“That Dáil Éireann:
— 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;
— 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, gov.ie , 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.