Prohibition of Sulky-Racing Bill 2018: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for bringing this Bill forward. The use of sulkies or any other horse-drawn vehicles, including on public roads, is a legitimate activity provided it is done in a safe manner and having due care and consideration for other road users and the well-being of the animals involved and, in particular, in compliance with any relevant legislation including local government, road safety, public order and animal welfare legislation as well as any local by-laws, which the Deputy mentioned. The use of sulkies on public roads specifically, as with the use of all vehicles, including animal-drawn vehicles, is governed by the relevant provisions of the Roads Acts and the Road Traffic Acts.

The practice of holding unauthorised races of any kind, including sulky races, on public roads which are open to traffic is dangerous. The Roads Act 1993 requires anyone intending to hold, organise or promote a road race to give at least one month's notice in writing to the road authority and to the Garda Síochána. The road authority may then prohibit or impose conditions on such races. Anyone who contravenes the requirement to give notice or adhere to such a prohibition or conditions is guilty of an offence. Enforcement of these provisions, as with law enforcement generally, is a matter for the Garda Síochána. In opposing this Bill, therefore, I again remind Deputies that racing of any kind, including sulkies or any other horse-drawn vehicles on the roads, can be a legitimate activity provided it is done in a safe manner giving due care and consideration to other road users and the animal's well-being, and in accordance with the law as it currently stands. There are very clear and precise legalities and requirements for anyone considering a race.

In considering the animal welfare perspective, I draw the Deputy’s attention to the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, which provides robust and wide-ranging protection for all animals. This includes horses and ponies used in racing of any sort, including on roads. Horse owners or keepers who allow harm to come to the animals in their care will have committed an offence under this Act. Anyone employing animals for any purpose, including sulky drivers, must also comply with the Act, which prohibits a person from carrying out any activity in a manner that causes unnecessary pain and suffering or endangerment to the health or welfare of an animal in their control.

The issue of regulating the activity has been examined by my Department. The issues are complex and not always clear-cut, particularly as a variety of horse-drawn vehicles are legitimately and safely used on Irish roads. My Department's engagement with sulky racing is fully focused on animal welfare and education, raising awareness of the importance of good horse care and welfare among sulky participants, and the owners and keepers of trotting horses. My Department has demonstrated this commitment by funding an education programme designed specifically for sulky drivers and trotter horse owners in a number of locations around the country in 2018 and 2019.

In addition to education on husbandry, handling and welfare generally, these courses encourage participants to move away from the road racing practices and move to racing on tracks and to engage with the regulated sport of harness racing on tracks as operated by the Irish Harness Racing Association, IHRA.

While I am fully aware of the potential dangers of holding unauthorised races of any kind, including sulky races, on public roads which are open to traffic, I remind the Deputy that a mechanism to permit, prohibit, or impose conditions on such races exists under section 74 of the Roads Act 1993. The issues regarding the use of public roads are already covered by the Act. In addition to the Road Traffic Acts, local authorities also have powers under the Control of Horses Act 1996 to introduce by-laws regulating activities involving horses in their respective functional areas.

Finally, the programme for Government undertakes to continue prioritising equine welfare, and to developing additional urban horse welfare programmes where education on all aspects of equine husbandry are considered. The Government has committed to the continued robust enforcement of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and to review the sentencing regime underpinning this legislation. Any welfare concerns identified in Deputy Mattie McGrath's proposed Bill can be considered as part of this review.

I thank and commend Deputy Mattie McGrath on bringing this important issue to the House via legislation. It is Sinn Féin's intention to support the passage of this Bill on this Stage to ensure we have an opportunity to debate and thrash out all the issues that have been outlined. I am disappointed that the Minister has taken a different approach. This is a real issue. A Deputy would not go to the effort of drafting and bringing a Bill before this House unless this issue was being raised in offices by concerned individuals in our communities.

These concerns are multifaceted. There are concerns regarding road safety and equine welfare and neither of those issues is being adequately addressed. The Minister referred to the powers of the Garda. The difficulty is that there are distinctions and difficulties with road traffic law because it is not an offence to have a horse- or pony-drawn carriage but it is an offence to race them. There is often a difficulty determining whether something constitutes a race. Horse-drawn carriages of course are not allowed on motorways at all, and we have seen some dangerous instances in this regard in recent years.

I am sure Deputy Mattie McGrath, the Minister and others will be aware that there are major problems with equine welfare throughout this State. It is not necessarily a problem with the legislation per se. The Minister mentioned the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the role of the local authorities and others. The problem, however, is that when issues regarding equine welfare are raised with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, they are then pointed in the direction of the local authority, from where they are then pointed in the direction of the Garda and from there they are directed back to the Department. There is not a clearly defined line of responsibility where people take charge of this issue. In most parts of the country, almost no dedicated staff and resources are allocated to the monitoring of equine welfare issues.

I would have thought that this Bill presented the ideal opportunity to start dealing with these issues and I was looking forward, as a member of the agriculture committee, to teasing out the provisions of the Bill as they stand to see where we could improve them and make them more robust, in conjunction, of course, with the Minister and the Department. I think that would be the best approach to dealing with these issues. There are several areas we must address. We must deal with the issue of equine welfare. It is absolutely pivotal; too many aspects of the existing legislation are being ignored and there are too many gaps in it.

We must get this right because animals, and horses in particular, have a special place in the Irish psyche. They are beautiful animals, as has already been said, and they have played a major part in the development of Irish culture over many years. That has not only been in rural communities because Ireland is almost unique in having an urban culture in respect of horses. Unfortunately, however, that culture has had very negative connotations in recent times. I do not believe it needs to have those negative connotations. We should work with those communities and urban centres that have had a tradition of horse ownership, as well as with other communities, including the Traveller community, which have traditions and cultures associated with horses, to ensure we get over the negative perceptions concerning this area and address the real animal welfare concerns regarding how some animals are being treated. We could then create a vibrant and dynamic new culture of animal and horse ownership, which respects the welfare of horses all the time. These are important issues and they warrant substantial debate and teasing out on Committee Stage. For that reason, Sinn Féin will be supporting this Bill.

I reiterate that Sinn Féin will be supporting this Bill and I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this legislation. In a Dáil debate on 13 December 1977, the then Deputy from Limerick, the late Mick Lipper, raised the issue of wandering horses in Limerick and asked what actions the then Minister for Justice would take, if he proposed to take any action, regarding the serious problem created by wandering horses in Limerick city.

Here we are some 43 years later talking about the same problems. At least 1,120 wandering or stray horses have been collected in Limerick since 2015. Most of them, unfortunately, end up being euthanised. This is a waste of Garda and council resources, as well as time and money. From a response which I got from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to a previous parliamentary question, I know the Department has contributed almost €12 million to local authorities in respect of activities regarding the control of horses from 2011 to 2016. Of this amount, €1.8 million was paid to Limerick City and County Council.

I believe that a State-wide approach is needed in regulating sulky racing. Such regulation is needed to protect sulky riders, other road users and to ensure the welfare of animals. The keeping of ponies and horses has long been a tradition in many parts of my home city of Limerick. It is a tradition which has passed through generations of families and for the most part, the animals are well maintained and cared for. I know many of these people and they are decent and good citizens of Limerick. Someone like Ger Hogan, and his horse, probably saved the lives of people in Limerick during the floods of 2014. Respecting these traditions, I believe it is time to consider an equine centre within Limerick city, one which can be accessed by all.

Having said that, however, we cannot ignore that there are many who use and basically abuse these animals. They have a lack of compassion towards animals and treat these beautiful creatures cruelly. Many have no tradition whatsoever of keeping horses. In the past week or so, I had to contact the authorities in Limerick twice in order that the carcases of dead horses could be removed. One horse was malnourished and had abrasions throughout its body. It was an awful sight to see and, unfortunately, images of this poor animal were circulated on social media. Another young pony lay dead in a city estate. Fortunately, some local residents covered the carcase with a blanket so the children in the area did not see the full extent of the poor creature's injuries. A person had to intervene on Saturday to have those remains removed from a busy city estate.

In another part of our city, horses were left in the city graveyard. I believe they were put there intentionally. They were uncared for and grazing within the confines of the graveyard. The horses damaged the site and deterred those who wished to visit the resting place of their loved ones. This flagrant disregard for the welfare of the animals and the wishes of the visitors to the graveyard was shameful.

Wandering horses have been an issue in Limerick for many years. It is shameful that the situation has been allowed to continue for decades. In some cases, the authorities have been met with threats of violence when they have attempted to seize abused animals. This is not fair or proportionate but is what happens when the law is not applied year after year and that is a result of the Department not doing its job. It is now a major problem in some of our towns and cities in the State. Interestingly, this problem is largely associated with working class areas of Limerick, Cork and Dublin cities, as well as areas of rural Ireland such as Tipperary. If these horses were wandering around Montenotte in Cork, Foxrock in Dublin or the North Circular Road in my native city of Limerick, I suspect that there would be a different definition of a fair and proportionate response. We have seen the videos of unregulated sulky races. We do not need to be a member of the traffic corps to understand the danger in which these races place the participants and other road users.

These races place the Garda in an extremely difficult and conflicted position. Gardaí know they must stop the race to protect other road users as often these races take up both sides of the road. However, they are faced with a tough decision when it comes to intervening. If they do take direct action, they risk the welfare of the animals, the riders and other road users.

I appreciate the intention of this Bill but I am concerned about some aspects of it. First, some of the definitions contained in it are too broad and, in some cases, contradictory. Second, the Garda is empowered to deal with illegal sulky racing and riding and I am concerned that introducing a new Ministry into the policing of sulky racing could cause operational problems.

I would like to see more Garda enforcement in terms of illegal sulky racing on our streets. In Limerick, road users get frustrated and anxious when they have to decide whether to stay behind or overtake a sulky that is often controlled by somebody who is too young to drive a car. There is a tradition around sulky racing and we should recognise that, but we must also respect the safety of all road users. It is not acceptable to have underage children controlling an animal or vehicle on public roads.

Animal welfare remains a big issue across urban and rural areas. This year, thus far, in Limerick 118 horses have been seized. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them were euthanised. There have been numerous documented cases of disgraceful abuse and cruelty to horses both within Limerick and further afield. We need better enforcement of animal welfare laws and more support for animal welfare groups. In Limerick, one such group is Limerick Animal Welfare, which does tremendous work and deals with all types of animals. When I speak to the wonderful people who operate this organisation, I am struck by the volume of calls it receives monthly. Regrettably, all too often when it comes to horses and ponies, all it can do is contact somebody to ensure the animal's life is terminated in the most humane way possible.

This Bill needs greater exploration. The intentions of it are very good but I have concerns about its execution. I will support the Bill's passage to Committee Stage so that these particulars can be examined.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I hope the Government will be generous in reciprocating what Deputy Mattie McGrath is proposing. This is an issue that needs to be aired.

Sulky racing is seen as a cultural activity for many. It is important we do not conflate the difference between trotting ponies and people who keep ponies for recreational use, drawing carts and sulky racing. Sulky racing revolves around horse trading, there is quite a bit of gambling involved and there are certainly animal welfare rights issues. Like in every other activity, there are some people who do it to a very high standard and, unfortunately, many others who do not.

Sulky racing, as the Minister will be aware, is conducted on public roads. I have never heard of a sulky race in my area, and I have seen plenty of them, in respect of which the Garda had been notified and a road was closed. It is often cruel to animals. It is largely done using ponies who may not be fully grown. As someone who knows a little about horses, I would not gallop ponies unshod on a road because it would be very hard on their feet and would cause lameness in animals, but I have seen it done many times in sulky racing. It is also extremely dangerous to other road users because they do not know, as has been already highlighted, whether they should overtake a sulky or not. As has been pointed out, one will often see young children sitting unstrapped and unsupervised on sulkies. They are creating a danger to themselves and to some unfortunate person who may be involved in an accident with them.

Sulky racing also encourages the keeping of animals by owners who do not have landholdings or stabling. This is prevalent throughout the country, particularly, as we know, on local authority lands. Many schemes have been mooted over the past couple of years through which stabling is being made available, especially to members of the Traveller community. This should be encouraged but it requires the allocation of sufficient lands to care properly for horses. As in the case of any landholding and the ratio of cattle to an acre, there should be a ratio of horses to land. Stabling is very important. The local authorities need to ensure there is compliance in terms of registration of ponies and, in particular, microchipping. Oftentimes, there is significant intimidation of private landowners. I have seen this for myself. Ponies are placed on land, and if the landholder threatens to take them out, he or she is threatened. That is unfair. This happens in the minority of cases, not the majority.

For sulky racing to be successful, it needs to be regulated. There are many involved in this area who would welcome some form of regulation, standards and compliance as this would allow them to carry on this activity safely as a recreation. We need a solution that respects the rights of all involved. We need to allow sulky racers to create competition because this is how those who wish to sell the horses and ponies create value for them. As outlined by Deputy Mattie McGrath, there must be opportunity for the local authorities to make lands available. There is great success in pony racing in the US and, as highlighted by Deputy McGrath, in France. There is probably a very vibrant industry here to be developed. It would be a win-win for everybody. First, we must have standards and they must be enforced. We need to look to what is being done successfully in other countries and we need to start with mutual respect. In mutual respect, everybody has to get something of what they want. There must be compromise and a win-win, but equine animal standards must be observed.

People are right to seek to have their cultural icons preserved. We do not want to do anything to disrupt that, but we want to make sure that it is done fairly and in the right way. The local authorities have a large part to play in this regard. The Garda has enough to be doing without having to regulate sulky racing on the roads. Therefore, we have to provide some amenity areas where this can be done safely.

It is good that we are having this debate about animal welfare and, in particular, equine welfare. There is no getting away from the fact that equine welfare in Ireland has a patchy history, to say the least. I always come from the standpoint that the vast majority of horse owners are responsible with their animals. There is an element of irresponsibility which is borne out in sulky racing on roads, which nobody can defend. It is reckless and dangerous not only for the people on the sulkies but also the horses and other road users. Sulky racing is a reckless activity for those who engage in it. Most of the time, there are vast amounts of money involved in the practice as well.

Coming from an urban environment, there were a lot of horses in the area where I grew up. There was an issue around the stabling of horses and so on but that has been addressed over time. There is a long tradition of horse ownership in an urban environment. It has been a positive experience in terms of the responsibility attached to owning a horse. In the past three or four years, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has allocated a lot of money to a project in Clondalkin known as the Clondalkin Equine Club, which is the only club of its kind in Ireland. It provides young people with a place to stable a horse in an urban environment. It is a controlled, educational and responsible environment. This is a good way of supporting horse ownership in rural and urban environments.

On the Bill, when we ban something, we drive it underground. That is what this Bill will do. A ban on sulking racing will have the opposite effect. There are regulations and laws in place which provide for prosecution of illegal activities. It is obvious that sulky racing is illegal. Harness racing is a responsible sport in Ireland. There is a really good track in Portmarnock where harness racing takes place responsibly. It is regulated and it is a really good sport to be involved in and to observe. It is important not to conflate the activities of people who are responsible with those who are very irresponsible and will do as we see in online videos where they are racing horses recklessly on dual carriageways.

That will lead to an accident sooner or later.

It would be very difficult to support this Bill. Deputy Mattie McGrath's sentiment relates to animal welfare. I understand that but this will have the opposite effect by driving sulky racing underground where it will be even more dangerous than it is now. Regulation, education and engaging with sulky owners is the way to do it. There are parallels between this issue and the scramblers with which we have a big problem in urban environments. Laws alone will not solve this issue. There are laws in place but we need more regulation and control and to tell people that this is a very dangerous pastime for national roads, which could lead to people dying. On that basis, it would be very difficult for People Before Profit to support this Bill.

I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for bringing this legislation before the House. I acknowledge the concerns raised by him and Deputies Carthy, Quinlivan, Shanahan and Gino Kenny. They originally spoke about sulky racing but their concerns were broader than that and went into the area of horse welfare and beyond. Most people in Kildare are passionate about racehorses, much like Deputy McGrath and Tipperary people, and as a Kildare man I know this is a debate that needs to be had. I am very happy that my Department has increased the funding allocation for horse welfare, and it is something it takes very seriously, through Horse Racing Ireland. I acknowledge the concerns about some of the images of sulky racing on national roads that we have all seen.

However, when introducing new legislation or changing existing legislation, we must identify exactly what problem we are trying to solve and make sure the remedy being proposed will do that. As legislators, we must be careful of unintended consequences, and certain associated activities could be impacted by the introduction and amending of legislation that was not necessarily planned for.

It is important to reiterate that sulky racing in and of itself is a legitimate activity, provided it is carried out in an appropriate location. Sulky racing is one thing, but for sulky racing to take place on national roads without authorisation is completely different. Sulky racing itself is legitimate if carried out in an appropriate location in a safe manner, having due care and consideration to other road users, with animal welfare and well-being being absolutely paramount. It must be done in compliance with all relevant legislation, including local government, road safety, public order and animal welfare legislation, as well as any local by-laws. In introducing new legislation we need to ensure existing legislation does not have the same purpose and address the same issues. We need to ask if an issue requires legislation or if we just need compliance and implementation of existing legislation. We must also ensure that in trying to address an area of concern, we do not ban or outlaw other legitimate activities as a consequence and possibly by mistake.

I reassure the House that the animal welfare issues raised by the Deputies are already covered under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, which is significant legislation. I was a member of the Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine when it was passed and we spent a lot of time on it. Additionally, the issues regarding the use of public roads are already covered by the Roads Act 1993. Holding unauthorised races on public roads that are open to traffic is very dangerous. As the Minister made clear earlier, anyone who holds such an event without the required authorisation is committing an offence. More generally, the use of all vehicles is subject to the relevant provisions of the Road Traffic Acts, and local authorities have the powers to introduce by-laws regulating activity involving horses in their areas. All races involving sulkies or other horse-drawn vehicles must be done safely, in accordance with the law and having due care to animal welfare.

The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 provides robust and wide-ranging protection for all animals, including horses and ponies used in any kind of racing. Anyone employing animals for any purpose must comply with this Act, including sulky drivers. The Act prohibits people from carrying out an activity in a manner that causes unnecessary pain, suffering or endangerment to the health or welfare of animals in their control. The Act ensures protection of animals used in sulky racing, and this is the focus of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Racing is a sport and so comes under the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, and the use of roads comes under the Department of Transport, but animal welfare is the responsibility of my Department and one we take very seriously. My Department works very hard to raise awareness of the importance of good horse care and welfare among sulky participants and the owners and keepers of trotting horses.

Under the current programme for Government, the Government is committed to continuing robust enforcement of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and increasing investment in animal welfare, horse welfare in particular. I take on board the concerns raised by Deputy McGrath and others in their contributions today. My Department is happy to engage with them and the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine, to which Deputy Carthy referred, regarding the role of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, as is the Department of Transport on its role regarding the Roads Act 1993.

I again thank Deputy Mattie McGrath and the other Deputies for their contributions, but as I have outlined, legislation currently exists to deal with this issue. As Deputy Gino Kenny pointed out, it is not always easy to catch this activity that happens on motorways and roads. I understand Deputy McGrath's concern, but the legislation is there and this is about its enforcement. We are dealing with the issues of animal welfare but we are always open to discussing those more, whether here or at a committee.

I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate. Tradition cannot act as a veto on legal responsibilities. The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, did not even stay for the full debate. He probably would not have been here at all only he had to correct the record about something else. The Minister of State referred to the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the Roads Act 1993. As Deputy Quinlivan noted, 43 years ago the issue of stray horses was brought up by a former Deputy, Mick Lipper. That was 43 years ago. The Minister of State can wheel out all the legislation he likes but his office is clearly getting calls about this and he can see it himself.

I thank the Deputies who came to the debate and were interested in sorting this issue out. Whatever is being done is not clearly not working. I support the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and thank its officials, the council and the Garda for the way they have tried to grapple with this, but it is clearly a mismatch and there is no coherent or decent legislation about this issue. The United Kingdom has a dedicated police unit for dealing with this, not the councils or a department. We heard stories of what happens in cemeteries and graveyards. That is just not acceptable and people have to respect that. We have those problems in Tipperary as well, especially in Cashel.

I am not a killjoy, or a fount of knowledge. I am shocked that the Government can close its eyes to this issue. It was first raised in this House 43 years ago, if that was even the first time. Two years ago I brought it up again and things have only got worse as regards the animal cruelty. The Government must have money to throw away with the amount of money it has given the fund in the past five years, which I think is €12 million. That is a shocking amount of money. I know what it costs and I know the number of horses that have been euthanised. The cruelty involved is shocking. The Government should deal with the problem by bringing in proper, meaningful legislation with powers that can be clearly enforced, rather than a bit from the council, a bit from the Department or elsewhere and a bit from animal welfare organisations. Let us deal with this issue up front.

We have a very respectable and proud racing and horse-owning tradition. I did not refer to it earlier but it is wonderful to see the horse-drawn carriages, especially in the cities and towns, with Guinness and all kinds of delivery goods.

There is a huge respect and relationship between Irish people and the horse. It has gone to new heights internationally with the race horsing skills we have in Tipperary with Coolmore, Aidan O'Brien and his family, and Tommy Stack. I could be all day naming people. We are very proud of them and they give much employment. Look at how they treat their horses.

My hope was that the Government would not just reject this because it was Deputy Mattie McGrath's Bill. Every Deputy who spoke admitted, and they have been honest, that there is a problem. Deputy Gino Kenny has issues with parts of it, which I accept. Maybe prohibition is the wrong word, but we must engage and try to have this brought in under one piece of legislation where races cannot be held without a licence. I would love to ask the Minister a question but he is not here now. He said one had to give a month's notice and make an application to the Department and An Garda Síochána to run a race. How many applications have been received by the Department? How many applications for licences have been refused? How many have been granted? I cannot hear what the Minister of State is saying, but he can tell me privately afterwards or whatever. He was all flowery language but it is meaningless.

It is for the Department of-----

Pass the buck to another Department. Around the kitchen and mind the dresser. What was the name of the famous man from "Céilí House"? The Acting Chairman, Deputy Durkan, is here longer than I am and he will remember him. It was Kieran Hanrahan. Around the house and mind the dresser. Around the country and mind the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Garda Síochána, the county council and the health authority. Why does the Government with all its Departments and resources not bring forward robust legislation and deal with this and not come into the House and rubbish this Bill and say that it is a tradition? It is not a tradition. The Travellers' affinity with horses is a long-standing tradition. I have fond memories of the sweep coming, Mr. O'Connor and his wife with the mule drawing the bow top wagon and a donkey at the back. There was engagement between the people and families and they made lovely coal scuttles. When I built the house in 1984 I bought a coal scuttle from him and it is still around. The craftsmanship that was in that is unbelievable.

We can work on this together, we can deal with it and we can get it off track. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, who, like the Acting Chairman, is from the plains of Kildare, although I would claim that we have more racing prowess in Tipperary than ye have and that can be seen on the racetracks, to engage with Horse Racing Ireland, the different tracks and many under-utilised race courses to see if days can be organised. People phoned me from Galway to tell me that sulky racing cannot go on a track. I do not know the reasoning for that and I will not know until I meet him, but I think it is much safer and easier for any animal.

Greyhounds are able to run on a sand surface. It cannot be good to have horses running on a tar road with no shoes. If one asked any of us to run from here to Kildare, we would have fairly sore limbs, and ankles as well, but the animals are racing at speed. Animal cruelty is involved here too. I salute the animal refuges. It not fair that they have to pick up the tabs. The Minister is probably all ready to send out the letters that go out every year before Christmas, throwing slops of funding to animal rescue. It is very much needed. They operate on a shoe string and do tremendous work and we need to support them. There are huge cruelty issues and huge anomalies. There is no point in saying it was raised 43 years ago by Deputy Lipper; I raised it two years ago and I am raising it again. Will we do something about it, please? I am surprised that no Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenchers or no Labour Party or Social Democrat Deputies are interested in this. A few weeks ago, the Social Democrats were here trying to ban and destroy our vital greyhound industry. This is going on under our noses and we want to turn a blind eye to it and want to turn backwards and blindfold ourselves when serious incidents are taking place. It is a serious threat to human safety. I am no killjoy. I want to work with people. I would love to have an all-party committee that would work with people. I know we have a committee dealing with Traveller issues but this is an issue that should be dealt with. It could be very enjoyable. It could bring some revenue to the Department of Finance and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, as it does in other countries. We are so insular here, we will not look abroad to see best practice. This is going on in many constituencies and Deputies are getting calls about it but, for whatever reason, they do not want to talk about it. Talk about sweeping things under the carpet - it must be dealt with.

I am quite appalled at the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and the Minister of State coming in here this evening and just rubbishing the Bill. I am not saying it is perfect. They can take the Bill, embrace it, send it forward for scrutiny and discuss it at the different committees - agriculture, transport or maybe health - and try to put a formula together so that we can work together to improve it. I received about 60 WhatsApp messages in an hour this evening from sulky owners and racers all over the country. They are interested. They were worried in case I was trying to do something that I was not. I am interested in working with them. I got threatened the last time, for what it is worth. I hope it will not happen this time that I will be shot in Dublin for bringing up this issue. We cannot have these kinds of threats in a modern democracy. We cannot be all afraid to deal with it because the vast majority of people involved, and I know many of them, are 100%, but there is a rogue element. The people who spoke to me today accept that and that it must be weeded out. It is time that we grasped the nettle. The Government is grasping at so many things that are nice and dandy, policies that it thinks will go down well with the media. It does research and polls to know what the people want; the people want their children to be safe in their cars when they are bringing them to school or college. A husband wants to know that when his wife, a pregnant woman, is coming home from work that she will not be forced off the road and put upside down into a field when the whole road is taken over. Does the Government expect gardaí where two are on duty in a station like Cahir to go out and stop a race on the old N8 which is used regularly with maybe 30 or 40 sulkies and maybe a couple of hundred people, vans and cars? It is mayhem. There is no point ignoring it, the Government knows the problem is there. We must try to deal with it.

I know that the horse project with which Jonathan Irwin is involved in the prison is very important. Initiatives exist, but they are individual efforts. Ní neart go cur le chéile. We need to make an effort together in this Parliament. It is our duty to protect the public, animal welfare and the gardaí, and to give the gardaí plenty of support and the powers, along with the departmental officials. It is also necessary that we protect the county council officials and the horse wardens, and whomever else. We badly need a horse warden in Tipperary. We are just scratching around the surface and just tinkering around with it, pardon the pun. We are fooling ourselves to think that it is not necessary to deal with this issue.

The new Minister, Deputy McConalogue, comes from Donegal, where this might not be happening, but he should know better than to come in here and read out that kind of spiel and flatly refuse to discuss this. I hope we will have a go at this again and work together with the people who are involved. Deputy Gino Kenny has been involved with his group. I would like to go and see that harness track someday with him. I said I would do that before. I would like to do that because I like to learn as well. It is a bad day when we do not learn something.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Wednesday, 16 December 2020.

The Dáil adjourned at 6.58 p.m. until 1.10 p.m. on Tuesday, 15 December 2020.