Foal Levy Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Irish Horseracing Industry Act 1994 and the Horse and Greyhound Racing (Betting Charges and Levies) Act 1999; to amend the provisions that apply to the levying of the foal levy; and to establish a foal levy committee to be known as the Levy Committee.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his indulgence following our mess-up on Thursday when we were supposed to move this Bill. It was entirely our responsibility. I thank the Ceann Comhairle very much for facilitating us today.

The horse racing industry is obviously a serious business in Ireland. People refer to it as the sport of kings, but while ownership and breeding is in some ways the sport of kings, the reality is that 91% of the 7,000 breeders in Ireland, representing the backbone of that industry, are small owners and breeders who own four mares or fewer. The current foal levy operated by Horse Racing Ireland unfairly and ridiculously discriminates against those people in favour of the big boys. The system was introduced in 2000 without any consultation.

The Bill before the House today proposes to change the utterly bizarre manner in which the foal levy is currently calculated. For every mare covered currently owners are charged on the basis, not of the sum they pay, but on the advertised fee. Where would you get it? It is as if somebody advertised their services to extend a house or paint a kitchen and an individual managed to negotiate with them a reduced amount but yet had to pay VAT on what was advertised not what was actually paid. It is a ridiculous system. Despite many efforts by small owners to have this changed, they have not been successful.

The Bill proposes to replace the current foal levy system with a simple 1% levy on the sale price of all registered thoroughbred horses sold in Ireland. It would raise, if not the same amount of money, perhaps a little bit more money for Horse Racing Ireland. It would end the discrimination against the small breeders and actually mean that those with the most money at the top would end up paying a little bit more.

The Bill was motivated by a court case taken by the owner and breeder, Gerry Callanan, who challenged the issue in the court in Naas and was granted permission by the Circuit Court to take a case to the Supreme Court to clarify the legislation. As a small breeder and owner, he does not really have the means to do that himself. In many ways, why should the Supreme Court adjudicate on this when a simple change in the statutory instrument by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine could sort the issues out? The judge certainly felt there were issues to be dealt with.

As a result of the failure of the Minister to change the statutory instrument and as a result of the strenuous efforts of Horse Racing Ireland to frustrate the small owners' efforts in the courts, I have no choice but to lay the Bill before the House to try to correct the anomaly.

The Bill also proposes a change in the membership of the foal levy committee to make it more representative of the interests of all owners and breeders and not just the big ones. We propose that the membership of the committee would include representatives of all large and small horse-breeding operations. We hope that the mix of interests on the board would mean that the funds would be distributed more equitably because currently the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association holds three out of the seven seats on Horseracing Ireland's foal levy committee.

It is no surprise that the funds raised through the foal levy goes to the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, Irish Thoroughbred Marketing and the Irish Equine Centre. However, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association only represents 700 of the 7,000 breeders. In other words they are all paying the money to keep this organisation, in which they have no involvement, afloat.

We are proposing a more equitable manner of doing it. I believe there is some urgency in introducing the legislation because Horse Racing Ireland, in particular, has adopted a pretty heavy-handed approach recently, with a number of breeders being threatened that if they do not pay up in full despite the lack of legal clarity in this matter, being before the courts, they will be banned from horse racing in Ireland and the UK for the next two years.

I have repeatedly attempted to address the issue with both Horse Racing Ireland and the Minister to no avail, and am left with no choice but to introduce this legislation in the hope of sorting out an appalling anomaly and injustice.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.