the thousands who work in the yards the length and breadth of this country, and I thank the Minister for taking on board our request to ensure that they are adequately represented on the board of HRI.

There will also be a representative from the betting committee, which is important. The relationship between the bookmaker and the racing sector has been fraught at times. Having representation on the board from the whole betting industry is crucial. There are synergies that could be beneficial to racing from working more closely with the betting industry. This move definitely achieves one of the aims of the Bill, which is to improve communication throughout the sector. The fact that the media rights, which are so coveted and which are crucial to the funding model, are largely paid for by the betting sector is proof of the importance of a working relationship between both sides.

Streamlining and the achievement of efficiencies should be an ongoing job in any State or private entity that has access to taxpayers' funds. In this instance, the streamlining must also take cognisance of the need to not undermine integrity functions. I therefore welcome the assurances that the Minister has given with regard to both the integrity services carried out by the racing regulatory body and the commitment to maintain and protect the strong point-to-point activity.

The Turf Club is, in effect, a private club, the voluntary members of which contribute significantly to the running of the sector and safeguard and protect the rules of racing. We can never take this integrity for granted. The Turf Club, in exercising those functions, receives some taxpayers' funding, and the provisions in the Bill are very much about protecting the interests of taxpayers and ensuring that there is full openness and transparency.

The HRI, as a semi-state body, is answerable to the Committee of Public Accounts and other State watchdog bodies. This Bill improves the transparency and accountability where public funds are involved while also looking to protect the ability of the racing regulatory body to carry out its functions without its integrity being impinged. That is a fine balance that we must get right for the good of the overall sector. In that regard, I am quite happy that sections 11 and 12 put the Turf Club on a stronger footing in many regards. Section 11, regarding the rules of racing, points out that the Turf Club is solely and independently responsible for making and enforcing the rules of racing, provides on-course integrity services, licenses racecourses and participants in horse racing, sets charges for licences and is responsible for decision-making regarding handicapping and doping, all of which are important matters. Let us be honest and admit that integrity is something we take for granted when the sector is doing as well as it is, but all we ever need is for something to go wrong and then everyone will look and ask where the integrity is. Much consideration has been given to this. The Turf Club has appeared before the Oireachtas joint committee and has made representations. It is really important that, as the Bill moves through the House, we keep strongly in the forefront of our minds that no step here will impinge on that in any way. I am happy that this Bill goes a long way towards that while also protecting and representing the best interests of the taxpayer.

I will touch on the redevelopment of the Curragh, which is not directly linked with this Bill. In my constituency, the announcement a couple of weeks ago of a €65 million redevelopment of the Curragh underpins the confidence regained in the sector after a tough recession, but also Government's commitment to the sector, because it takes funding and confidence to make that happen. The fact that we now have a partnership between the HRI, as a semi-state body, and the Turf Club, which had to move a long way in sharing its ownership of the Curragh racecourse, along with private benefactors, shows what can be achieved in a public-private partnership, if you like, of a different type. I was struck that at the launch the private investors' representative singled out, as the Minister who was present will be aware, the confidence as a result of the investment by the Government over the past couple of years. Although the increases that we have managed to secure in the horse and greyhound fund in the past couple of years were important, there has also been a sense that the Government is taking it seriously - not merely making a token effort, but recognising that this is a sector that employs 18,000 people the length and breadth of the country. It is economic activity, and the Government is serious about protecting the horse racing and breeding sectors. That is why we saw that private investment come into the Curragh.

In terms of the future funding model for the sector, something that came up quite a bit in the discussions at the Oireachtas joint committee is the level of frustration. Down through the years, the horse racing sector never wanted to be in a position in which it was dependent on the taxpayer. However, it is aware that at times of recession such as we have come through, the cheap throwaway comments from the Opposition benches to the effect that it is grand to fund the racing authority but we could open another hospital ward instead, are populist and effective soundbites.

However, it misses the fact that the sport is not just a flutter on our part, but is an investment in an industry that creates jobs. We would like to return to a point where we have multi-annual funding and the racing industry can stand alone, as it did before.

While I welcome the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan's move during recent years to extend betting to the remote and offline, more can be done. It does not come under the Minister's remit but is more a matter for the Department of Finance. A 1% rate of duty on betting is low. We wanted to get the online system bedded in to see how it went. I hope whoever is in charge of the purse strings for the next budget will seek to grow it and increase the slice of the cake that comes in from betting revenue and thus get racing back to a position where it is not dependent on a handout from the Government, which can fluctuate each year, and can plan with a multi-annual approach. I welcome the work by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, in giving a commitment for the next couple of years of funding and sticking to it, which allows them to plan accordingly.

I know the Minister's commitment to the industry. He and his officials have done extensive work on bringing this body of work through since before the Indecon report to date. I look forward to further detailed debate as it reaches Committee Stage, and I look forward to the strengthening and growth of our racing and breeding industry, which is a source of pride to all Irish people.

The regulation of the horse racing industry is an important function, although there is a certain paradox in the idea of horse racing being an industry. I am uncomfortable about the misuse of animals to generate profit. I am from Newbridge, County Kildare. I grew up beside the Curragh and knowing horses and horse racing, and respecting horses and other animals, is part of my DNA. The point has often been made that elite race horses are treated better than many human beings in terms of their standard of living and the care and attention they receive. While that is in part true, elite athletes pay an enormous cost for their dedication to their sports and, unlike humans, horses do not necessarily have a say in the activity.

We must be balanced. While horse racing generates revenue and is an industry which makes multi-millions of euro every year, the nuclear and arms industries are also industries, but ones to which many people object on ethical grounds. Creating employment in itself is not reason enough for an activity to exist, and we must be balanced when we deal with these issues. I would like to propose some points that have not come up in the debate so far.

Horse racing is often cruel and unpleasant. Although we call it a sport, it leads to dreadful injuries for horses which race and, inevitably, leads to the slaughter of horses that do not make the grade. Sadly, there was rampant overbreeding of horses during the boom years, and, when the crash hit, these horses were slaughtered in their thousands. Some 4,618 thoroughbreds were slaughtered in licensed abattoirs in 2011 and God knows how many thousands were slaughtered in registered knackers' yards. In 2012, some 24,362 horses of all kinds were slaughtered in Ireland. The problem I have with the Bill is that there is no provision to deal with the overbreeding of race horses. Like everything else, the market dictates and decides. It is a missed opportunity to put measures in the Bill.

According to Animal Aid in the UK, approximately one in every 37 horses which start a season’s racing will have perished by the end of it. They die as a result of a racecourse or training injury, or are killed because they are deemed no longer financially viable. Some 82% of flat race horses older than three years of age suffer from bleeding lungs, that is, exercise induced pulmonary haemorrhage, which can cause blood to leak from the nostrils. Some 93% of horses in training have four gastric ulcers, and the condition gets progressively worse. This is the cost to horses of our horse racing industry. When these horses are retired, their conditions and welfare improve. I would have liked if this Bill had paid more attention to the fate of retired race horses, which is often a dismal one.

It is disappointing that the Minister, who probably does not have the worst of reputations on animal welfare issues, did not seize the opportunity in the Bill to dedicate funds from the horse and greyhound fund for programmes to retrain and rehome former race horses. Maybe it is salvageable. I do not know why the opportunity was not seized, and the Minister should address it. The Irish Horse Welfare Trust runs the only such programme in Ireland, which is part funded by Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association. However, with hundreds of race horses being retired every year, further funding could have ensured that none of the horses ended up abandoned, shot or slaughtered. Having dedicated themselves to the altar of profit for the two or three years during which they were racing, no horse should end this way. Given the millions of euro sloshing around in the horse racing industry, it is shocking that of the 401 horses seized by the ISPCA between 2008 and 2014, because they were living in conditions too atrocious to be left in, approximately 10% were thoroughbreds.

The Minister takes great offence at wanton cruelty to animals, particularly to horses. We should use the Bill to divert resources to deal with retired race horses. Given that the animal welfare concerns exist with regard to horse racing, I am surprised the Bill does not stipulate that somebody from an animal welfare background should sit on the board of Horse Racing Ireland. The Bill specifies that the chairman and members of the board will be appointed by the Minister, having regard to creating a balance between the different interests in the horse racing industry. It is very vague. Where are the interests of the horses? Horse racing and betting is a multi-million euro industry. The welfare of the animals which make it all possible must be factored in somewhere. It could be tightened up in the legislation.

Other Deputies have mentioned the fact that no specific provision is made for representatives of horse owners to sit on the media rights committee. Given that the media rights money paid to racecourses would not exist without owners, it is a legitimate enough point that they should be given some involvement in that regard. However, one of the areas that could be improved is the withholding of funds. This is an industry. It is all about profit, and money talks. Money influences whether unorthodox or unacceptable behaviour is addressed. While the Bill makes welcome provisions for the Minister to withhold funds to Horse Racing Ireland or Bord na gCon under certain circumstances, for example, if they fail to furnish accounts, it does not go far enough and we should do much more.

Currently, Bord na gCon can decide to pass on public taxpayers' money to the Irish Coursing Club, for example, as it did in 2014 when almost €14,000 went to coursers for DNA sampling and €92,057 went to Sporting Press Limited, which is a subsidiary of the Irish Coursing Club. I find it absolutely reprehensible that taxpayers' money is being diverted for hare coursing. I am quite sure the overwhelming majority of Irish taxpayers agree with me that it is nauseating. This Bill does not provide for a sanction whereby funds can be withheld from Bord na gCon if they are to be used for these purposes. I suggest that this legislation is too good an opportunity to miss. Public funding for coursing is seriously sick in a society that claims to be civilised. We need to do more to use this legislation in the way I am advocating. In its response to the Indecon report, which was absolutely damning of Bord na gCon's activities, the board said it would make additional contributions to the retired greyhound trust "when resources permit". I would respond to that by saying "big deal - yippee" and asking whether they think they are great. To be honest, this Bill could have stipulated as a condition for the drawdown of funds from the horse and greyhound industries that a certain percentage of those funds should go to the retired greyhound trust and other welfare initiatives. I still think it is not too late for us to look at including such a stipulation. It is important that we sanction Bord na gCon for not submitting accounts - it is great because we all love exemplary accounting skills - but to be honest, sanctioning the board for poor animal welfare practices is far more serious and beneficial. It is something that needs to be built much more clearly into this legislation. If we are talking about regulation, we should put the animals that are the source of the profit in the first place at the heart of the Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I know that these are early days in its passage through the Oireachtas. However, it has been the subject of extensive consultation at the joint committee and with individual Deputies. I expect that there will be positive and genuine engagement with the Minister on Committee Stage. I hope some of the points that have been made by Deputies will be taken on board in a genuine way. I am aware that certain representative bodies within the sector are concerned. I trust that those concerns will be taken seriously and that there will be genuine engagement.

I welcome this opportunity to put a few points on the record. I am deeply passionate about this industry. It is unfortunate that this sector has been subjected to a great deal of misinformation and negativity in recent times. The first point to be made is that this is a sport in which we excel. We are the best in the world. It is also an industry where we happen to be the best in the world. That is something I am deeply proud of as an Irish person. I believe the vast majority of Irish people are extremely proud of it. We are probably a little shy about promulgating the major success story that surrounds the thoroughbred breeding and racing sector, which is a massive contributor to the economy. Various figures have been bandied around in the Chamber today, but I understand that approximately 17,000 or 18,000 people are directly employed in this sector. Many people in rural Ireland are indirectly employed because of the racing industry and the thoroughbred sector. It is a very important part of the life of this country, particularly in rural Ireland. Indeed, the important racecourse up the road in Leopardstown receives a great deal of local support in Dublin.

Sadly, we live in a time of major decline in rural Ireland, where significant challenges like depopulation, youth unemployment and emigration are being faced. The racing sector has endured and continued to excel throughout all of these difficulties. We have racecourses in 17 counties. Well over 1 million attend race meetings every year. As Deputy Heydon noted, that number is not in decline. If one examines what is happening in other countries in Europe, one will see that this is quite unique. It is something to be really proud of, and it is a testament to the resilience, hard work and vision of the people who work in the racing sector. The racing festivals at Punchestown, Galway and Listowel, to name just three, are massive earners in those communities. It is important to mention that they are significant drivers of growth and employment at various times of the year.

We have been subjected to a certain degree of inverted snobbery about racing. Nothing could be further from the truth than the notion that it is for an elite. While this is particularly true in the national hunt sector, it applies right across the board. This industry and sport is about the common man and woman. The fact that 93% of farms involved in this sector have just a handful of mares bears out the suggestion that it is about ordinary people. The vast majority of breeders in Ireland are small-time breeders. Many of them are living the dream, or hoping to live the dream, by investing constantly and working all year round to support their passion. I suppose they are hoping to strike gold at some point. Unfortunately, that does not happen for most people. This really important sport, which is part of rural Ireland and our way of life, encompasses all strata of society while attracting massive investment from some of the wealthiest people in the world. We are all familiar with the investment we have seen from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East. In recent times, significant investment has come from places like Qatar. That is happening all the time in counties like Kildare and right across the country.

Vision has been a feature of the thoroughbred sector in recent decades. It is not often that I give credit in this Chamber to previous Fianna Fáil Governments, but I will do so on this occasion because the introduction of the stallion tax was a really bold step that led to many opportunities, drove investment in the industry and gave Ireland the opportunity to be one of the best places in the world in which to invest and breed. We should be proud of that legacy, which continues today. Unfortunately, it contrasts with what is happening in the sport horse sector. I know the Minister has done a great deal of good work to help that sector in recent years. I hope the studies and reports he has commissioned will bear fruit in the sport horse sector, which is an area in which we took our eye off the ball and failed to show the same vision and ambition. Unfortunately, Ireland has moved from being one of the best producers of sport horses in the world to falling way down the rankings, with just a handful of horses in the top 100 of the Longines rankings. We need to see a new vision in the thoroughbred sector and a new vision for racing. The related question of ensuring there is a stable and long-term supply of funding and investment arose when we considered the Betting (Amendment) Bill and the Gambling Control Bill. We need an integrated approach. While I welcome the great ambition that has been shown, certainly by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, other elements of the Government have not necessarily shown the same degree of support, unfortunately. We really need to push for such support. There has to be no doubt that the industry will receive secure long-term funding.

I would say we have seen certain worrying trends in recent times. While the value of exports is increasing, the number of horses being exported is decreasing. Obviously, we are selling our best horses. While that is welcome, we have to consider the medium and long-term needs and objectives of breeding and training. Ultimately, we want to stand the very best stallions in this country. That is what the tax exemption for stallions was about in the past. I think we need to concentrate on trying to address the slightly worrying trend that exists in this area. I am sure the Minister is well aware of it. Equally, race horse ownership has declined. I am between two minds on whether that is necessarily a negative. During the Celtic tiger era, we saw too many bad horses running, frankly. Similarly, we saw too many bad horses being produced in the sport horse sector. We have to focus on quality. There are many ownership models that can be pursued, encouraged and incentivised by the Government through taxation or whatever.

It must be targeted. We cannot go back to producing low quality stock just to pump up the numbers. It is very important that we continually and rigorously focus on quality and I know that the Minister feels the same way about that issue.

Tourism is a very important factor and one that is often overlooked when we are quantifying the value of the sector in this country. There have been some very interesting and welcome innovations in recent years like the champion's weekend, for example, of which I am very supportive. We need to develop a lot more of our tourism industry around the equestrian sector generally, be it sport horses, hunting, racing and so forth. Much of that can be integrated because often it is the same people who are interested in all the different elements. There is real potential there.

Many of the concerns I have about the Bill have been highlighted by Deputy Anthony Lawlor. When one focuses on efficiencies and cost-savings, which is what this Bill is largely about, it is very important that the integrity and independence of the regulatory system is not compromised, but there are risks in this Bill. Deputy Lawlor pointed to the experience in the UK, which is not one we should replicate. There is a risk that the independence of the Turf Club can and will be compromised by this legislation. I know these concerns have been brought to the Minister's attention and I am sure he has given them consideration. However, I believe more consideration needs to be given to them before this Bill gets to Committee Stage. I have no doubt that amendments will be tabled at that point to try to improve the Bill and ensure this drive towards efficiency is not delivered at a cost to the integrity of the sector and independence of the Turf Club. This is an issue the Minister has heard raised many times but it is something he must seriously consider.

I note that I have run out of time. There were a number of other points I wished to make but I will not get an opportunity to do so at this stage. I hope to be in a position to do so on Committee Stage.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to contribute to the debate on this very important legislation, the objectives of which are to strengthen governance and transparency within horse racing, to clarify the respective roles of the HRI and the RRB, to improve accountability and control over the generous State funding of the sector and to streamline the administrative functions of these two bodies. While these objectives are both laudable and timely, we must be careful to ensure in our rush to the headland of good governance that we do not suffocate and snuff out the work of many inspired generations of volunteers throughout the country. I refer, for example, to point-to-point racing and how it is governed and administered. We must be careful not to see everything through the prism of the large, viable and disproportionately better supported HRI. The smaller provincial racecourses will be the victims in this and will lose out in terms of funding, particularly if the media rights provisions in section 5 come to pass. That effectively gives the HRI the right to secure all income generated from the sale of media rights as part of its general functions.

I will digress for a moment and refer to a matter in which the Minister is greatly interested. Indeed, I applaud his interest. We all know that the horse racing industry makes an important contribution to employment in numerous areas including training, breeding, catering, betting, regulation and transport and provides work for jockeys, stable hands and so forth. That is why it is absolutely critical that we put a full stop to the stupid, ill-conceived and bananas plans of various wind companies to erect wind turbines across the midlands, in the heart of rural Ireland. Wind farms and stud farms are incompatible and do not run together. There is a clear danger that some prominent stud farmers will relocate if these monstrosities are given the go ahead. I do not think it will ever happen but we must be vigilant. I unequivocally support the efforts of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, to increase significantly setback distances and to curtail and restrict the areas where these companies are contemplating setting up wind farms so as to protect stud farms, villages and agricultural and pastural lands. These wind farms should not be allowed in any such areas. There are more than 200,000 acres of cutaway bog available for the extraction of wind energy. That said, I am of the view that the economic case for wind energy is dead in the water and does not stand up. If wind farms were not subsidised they would not even get out of the traps. As is the case in Britain, I advocate that subsidies be cut off and discontinued altogether. We should let the wind farm projects stand on their own two feet, so to speak, if they are capable of doing so at all. I urge the Minister to ensure they become a dead duck.

I am acutely aware of the fact that the bloodstock industry is of enormous economic benefit and nowhere more so than in my own constituency. The horse and greyhound industries secured significant additional resources in the recent budget thanks to the good work of the Minister which must be acknowledged. The industry provides more than 17,000 jobs, as my colleagues have said, and is worth well in excess of €1 billion, with exports worth in excess of €200 million. We all recognise that State support was designed to make up for the shortfall in funding for the horse and greyhound sectors caused by the economic downturn.

Racecourses are the critical element for horse racing, as the Minister is well aware. Without the 26 racecourses located across 19 counties, which are capable of hosting both national hunt and flat race meetings, the industry would not exist at all. In recent times, horse racing has seen significant declines in a number of key areas. Attendances are down, on-course betting activity has reduced significantly and the number of racehorse owners and horses in training is down by over 30%, although the decline in the last area has been stabilised somewhat in recent times.

Attendances are not down.

That decline was partly due to the amount of levies being imposed on horse owners by the HRI. Owners had to renew their colours every year, which was nonsense. They also had to pay money to renew the registration of trainers. The HRI was extracting money at an unacceptable rate. It got blood out of the turnip. It contributed to the decline in numbers and I have said that to its representatives. The Turf Club and others involved in the industry know of my views on this matter, as do the media. The HRI acted disgracefully. It has started to cut back on some of those practices now, but a bit late in the day. During the recession, the HRI was horrendous and had no feeling for ordinary punters or the small racehorse owners.

Racecourses play an important role in the development of tourism, as I know well from the work done by my local racecourse at Kilbeggan, which is 175 years old this year. We are very proud of that racecourse. It is managed shrewdly by Paddy Dunican together with the clerk of the course, Lorcan Weir, and the large and willing band of volunteers who work hard to make it the great racecourse that it is in the heart of the midlands. We are very proud of it as a premier location and a premier racecourse.

I am motivated not by any grandiose ideas or plans born in the brains of well-sheltered bureaucrats but by what is important from the perspective of the racecourses and their voluntary management who have struggled to survive. They have not been helped, notwithstanding assurances I was given to the contrary, by the machinations and manoeuvring of the HRI which seems to be preoccupied with ensuring the top courses, some of which are owned by its members, continue to progress and are the major beneficiaries of the largesse of the State. I would use the issue of media rights as an example of what I mean in this regard. It is critical that the racecourses have the final say in approving any contracts involving media rights. Those rights are owned by the racecourses. They are a proprietary right and there is a constitutional issue involved. As a lawyer, I wish to signal that fact. It is likewise with the issue of point-to-point meetings, about which I will speak later.

Section 10(9) and (10) of the 2001 Act, which deal with the distribution of the income generated from media rights, must be deleted. This must not be ratified collectively either because there is a fear, which is well founded, that this would lead to a return to the old situation whereby the HRI and the bigger racecourses would outvote and overrule the wishes and the will of the smaller racecourses and impose their view on the matter. They would determine how to deal with the collection of large sums originating from the sale of media rights and they would reign supreme. I do not want any part of this section circumscribed by the imposition of any additional sections which would effectively amount to a sleight of hand. I wish to signal that I will be keeping a very careful and close eye on this on Committee Stage. I am not a contrarian but experience has taught me to be sceptical when required and in this case I will be so.

The television rights income on Irish racecourses, especially the smaller country tracks, is replacing revenue from declining admissions income. That is why it is vital for small racecourses to be able to protect their intellectual property rights. Others should not have the right to grab them, to expropriate them for themselves and then decide how much to give to the racecourses. That is not the way life works. Those racecourses have been in existence for a very long time. Kilbeggan, as I said earlier, has been operating for 175 years. I also go to the racecourses in Roscommon and Ballinrobe regularly and would only go to the bigger racecourses for the odd big race meeting. The smaller courses are the bedrock of the industry.

To be blunt, the HRI depends on the taxpayer for its income. It receives significant grants from the taxpayer through the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. As a State body it was clamouring to get a share of the racecourse media rights for years and in 2001 it achieved that goal with SIS. There was great annoyance at this because not only did the HRI receive the market value for the ownership of the media rights but small racecourses like Kilbeggan had to pay €12,000 per meeting to the HRI, amounting to €96,000 for eight meetings. Over an eight year period, that amounted to €768,000. A significant number of bookmaker's shops have closed since the last contract was negotiated in 2011 so there will be fewer bookmaker's shops to buy the media rights products in the next contract. The question arises as to whether it will be the smaller racecourses that will bear the brunt if there is a decrease in income. That is why this issue is so important.

It is fundamental and runs to the very essence of this Bill.

The deletion of section 10(9) and (10) will enable a section to be included to provide for formal ratification and approval by racecourses of any contract involving media rights. I may be wrong in this regard but I have checked the approximate percentage increases in income received in the most recent SIS media rights contracts negotiated by Horse Racing Ireland in 2011. I note the increase for Fairyhouse racecourse was 70% and I salute that decision. The increases for the racecourses at Leopardstown, Punchestown, the Curragh and Galway were 78.38%, 88.25%, 97.24% and 90%, respectively. I also note that the increases for the racecourses at Ballinrobe, Clonmel, Dundalk, Roscommon, Kilbeggan and Thurles were 35%, 29%, 36%, 36%, 32% and 35%, respectively. The change is important for this reason.

I understand that prior to 2011, racecourses received equal payment from SIS for their media rights. As such, the pitch was level. I understand Horse Racing Ireland is now requiring racecourses to pay a minimum sponsorship contribution of €3,500 for premium fixtures. If the racecourses are not able to guarantee such payment, they may have to find alternative dates and times for the relevant race meetings - for example, by moving them to weekday afternoons during the summer months or outside the summer period altogether. As I indicated, Kilbeggan racecourse is 175 years old and has much of which to be proud. Kilbeggan is clearly a summer track. Is the introduction of a minimum sponsorship charge of €3,500 a way of compelling racecourses to pay towards the prize money and administrative costs of the racing industry? The Government, through the Minister, is already funding the industry to a significant degree. One must wonder what is the motive or rationale for this proposal, which is a matter of grave concern, especially for smaller racecourses. I have spoken to representatives of a few such racecourses and they work hard to control costs and outlay. These racecourses are operating as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible without compromising standards. The issue of media rights is important for this reason and it is a matter on which I and other members of the Labour Party will focus.

I will raise another bugbear of mine, one that is shared by many of those working in the industry. County Westmeath is decorated by high achievers at high levels, from horse owners, breeders and trainers to jockeys, stable mates and stable hands. One cannot but laud the wonderful recent publication by Kilbeggan native Stan McCormack of a book with the title Racing Through the Midlands. The Minister should buy a copy. Mr. McCormack is well up in the racing industry and did a great job in the book. It refers to various issues, including the Newbrook racecourse in Mullingar, the famous races at Kilbeggan, the point-to-point races at Castletown Geoghegan and The Pigeons in Doory near Ballymahon. It also highlights many successful breeders, trainers and jockeys who achieved significant success in many important races and famous equestrian occasions. Some of these in my home area include Cecil and Alan Ross and their late father Billy, Adrian Murray, the late Jimmy Tormey, Ciaran Murphy, and Dot Love, who trained Liberty Counsel to win the Irish Grand National. Martin Lynch from Castletown Geoghegan nearly won the Aintree Grand National. These are small trainers who did their best and fought to survive during the recession. Tommy Cleary is another trainer in Athlone whose son is a very good jockey. Anne Fallon is also a trainer. Owners include Gigginstown House Stud and Michael and Eddie O'Leary, and hardly a week goes by in which one does not read about one of them. They also have great supporters who travel to Cheltenham and elsewhere. Christy Maye and Martin Dibbs bred Comply or Die, which won the National. Sean Reilly, a neighbour of mine, bred the great mare Shadow Eile. There is also the late Ned Newman and his son Gerry in Leney, Ballinalack. Other notable names include the late Cecil Ronaldson and the O'Neill family of Rathganny in Multyfarnham. Mr. Watt won the Grand National in 1958, and L'Escargot, who was bred there, won 17 years later when he beat Red Rum in 1975. Other names include the Nugents, the Boyd-Rochforts, Tally-Ho Stud, the Clearys of Bishopstown, the Dobsons, and the Downes family of Russellstown Stud. Peter Downes, one of nature's gentlemen, was an expert on all things equestrian. The late Colm Murray had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the racing industry. The Minister will know Mr. Breon Corcoran, the chief executive of a new betting entity. He is a Mullingar man from Ballinea, and we are very proud of him. I have only referred to a sample of the County Westmeath people associated with the sport of kings, although they do not regard it as such because they are ordinary folk who have an ingrained love of racing.

I will address briefly the importance of point-to-point racing and the reasons it should not be included in the Bill. Surely it is incongruent to have a successful amateur sport that is manned by volunteers governed by legislation. I am completely confused by the decision to include the sport in the provisions of the Bill, because this is not done with any other sport. I am involved with point-to-point racing, which has its base in rural Ireland. I was delighted to win one of the oldest cups in Ireland, the Barbour Cup, twice with Ballintue Road. Point-to-point racing is a community activity organised by the local hunt or committee. The point-to-point community is almost entirely voluntary and is predicated on the traditional concept of sharing and co-operation. It is an integral part of the fabric of rural communities throughout the island. Point-to-point racing was not covered by the Indecon report and is not mentioned in existing legislation. The sport has thrived under the stewardship of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee, INHSC, and is run on a very low cost base owing to high levels of volunteerism in the sport. It is not necessary to have a successful amateur sport governed by legislation, as is proposed in this Bill. This proposal is unprecedented, and while I will not dwell on the issue, I would not be surprised if it was subject to a legal challenge. The Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee has made many submissions to the Department and it is disappointing that they have all fallen on deaf ears.

They have not fallen on deaf ears.

We do not agree with everything it wants. Only minimal changes are being made. The only changes are to streamline payments.

That is still a major change for volunteers who will see the big boys come into the sport. The Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee runs point-to-point racing by providing racing officials and voluntary stewards for each fixture. It also provides a comprehensive committee and administrative structure to deal with integrity and licensing issues. The sport has never experienced major problems, although the Minister may wish to point out some problems.

The Bill will require point-to-point participants to register with Horse Racing Ireland. This is an unwarranted interference in the running of an amateur sport, which is run successfully by the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee. The provisions will irreparably damage point-to-point racing and its culture of volunteerism. This will be the first time in the history of the State that participants in amateur sport will be required to register with a State body. I played GAA at amateur level for 27 years, during which I was never required to register with a State body.

The Bill provides for the appropriation by Horse Racing Ireland of income derived from point-to-point racing. Is that not a major change? I had to collect a certificate from Cecil Ross's wife for point-to-point racing, for which I paid a registration fee that was reinvested in the sport.

That will continue to be the case.

I wonder if that is correct.

Horse Racing Ireland will take over the promotion and development of point-to-point racing. It is unprecedented that the State proposes to take over an amateur sport. HRI also has its neck in to negotiate the media rights for point-to-point racing. Is there anything HRI does not want to control? It will come as a great surprise to hunts around the country that organise point-to-point fixtures for which they own the media rights.

No changes are proposed for the media rights to point-to-point racing. The Deputy should not raise issues that are not provided for in the Bill.

The Minister should read the Bill, as I did. I also attended the meeting of the joint committee at which the Bill was subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny. I want assurances that none of this will happen. I am involved in point-to-point racing. The Minister may believe I am a fool who knows nothing about the sport, but I know a bit about it. I have many questions to ask about how the legislation will operate. Did Horse Racing Ireland provide integrity funding for point-to-point races? Was it provided under the development and promotion of the Irish horse racing industry or under the promotion of the Irish thoroughbred horse? In what way will HRI provide such funding?

I have here a copy of the agreement reached between the then Minister for Agriculture and Food and Minister for Finance in 2001. At that time, the Turf Club agreed to transfer a number of registry office functions and racing administration to Horse Racing Ireland on the basis of a guarantee of funding for the industry and an agreement that all costs of integrity services would be recovered from HRI on the basis of an agreed budget. Joe Walsh and Charlie McCreevy were the Ministers for Agriculture and Food and Finance, respectively, at the time. I remember a memorandum of understanding being drawn up because I was the Labour Party spokesperson on agriculture at the time.

Does the Deputy want Horse Racing Ireland to help pay for point-to-point racing while having nothing to do with the sport?

The memorandum of understanding was agreed at that time. What has gone wrong in the meantime?

In that case, why is Horse Racing Ireland taking over everything?

It is not taking over.

There is no reference to point-to-point racing in the memorandum of understanding. That is my point. The memorandum of understanding was subsequently approved at a joint meeting of the stewards and governing bodies. Given that stewards of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee were not present at the negotiations between the two Ministers, it is clear that point-to-point racing was not discussed as part of the transfer provided for at that time.

We must not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I understand that integrity is a very important aspect and I support many of the provisions of the Bill. The Turf Club and Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee currently have two streams of income.

Those are a reimbursement from HRI of the integrity service cost for racecourses and point to points and income from licence services. Any surplus arising from the licence is retained and invested. All costs associated with the running of the office's indirect costs are split between integrity and licensing. This was agreed with HRI ten years ago and was based on certain criteria. The cost of integrity is reduced on an annual basis by income from fines imposed for rule breaches or charges imposed in relation to the provision of integrity services such as sampling and stable inspections and the reimbursement from HRI net of this income. As such, I want to make sure that the important point to point races at Castletown Geoghegan and Durrow and the ones beside the Minister in Cork are not left out on a shelf and the volunteers made to feel a big body is coming in to swipe away their functions.

That is not happening.

I want a guarantee that it is not.

Point to points will be run as they are at the moment. It is not changing.

I ask Members to speak through the Chair.

I am quite happy to take the point.

I am just ensuring the record is right.

I have heard of the record being right here before when it turned out to be very wrong when legislation was implemented. I want an assurance from the Minister. He is the boss and that is why I am asking him.

The Deputy should not ask him. He should make his statement through the Chair. He is only inviting disorder.

I have never invited disorder. I am always orderly with the Ceann Comhairle.

It is what the Deputy is doing indirectly.

I have given a lot of time away already. It is important to understand how this will work. I am quite happy with the Minister's assurance, but I still believe point to point races should be excluded. If one looks at it from a legal perspective, I wonder if the commitment that was given in 2001 will stand up to scrutiny in the context of the Bill. That is all I am putting out. I am entitled to put it out. The Minister says that everything is protected and I accept his word. I am putting it out to make sure. Point to points are pivotal to the racing industry. While only 10% to 20% of the horses go on to race on courses, it is very often the poor person's way of getting into and enjoying racing. That is extremely important.

I notice the Minister did not interject when I was speaking about media rights and, as such, I assume there was nothing wrong with what I said. I assume we will have the appropriate amendments on Committee Stage to address the concerns I have echoed in relation to media rights.

I am almost afraid to speak on the Bill given all the experts around me in the House.

The Deputy should not be afraid.

I welcome the opportunity to speak. I was thinking on the way here about going as a child to the race meeting in Galway when that festival was a farmers' festival. I remember going in and putting a bet on with my 50p and getting the perforated ticket from the tote. I had to stand on tiptoe to reach into the slot because I was so small. In a lot of families in Ireland, racing is a social thing. We grew up with it and have enjoyed it. I remember on that particular occasion that my 50p bet returned the princely sum of £56 for my place. Was I a proud man going home the same evening. What was even prouder was the fact that my father had been burned at the races on the same day and I had more money in my pocket going home than he had. It is memories like that which we all have of attending race meetings growing up. Hopefully, the next generation will have the same appreciation of it as an enjoyable sport. That is the way a lot of us look at the racing industry and the racecourses around the country.

However, it is important to look at the industry more broadly. It is the reality in rural Ireland now that agriculture is not the mainstay it used to be. The latest Teagasc figures for 2014 show that 37% of Irish farms, which is less than four in every ten, are economically viable. In the west, it is just 16% of farms that are economically viable. In many parts of rural Ireland, the only potential relates to tourism. Tourism is going to be a vital aspect of sustaining communities and populations in rural Ireland. The small racecourses form an integral part of that. In my neck of the woods, we have quite a number of racecourses. In Roscommon town we have Roscommon racecourse and over the road we have Kilbeggan racecourse to which Deputy Penrose referred earlier. There are also racecourses in Ballinrobe, Sligo and, of course, Galway. There has always been a very strong tradition of farmers having one or two horses and a local trainer having perhaps five or six horses and bringing them to small local meetings. Once in a generation, perhaps, those trainers might have a winner at Ballybrit or one of the major festivals. That is their goal in life and when it happens the whole community gets behind the trainer and the horse. It is that sense of community that is fundamentally important in relation to the racing industry, particularly outside the major centres.

It would be remiss of me to fail to join other speakers in mentioning the late Pat Eddery who was an ambassador for the racing industry. He is someone we all grew up watching cross the finishing line. Deputy Anthony Lawlor referred earlier to backing the jockey rather than the horse and Pat Eddery made quite princely sums for many people who adopted that particular tactic.

Deputy Penrose raised the issue of media rights and I want to take it up also. For the small racecourses like Roscommon, Kilbeggan, Ballinrobe and Sligo, media rights are crucially important to keeping their gates open and the courses operating. They are excellent courses and a linchpin for tourism. In fairness to most of the racecourses, they have tried to develop festivals around some of their meetings, particularly where they can get two meetings back to back. They have tried to tie in the local towns with the festivals and sought to open up their racecourses to other events to attract visitors to their areas. Ballinrobe has been hugely successful in that regard and Roscommon has been involved in that work too. That effort needs to be supported because it is a driver of local tourism development. In that context, I have concerns about the way the legislation is structured. As Deputy Penrose mentioned earlier, the media rights committee can obtain outside expertise. I do not have any particular difficulty with that. My concern is that as drafted the legislation provides that the media rights committee when negotiating any contract or arrangement referred to in subsection (1) shall consult with the executives of all the authorised racecourses. Consultation can mean calling them all into a meeting, setting out what the negotiating strategy is and going off to negotiate on that basis. The committee will then have ticked the box on consultation. There is a big difference between consultation and agreement. The issue has been flagged with the Minister and it came up at the pre-legislative stage in committee. While the Minister has provided reassurances in relation to that, the difficulty is that the law as drafted is not strong enough. My fear is that the smaller racecourses will be squeezed by this.

They do not negotiate their own rights today.

That is correct and some of the racecourses are very critical of the fact that they do not negotiate their own rights today.

In his contribution, Deputy Penrose highlighted the different returns that racecourses get from race meetings. A weighting is applied based on a meeting's status or grading rather than on the number of meetings that a course holds. As the Minister knows, however, it is the small racecourses with the large numbers of people passing through their gates that keep the industry alive, support small trainers and encourage owners of one or two race horses. They keep interest going, as those who go to local racecourses in, for example, Roscommon also go to the large festivals in Galway, Listowel and so on once or twice per year. They are crucial to maintaining, developing and promoting the industry, yet they believe that the squeeze is being put on them by the current legislation. The Bill as drafted will give them even less control.

As Deputy Penrose stated, there is a question mark over whether the Bill infringes on the property rights of racecourses. Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, has a dual role in this matter. It is the racing industry's overall authority and is an owner of some racecourses. Funnily enough, those seem to be the courses that, alongside Galway and a number of other courses, are getting the lion's share of the funding. Smaller racecourses believe that they are being squeezed in this regard. I hope that the Minister can table an amendment on Committee Stage to assure local racecourses - the Roscommons, Ballinrobes, Sligos and Kilbeggans - that this agreement will not just be thrust on them and they will not be bullied into reducing their number of meetings or considering closing. Enough have closed in recent years. These ones survived the economic recession because they had local networks of people who traditionally attended their race meetings. They need to be supported through the fair, equitable and transparent distribution of media rights funds. This is important.

I also wish to raise the issue of the sport horse industry, particularly as regards animal welfare and feral horses. These problems have implications for the horse industry, which is worth approximately €150 million per annum in exports, making it a significant export industry that should be supported and developed. In recent years, there has been a slippage in standards in the sport horse industry. Professor Paddy Wall is doing a great deal of work on this front and has a lot of respect from the industry. He and the people around him will turn the industry around and develop it.

There is a problem at its lower end, though. A substantial number of horses have still not been chipped and do not have passports. We have an issue with stray animals. Not only are they a risk in terms of being reservoirs for diseases such as strangles, but they are also a risk to human life. The issue has died down to a certain extent since coming to the fore a few years ago during a fodder crisis that not only affected our cattle industry and the rest of the agricultural sector, but also the horse industry, in that there was no outlet for those animals at the lower end of the scale.

We need to examine what is happening in the beef industry and determine how to use some of the tools that it has developed. For example, the beef data and genomics scheme is a good one, although it could probably have been explained better initially. Thankfully, more farmers have joined it than originally withdrew. I hope that it has got over the initial problems with communication and confusion. We have a beef technology adoption programme, BTAP, and a sheep technology adoption programme, STAP. Perhaps it is time that we consider establishing the same discussion groups in the horse industry that have proven so successful in the dairy industry and, more recently, the beef and sheep industries. We must do something to improve the breeding strategy in the sport horse industry and increase standards across the board.

Consider the example of suckler cows. Our beef industry was on its knees, as the most important part of the cow during the period of coupled payments across Europe-----

We are straying a little bit.

No. The most important part of the cow was its ears. The quality of the animal had no bearing. During the boom, the standard of horse fell significantly because people held on to low quality stock. Bizarrely, there was a trade in that stock. When the recession hit, there was no outlet. There was also an issue with passports and slaughtering facilities for those horses. All of this caused a welfare problem, but the greater issue is that of quality and breeding standards.

Our beef industry has come a long way from farming for ears to breeding strategies. We are now moving a step farther and engaging in genomics. Explaining this to farmers will take a while, but they will appreciate it in time. We need a similar strategy in the sport horse industry, given that it will face greater challenges than the dairy sector or even the beef sector did. We should transfer what we have learned from the roll-out of the beef data and genomics scheme to the equine sector. I encourage the Minister to devise a scheme, even if it is just to get information out there. Professor Wall is determined to explain to breeders on the ground what is being sought by the market, but more needs to be done if we are to communicate to them what is happening. Those tools that have been developed by the Department for the beef sector can be replicated in the equine sector.

We must consider what to do with animals that do not have chips or proper passports. This problem is costing the animal welfare funds of the Minister's Department, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and so forth approximately €5 million per year. This cannot continue and some solution must be found, as our export industry is too important. We must try to improve standards and bring all of the players together - Teagasc, Horse Sport Ireland, the welfare groups, UCD, the Minister's Department, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the breeder societies - around the same table and develop a strategy for the sport horse industry from its weaker end to its international and Olympic end.

I want to be associated with the tributes paid to the late, great former flat-racing jockey Pat Eddery, who sadly passed away yesterday. He was a truly gifted horseman and a legend of the sport of horse racing. He was a champion jockey 11 times and the winner of 14 British classics. He was associated with some of the best horses of the 20th century, such as Sadler's Wells, Rainbow Quest, El Gran Senor, Grundy, Zafonic, Warning and Pebbles, on which he won the Breeders' Cup Turf in 1985. Born in Newbridge in County Kildare on 18 March 1952, he became one of the greats of the sport of kings. May he rest in peace.

I welcome this Bill. It aims to improve governance, funding and administration arrangements for the Irish horse racing industry so as to underpin the sector's world-class standing and protect and maintain its reputation. I understand that in the course of drafting this Bill, further consideration was given to the pre-legislative scrutiny report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The number of HRI board members is to be increased by one to accommodate the request of the committee that stable staff be represented on the board. I welcome that.

The Irish bloodstock industry is of enormous economic benefit to this country. It is estimated by the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association that the industry provides in excess of 14,000 jobs and approximately €1.1 billion in economic output and is responsible for exports worth over €200 million.

The legislation will strengthen governance and transparency within horse racing and result in increased efficiency through the streamlining of certain administrative operations. It will clarify the respective functions of Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, and the Racing Regulatory Body, RRB. It will strengthen the integrity functions of the body and improve accountability and control over State funding. The legislation will also provide that Bord na gCon will be statutorily subject to the code of practice for the governance of State bodies or other such codes or policy documents issued by the Government by amending the Greyhound Industry Acts 1958 and 1993.

Key outcomes of the Bill will include improved governance and changes to the HRI board constitution to improve efficiencies and accountability. There will be new statutory committees for HRI, including dedicated committees for persons employed in the industry and the betting sector, in addition to harmonisation of existing statutory committees. Other features include maintaining ICT integrity functions and the retention by the RRB of responsibility for integrity functions and its licensing role. The issuing of hunter certificates and management of entries and declarations for point-to-point racing and the financial receipts associated with those functions will remain with the local hunt clubs. The RRB will be required to consult HRI regarding amendments to the rules of racing and, likewise, HRI will be required to consult the RRB in regard to amendments to its directives.

With regard to streamlining and efficiencies, a single streamlined structure within HRI for the administration and financial management of all other aspects of horse racing will facilitate the elimination of administrative duplication between HRI and the RRB. This includes the processing of income derived from both the registration fees for hunting certificates and licensing of trainers for participation in point-to-point races. These payments are currently processed by the RRB. This will pave the way for increased efficiencies in areas such as finance, IT, payroll, pensions and certain administration aspects in regard to point-to-point racing. This will involve data sharing between HRI and the RRB. Changes to licensing and registration will be subject to annual approval by HRI. Income streams that currently go to local hunt clubs will be unaffected.

I commend the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, under the chairmanship of Deputy Andrew Doyle, on its role in formulating this important legislation. I recognise the work of the Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, on bringing this Bill before us for due consideration following the consideration of the recommendations contained in the Indecon report.

I welcome the recently announced €65 million redevelopment plan for the Curragh Racecourse, A Vision for a New Curragh. The Curragh is our premier flat racing racecourse. The best horses, trainers, jockeys, owners and stable staff in the world compete there. It is very encouraging that the redevelopment plan has been produced. I wish well the stakeholders, including the Irish Turf Club, HRI and the private investors. I look forward to seeing the ambitious plan becoming a reality by 2018.

I congratulate the Grand Alliance horse racing syndicate on its fabulous win in Mallow recently in the Munster grand national. I encourage all the members, especially the Ceann Comhairle, to take the bull by the horns and opt for the Irish Grand National in Fairyhouse. I hope the syndicate will have a very successful Easter next year.

I thank the Deputy.

A couple of us over here did not get the tip.

For the most part, what is contained in this Bill is to be supported. There are a couple of issues that need to be raised, however, particularly in respect of gambling. I have raised this matter in the debate on the Betting (Amendment) Bill. I realise that some of the funding from online betting is going towards HRI and Bord na gCon. When an individual walks into a betting shop and places a bet, he does so with cash. There is no capacity to run credit or use one's credit card. Likewise, when one goes to a racetrack, one walks up to the bookmaker of one's choice, having looked at the prices, and makes a bet accordingly in cash. The notion that one could gamble using credit is one I do not approve of at all. It lends itself to a form of addiction that can result in the loss of one's life's savings. One could lose more than one's life's savings in that one could go into enormous debt as a result of the ability to use credit cards. I approve of the concept of debit cards in the facilitation of gambling but believe it is not appropriate to have a credit card as the modus operandi. There is a litany of stories throughout this country of people who lost everything they ever had and some more owing to a gambling addiction, with the consequence of their being in debt to credit card companies and banks.

Many people are employed in the online gambling business. I support the business. For the most part, people can contain their online gambling, and they regard it as fun to back their own team or horse. They get a little enjoyment from it. However, when gambling becomes a problem, it is incumbent upon those who provide licences to bookmakers, be they online or otherwise, to operate prudently and in the best interest of society overall and look after the punter or gambler.

There are a couple of other points I would like to raise. Some 80% of the funding is to go to HRI and 20% is to go to Bord na gCon. The Minister is responsible for both areas. In my area, Kerry, we are more into dogs than horses. According to the breeders' and owners' associations, prize funds have become so low that people are moving away from the industry. The industry provides a good social outlet. Dog racing is a tourist attraction in Tralee, where one sees tour buses going by on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights. However, we need to have races of a high quality. In order to have them, we need to inject money into the industry. I would like to see the money invested in prize funds more than in administration and meeting organisational running costs. I admit there has been streamlining but the money needs to go to the prize funds as the first port of call.

With regard to horse racing, Killarney is well supported. Listowel is also very well supported. Unfortunately, during the downturn the racecourse in Tralee ended up being mothballed. There is nothing more than a couple of point-to-point meetings and some coursing meetings taking place there.

There is a wonderful stand and facilities in a county that might not be as synonymous with horse racing as that of my colleague, Deputy Jack Wall, from Kildare. However, people like Jim Culloty and Bryan Cooper have played a prestigious role in the industry at all times.

I wish to highlight a couple of other things. Some 17,000 people are employed in the industry. It could be improved, however, and we could do more to support the industry's exporting capacity. We have developed a small number of breeders who have dominated hurdle activities in recent years. It was a sport that was open to most farmers of a decent size and I would like to see the sport going back in that direction.

The idea of horse-owning syndicates was promoted seven, eight or nine years ago. I know we have some participants in the House. It was a great way of getting the average person involved in horse racing and it brought forward the entertainment side of it. People followed the horse or dog as the case may be and that should be promoted by Horse Racing Ireland as well. For the most part I support what is in this Bill. I am just conveying some ideas, particularly around gambling where I would prefer to see the use of debit cards rather than credit cards. I have discussed this matter with the Minister for Finance but perhaps the Minister, Deputy Coveney, could advance it.

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.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak for a few moments on this important legislation. I thank the Minister for introducing it.

One of the things we are aware of in respect of the racing industry is its importance as an economic entity. It is peculiar in the sense that it combines business, employment and recreation. It is an industry that generates extensive local support from the towns and villages associated with the various stud farms, trainers and horses, as we all know. Sometimes the horses do not run fast enough, but their intentions are genuine most of the time.

I compliment the Minister on his input to the racing industry since he came into office. It is important to ensure that the industry, as it stands, grows, prospers and develops in this country. We have now achieved a worldwide status which is growing, and with that growth comes significant employment potential. We can now take our place in any of the main racecourses worldwide and distinguish ourselves, and have done so repeatedly over the past number of years. That was a major goal some years ago, but it has developed to the extent that it is now expected. That has come as a result of careful governance, breeding, the encouragement of various strains over a long number of years and continued investment in the industry. However, that stands in stark contrast to the 1960s, when most of our breeding stock left the country or was sold off at an early stage. The fact that horses are now being kept, raced and go to stud at home is a major boost for the sector. Ultimately, that will result in a major improvement in employment and employment prospects.

I congratulate in particular the extent to which everybody involved continues to take an interest in the future and well-being of the industry, whether it is racecourses, owners, trainers or the betting fraternity. When one goes to a racecourse, one is always welcomed and made to feel at home, something that applies to visitors as well. At the Punchestown Festival, I met a woman who had not been to Ireland for many years - she told me it was her first visit in 45 years - and that it was well worth the wait. It was as good an accolade as one could extend to the industry.

The Minister recently visited the Irish Equine Centre in Johnstown and saw the work being done there. I have a special interest in the centre because it was very good to me in years gone by, something I will never forget, in particular in regard to my involvement in this House. It has done a tremendous amount of work and has increased standards in terms of the services it provides up to international levels. It can do more with more, something I know the Minister is well disposed towards, and his preferred option would be to encourage and protect the sector.

I refer to forensic areas such as Backweston, for example, where we need to compete with countries all over the world in the degree to which we have science and facilities to follow the industry, ensure that it adheres to the highest possible standards and that we are in a position to compete with forensics anywhere in the world. We should not have to send samples abroad, wait for them to return or wait for a decision made by somebody else. It is very important that we have scientists here, continue to encourage them and ensure that the required resources are made available. I know the Minister is well disposed to doing just that and he will continue to do so.

I mentioned the extent to which business, industry and recreation is combined in the Bill. I do not want to delay the debate, but no other industry so well combines the entrepreneurial efforts and skills of so many constituent bodies so effectively. At the same time, it creates an area for the enjoyment of the general public in a celebratory mode, and long may that continue.

It goes without saying that the continued emphasis on good breeding practices needs to continue. We need to keep in place the means and wherewithal to retain and race the best strains in this country. As a result of establishing their credentials here, they will be able to continue to travel worldwide and be a flagship for the Irish industry.

In a previous incarnation, I visited two of the stables owned by the ruler of Dubai, in the company of the late head of the National Stud. Seeing the facilities provided there made me realise the major investment made in the horse racing industry in areas that did not necessarily compete - they have a number of studs in this country. It remains a challenge to us in this country to ensure that we can continue to compete with those with whom we associate in the industry at home and abroad.

I again congratulate the Minister on the work he has already done with the industry. I have no doubt he is well committed to it. He understands and knows it well, which is always a help.

I thought Deputy Wallace would make a contribution, but not this time.

I decided to come in and listen this time.

I thank the Deputy; I am privileged.

I thank all the Deputies who contributed. There have been many good contributions on the Bill and a series of different suggestions, supportive comments and some new approaches, some of which I will address. I will not be able to address everything in the time available to me, but we will be able to tease out many issues on Committee Stage.

A number of Deputies raised concerns about ministerial appointees to the Horse Racing Ireland board. We are essentially moving from the Minister being able to appoint the chairperson, but nobody else, while the industry appointed other people as representatives of different parts of the industry, to now having three ministerial appointments to the board, albeit one of them will represent interests from Northern Ireland in terms of horse racing. That recommendation came from Indecon.

Ultimately, a large amount of public money goes into the industry. It is the correct decision and I hope we will be able to continue to increase funding for the industry and sport, but because of that it is important that we have members on the board, appointed by the Minister, who represent the public interest. There is an onus on the Minister to make sure that the right people are appointed. The new procedures and approaches for public sector appointments will be used. In other words, the skill set that is needed to ensure that we have a balanced board will very much shape the people chosen to be members of the board.

A number of very valid points were made regarding an injured jockeys fund. My experience of jockeys in the industry has been extraordinarily positive. They are courageous athletes who set standards but, unfortunately, at times it is a dangerous sport. Some very serious accidents have happened over the past five or six years. The industry has a responsibility to ensure that such people are supported, and that starts with financial support. There have been many generous fund-raisers in that regard, but I am open to considering ways in which the industry could more formally support the maintenance and pooling of resources to create a fund that could support injured jockeys.

Drug testing is a red line issue for me. We need to have the best drug testing facilities in the world in order to maintain integrity in the sector.

We need to take a totally uncompromising approach towards rooting out the inappropriate use of drugs and illegal drugs. To be fair, we have been doing this through the Department's inspections and the Turf Club's role in protecting the integrity of the sport. These provide pretty robust controls in this area. The Irish industry has a strong reputation and for good reason. We cannot allow anything to undermine this. The independence of the Turf Club and its role in this regard, as well as the role played by the Department and An Garda Síochána, when appropriate, are all focused on ensuring this is and remains the case.

The essence of some of the concerns of a number of Deputies speaking on Second Stage was the maintenance of the independence of the racing regulatory body, namely, the Turf Club, and the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee. The legislation solidifies the independence of the regulatory body. It is about ensuring there is legal separation between Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, and the Turf Club in terms of their clear roles as set down in legislation. We will not go down the route the UK has chosen to take. We want a well funded, independent, well run, efficient and transparently run Turf Club and we have a really good starting point. The Turf Club does an excellent job. It relies on many volunteer stewards in racecourses throughout the country. People have a lot of faith in it. We will not do anything to upset this. What we are trying to do is to build a modern legal structure to protect and add to what is already there and working. That is all we are trying to do.

The Indecon report recommended that I do a lot more than I am doing, in truth. When it looked at streamlining, it recommended that the Turf Club and HRI would be in the same building, and that the Turf Club would move a half a mile or so from where it is into the HRI building. This was its recommendation. It also made a clear recommendation on having a single portal for all payments, whether for licensing or registrations, and that we would have a single office to manage the money coming in and going out, so we would have clear transparency in terms of who pays what and where the money goes. We will implement this element. I made a concession to the Turf Club because I was convinced by its arguments that it was important that it have, and be seen to have, physical independence from HRI in terms of its own building and offices to run its own show. We made this significant concession early on. It was the right thing to do, but it was also evidence that we are doing nothing to damage or undermine the independence of the Turf Club. It is quite the opposite, as this is about protecting it in legislation.

When it comes to funding streams, we must ensure that any body that is publicly funded or partially publicly funded is protected with appropriate modern legislation. This year, the Turf Club, as an independent body, will receive €7.1 million of taxpayers' money to run integrity services in racing, and we must ensure there is legislation to protect it if it is questioned on where the money goes, how it is spent and how the budget is put together. This is why having a single office for managing the money coming in - for example, for the registration of hunters - is simply a sensible streamlining process whereby money comes in through one office. After the Bill is implemented, all of the money that goes to the Turf Club at present will automatically go back to the Turf Club, and we will put very clear language in place and, if necessary, will make appropriate amendments to ensure this is the case. This is not about taking money from anybody; it is about ensuring that any money raised is raised in a transparent way and the budget needed to provide adequate integrity services through the Turf Club is an appropriate budget, in view of all of the different budgetary factors that the Turf Club manages. That is all it is about.

Deputy Penrose and a number of others seem to suggest this is some kind of takeover from voluntary hunt clubs of the scheduling and operation of point-to-points. Nothing could be further from the truth, as all of this will remain within the infrastructure and with the people who are there at present. The beauty of point-to-points is that they are run by amateurs. Of course we have a Turf Club presence at meets, and we also have HRI funding, as it spent more than €1 million this year supporting integrity services for point-to-points, but ultimately the scheduling of point-to-point racing and the operation and running of point-to-point racing will remain with hunt clubs and with the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee in terms of its operations. The only thing that will change, essentially, is the registration fee to register a hunter, as this will come through the new streamlined office which will manage the process. It is about the process, and not about changing influence, decision making or the people who run the show. Point-to-point racing is in the legislation because nobody can credibly say point-to-point racing has nothing to do with racing. Of course there is a difference between race meets at the 26 racetracks around the country and point-to-points. There is a big difference between them, and this is not some agenda to change the people who influence and make decisions on point-to-points. There is simply a streamlining of functions around the collection of fees and registration and, of course, ensuring that the horses involved, the owners and the betting that takes place at point-to-point meets are covered by the rules. We need legislation to do this, particularly when we put public money into point-to-point racing. I do not see any change in its practical running. People turning up to point-to-points will see the exact same structure. For people who breed horses, it will be more or less the exact same structure, except that they will simply send the cheque to a different office, but the money will find its way to the hunt clubs, the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee and the Turf Club. There has been much inflammatory language about this issue and it is important to establish what the facts are and the intention of the legislation.

Comments have been made about the greyhound industry. The primary focus of this legislation is the horse racing industry and ensuring we have proper modern legislation for it. There will be a forthcoming greyhound industry Bill, and people will have an opportunity to contribute to it. We have also had an Indecon report on the greyhound industry, and we have a series of recommendations which we are implementing at present. Part of this will be new legislation.

Will it be before the election?

Well, we will do our best, that is all I am saying. It depends on when the boss decides to call the election. I will happily participate in the legislation, although my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, makes most of the decisions on the greyhound industry. Changes are needed there and change is under way. Deputy Wallace has raised questions about this, as have many others. This is why we had an Indecon report and why we are making significant changes to the industry to put it on a proper financial footing again, so we can start to increase prize money to create incentives to breed and manage dogs appropriately. It is also why we have welfare legislation, to ensure it is done properly in the interests of the animals as well as the owners and the people involved.

Concerns have been raised about media rights negotiations. To speak plainly, in Ireland we have many racecourses in different parts of the country, and we need to find a way to support them all, which is what we are trying to do at present. Anyone who thinks that if racetracks independently negotiate media rights with media companies they will somehow get a better deal than if they use the power of collective negotiation does not understand how media rights negotiation actually works.

I have met the representatives of the Association of Irish Racecourses, AIR, and they are happy with the current approach. That is an organisation representing all the racecourses. The collective negotiation is to ensure we get the maximum value possible in media rights negotiations. We then need to ensure that whatever money is raised is spent appropriately among racetracks and in the industry as a whole. We should not forget that media rights are not just about location because they take in prize money, horses and the people who pay for the horses and bring them to the racetrack. It is about the public purse providing the prize money for the races. We are negotiating the entire package. The racetrack is an important part of that in terms of location and the racecourses do a fantastic job in running racing.

My job is to ensure we have a structure in place that allows us to maximise the income we can get for this sector, which includes racecourses, as well as for the industry as a whole in negotiating media rights. That is what we are trying to do. The distribution of that money will involve consultation with the chief executive officers of all the racetracks and we have committed to that. There will be an amendment on Committee Stage to take account of some of the concerns raised and the conversations that have taken place with AIR. We should wait and see what that is and I hope it will deal with people's concerns. We will not go backwards and say that racecourses will do their own thing. As a result, our capacity to negotiate better financial packages for media rights would potentially be undermined.

Deputy Daly and one or two others raised welfare issues, both in the thoroughbred sector and sports horse sector. I have spent much time and public money in the area and through microchipping, passports and an obligation for equine-registered premises as well as a very comprehensive and lengthy animal welfare Bill, we now have the tools to deal in a very comprehensive way with animal cruelty inflicted on horses and other animals. We intend to enforce those new rules through the legislation, and we are trying to do that. The number of seizures we had to make this year compared with last year or the year before has fallen dramatically. This year I will again provide approximately €2 million for local authorities to implement seizures and support programmes. We put a fund of €1 million in place for urban horse welfare support programmes this year, which is predominantly about trying to encourage the Traveller community to be part of projects with their horses that can put a structure around how and where horses are kept. I am committed to that and, as it happens, we will not be able to spend all the money because the projects have not materialised

Politically, getting agreement on such things is difficult although we are making some good progress outside Kilkenny. There are potential plans for outside of Cork and other towns and cities. I would like to see every city in Ireland have an urban horse project on the outskirts that could allow for Traveller teenagers to learn how to look after their horses properly. There is an incredibly strong bond between the Traveller community and their horses. I have met Travellers and spoken to them about this. We would like to facilitate that in a structured way that will look after the welfare of horses as well as respecting the traditional link between horses and the Traveller community. I am committed to that project, as I stated, but it will take time. This is not just about the Traveller community either, as I hope many others will be part of that project.

Deputy Naughten raised issues of horse breeding programmes, with dealers buying large numbers of horses with a view to selling them either to factories for meat under dubious identification or potentially selling them on at home or abroad because there would have been a market for that. The market collapsed very quickly following the horsemeat scandal and an awareness that the horse identification processes that were being implemented in Ireland were inadequate. We have addressed many of those issues and, as a result, the number of horses that need to be seized has fallen dramatically, although seizures are still required.

The breeding programmes in the sports horse sector and certainly in horse racing have adapted and reduced the numbers quite significantly. We have a strategy for the sports horse sector for the next ten years, Reaching New Heights. It is a very good document put together by Teagasc, the Royal Dublin Society and Horse Sport Ireland. We have implemented much of that strategy and put public money into it. It is about supporting welfare initiatives but, more important, more targeted and intelligent breeding of sport horses.

There is one comment I do not want to let go. Deputy Creighton rightly stated that the reputation and rating of Irish sports horses has reduced over the past ten to 15 years. That is perhaps the case for showjumping although we are now starting to make improvements in the area. Ireland is number one in the world for eventing in terms of breeding and we are staying there. Even through the difficult times of the past ten years or so we have managed to maintain that position.

I take the points from Deputy Daly about welfare but I am not sure this is the legislation to deal with some of those matters. We have had very comprehensive welfare legislation coming through the Houses. The focus will be on implementation and enforcement of that legislation to ensure people will not mistreat animals, whether they are racehorses, sports horses, dogs or whatever. There is very comprehensive legislation to deal with that.

I associate myself with the tributes to Mr. Pat Eddery. Even for people who are not knowledgeable about racing, he is a household name and a legend of the sport. I endorse all the warm tributes being paid to him.

I will make one or two more points before finishing. We recently announced a really exciting new development programme for the Curragh. It will be a €65 million investment programme over the next few years and we hope to have it finished by 2018. At least half the money for the project will come from private donors or investors. We have a new model that we created which is a partnership, with a third each coming from the Turf Club, Horse Racing Ireland and private donors. It will be a really successful and interesting business model, a public private partnership chaired by Mr. Padraig McManus who has done a really solid job on it. We will get this done. There will be a planning application done, if not before the end of the year then early in January. There will be proper consultation with all stakeholders before that happens, and I hope we can bring it through the planning process quickly in order that we can get to building what will be one of the most modern racing facilities anywhere on the planet, matching the best flat race racecourses anywhere in the world with regard to condition of the turf. People will be very proud of that every time they drive past in the Curragh and go to race meetings. If ever there was proof that the Government and the State wants to invest in and prioritise an industry and sport, it is evident in what we have seen in increased funding last year and again this year, facilitating projects like that in the Curragh and in many other capital investment projects for racing.

To be honest, I had not thought before about Deputy Spring's point but it seems reasonable on many levels. He has concerns about credit cards being used for betting, whether on racecourses or elsewhere. It seems reasonable to examine the sense of allowing people to use credit to bet. Again, it is for betting legislation rather than this Bill, although it is a fair point.

I welcome the comments from Deputy Wall who was present at the Curragh.

To my embarrassment I did not see him in the crowd and I did not recognise him that day. If he is watching, that was an oversight on my part and I apologise for it.

I thank all other Members for their contributions. We have taken note of them and will try to take them on board. I will be introducing a couple of amendments on Committee Stage, and if people have sensible amendments, I will take them on board. I hope I have a track record of doing that. However, I am not going to be taking on amendments just to be popular with any interest groups. They have to make sense and be right for this legislation. I am going to meet the Turf Club and discuss the concerns it still has in respect of the legislation. Before that we have Committee Stage. Where it makes sense to do so, we will show some flexibility, but we do not want to undermine the core of this Bill which is about putting a proper legislative foundation in place for the racing industry for the next 20 to 30 years.

Question put and agreed to.