Greyhound Industry: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— the Irish greyhound industry receives substantial public funding;

— in 2021, the Exchequer will subsidise greyhound racing in Ireland by €19.2 million, an increase of €2.4 million from 2020;

— the industry has received approximately €280 million in taxpayer funding since 2000;

— the last two decades have seen significant falls in attendance and sponsorship for the greyhound industry;

— as turnover from racing activities has steadily declined over the last decade from €32.9 million in 2010 to €22.7 million in 2017, the State subvention has increased from €11.9 million in 2010 to €16.8 million in 2020;

— turnover from greyhound racing activity at Greyhound Racing Ireland (GRI) fell by three per cent in 2019; and

— in 2019, an independent investigation found that 16,000 greyhounds are born every year, and approximately 6,000 of those are killed because they failed to reach the required standard;

acknowledges that:

— while improvements have been made in funding for animal care relating to the industry, this was only committed to under significant public pressure in the wake of the aforementioned investigation;

— it is unlikely that the greyhound industry in this country could survive in the absence of taxpayer funding;

— the norm across almost all racetracks in Ireland is for track losses to significantly exceed profits from Tote betting;

— in continuing to contribute millions of euros of public money to greyhound racing every year, the Government is propping up an inherently cruel industry which the Irish public has been increasingly rejecting;

— the Irish Greyhound Board/GRI commissioned a report which described the breeding of the greyhounds as ‘out of control’; and

— the Irish Greyhound Board/GRI has not delivered a dividend to the State in the past 25 years and is unlikely to do so in the future; and

calls on the Government to:

— waive the increased funding of €2.4 million due to be given to the greyhound industry;

— incrementally refocus greyhound racing funding to the welfare of dogs impacted by breeding and racing associated with the industry; and

— work towards the gradual phasing out of State support for the Irish greyhound industry by 2025.”

This Social Democrats motion calls on the Government to waive the increased funding of €2.4 million due to be given to the greyhound industry; to refocus greyhound racing funding incrementally to the welfare of dogs impacted by breeding and racing associated with the industry; and to work towards the gradual phasing out of State support for the Irish greyhound industry by 2025.

In 2021 the Irish greyhound racing industry will benefit to the tune of a staggering €19.2 million from the public purse, an increase of €2.4 million on last year. Our motion presents a moral argument. Public opinion has turned on the greyhound racing industry. There has been a dramatic fall in attendance, sponsors are withdrawing and companies and organisations are choosing not to hold social and charity events in greyhound stadiums. The greyhound racing industry is rapidly declining. Its days are numbered and rightly so.

A 2019 "RTÉ Investigates" documentary, "Running for Their Lives", exposed that 16,000 greyhounds are bred every year. It found that 5,987 of these are killed because they fail to make qualification times or their performance has declined. Basically, the industry kills almost 6,000 dogs annually for not racing fast enough and our Government funds it. I have seen comment after comment online falsely claiming that the "RTÉ Investigates: Running for Their Lives" documentary cannot be trusted. Bord na gCon, now Greyhound Racing Ireland, wrote a six-page complaint to the Broadcasting Authority about the documentary after it aired. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland investigated this complaint in full and rejected it in its entirety and found instead that "the programme was a comprehensive exploration of the topic in a factual manner which was fair, objective and impartial".

Setting aside the animal welfare issues for a moment, not that I believe for a second that we should, the greyhound industry is a loss-making industry that is hugely unpopular with the general public. Attendance at greyhound racing tracks fell by 55% between 2008 and 2018 and the combined loss for tracks between 2019 and 2022 is predicted to be €30 million.

For how long does the Government believe we should keep propping it up? Former trainers and owners have not only highlighted issues with the industry, but have expressed no confidence in its capacity to change. The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA, the largest animal welfare organisation in the country, has stopped engaging with the industry because it does not believe the industry is serious about reform.

We are one of only eight countries that allows greyhound racing and it is declining in many of the other seven as well. It is banned in all but five states in the US and it is significantly contracting in Britain. The Government and some among the Opposition want it both ways. They commend the funding and the industry for its high standards and remind us that 10% of the funding goes on animal welfare, confidential phone lines, care funds and traceability. Those measures are only necessary because of the cruel practices and structural issues within the industry and they do not go nearly far enough.

Government often highlights the welfare measures and conditions laid out in the Greyhound Racing Act 2019, however, these merely establish how problematic is the industry. For example, regulations to ensure that racing greyhounds are properly registered and traceable throughout their lives, which will not be commenced until next year, are an indictment of an industry where dogs are being killed or, to use the new euphemism, go unaccounted for.

Attempts by Opposition Senators and Deputies in 2019 to introduce clear regulations around the export of greyhounds and breeding practices were disregarded which means that the two most controversial malpractices in this industry are not and will not be properly regulated.

Some of the most damning information comes from the industry itself. The Irish Greyhound Board’s own anti-doping and medication review, published in 2016, found “Longstanding and significant deficiencies in policies, processes, and implementation that have been undermining the integrity and reputation of greyhound racing in Ireland”. Another document, commissioned by the IGB in 2017, stated that the industry in Ireland was not focused on the sport of greyhound racing, but on breeding. It also found that the industry was “failing from both a commercial and a regulatory point of view”. That same report found that the industry produces ten times more dogs each year than are required to sustain the sport. It was this report which highlighted the lack of traceability of 6,000 dogs every year, who do not race and are not exported to the UK. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these non-performing greyhounds are being killed. This information is from the industry’s own report. State funding has facilitated this cascade of bad practices and horrific acts. The public does not want its money to support this industry any more.

The €19.2 million that the greyhound industry is set to receive next year is more than six times what all animal welfare organisations in Ireland will receive. For some reason, the Government's solution is not only to continue funding the industry, but to increase it. This is despite the public outcry following the RTÉ documentary which exposed unspeakable acts of cruelty in the industry, the fact that this industry relies on the overbreeding of greyhounds that leads to the culling of 6,000 dogs a year, the dramatic drop in the number of people attending race meetings, sponsors publicly withdrawing their support and the fact that only 16% of the Irish population agree that Government should continue to fund this industry.

The greyhound racing industry has become a financial basket case and is being kept alive by generous State subventions each year. This money could and should be spent elsewhere on much more worthy social and economic areas. We keep hearing that Government funding for the industry is not public money because it comprises ring-fenced funds from the gambling levy. It absolutely is public money. A levy is just another word for tax. Like the universal social charge, it is a tax by another name. Does anyone not consider the USC a tax on their income? I do not believe so. Furthermore, the betting levy was decreased from 5% to 1% when the fund was initially introduced and has now been raised to 2%. This means that the fund has been topped up with public money from other taxes almost since it was set up. The Taxation of Betting in Ireland report, available on the website, , clearly outlines this. This industry is funded by public money that needs to be spent where there is real need. We have to stand up and demand that State funding be phased out and that the welfare of dogs be prioritised.

I am, of course, aware that many trainers treat their greyhounds well, but that is not a valid argument to continue pumping millions of euro of taxpayers' money into an industry with such scandalous and appalling overarching standards of care that is also loss-making. It is impossible for people to understand why Government continues to fund this and has now increased funding. We are in the middle of a pandemic and constantly hear that there is not funding available for essential services like disability supports, refuge spaces for victims of domestic violence, communities that are flooding and businesses struggling as a result of the pandemic. It is beyond infuriating to see how money is being allocated.

I can think of some reasons for this. There is a loud minority represented by a very strong lobby. Politicians have consistently fallen prey to this lobbying and find themselves defending the indefensible. Having been on the receiving end of this lobby, I can understand how it happens, but it is not an excuse.

When I was on Cork County Council, a motion was tabled to support a stadium that was no longer viable. I was the only Cork county councillor to object. It is quite incredible that such a small percentage of representatives are opposed to this when the vast majority of the population is. It is quite literally our job to represent that population. It was quite incredible to be in exactly the same boat at the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine yesterday.

Last week, a Dublin city councillor took to the airways to give me advice on what is best for rural Ireland. This Fine Gael councillor did not declare, even when asked why he was so invested, that he had worked in communications for the Irish greyhound board in 2017 and 2018. He went on to say that the Social Democrats has an animal rights agenda. I hope he did not mean to insinuate that he or his party have an animal cruelty agenda, but propping this industry up quite literally funds animal cruelty and that needs to be acknowledged.

Why do representatives not represent the population on this issue? It is partly because this is just a small taste of what one is up against when one speaks out about this issue; people also piled on me on social media and a list of other things. It is also because many people and Deputies claim that this motion is an attack on rural Ireland, that any wrongdoing in the industry is a case of a few rogue traders and that we need to give the industry time to reform.

The ISPCA, the largest animal welfare organisation in the country, has stopped engaging with the greyhound racing industry because it does not believe the industry is serious about reform. It has had decades to improve standards and anything it has done has only been window dressing, yet it keeps getting more money from Government. What rural Ireland needs is investment in sustainable jobs. The greyhound industry is a loss-making industry that is hugely unpopular. The whole industry defines instability.

The reality is that defending it equates to defending the indefensible. We need more public representatives to take a stand. My Social Democrats colleagues will raise the systematic issues regarding animal welfare, the financial issues in the industry and the other vital services which could benefit from this investment. Before other Deputies contribute to this discussion, I ask all speakers to state if they have or have had any links with the greyhound racing industry. It would also help for clarity and integrity if we all only referred to the greyhound racing industry. Part of the argument against our motion has put horse racing and greyhound racing together to inflate the numbers. If the Government needs to embellish its statistics like that, perhaps it might consider the validity of its points.

I will pick up on a point raised by my colleague, Deputy Cairns. We know that the grant from the horse and greyhound fund for 2021 is set to be €96 million, which is to be split in the ratio of 80:20 in favour of horse racing. This motion concentrates, as the Deputy said, exclusively on greyhounds. The greyhound sector will be funded by the Exchequer to the tune of €19.2 million in 2021 when the proposed increase of €2.6 million is factored in. Without State subvention, the greyhound sector is, quite simply, not viable. At a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts, we heard from the chief executive of the IGB, Mr. Gerard Dollard, in October of last year. He spoke about the viability of tracks and told the committee that if one considers tracks from the point of view of their performance, including the tote, events and hospitality services, only the stadium in Cork and Shelbourne Park are viable. If, however, one considers the prize money the IGB pays out, no track is viable. Without the funds transferred to the IGB from the Exchequer, there would be no prize money, so no track is viable.

Bord na gCon, which has now been rebranded as the Irish Greyhound Board, is a semi-state company and, uniquely, has not paid a dividend to the State in 25 years. The Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001 provided for excise duty on off-course betting to be ring-fenced.

This is one of the very few examples of any tax being ring-fenced or guaranteed. Ring-fencing taxes for a specific sector is not a feature of the Irish taxation system. However, in the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act it is mentioned in regard to excise duty on off-course betting. It established a minimum level of funding and, further, it cannot be less than the amount of excise duty generated in 2000, increased by inflation.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, made a statement in June that the betting duty forecast for 2020 had been revised downward to €60 million due to Covid-19, which is €35 million lower than the receipts for 2019. It appears that this scenario is likely and that central Exchequer funding will be needed to increase the fund to the guaranteed level. It seems, therefore, that greyhound racing is more essential than many essential services.

I expect that when this fund was set up most gambling would have been on horses and greyhounds. However, the advent of online gambling has changed that. Today, one can practically bet on two flies going up a wall. Commenting on the amount of funding that goes to football, which is the most played sport, Niall Quinn noted the passion for betting in this country and observed that betting on football matches accounted for more than 40% of betting in betting outlets, online and retail. He questioned why some of that income was not directed to other sports, including football. There are many things we could propose that the €19.2 million could be spent on, including animal welfare. In the area of youth work, for example, 1,400 staff and more than 40,000 volunteers support 380,000 young people across the country. In 2020, they received €61.79 million, which is about 30% less than the allocation to the horse and greyhound fund. If we look at the amount provided to other sports relative to the level of participation in them, there is nothing like the same level of transfers. I will leave it at that and allow my colleague to make further points.

Today, our contributions will focus on the horrific cruelty to animals associated with the greyhound industry but it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge how corrosive gambling is to those who find themselves locked in its vice-like grip. My colleague, Deputy Cairns, requested that each Deputy declare if he or she has a conflict of interest regarding the greyhound industry or associated industries. I will declare my own interest. In my time in university I spent several years working in bookmakers. At first, it was just a job but one cannot help but see each weekend and evening how corrosive the industry is to the lives and humanity of those who find themselves in its all-encompassing grip. A gambling addiction afflicts people at every stage of their lives. Often times, it is silent. It works across demographics and afflicts people in rural and urban areas. We cannot separate the cruelty of this sport from the impact it has on people across the country.

This week, 29 dog racing meetings are taking place across the country. On average, there are about ten races per card, although some have more. We can reasonably estimate that well over 300 dog races will take place this week in Ireland. That does not take into consideration the fact that every bookmaker's shop will also screen every dog race meeting in England, Scotland, Wales, Australia and anywhere else these meetings are taking place. Just before a little bell rings and the dogs go off in each race, someone will come to the counter and put €10, €20 or €50 on the race. Inevitably, we will see the problems associated with the industry inflicted on that person. Each person who walks into a bookmaker's shop has a little bit of happiness in him or her but over the course of the day, one will see that eroded. The gambling industry is draining, both for individuals and the economy. In 2017, Irish people gambled €9.8 billion, which is €379.51 per head, with a total loss of €1.3 billion, much of which comes out of household budgets.

Deputies who disagree with us on this motion will point to the levies accrued from the industry. This is a moral issue, not simply an issue of how we fund the Exchequer. Since 2001 alone, the taxpayer has given more than €1.5 billion to the greyhound industry. This is an industry that is not sustainable.

We will be told that this is a way of life for communities in rural Ireland. The 29 dog meetings that will take place this week will be empty, not just because of the pandemic but because that has been the case for most of them in recent years. Communities do not socialise or bond at dog meetings. They are relatively empty. Deputy Cairns has already pointed out that attendances have fallen significantly. However, race meetings are being funnelled into each and every bookmaker shop and people are having their lives destroyed as a consequence.

Many Government Deputies have previously described the greyhound industry as abhorrent. It does not become any less abhorrent because someone is sitting at Cabinet. This is an industry that has long since passed its sell-by date. It does not reflect who we are as a Republic. It is corrosive not only to the animals which are suffering as a consequence of it but also to the human beings who are on the receiving end of its more negative aspects, such as the addiction that is associated with it. The people who benefit from the industry play off that addiction. The dogs killed as a consequence are viewed as par for the course.

The Social Democrats introduced this motion because it is long since time the practice stopped. All we ask, however, is that the increase in funding be reallocated to animal welfare. This is an issue each of us can get behind. The motion must be agreed. It reflects who we are as a Republic. I call on all Deputies not to leave their principles at the door just because they walked into the Chamber alongside people with whom they claim to disagree at times.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

"acknowledges that:

—there is a strong commitment to improved animal welfare in this sector in the Programme for Government ‘Our Shared Future’;

—future funding of the sector is contingent on welfare standards being upheld on an annual basis and compliance with welfare standards in the sector will be strictly monitored;

—the greyhound sector is particularly challenged by Covid-19;

—the increase in the betting tax on all sports has gone from one per cent to two per cent, providing increased funding to the Exchequer and revenue from the tax in 2019 was €95 million;

—the most recent economic assessment of the industry was undertaken by Jim Power Economics in November 2017, and it indicated that the greyhound industry delivers a significant impact to the national economy with 12,371 people deriving economic benefit; and

—staff employed by Rásaíocht Con Éireann (RCÉ) as per its Annual Report for 2019 was 125 full-time staff and 112 part-time staff (measured in full time equivalents) and approximately 700 casual staff are employed at peak periods of activity with a wide geographical spread across the country; and

notes that:

—the proposed allocation from the Horse and Greyhound Fund is set to increase from €16.8 million to €19.2 million in 2021 and this increase is necessary to take account of the severe impact of Covid-19 on the sport and industry, and also to maintain the ongoing level of activity;

—the RCÉ is fully committed to the provisions in the Programme for Government ‘Our Shared Future’ regarding the care and welfare of the greyhound and the RCÉ will be required to account to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine for its activities in this area annually;

—the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 represents the first major upgrade of the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 and the RCÉ is focused on implementing in full the provisions of the Act as the relevant sections are commenced;

—a key element of the new legislation is the provision for the first time for a full IT traceability system for racing greyhounds and the RCÉ has advanced this system following a procurement process and expect to have the system operational by year end with statutory regulation to follow in 2021, and this will provide a mechanism to ensure that racing greyhounds are properly registered and traceable throughout their lives and that there are strong enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure that this is the case;

—the traceability system will ensure that important life events in the life of the racing greyhound including birth, microchipping, registration, racing career, changes of ownership/trainer, location, export, retirement and end-of-life are accurately recorded;

—the RCÉ has been implementing an ambitious care and welfare programme with the following elements being progressed:

— the setting up of a Care Fund in 2019, the funding sources are as follows:

— 50 per cent of all existing sponsorships;

— 10 per cent of all admissions;

— 10 per cent of all restaurant packages; and

— 5 per cent of net Tote profits;

— notwithstanding the collapse in commercial revenues arising from the impact of Covid-19 and resultant impact on Care Fund income, the RCÉ is committed to increasing the spend on care and welfare as part of its overall programme;

— the opening of the first Care Centre in Thurles in July 2020, which will act as a half-way house between the end of a racing career and the placing of the greyhound in its ‘forever home’ and the centre will allow greyhounds to be socialised and for interested parties to consider the fostering or adoption of a greyhound in such a setting;

— the implementation of an extensive rehoming programme with over 1,300 greyhounds rehomed in 2020 to date with assistance from the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust, an entity established by the RCÉ;

— the introduction of a financial incentive for all domestic rehomings to encourage more rehoming in Ireland;

— the implementation of a Foster-to-Adopt Scheme;

— the operation of an Injuries at Tracks Recovery Scheme whereby funding is available to address injuries sustained to racing greyhounds to ensure that they can be retired from greyhound racing;

— the establishing of a confidential phone line/email through which any welfare issues can be reported on a 24/7 basis and all reports are fully investigated by RCÉ welfare staff;

— the full utilisation of the Exclusion Order process whereby a party can be excluded from being on a greyhound racing track and six such orders were issued in 2020, with a number of other investigations pending;

— the updating of the Code of Practice for the Care and Welfare of the updating of the Code of Practice for the Care and Welfare of the Greyhound which is at present on public consultation, as this is provided for under the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011;

— the continuing of an intense testing regime both at race events and through out-of-competition testing and the urine sampling regime has been expanded in 2020 to also cover, on a periodic basis, blood sampling, while work is also under way in terms of the necessary protocols to implement further enhancements of the testing regime through hair sampling; and

— the RCÉ implemented a Covid-19 Care Payment Scheme during the period of suspension of racing activity from March to June 2020, and some €998,000 was paid under the scheme to ensure that the welfare needs of the racing greyhound were met during a period when racing activity was suspended."

Successive Governments have acknowledged the importance of the greyhound industry and have supported it through legislation and policy initiatives. The support provided by public funds through investment in the greyhound industry has enabled Ireland to develop a reputation for excellence in greyhound racing and breeding. Funding of the greyhound industry ensures that the sector achieves its maximum potential and that it contributes to economic, social and cultural development. The activity has a strong regional spread and plays a significant role in the broader economy, specifically that in rural areas. The future of the industry is dependent on a strong governance platform and on the industry having the highest standards of integrity and welfare founded on a strong regulatory system.

The Covid-19 pandemic poses particular challenges for Rásaíocht Con Éireann and the greyhound racing industry as a whole. The Government's plan for living with Covid-19, Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021, does not provide, at any of the levels set out, for a return to full commercial operations. This will impact significantly on the finances of Rásaíocht Con Éireann this year and up to the end of the time span of the plan in June 2021. It is essential, in these circumstances that additional Covid-related supports are made available to Rásaíocht Con Éireann, reflecting costs incurred and changes to the trading environment.

According to the 2017 Power report, the greyhound industry provides and supports considerable employment, directly and indirectly, across the Irish economy. It is estimated that the industry supported 5,058 full-time and part-time jobs in the economy in 2016. In addition, there are 7,313 active greyhound owners. The total number of people deriving economic benefit from the sector is estimated at 12,371. Greyhound racing is an important part of the fabric of rural Ireland and traditionally has strong links to farming. However, it also enjoys a strong urban support base. The industry also contributes to poverty proofing by providing an additional income for members of the farming community in particular. The industry and sport are open to male and female participants, with both high-profile male and female trainers currently involved in the industry.

The future of the industry is dependent on a strong governance platform and on the industry having the highest standards of integrity and welfare founded on a strong regulatory system. Provisions in the Greyhound Racing Act 2019, which came into effect on the 28 May 2019, will make a real difference. This legislation strengthens the legal basis for the industry, with a view to fortifying the integrity of the greyhound racing sector and improving provision for greyhound traceability. The Act will improve the governance of Rásaíocht Con Éireann, strengthen regulatory controls in the industry, modernise sanctions and improve integrity within the sector. It provides the industry with real tools with which it can effect fundamental change and reform.

Animal welfare issues are central to Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine engagements with the greyhound sector and funding is contingent on animal welfare measures being implemented. The Department ring-fenced 10% of the fund allocation to Rásaíocht Con Éireann in 2020 for welfare initiatives and will implement similar criteria for funding in 2021. Rásaíocht Con Éireann has been implementing an ambitious care and welfare programme, with a suite of measures being progressed, including the opening of the first care centre in Thurles in July 2020, the implementation of an extensive rehoming programme with over 1,300 greyhounds rehomed in 2020 and the introduction of a financial incentive for all domestic rehoming to encourage more rehoming in Ireland. A key element of the new legislation is the provision for the first time for a traceability system. The greyhound industry is predominantly a rural industry with a strong urban support base and the Covid-19 crisis, as in other sectors of the economy, resulted in a collapse of commercial activity in greyhound racing and a significant reduction of activity generally. Recovery of the industry will require ongoing support to aid restoration of normal levels of activity and to adequately manage the welfare issues that arise.

The advent of new technologies and business models has challenged Government to re-evaluate the funding mechanisms for the industry. As part of its overall commitment to the industry, the Government has addressed, through legislation, the anomaly whereby remote and online betting operators were outside the tax net. Betting tax was increased from 1% to 2% in budget 2019 and, as I said earlier, contributed €95 million to the Exchequer in 2019.

The funding being provided to the greyhound racing sector helps sustain a long-standing tradition as the industry is part of the social fabric of our country. This funding underpins economic activity in what are, in many instances, less affluent regions. Relieving the burden on our major urban centres and nurturing rural economies is a key priority for the Government. In this context, this industry should be given recognition for its contribution to rural economic activity and employment. It is crucial that we support the sector at this critical time as it faces the perils of Covid-19 and Brexit as we enter 2021. In doing so, we will help to support and protect both jobs and the economic benefit derived by individuals involved in the sport and industry. Accordingly, I am seeking the support of this House to ensure Rásaíocht Con Éireann can receive the funding provided for in budget 2021. I commend the countermotion to the House.

Thanks to the "RTÉ Investigates: Greyhounds Running for their Lives" programme that aired last year, the cruel and inhumane practices of the greyhound industry were revealed to the public. For many, this was the first time they were confronted with the reality of what goes on behind closed doors in greyhound racing and it spurred a major public outcry. Since the airing of that programme, there has been an increased public focus on welfare practices. However, 18 months on it is difficult to point to the practical application of commitments from the industry and, increasingly, there is the potential for resources to be transferred away from welfare matters towards commercial activities without oversight or consequence. An examination of welfare spend in recent years is revealing. On average, in the years 2014 to 2018 the then Irish Greyhound Board spent a mere 0.2% of its budget on welfare measures. This is set out very clearly under the heading "Contributions to Greyhound Welfare and Irish Retired Greyhound Trust". It is clear that the resources directed towards welfare in the greyhound industry were insufficient to upholding the necessary standards.

In 2019, the Greyhound Racing Ireland annual report no longer detailed contributions to greyhound welfare and the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust on its own and makes it impossible to compare welfare spending to other years on a like-for-like basis. Priority should have been given to funding the widespread implementation and promotion of the care fund for greyhounds, including foster schemes, care centres, the greyhound industry support scheme and the freephone welfare line, all of which were committed to by the then Irish Greyhound Board. It should also be noted that a considerable proportion of the care fund is being ring-fenced by Greyhound Racing Ireland to develop and maintain a traceability system for greyhounds.

Traceability is a basic operational requirement and the funding for it should not be taken from an already unstable and insufficient pot proposed for the purposes of animal welfare initiatives. Following an increase in funding last year, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has stated that funding for the industry is contingent on maintaining and implementing welfare standards. However, despite seeking further information, it is unclear how these welfare standards are tracked and evaluated against future funding. Indeed, the worry is that there is no formalised structure in place at all. There should have been a strict formal way to make public funding for Greyhound Racing Ireland dependant on transparent, trackable welfare measures. Allocating taxpayers' money to an industry with serious animal cruelty concerns and crossing one's fingers that it will be used for welfare is simply not good enough.

A considerable proportion of current welfare funds is being set aside to develop a traceability system, but such a system should be a basic operational requirement unrelated to welfare initiatives. Proper traceability systems track the entirety of a greyhound's life and are essential to tackling harmful welfare practices and overbreeding. Without a reliable system starting from birth, there is no clear record of breeding, euthanasia or export. Equally, there is no transparent rigorous system of inspection in respect of greyhound breeders. Inspections are vital in increasing accountability among breeders and ensuring compliance with the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2005. However, this has not happened. It is clear that by contributing millions of euros of taxpayers' money, the Government is propping up an inherently cruel industry which the Irish public has been increasingly rejecting. It is now time to phase out this industry.

As per my colleague's request, I wish to state that I have no connection with the greyhound industry. The LauraLynn Foundation, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, the Parkinson's Association of Ireland, Dementia Ireland, the Samaritans, SpunOut, the Irish Red Cross, Pieta House and the Rape Crisis Centres all provide invaluable services to many vulnerable people. They also all receive less money from Government than the greyhounds receive on an annual basis. The LauraLynn Foundation is the hospice that provides terminally ill children, yet it gets less money than the greyhounds.

Joe Biden stated: "Don't tell me what you value; show me your budgets and I'll tell you what you value." Unfortunately, this Government and many Opposition Deputies value and prioritise an industry that has a history of questionable governance and animal welfare issues and that is unviable, untenable and unsustainable. For 20 years the State has given special treatment to this sector and provided ring-fenced funding to the tune of approximately €200 million since the Greyhound Racing Act was passed in 2001. I know very few sectors that have been given this special treatment. One would be hard-pressed to see so much funding ring-fenced in respect of front-line community services, despite the huge demand for their outreach supports. During the pandemic, incidences of domestic violence have been on the rise, mental health issues have increased and disability services have been shut down due to Covid-19, yet these sectors have received marginal support from the State to meet the rise in demand. To add insult to injury, the State has decided to increase the funding for the greyhound industry by €2.4 million in the budget for 2021.

Funding of €19 million could go a long way towards addressing the increased demand for domestic violence services, and the increase in the number of first-time callers to organisations such as Women's Aid. The shadow of the pandemic is looming large in our society, and it is not cheap for organisations like Women's Aid to carry out awareness campaigns, to fund helplines and to provide that fundamental service to women and children who are suffering from domestic violence. It is certainly not cheap to run a shelter for women and their children, and the money simply is not there for that. The same applies to youth services, which my colleague also mentioned. These services received €5 million in the budget for 2021, but investing in these youth services could pay a society a huge dividend - much more than that from the greyhound industry.

I also want to note that a climate and biodiversity crisis has been declared in this country. This morning, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, published its report, Ireland's Environment, which really lays bare the state of our environment. Despite this, front-line environmental organisations are still inadequately funded. If one takes BirdWatch Ireland as an example, it received a paltry €16,000 from the Government in comparison with the €19.2 million that will be given to the greyhound industry next year. The Irish Wildlife Trust received €15,000 in funding. It is now time to put our money where our mouth is and start funding these services that will actually do something for our country and its communities.

To the Deputies who argue that this is a rural versus urban issue, I say that it absolutely is not. This is an issue about how the State decides to spend its money and what it prioritises. Rural women need access to domestic violence services and rural communities need access to mental health and dementia services. It is not a rural versus urban issue, and if, as those Deputies are saying, this industry is so successful and important to the economies of our rural towns and villages, well, fine, let us regulate it. However, the industry should stand on its own four legs. We cannot afford to fund this industry. There are other issues and priorities that we should be funding.

This is not a complicated motion or issue. The choice is clear: will this Government decide to stand with organisations on the front line of the pandemic and the environmental crisis or will it continue to stand beside, and devote precious resources to, an industry that continues to lose taxpayers' money, which invests in practices that result in the killing of animals and an industry that no longer reflects the majority wishes of the people?

I am sharing time with Deputy Martin Browne.

At the outset, I want to disassociate myself from those who have attacked the fact that this debate is even taking place. No organisation, body or sector can receive tens of millions of euro in public money without expecting public debate on the expenditure of that money. Having said that, we know that the greyhound sector plays an important social and economic role in many communities. It is made up of many good individuals who care for their dogs and contribute positively to society, but there are real and very genuine concerns - these are shared by many people - regarding animal welfare in the sector and the accountability and transparency relating to the State funding given to the sector.

We in Sinn Féin support Exchequer funding for sectors that bring a benefit to rural economies and communities, including the horse and greyhound sectors. We also believe that with Exchequer funding comes responsibility. When public monies are invested, there must be public accountability. Funding for the greyhound industry in 2020 amounted to €17 million, which, by any standard, is a substantial level of funding. We know that a 2017 assessment suggested that greyhound racing delivers an economic benefit of around €302 million, primarily in rural communities, which means jobs, investment and resources in areas that are often devoid of opportunities for development. The sector is facing the same pressures as others as a result of Covid-19, and that is a reality which also cannot be ignored.

A number of questions have arisen in respect of the funding of the greyhound sector as a result of this debate. The first of these is whether any funding at all should go to the sector. The motion tabled by the Social Democrats calls for the phasing out of all funding by 2025. Sinn Féin does not support this proposition. As I have said, this would have a detrimental economic impact on many rural communities that have already been left behind. It would also be detrimental to the stated objective behind the motion.

Should all State funding to the industry be removed it would result in the sector operating purely on a for-profit basis. I believe that most people will starkly see what this would mean for animal welfare. The motion also relies heavily upon analysis that the sector would not be financially viable independent of Exchequer funding. This fails to acknowledge that almost all social sporting and cultural pursuits would face the exact same challenges if all Exchequer funding was withdrawn.

Accepting the premise that funding can be warranted, the second question is around what conditions come with the funding. I mentioned the very real and valid concerns regarding animal welfare. All funding must be contingent on the highest standards of animal welfare and care. It is not good enough to just say that the standards are high. There must be robust monitoring and enforcement of those standards, which must be carried out independently. Aside from welfare, there is a requirement to ensure there is full accountability and transparency in how all moneys are spent. An organisation that receives millions of euro in public funding should present all of its accounts for scrutiny. There must also be an assessment of how the moneys are distributed.

The greatest concern and complaint I have with greyhound industry funding comes from within the sector itself. Many breeders and smaller operators tell me that they do not get a fair slice of the cake despite doing everything correctly, from their point of view. There is no point in lauding the economic benefits of these funds if we do not make sure the funds go to where they will have the greatest benefit. I am sceptical that the diversion of huge portions of the funding into prize money actually results in the trickle-down redistribution that is often suggested.

The third question is whether the Government's proposal to increase the funding to the greyhound sector by €2.4 million in 2021 is warranted. Sinn Féin cannot support that proposal. The Government has failed to offer an outline for the rationale for this particular increase. Why was €2.4 million necessary? Why was €1.4 million not sufficient? Why was €3.4 million not required? The truth is that it is an arbitrary figure. It is arbitrarily linked to the horse racing fund that has been divided on an 80%-20% basis for several years. When I asked the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, in committee yesterday for the rationale for this particular breakdown he essentially responded that it was always done this way.

This House has not been provided with a business case, with an economic assessment or any independent analysis that this funding is particularly required for this sector next year. Given the many competing and urgent demands on public services such as our health service at this time, Sinn Féin does not believe it is prudent to increase funding to the greyhound industry this year in the absence of such analysis. Even within the Department of Agriculture and the Marine there are several sectors that require additional funding. Our suckler farmers are under immense pressures. Our sheep farmers are struggling to make ends meet. Many family farms have been hit by Covid-19 in a variety of ways, including through the loss of second incomes and other pressures. They too would benefit from additional funding. The case has not been sufficiently made that the greyhound sector deserves it more than any other.

Sinn Féin's amendment recognises that funding is required for the sector but calls for an increase of €2.4 million to be waived. It calls for funding to be contingent on the highest animal welfare standards being in place and for these to be adequately monitored and enforced. The amendment calls for full accountability and transparency to be in place. It also calls for a long-term strategy for the sector to be developed. This strategy is pivotal. If there is to be a future for the greyhound sector in Ireland, and it is our wish that there will be, then there must be a plan; it cannot be business as usual. It cannot be a case that Governments come to this House year after year proposing increases in funding without adequately outlining how this money will be invested.

In 2014 the greyhound sector received an annual payment of €11 million. This funding has risen every year since, bar one year. The Government now proposes that next year the funding will be increased to €19.2 million. Quite frankly, the sector should be thriving with such support. Those at the heart of it, the local breeders, the trainers and those ancillary workers tell me that it is not. The obvious deficiencies need to be addressed before any more blank cheques are signed. While recognising that the industry has made some improvements in animal welfare it would be absolutely foolhardy to suggest that all is fixed. It is not. Most people in the sector will acknowledge that. If the issue of animal welfare is not given the urgent consideration that it necessitates, then public opinion will quickly move to a point whereby no Government will be in a position to allocate these types of resources.

I thank Deputy Cairns for bringing this issue to debate in the House. It is one of those issues where both the original motion and the Government amendment warrant consideration and make valid positions, but for the reasons I have outlined I believe that the Sinn Féin amendment is the most appropriate course of advancement on this issue.

I also want to talk on the Sinn Féin amendment to the motion. I assure Deputy Cairns that I have no interest in or connection with the greyhound industry, good, bad or indifferent.

I must make it clear that Sinn Féin is not opposed to State support for the greyhound sector. I am from County Tipperary where greyhound racing makes an important contribution economically and socially for many families in my constituency. It is a tradition and a skill that has been handed down through the generations. Many people in my constituency believe it is a staple part of rural life.

While some people may agree with greyhound racing and others will not, I do know that the reason for the scandal that shocked the country and rocked the sector last year cannot be attributed to the vast majority of those involved in the sport. That is a truth that I must put out there. The vast majority of those who rear, train and walk their dogs along the roads in my county care for their animals. They carefully rear them, they look after them, make sure they get the veterinary attention they need, and ensure they get plenty of exercise. They were appalled at all of those revelations and were ashamed at the practices of some rogue practitioners. Abuse of this nature must be condemned outright. There are no words available that can describe the sense of outrage that was felt. Anybody who sees a dog, or any animal, as something that can be abused, neglected or cast aside without a second thought, is someone I do not want to know. It is someone who should have the full force of the law brought down upon them.

This brings me to the next issue I want to address, which is the funding of the greyhound industry and animal welfare. At yesterday's Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine we heard the concern of everyone present for the welfare of the dogs involved in the greyhound racing sector. The issue of animal welfare was one of the key measures raised during the meeting, and quite rightly so. We were told that Greyhound Racing Ireland, GRI, has put into effect a number of measures to address the issue, but of course we need to ensure that these measures are all fully implemented, followed through, and have the desired result. For these reasons, Sinn Féin wants to ensure that a significant portion of the funding given is ring-fenced towards the welfare of greyhounds and to ensure the end of the practice of over breeding, which leads to culling. If the State is to contribute money to GRI then it is crucial that a good portion of that money is used to ensure that the horrors we saw last year are addressed and wiped out. To ensure this happens and is being maintained involves a persistent approach. It requires time, commitment and a good track record. These revelations are fresh in our minds and we have to accept that genuine concerns remain and that a vigilant approach must be taken. This is why Sinn Féin's amendment to the Bill calls for the Government to work with the sector to improve animal welfare with monitoring and enforcement. We must make full sure that the commitments made are delivered upon. It will require constant monitoring and it is a job of all of us in this House to ensure the Government continues to follow up on this commitment.

I thank the many organisations out there that help unwanted or abused greyhounds. We have some of those organisations in my own county and they provide a service that makes me proud. They are crucial in our humane response to the scandal.

I shall now turn to the funding for the sector. An increase in funding is proposed. Sinn Féin does not believe it is right to spend an additional €2.4 million when households and families are struggling more than ever. There is less money entering families' coffers but demands for rent have not gone away, the Government has seen to that. The health service is about to come under the usual winter pressure, with the added demands of Covid-19. We need to channel all the resources we can into the vital services that people reply on. Sinn Féin is willing to work with the industry to develop a long-term strategy to ensure the sector's viability going forward. The Government needs to step up here also. I and my party want to ensure that the money given to support the sector is spent in the right way, goes to the right people and the right practices.

If this is achieved it will make for a viable sport.

This is important because the greyhound industry is a significant contributor to rural Ireland. An assessment carried out in 2017 found that nearly 12,500 people derived economic benefit from activity within the sector. This figure cannot be dismissed. It is estimated that the greyhound industry benefits rural Ireland most through the €302 million it generates. Like the agricultural sector, this is important to rural Ireland. Money generated in communities generally makes its way around them. It has significant knock-on effects and helps the wider locality. The use of Exchequer funding by Greyhound Racing Ireland, GRI, must be transparent. The funding must reach all involved in the industry, particularly the smaller operators who make greyhound racing what it is in my county. It must be proven that whatever commitments have been made to qualify for club funding are delivered on, or at least that a concerted effort to do so is made.

The greyhound sector plays an important role in the economic and social life of rural Ireland. If someone walks, drives or cycles down any road, he or she will find someone else walking a greyhound, whatever the weather. It is more than a sport. It is a way of life, a pastime and a passion. Most of the people one sees walking dogs on a daily basis do not make obscene amounts. They are preserving their way of life. They are involved in an engaging pursuit, a way of life that has been replicated for generations. Greyhound racing is many people's one and only social outlet. They care and they need support.

The Government has said that the greyhound industry has improved its governance and practices. I welcome this, but in light of the level of abuse revealed in last year's "RTÉ Investigates", constant surveillance is needed to ensure those efforts are doubled and tripled. The Government must continue to work with GRI to improve and progress animal welfare monitoring in the industry. We must also identify and adopt a long-term strategy to ensure the viability of the sector. Sinn Féin's amendments put welfare first and foremost, support the sector and note the contribution it makes to rural Ireland.

Many sports in Ireland, including greyhound racing, receive State funding. We share the concern of the many people who have expressed deep unease about the welfare of greyhounds bred for racing. We welcome any progress on the welfare of greyhounds but see any current measures as only the first step on a very long road. There is a long way to go before anyone can safely say that welfare issues have been addressed to everyone's satisfaction. For many years, the Labour Party has consistently called for higher standards of animal welfare in many areas of society, including the greyhound sector. We welcome the progress which has been made to advance the welfare of greyhounds. Since 2010, the Labour Party has endeavoured to make the greyhound racing sector operate on a revenue-neutral basis by ensuring that a percentage of the funding raised through the betting tax is used to support the sector. That proposal is now reality.

The Labour Party does not support the removal of State funding for greyhound racing at this time. We are fearful that any defunding now would lead to the gradual resumption of a regime where practices were not subject to any proper scrutiny. The Horse and Greyhound Fund gives the taxpayer power. It makes the taxpayer the scrutineer of all welfare practices. I would be very reluctant to remove that power at a time when the attention paid by the public to this sector has never been greater.

We will continue to support further measures to enhance the welfare of greyhounds. I particularly welcome the fact that 10% of the State funding given to greyhound racing is spent exclusively on the care and welfare of greyhounds. This is a positive first step but it should not be the endpoint. I welcome the fact that the sport's governing body, Rásaíocht Con Éireann, has been implementing a care and welfare programme.

However, the Government amendment is a cut-and-paste job based on a Rásaíocht Con Éireann briefing note. This amendment does nothing for the sustainability of the greyhound sector. One fundamental issue is whether the board of Rásaíocht Con Éireann enjoys the confidence of the wider public and its own stakeholders on delivering on the agenda of animal welfare and the sustainability of the sector. We contend that the only way to ensure confidence is to make tangible improvements beyond the measures implemented so far. For instance, we would like to see evidence a nationwide roll-out of care centres similar to the one in Tipperary. Evidence of the construction of a second centre might build some confidence. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that designating 10% of the fund for welfare and rehoming would allocate €1.9 million to the purpose. That is a significant pot of money, which will not be available if funding is cut or phased out over time. Public trust in the sector and the administration thereof is very low. Recent revelations in the industry are proof of that. The only way to restore that trust is a further roll-out of care centres across the country and clear evidence of rehoming.

This is not just the demand of the public. Owners and trainers throughout the country are calling for the same thing. In my experience, greyhound owners are intelligent people who know instinctively that the future of their sector, which is loss making, depends on a transparent and world-class welfare and rehoming programme that demands 100% traceability. Every trainer I have spoken to is looking forward to the traceability regime and accepts it with open arms. Such a regime is dependent on a governance structure that subjects the expenditure of public money to the type of rigorous oversight we witnessed when Deputy Alan Kelly had the sector in his sights at the Committee on Public Accounts. We need further evidence of the roll-out of the traceability system. Until then, doubts will remain.

Turning to the fund itself, we note that the 2010 Labour Party proposal has become practice. Back then, we proposed that the Horse and Greyhound Fund should be revenue-neutral. We welcome the increase in the betting tax, which yielded €95 million in 2019. We fear that any defunding of the greyhound sector, which has been proposed in the many emails I have received on the matter, would force animal welfare gains backwards. We contend that the money given to the fund gives the taxpayer skin in the game and helps to ensure animal welfare and traceability standards are met. I note that the motion does not refer to the horse racing industry, which whether we like it or not also has serious welfare issues. If the fund is revenue-neutral, we should bag the very small gains that have been made on welfare and traceability and use the funding to make further gains. The relevant Oireachtas committee should ensure that those responsible for animal welfare in the horse and greyhound sectors are subject to rigorous and independent scrutiny on a regular basis. For instance, the statement by the board referring to the implementation of an extensive rehoming programme, with more than 1,300 greyhounds rehomed in 2020 to date with assistance from the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust, should be subject to greater scrutiny.

The board claims that the traceability system will ensure that important events in the life of racing greyhounds, including birth, microchipping, registration, racing career, changes of ownership or trainer location, export, retirement and end of life, are accurately recorded. This should be subject to ongoing and rigorous scrutiny.

The Social Democrats is right to shine a light on an important and vital sector, which traverses urban and rural life. Taking away its funding is not the best way to bring about these urgently needed changes.

I thank Deputy Cairns and the Social Democrats for bringing this motion forward. Since I was elected, my colleagues and I have been among a small number of Deputies who every year have opposed the handing over of public funds to the greyhound racing industry. It is great to see this motion and the debate we are having.

The bottom line is that there is enormous cruelty involved in the greyhound racing industry. That is an unavoidable point. That does not mean there are not greyhound racers who love their dogs and treat them well - of course there are - but incredible cruelty is involved in the industry. It is that which many of the speakers in this debate want to avoid. Up to 6,000 dogs a year are killed because they do not race fast enough. Greyhounds are exported to places which effectively have no animal welfare standards, including Macau. There are horrific stories of dogs being boiled alive, not to mention the use of drugs in the greyhound racing industry in Ireland. There is a deep cruelty involved in it.

RTÉ did the public an enormous service with its "RTÉ Investigates: Greyhounds Running for Their Lives" programme last year. It shone a light on this reality that many are trying to avoid. It was so blatant that even a Government Minister at the time was forced to express his "deep concern". What was the punishment for the industry after that exposé of cruelty and barbarity? It is to provide an extra €2.4 million in subsidies next year, which is incredible. It seems that when it comes to this cruel practice, the Government has deep concern, but even deeper pockets. It is proposing to hand over almost €20 million next year to line the pockets of the greyhound industry. Without that funding, the industry simply would not survive; it would go away and with it would go the cruelty that comes with greyhound racing.

It is worth looking at what else this money could be spent on. It is ironic that it is the Government that normally tells the left it cannot spend money on everything and it is necessary to make tough choices. The choice the Government is making is to give this money to a cruel industry, as opposed to, for example, the Health and Safety Authority, HSA. The HSA, which is responsible for maintaining workplace health and safety and protects millions of workers in Ireland, gets the same support as the greyhound industry. That is a political choice. We can also talk about the underfunding of our refuges. Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and it is a choice not to put this money into the area of gender violence. It is time to stop subsidising cruelty.

I will briefly respond to the points made by Deputy Sherlock from the Labour Party and, unfortunately, the contributors from Sinn Féin. They do not bode well for my Bill to ban hare coursing, unfortunately. Deputy Sherlock's argument was that we should keep giving this industry money because we buy some animal welfare standards. Animal welfare standards can be set down in law and animal welfare can be insisted upon. It is not necessary that we fund this industry. It is a nonsensical argument to continue funding this cruel industry, which should have its funding removed. We should spend that money elsewhere.

On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, it is worth making the point - we discussed this issue last week - that the budget given out by the Minister for Justice to support organisations providing support to women suffering from violence is only a fraction of the overall budget for the greyhound racing. It says a lot about our society that we think more of this cruel industry than we do of protecting women who are very vulnerable.

Having read the Minister's statement, it strikes me that he is basically making a Keynesian argument to justify funding for this industry in that it returns more to the Exchequer than it costs as it stimulates economic activity in different areas. The Minister needs to spell out exactly what he means. My father was an avid greyhound racing fan and I remember going as a child with him to Harold's Cross greyhound racing stadium. From what I saw there, most of the economic activity was at the Tote booth where people were putting on bets. If that is the activity to which the Minister is referring, he needs to spell that out.

Even in a classical Keynesian argument, however, the €1 billion spent since 2000, to which the Minister referred, could have been spent on more worthwhile projects that would have benefited the people of rural Ireland in a real way, for example, the western rail corridor. If there is that much worry about rural Ireland, surely thought could be given to doing that in a more sustainable way. This money could be spent on renewable projects and public housing on public land. That would definitely stimulate the economy without inflicting the unbelievable cruelty emanating from this industry, to which previous speakers referred.

In comments that a fully endorse, Nuala Donlan, a spokesperson for Greyhound Action Ireland, stated:

Instead of ending funding, they have sanctioned an increase of €2.4 million on last year's figure, thus ensuring the widespread abuse and killing of unwanted dogs by this industry will continue. It is hugely regrettable that the Green Party has now become complicit in propping up an activity that inflicts such suffering and death on the beautiful, gentle greyhound.

It is worth noting that the organisation was also highly critical of the Minister of State, Senator Pippa Hackett, in particular. Deputy Shane Cassells of Fianna Fáil, another Government party, was quoted as saying at a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts attended by Bord na gCon that it was "galling" and "sticks in the craw" that this much public money goes to this industry. He also said that more people were on the home help waiting lists than attended dog racing in his constituency. That is an important point. The issues which really affect society are being ignored for the benefit of a tiny few who gain from this industry. The point made by that Fianna Fáil Deputy and the opposition shown in the past by the Green Party should be highlighted because they are now being utterly hypocritical, as we will see from how they will vote on the motion.

I thank the Social Democrats for tabling the motion. I take the point made about the horse racing industry. More money is being spent on the horse and greyhound racing industries on the basis that they stimulate the economy. There are far better ways to stimulate the economy than by inflicting gross cruelty on innocent animals. We know that not spending that money would obviously hurt some people who are passionate about greyhound racing, but the point is that we must get our priorities right. We fully endorse the motion.

We move to the Rural Independent Group, which has five speakers.

This motion is kind of cynical. It is a serious time, with Covid-19 and people on their knees all over the country with the way the economy is. I would love to see a motion being brought forward to support an industry. This industry and its spin-offs are vital to rural and urban Ireland and to many families. There are 40,000 jobs in the horse racing and greyhound racing sectors. It is great to listen to the contributions from the parties of the left here. Where are they going to get the money from to have some other industry instead? We do not have it.

This is part of our heritage and culture. The vast majority of the greyhound people love and protect their animals and are diligent about animal welfare. They resent being tarred by the RTÉ programme and being included with some rogues. Any rogue element in the industry should be banished from it. There is no truck with that. Many greyhound owners are small farmers who are involved for the supplementary business. They always look after their animals and they love, tend and nurture them. We want supports. We want Government support and we welcome this funding being put into the industry because it comes back in spadefuls. It benefits the physical and mental health of the people in this sector.

Deputies should be supporting them in this time of need rather than putting forward a motion that will diminish, if not wipe out, an entire industry. What will replace it? What will replace the money that is earned and the satisfaction provided? I support the greyhound industry 100%. People should be left with their animals, allowed to nurture and mind them and to have their hare coursing and greyhound racing. Racing is worth so much to Clonmel as well.

I am totally opposed to this Social Democrats' motion and resent the suggestion that those Deputies who support the greyhound industry and support those who own greyhounds are being lobbied. I certainly have not been lobbied by anybody. I will make up my own mind based on what the people of Cork South-West tell me. The people of Cork South-West have spoken to me, including people that own and love greyhounds. They love walking their dogs, minding and caring for them but they are being treated like outcasts who have done something wrong. Do Social Democrat Deputies realise that 10% of the funding will be spent on greyhound care centres, foster homes for greyhounds, injury clinics and on the confidential telephone line? There is a whole lot of care attached to this funding. It is not all bad and negative news. It is a terrible thing to suggest that all greyhound owners are bad people on the basis of one RTÉ programme broadcast last year. A lot of issues come up on television from time to time and we will jump from one issue to another on that basis. I certainly will not support this motion. I will support the people who have greyhounds and the people of Cork South-West who love and care for their dogs. I will not support this motion in any way, shape or form.

I very much resent what has been said so far. Deputies have told mistruths about the respectable people involved in this industry. The image of 6,000 dogs disappearing per year is factually incorrect. Under the IGB system, dogs are registered at 12 weeks of age and are named before they are 12 months old. If a dog gets two trials and races on an Irish track, that dog can then be sold in England or elsewhere. It can be retired abroad if it is not good enough for racing here and can finish up in a good home in Germany, Italy or anywhere. On the system, it will look like that dog has disappeared but the dog could be quite happy and alive. For people to portray that image is wrong.

The impression has been given that this is taxpayers' money and that is also wrong. The money is coming from the betting industry. I have heard people saying derogatory things today about the betting industry. Is there something wrong with a person having a drink? Is there something wrong with a person having a bet? There is not. I am friends with people who go to the racetrack in Tralee on a weekly basis. They might bet €5 a night in total, placing 50 cent on this dog and 50 cent on that. They are making small bets. These are retired people, predominantly, and they love the enjoyment of the bit of sport. It is not as though they are betting the household weekly budget but that is the impression that is being given here.

Every dog is worth a lot of money in this country. The greyhound sector generates more than €300 million worth of business in the economy. The amount being provided by the State is very small. Furthermore, a lot of the money that the Social Democrats want to take away is actually for the protection and well-being of the animals.

Greyhound racing is at the heart of rural Ireland. I know many ordinary people who have greyhound racing dogs and they are very good people. Limerick is lucky to have a state-of-the-art stadium for greyhound racing. I want to get rid of the myth that a night out at the dogs means the death of a dog or a hare. That is not factual. A mechanical hare is used.

People in this country are entitled to their traditions. We must consider the 12,500 people who are employed directly or indirectly. We have a minority of people who have no respect for their dogs and they need to be dealt with through the hard rigours of the law. However, we also have great people who are looking after their dogs, walking them and nurturing them. It should be noted that €95 million went into the Exchequer through the dog system and the people who care for their dogs. In 2018 and 2019, the sum of €6 million was raised for charities, for people that the Government cannot support, through the dog industry. The next thing the Social Democrats will be calling for is a ban on the cat chasing the mouse. For God's sake, wake up people.

I am glad to get an opportunity to talk on behalf of the greyhound owners in Kerry who love their dogs. It is their culture and their sport and they are entitled to have it, like everyone else. To say that it is wrong to give this money to the greyhound industry is totally wrong. These people deserve and are entitled to their sport. RTÉ said that 6,000 dogs were destroyed but that is wrong. I can give an example of a father and two sons who had 35 old dogs between them. They rehomed the animals themselves. They are looking after them. The dogs have hot floors and are being bedded, fed and kept right. There is a care fund for injuries and welfare, with 10% of admission fees and 5% of the Tote going towards animal welfare. There are greyhound care centres in Kerry, Tipperary, Limerick, Cork, Clare, Belfast and Dublin. There is a demand for old greyhounds abroad in places such as Montreal, the USA and mainland Europe, with people taking them as pets. Dogs have not been destroyed in the way suggested. These people are paying their way in betting taxes that they pay every night when they place their little bets. A lot of that money is going to the central fund when it should be going to the industry. I support the money provided by the Government to make up for lost gate receipts and returns that the industry did not enjoy this year because of the coronavirus.

I thank Deputy Cairns and the Social Democrats for tabling this motion, which seeks to waive the increased funding of €2.4 million due to be given to the greyhound industry, to incrementally refocus greyhound racing funding on the welfare of dogs impacted by the breeding and racing associated with the industry and work towards the gradual phasing out of State support for the greyhound industry by 2025.

A reality check is needed here. Attendance at greyhound tracks around Ireland fell by a massive 15,900 in the first two months of 2020 according to an economic report commissioned by the IGB. The Indecon report, published earlier this month, shows that more and more people are turning their backs on cruel greyhound racing and are staying away from the tracks. Attendances plummeted by more than 50% in the past decade and the downward trend has continued into 2020. In January and February, respectively, numbers dropped by 7,200 or 30% and 8,600 or 28% compared to the same period in 2019. The authors of the report predict that the greyhound industry is likely to experience a continued decline in attendance levels and that this decline will accelerate. As I said, the greyhound racing industry has witnessed a significant decline in attendance over the past decade. The report outlines that 1.1 million attended races in 2008 but this had fallen by 55% to just over 500,000 by 2018. It adds that a further negative impact was seen in 2019 that was likely to exacerbate the pre-existing long-term decline and that the latest attendance figures for January and February of this year show that this decline has continued.

A breakdown of the figures shows that the IGB's Dublin track at Shelbourne Park sustained a massive 36% drop in attendance in January 2020 compared to the same month last year. Attendance continued to fall at Shelbourne Park in February when it was down by 41% from 8,900 to 5,200. The track has seen twice-weekly protests since the broadcasting of the "RTÉ Investigates: Greyhounds Running for their Lives" documentary which led to nationwide boycotts of greyhound racing and several companies disassociating themselves from the so-called sport.

Shelbourne Park is one of the worst tracks in Ireland for greyhound injuries and deaths. At least 178 greyhounds have suffered injuries and 43 have been killed by a track vet at the stadium over the past five years alone, as sickening IGB statistics show. Among the victims was a greyhound that collapsed after a race in August 2019 and died of a heart attack and another that was carried away bleeding with a leg bone popped out.

The IGB brought the activists who have been campaigning at Shelbourne Park to stop the so-called sport to the High Court in January 2020 by issuing nasty, threatening flyers around Ringsend, supposedly signed by the activists. This backfired badly on the IGB. It cost the board €30,000 to get the activists into the High Court and more than €300,000 in expenses, but the activists won. It is important to register that fact.

The IGB's tracks outside Dublin experienced a 21% drop in attendance in January and February, while attendance at privately-owned tracks plunged by 43% in January and 20% in February. This is a dying trade. People are rejecting it and are not attending races, and it is going to decline even more in the future. This is not a sport about loving dogs. It is about putting a dog into a stadium where it could get badly injured and die.

The pandemic has shown us the fiscal choices that need to be made in the balancing of public health with the public purse. It has been such a difficult year for so many and many small businesses are afraid that losing their Christmas trade could force them to close their doors permanently, but could opening business cause a loss of life? These are not easy decisions, but I would put health before profits while ensuring that sufficient Government fiscal supports were available to those businesses remaining closed and staff who are still off. Communities have come together over the past nine months but there has been an horrific increase in instances of domestic abuse, so much so that there is a specific Garda operation for this.

The reason I am talking about Covid-19, domestic violence and resources during a debate on a Private Members’ motion on greyhounds is that the greyhound industry receives considerable sums in Exchequer funding. The amount for 2021 is said to be €19.2 million, which includes the increase of €2.4 million in funding that the motion seeks to reverse. I am talking about this because people have said to me that greyhounds are getting more money than women’s services. As well as reversing that funding increase of €2.4 million, the motion calls on the Government to increase funding for the welfare of greyhounds and to phase out State support for the greyhound industry.

Why is the State still funding this industry? Yesterday, I spoke to the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2020 and it is worth noting the strength of the greyhound industry lobby in this country. The "RTÉ Investigates: Greyhounds Running for Their Lives" programme aired in 2019 and documented some of the cruel acts taking place in the industry. Advocacy groups have told us that greyhounds are being overbred and that some 6,000 are culled every year. As people have become more aware of the industry, attendance has dropped. It is not the fun social event it once was. The public could no longer ignore the stories of drugging, maltreatment and export.

It would be remiss of me not to mention former Deputies who undertook significant work on the welfare of greyhounds in the previous Dáil. Maureen O’Sullivan and Tommy Broughan often raised the important issues of animal welfare and the treatment and export of greyhounds. Tommy Broughan worked with Dogs Trust Ireland to bring forward the Welfare of Greyhounds (Amendment) Bill 2017. The former Deputies and the now MEP, Clare Daly, worked with Senators Higgins and Ruane on Committee Stage of the Government’s Greyhound Racing Bill 2018 to try to improve it. The Government did not listen to everything we called for then but I hope it will listen now, although I doubt that very much. The public are more aware than ever of our public spending and the areas they want the Government to support, but as usual it will be behind the people.

The greyhound racing industry is so problematic. The serious issues and maltreatment of these dogs have been widely documented. Live hare coursing should also be banned. I know there are some greyhound breeders and owners who adore their dogs and treat them well but, unfortunately, there are many who see them as money-making machines, and weaker pups and litters as collateral damage. What about the older, retired greyhounds? When they are no longer of use, what happens to them? Greyhound racing encourages gambling too, which has its own detrimental effects on society. Why is this industry supported by taxpayers' money? Ideally, I would like this type of racing to be done away with as a sport, but if it must still happen, it should certainly not be supplemented by the public purse,nor should it take scarce resources away from areas such as domestic violence, housing, health provision and so on. I cannot let the moment pass without mentioning the Claire Byrne interview on Wednesday last, 18 November, where a Fine Gael councillor, David McManus, repeatedly lied about the 33,000 jobs in the industry.

I commend Deputy Cairns on bringing forward the motion and returning the issue to the floor of the House. I am more than happy to support the motion and believe that it is important for us to defund the greyhound industry.

I respect the right of the Social Democrats to bring forward the motion; we live in a democracy. Nevertheless, I strenuously oppose their views and will do so with every breath in my body. Yesterday, the party posted a video to social media that had been recorded at the gates of Leinster House. It featured a lurcher. It clearly illustrated the lack of understanding the Social Democrats have about the exact role that this industry plays in rural Ireland. I am privileged to have owned greyhounds and I also have the leg of a horse from time to time. It is part of our heritage and culture. I am not going to talk about the economics of it but it is part of rural Ireland. If the Social Democrats get their way on greyhound racing, what target will be next? Will it be point-to-point racing, hunting, shooting or fishing? These are all sports that we grew up with and that we will defend. They are part of our heritage.

Yesterday, the Minister appeared before the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine, which I am privileged to chair, and the opportunity was there for Members of Dáil Éireann and the Seanad to cross-examine him about what the money is being spent on and where it is going. We had a detailed discussion on the fund and the committee referred the matter back to the Dáil and the Seanad, where it will be voted on, as is the democratic process.

This is not about the money, however. It is about a way of life and our heritage, and we will not take any more. Rural Ireland and people who love their sports have taken enough. A strict line is being drawn on our pursuits. I will leave out the economics. The regulations are there and are being stringently enforced. There has been much talk of the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. Some of that footage was recorded outside this jurisdiction, while other parts were very dated. There is no place for people who break the regulations. We have a strictly regulated industry and will defend it to the last.

I oppose the motion put forward by the Social Democrats. The proposed increase in the Horse and Greyhound Fund is necessary, given the severe impact of Covid-19 on the horse and greyhound industries. The most recent economic assessment of the industry was undertaken by the economist Jim Power in November 2017. Mr. Power's report found that the greyhound industry delivers €302 million to the economy, with 12,371 people deriving economic benefit from it. Many families have been raised thanks to the owning, breeding and training of greyhounds, getting children through college and school from the earnings delivered from the industry. Greyhound racing is an integral part of rural Irish life. It is simply outrageous to hear the constant, unjustified bashing of the industry. These attacks are littered with false claims and allegations and are deliberately designed to undermine greyhound racing.

Yesterday's publicity stunt by Deputy Cairns, where she stood outside the gates of Leinster House with a lurcher and then went on to say it was an abandoned greyhound, is further evidence of the false claims being put forward.

Today's motion is another direct attack on rural Ireland by the Social Democrats, an urban-based party that is determined to ban greyhound racing, coursing, horse racing, point-to-point racing, hunting and all other rural pursuits. The repeated insulting claims of widespread appalling mistreatment of greyhounds by people involved in the sport are simply not true. The chief inspector of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine that the number of contacts the organisation receives concerning greyhounds is negligible. At a time when many industries are closed because of Covid-19, it is incredible that the Social Democrats Party is trying to close down this vital industry for rural Ireland.

I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate. There is a range of factors that justify continued Government support for the greyhound sector. The programme for Government contains a strong commitment to ensuring that there is a continued improvement in animal welfare within the industry. Future funding of the sector is contingent, on an annual basis, on welfare standards being upheld and compliance with those standards being strictly monitored.

Like many other industries, the greyhound sector is particularly affected by the Covid-19 crisis. The most recent economic assessment of the industry, undertaken by Jim Power Economics in November 2017, outlined how the sector delivers a significant impact for the national economy, with 12,300 people deriving an economic benefit directly from it. According to its annual report for 2019, Rásaíocht Con Éireann employs 125 full-time staff and 112 part-time staff, measured in full-time equivalents, with approximately 700 casual staff also employed at peak periods. The greyhound industry is predominantly rural but it does have a strong urban base. It has been significantly impacted by the Covid crisis as a result of the requirement for behind-door racing, or the absence of racing, for much of this year. Recovery of the industry will require ongoing Government support to aid the restoration of normal levels of activity and adequately manage welfare issues in the process.

The future of the industry is dependent on a strong governance platform and the industry achieving the highest standards of integrity and welfare, founded on a strong regulatory system. Provisions in the Greyhound Racing Act 2019, which came into effect in May last year, will make a real difference in this regard. The legislation strengthens the legal basis for the industry, with a view to fortifying the integrity of the greyhound racing sector and improving provision for greyhound traceability. In accordance with the requirements of the Act, Rásaíocht Con Éireann has conducted a procurement process for the introduction of a new traceability system. It expects to have the system operational by the end of this year, with statutory regulation to follow on from that. This will provide a very strong mechanism to ensure that racing greyhounds are registered and traceable throughout their lives and that enforcement mechanisms are in place. It will provide for the recording of important events in the life of a racing greyhound, including birth, microchipping, registration, racing career, changes of ownership, trainer and location, export, retirement and end of life.

The sections of the Act commenced last month signal a new era for the greyhound racing sector. They facilitate Rásaíocht Con Éireann in focusing on its key priority objective of achieving the highest standards of care and welfare of greyhounds. There is a very strong commitment to improved animal welfare in the programme for Government, as I indicated, and future funding is contingent on meeting the required standards. It is crucial, as we go forward, that we continue to support the sector for all of the reasons I have outlined. We recognise that it is an important part of our heritage and tradition in many rural and urban areas. It is important that the State should recognise that tradition and, in so doing, acknowledge the significant contribution the industry makes to economic life in those areas.

We have had a very active debate, with clear positions set out by various speakers. The Government is very clear in its support for the sector. The Social Democrats also have a clear view on the matter. At yesterday's meeting of the agriculture committee, Deputy Cairns was the only member to speak against continued funding for the sector, but there are others who share her views. Some people are trying to hold to both sides of the track on the issue. I note that Sinn Féin is not supporting the increased funding of €2.6 million in the budget, which recognises the pressure the sector is under as a result of the Covid crisis, but it does support the existing funding. If my recollection serves me right, the party opposed that funding when it was announced last year. The view Sinn Féin Deputies give and the position they take on this issue depends on who they are talking to about it. We must all be clear on where we stand on the issue. From the Government's point of view, and in accordance with the programme for Government, the industry deserves support. We recognise the very strong efforts by Rásaíocht Con Éireann to ensure that there is oversight and transparency in regard to the welfare of greyhounds in the industry. We also recognise the commitment and care shown by those involved in the sector towards their animals. In any instances where that is not the case, we are committed to ensuring there are mechanisms in place to intervene and address it. Situations where animals are not properly cared for cannot be tolerated.

I am sharing time with Deputy Cairns. I commend her on bringing forward this motion and I thank all the Deputies from the different groupings for their contributions to the debate. It is regrettable that Government time was not set aside for this important debate and that it must instead be taken in the limited time available for Private Members' business. Government members often say that Opposition parties do not offer solutions or only put forward solutions that cost money. This motion is constructive. It aims to save money, improve animal welfare and redirect much needed resources into other areas.

The motion is about animal cruelty but it is also about what we prioritise, as a Dáil and as a society. It is not a radical motion. All we are proposing is that the market should decide what happens to the greyhound racing industry and that it should no longer be propped up with State subsidies. There should be a very strong case and rationale for propping up any industry in that way, but I have not heard any such strong case or rationale in this debate. The one argument that has been made which does have a measure of validity relates to the importance of the jobs in the industry. However, if resources being put into it were redirected to another area, we would retain and create jobs in that way. Retaining jobs is not sufficient rationale for State subsidies to the sector.

I do not agree with the argument put forward by the Labour Party that we must subsidise the industry in order to be able to scrutinise it. If that argument applies in this case, does it apply everywhere else? Does every industry have a claim to State subsidies on the basis that we can only regulate and scrutinise those sectors that are subsidised by the taxpayer? That does not make any sense. We must be cognisant of the impact of this particular industry on gambling addiction, taking account of the clear power of the gambling lobbying industry in terms of its influence on politics.

Several speakers referred to greyhound racing being part of our culture, tradition and heritage. We cannot make decisions about how we prioritise resources based simply on what happened in the past. If we consider some of the areas that are not getting the resources they should, the culture and heritage argument does not make sense. In the context of the €19.2 million that is put into this industry, a relevant comparison is the funding provided this year for people who have become homeless and the resources it would take to ensure they get a long-term, secure Housing First tenancy. The people involved have complex needs. They include people who are sleeping rough, people who are in and out of emergency shelters, and people with addiction, mental health and other complex issues. The amount we are spending, as a State and a society, on providing long-term, secure Housing First tenancies for that group of people is €2.9 million this year.

If we redirected some of the resources for the greyhound industry into long-term, secure Housing First tenancies, we could ensure that everyone who has a need in this regard could have that need met. It is not part of our culture, heritage or tradition to have people who are homeless left in those situations. It does not speak to us, as a society, at all, and yet this is an area in respect of which we are not providing sufficient funding. For the sake of the kind of sums of money that we are talking about, we could be making real inroads.

That is the choice that is being made today by the Government in deciding to put additional resources into the greyhound industry, which, in my view, does not have a future and the time of which has come. In any event, let us remove the State subsidies. If there is a demand for the industry, and I do not believe there is, let it be self-sufficient, which is the case, of course, with so many other industries.

I will start by addressing some of the blatant misinformation aired by Deputies this morning. Sinn Féin and the Government stated that €302 million is generated for the economy by the greyhound industry. There were 1,606 race meetings last year and the average attendance was 288. Are we to believe that every meeting generates €188,000? The other claim is that some of the money comes in from tourism but we all know that the vast majority of tourists do not come to Ireland to go to greyhound racing tracks.

Another common feature of the debate has been the disputing of the figures. After the RTÉ documentary, Greyhound Racing Ireland filed a complaint to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland about it. The authority investigated the complaint in full, rejected it in its entirety and found instead that "the programme was a comprehensive exploration of the topic in a factual manner which was fair, objective and impartial." It is important to put that on the record again.

I am also constantly hearing that we are referring to all trainers as terrible people who are involved in animal cruelty. I do not know how many times we have to say that we are aware not all trainers treat their dogs badly. Indeed, many of those trainers have been in touch to thank us for tabling this motion because they are so aware of how badly dogs are treated in the industry.

Many Deputies talked about employment and support for rural areas and help for farmers, which is laughable. The vast majority of rural people, farmers and fishing communities could think of so many preferable things to spend one quarter of a billion euro on. Rural populations are concerned about Brexit, about the immoral prices farmers are receiving for their product and a lack of State services. These are the issues on which the Government needs to be spending our public money. Predictably, some Deputies labelled this motion as blatantly anti-rural. This is a simplistic argument that paints all rural Ireland as uniform and conservative by default. This is not only insulting; it is simply untrue. Just because we are from rural areas does not mean we are unable to understand facts or engage in meaningful debate. A Red C poll conducted in 2019 found that only 16% of people support this industry. It is simply not true to say that the Government is representing all of rural Ireland. Claiming to have a monopoly on speaking for rural Ireland is, quite simply, ridiculous.

The Government's amendment, and, indeed, the Labour Party, speak of the great progress that will be made in animal welfare, in traceability and in greater accountability. The Government is so confident about this it is willing to give the industry €2.4 million but we know that this is blatant lip-service. Attempts by Opposition Senators and Deputies in 2019 to have clear regulations in respect of export and breeding practices were disregarded so that we know that the two most controversial malpractices in the industry will not be properly addressed.

Independent organisations, whistleblowers and other political parties know that this industry has proven to be incapable of the necessary reforms. Members of the public know this. They are voting with their feet. Sponsors and companies know this. It seems that the only people who do not know it are politicians and people who are invested in the industry. State funding has facilitated these significant deficiencies and overbreeding practices. It has insulated the industry from commercial reality and allowed Greyhound Racing Ireland to ignore public opinion. This has to stop. We have an opportunity to do it now. The Government's decision to give an extra €2.4 million to the industry in the budget, ratified by the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine yesterday, can and should be halted. The remaining investment should be put towards the gradual winding down of a declining industry.

Imagine for a second if the greyhound racing industry did not exist and my colleagues and I in the Social Democrats came in here today and proposed it, using the same arguments that have been used to defend the funding of the industry. It is difficult to imagine but, I suppose, the motion on the matter would go something like this:

I propose that we create an organised competitive sport of sorts, in which dogs are raced around a track and people can go along and bet on them and I think that the Government should fund it to the tune of €19.2 million annually. The estimated loss for the taxpayer over the next four years will be approximately €30 million and, in an attempt to avoid criticism for so many millions of euro of public money being pumped into a loss-making industry, I suggest that a levy from the gambling industry be ring-fenced. Then we can use that to argue we are not using public money despite the fact that we are.

Unfortunately, in order to get dogs that I believe will run quick enough, we will have to breed approximately 16,000 of them a year. This level of overbreeding will mean that we will have to kill about 6,000 of those dogs but we can defend this overbreeding and extreme cruelty by saying that some trainers treat their dogs well and that it is the lifeblood of rural Ireland.

We also suggest that we tie it in as closely as possible with horse racing and claim that the two are intrinsically linked and that if you are against a loss-making racing industry that carries out the cruelty of greyhound racing, you are also anti-horse racing. We could even go as far as to use the employment figures from horse racing to make the whole argument more robust.

Finally, if any of this is researched and aired or published, for example, by the national broadcaster, we can just ignore it.

We all know that this would be seen as the most outrageous thing imaginable but, in reality, voting down the Social Democrats motion this evening is just as outrageous.

I am calling on all parties to stop falling prey to lobbying. The solution is clear. We need to stand up and acknowledge the reality of this industry and stop turning a blind eye to its abuse and throwing more money at its failings.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time this evening.