Horse and Greyhound Fund Regulations 2020: Motion

The first item is consideration of the motion referred to the joint committee by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann in relation to improving the level of the fund for the horse and greyhound industries for 2020-2021. Under the terms of the order of the referral to the committee, we must consider the matter and having done so report back to the Seanad no later than today, 24 November 2020, and to the Dáil no later than tomorrow, 25 November 2020.

I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Charlie McConalogue, and his officials for the first session today. The Minister is accompanied by Dr. Kevin Smyth, assistant secretary general, and Ms Caroline Ball, principal officer State bodies division with responsibility for the horse and greyhound fund. The witnesses are welcome to today's meeting. I now ask the Minister to make his opening statement.

I thank the Chairman and congratulate his county on its tremendous win at the weekend. It gives joy to the rest of the country to see a county win a provincial championship for the first time in 85 years. It is good to be here with the committee members today.

An important pillar of Government policy is to ensure that the horse and greyhound racing industries achieve their maximum potential and in so doing contribute to economic and social development across a wide geographic swath of the country. The horse and greyhound racing industries make a valuable contribution to our economy. It is estimated that the thoroughbred industry has an annual economic impact of €1.9 billion with direct employment of 29,000 people, and the greyhound sector provides an estimated 12,000 people with economic benefit. The thoroughbred industry, in particular, brings a high level of international investment into Ireland. Government funding, in addition to supporting these key industries presents an excellent opportunity to yield a high return for its investment leading to a flow of income right through the economy, therefore providing widespread benefits for our society.

The Irish equine breeding and racing industry is extremely competitive at a global level. We are the third biggest producer of thoroughbred foals in the world and estimates place Ireland only behind the United States as the biggest seller of bloodstock by public auction globally. Successive Governments have acknowledged the importance of these industries and have supported them through legislation and policy initiatives. The support provided by public funds through investment in these industries has enabled Ireland to develop a world class reputation for excellence in horseracing, greyhound racing and breeding.

The Government plan, Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for living with COVID-19, does not provide, at any of the levels, for a return to full commercial operations.

This will impact significantly on the finances of Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, and of Rásaíocht Con Éireann, RCÉ, both 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 HRI and RCÉ, reflecting costs incurred and changes to the trading environment.

These industries receive financial support from the State through the horse and greyhound racing fund, under section 12 of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. My Department makes payments from the fund to Horse Racing Ireland and to Rásaíocht Con Éireann. In the period 2001 to date, a total of €1.36 billion has been paid from the fund to the horse and greyhound racing industries in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The cumulative upper limit on payments from the fund, provided for under the relevant regulations, has therefore been reached. Exchequer funding provided from the fund is crucial to the survival and continued development of the horse and greyhound racing industries. In order to give effect to the provisions of budget 2021, this cumulative upper limit must be increased by regulation.

The Estimates for my Department, passed by both Houses as part of budget 2021, include an allocation of €96 million for the horse and greyhound racing fund. This will be distributed in accordance with section 12(6) of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001, with 80% going to HRI and 20% going to RCÉ.

In order to allow my Department to provide the moneys allocated in budget 2021, it is necessary to comply with the technical requirement under section 12(13) of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act, to increase the cumulative limit on the amount payable from the horse and greyhound racing fund by €96 million, to some €1.46 billion. This is achieved by way of the regulations submitted to this committee today. The aggregate limit on the horse and greyhound racing fund has been increased in this manner in 2004 and in 2009.

The 2017 Deloitte report into the economic impact of Irish breeding and racing, commissioned by HRI, indicates that the total direct and stimulated expenditure of the Irish breeding and racing industry is estimated at €1.84 billion in 2016. In addition, it is estimated that there are 15,200 jobs at the core of the racing and breeding industry or in directly related industries. Horse racing generates a very significant return to the rural economy in Ireland and a positive international profile for our country. Of course, behind all the facts and figures are the thousands of men and women who, directly and indirectly, make the Irish racing and breeding industry what it is today.

The 2019 annual report for HRI indicated another successful year for the Irish racing and breeding industries. The focus on ownership leads to a further increase in the number of horses in training and more horses competing. There was also an increase of over 3% in attendance figures for 2019 and an increased demand for Irish horses at the sales, which was welcome given the uncertainty of Brexit.

As proven in 2020, albeit mostly behind closed doors due to Covid-19, Irish owners, trainers, jockeys and horses are setting standards globally, and their stellar achievements and enduring influence underscore Ireland's international prominence. The Irish equine breeding and racing industry is extremely competitive at a global level, despite other major racing nations having much larger populations and economies.

It is worth noting that Government funding, in addition to supporting this key industry, also presents an excellent opportunity to yield a high return for its investment leading to a flow of income right through the economy. Support for certain strategic industries is important for future economic growth and can provide widespread benefits for our society as well as for our economy.

Horse Racing Ireland has engaged extensively with my Department and other key stakeholders on the significant risks to the industry as a result of Covid-19. HRI has reviewed a number of scenarios and financial forecasts and has taken appropriate measures to mitigate the financial impact to the organisation and the wider industry. The significant threat posed by Brexit to the current ease of movement of horses between Britain and France, in addition to the global nature of major breeding operations, illustrates that while Ireland, arguably, now has leadership position within Europe, its pre-eminence is not guaranteed.

According to the 2017 Power report, the greyhound industry provides and supports considerable employment both directly and indirectly across the Irish economy. It is estimated that in 2016, the industry supported 5,058 full-time and part-time jobs in the economy. 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.

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, highly 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. There is a strong commitment to improved animal welfare in this sector in the programme for Government. That future funding in 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.

My Department is committed to further strengthening the welfare standards in the greyhound industry in the time ahead. Provisions in the Greyhound Racing Act 2019, which came into effect in May of last year, will make a real difference in this regard. This legislation strengthens the legal basis for the industry, with a view to fortifying the integrity of the greyhound racing sector and improving provision of greyhound traceability. The new 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.

A key element of the new legislation is the provision, for the first time, of an IT traceability system for racing greyhounds. Rásaíocht Con Éireann has advanced this system following a procurement process and it expects to have this system operational by year end. Statutory regulation will follow in 2021 and this will provide a mechanism to ensure racing greyhounds are registered and traceable throughout their lives and enforcement mechanisms are in place. The traceability system will provide for the recording of important life events in the life of a racing greyhound including birth, microchipping, registration, racing career, changes of ownership or trainer, location, export, retirement and end of life.

The sections of the Act commenced on 1 October 2020 and they signal a new era for greyhound racing. They facilitate the board in focusing on its priority objective of achieving the highest standards of care and welfare of greyhounds. The Greyhound Racing Act 2019, when fully implemented, will enable Rásaíocht Con Éireann to ensure the important heritage associated with greyhound racing in Ireland can continue under the appropriate rules and regulations.

The greyhound industry is predominantly a rural industry with a strong urban support base. The Covid-19 crisis has, similar to 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 contributed €95 million overall to the Exchequer in that year.

In conclusion, given the wide geographic distribution of these two industries, they are fundamental to the achievement of a more balanced regional economic growth. Relieving the burden on our major urban centres and nurturing rural economies is a key priority for the Government. In this context, these industries should be given recognition for the considerable contribution that they make to rural economic activity and employment. The welfare of horses and greyhounds is a cornerstone of both industries and I am assured that HRI and RCÉ are striving to ensure the highest standards for the sport and its participants, on and away from the racecourse. The horse and greyhound racing fund has played a key role in providing this investment and has been instrumental in shaping the destiny of these industries.

Brexit poses an array of substantial threats to the Irish economy and coupled with the fact that we are a small open economy naturally prone to volatility, it is difficult to predict what the future holds. It is therefore crucial that we support these important industries that are facing the perils of Covid-19 and Brexit as we enter the year ahead. Accordingly, I am seeking members' support to ensure that Horse Racing Ireland and Rásaíocht Con Éireann receive the funding provided for in budget 2021 and that the very important role played by these industries, and the economic activity generated by them, are sustained into the future. I commend this regulations to the committee, and I look forward to discussing any matters arising.

At the outset, I want to tell the Minister that I am a native of county Kildare. I very much support racing, which is really important, and I support the Minister's proposal. When one looks at a great racecourse like Leopardstown, which HRI fully owns, we would not have that wonderful world stage today if it were not in the care of a body like the HRI.

I live not too far away from Leopardstown.

There are many challenges in this sector. I accept that we are dealing today with the horse and greyhound racing fund, 80% of which goes to horse racing and 20% of which goes to greyhound racing. When I first looked at this last week in the Seanad, I thought it was a phenomenal amount of money. We are talking about €96 million. The cumulative aggregate to this industry since 2001 is €1.36 billion. I understand why it is that much but it is a lot of money. What is critical is the governance of it. I will make some further comments first before I ask one or two questions. The funding will be increased. As the Minister says, it will be €1.46 billion. That is a phenomenal amount of money but also a phenomenal commitment to Irish racing and one that I support.

Initially I was concerned but I wish to put on the record my thanks to the Minister's Department and his officials, because when I started to ask questions and ask for documentation, it was very much forthcoming. I came at this with governance issues in mind and I am happy to say, having looked at the Comptroller and Auditor General's reports, that governance in HRI is strong. Governance is the area I want to talk about today. It is important because people need to know something about this. I commend HRI on its strategic plan. It has a plan and a vision, and it is also important we have that.

I wish to ask the Minister a question about the governance issue. I understand there were one or possibly two vacancies on the board of HRI, with possibly a third in the new year. I have looked at publicjobs.ie. That is the website that has given me this information. I ask the Minister to consider filling these vacancies quickly, with the prerequisites in terms of corporate governance, equestrian and all the other specialties. That is particularly important.

I have two other questions. Indecon carried out a very extensive report in 2012 and, I think, again in 2016, and the Minister himself referred to the Deloitte report. There are many good recommendations in those reports that have never been implemented. Working with stakeholders, I suggest that the Minister's officials in the Department, if they are mindful of this and think it is appropriate and right, dust down those reports and see which recommendations are still relevant today. I ask that they be implemented because there are many good suggestions in the Indecon and Deloitte reports on the industry.

On the whole, I am supportive of the funding. It is a huge amount of money, but we must consider the reassurances of the Comptroller and Auditor General, whose report for 2019 is, I understand, due on the Minister's desk. There are now strong governance measures in place that we could not have always said were there. I am in principle supportive of the proposals to fund the organisation going forward.

I thank Senator Boyhan for his comments on and overview of the issues we are discussing today and the rationale for and the value of the funding. I assure the Senator that a process will be gone through to assess candidates for the HRI board. It is an open application process and recommendations will come to me with the qualifications of the people who have come through the process. I assure the Senator that I will act on this promptly at that stage. We will come at it from the point of view of ensuring there is a very strong mix of skills and talents that will complement the work of the board. The Senator mentioned the importance of following through on and learning from the Indecon and Deloitte reports. It is important they are followed through on. He made an overall point about recognising the level of investment here. He also very importantly recognises the fact that it gives a return and leads to a very genuine economic output, particularly in rural areas, and that provides a strong rationale from an economic point of view for the investment.

I will take two members together now in case we run out of time. I call Deputies Carthy and Martin Browne.

I thank the Minister for making himself available. I, too, wish to put on the record that I absolutely recognise the value of horse racing and greyhound racing and those sectors to our regions and to many parts of the rural economy that are barren of many other economic stimuli.

That does not necessarily mean we should say blank cheques should simply be offered to any organisation. Accountability and transparency are hugely important where public money is concerned. The Department's proposal is that the best part of €100 million be allocated to these bodies next year. It can rightly be said that this is a recognition of their importance, but the funding must come with huge responsibility in respect of accountability and transparency.

People have been talking in recent days about the emails and the complaints about greyhound racing in particular that we have all received. The biggest complaints I receive about funding going to horse racing and greyhound breeders are from the breeders themselves, horse breeders and greyhound breeders, people who love their animals and who have been involved in their sectors for years. Their complaint is that the money does not come to them, that they get no support whatsoever. That is why my question to the Minister is what exactly the conditions associated with this money are. What accountability and transparency is put in place, not just to ensure, as Senator Boyhan said, that every penny that is spent is accounted for? Obviously, that is crucially important. What is the Department's direction as to how this money should be spent? While there is an economic value to the sectors, it is not that every euro spent brings a return regardless of where it is spent. Some places will bring additional support. Just as in so many different areas, often it is the small local enterprise, probably somebody with a couple of horses or dogs. Money going to them can reap a much greater proportional economic dividend than money to the large owners.

Will the Minister outline the objectives the Department sets when it gives money to these organisations? I refer to the direction of the sports, the economic outturn that would be expected, where it would be expected the money would be delivered and, of course, the crucial issue of animal welfare. Notwithstanding the fact that most people who are involved in these sectors treat their animals very well, we cannot deny that there have been some very serious allegations in respect of animal welfare. They cannot be swept under the carpet. Taxpayers rightly expect that if they invest this amount of money, the return they will get is that the animals are treated equally. The difficulty I have is that it appears that these funds involve an 80:20 split that is arbitrary. Why not 79:21 or some other figure? Why are these funds not distributed annually on the basis of where they will have the greatest and most positive impact on both the sports and the economy, as I said?

The next question I wish to ask concerns the 2020 budgets of these organisations. Have they been spent? Is the Minister confident they will be fully spent? We know that for a long period the organisations involved were not active. We know that many of their staff were on the wage subsidy scheme or other subsidised schemes. Has there been a preliminary analysis of the 2020 budget, considering that there was such an increase provided for in 2021? Will the Minister give his view on the amount of prize money invested here? I know that the argument the organisations involved make is that the prize money is the best way to ensure that the funding trickles down to all in order that it is distributed. Has the Department ever carried out an analysis of where exactly the prize money goes and whether the redistributive formula is what it is set out to be? Do the ordinary horse breeders in Donegal or Monaghan get a fair crack of the whip, pardon the pun? They tell me they do not.

Going back to an earlier point, there is an additional €12 million.

It has been said this is a Covid payment. However, the inference that many people are taking is that, essentially, this will become the new base for funding. It is a massive increase when we consider that in 2014 the value of the State subsidy was €54 million. It now come to €96 million. If this proposal is adopted, what additional standards and stipulations will be put in place? The Minister referred to the legislation with regard to greyhound welfare. How will that be marked against the funding given?

Notwithstanding the importance of these two sports, I am not sure the committee would come to the view that the best place for this additional €12 million available to the Department would be horse racing and the greyhound industry when we consider, for example, how suckler, sheep and other farmers are struggling. This is a particularly difficult year for many people. The Minister has decided to invest an additional €12 million, totalling €96 million, in the horse racing and greyhound industry. With that commitment must come a commitment for transparency and accountability. I am eager to see the Minister's proposals to ensure the committee can have absolute confidence that the moneys in question are being spent in the best way possible.

I welcome the Minister. I am from rural Tipperary where the horse racing industry is big, with Coolmore and Ballydoyle stud farms, as well as having many of the top greyhound trainers. We want to see these sports thrive in Tipperary as well as throughout the country.

There are questions, however, as to how this money will be spent. The amount provided to the sectors has risen steadily since 2014. At that time the fund came to €43 million. Last year, it came to €76.8 million, an increase of €33 million. As was said by other members, there are other areas in the agriculture sector which could do with that sort of funding. Does the Minister believe that the money is being spent effectively? Will he guarantee that the money is used effectively across the board?

Between 2015 and 2019, Horse Racing Ireland stated prize money went up from €63 million to €66 million, along with a significant increase in commercial sponsorship. If it is bringing in more money than it was, why is there a need to increase the taxpayer subsidy to horse racing? As Deputy Carthy said about Covid payments, horse racing had less in expenses this year but we are increasing its funding. With the extra commercial sponsorship, has the industry considered rainy day funds for years such as this?

Of the extra €9.6 million, much of that is going to wealthy horse owners and stables. The smaller stables see little of it. That has to change. If we are asking people to subsidise a sport, it must be seen at local level. It is the small stables and breeders which are in trouble and must get the most funding. Has the Department considered getting the larger billion euro stables to contribute more to their sport and not have to ask the taxpayer to provide prize money?

Greyhounds and greyhound racing are part and parcel of rural Ireland. With all that has been revealed in the industry over the past 18 months, is there any update on the progress made to address some of the concerns about doping and cruelty to greyhounds? Did the Department seek any clarity on these issues before committing extra funding to the industry? If it did receive commitments, is it following up on them to ensure they are done properly? What level of oversight is there with the moneys spent? There were serious questions about Bord na gCon in the past.

How much money makes it way to local greyhound trainers? While Tipperary has some of the big trainers, we also have trainers with just one or two dogs. Like the horse industry, they see little money from this fund. For example, we have 3,600 people on housing lists in Tipperary. The €2.5 million in extra funding going to the greyhound industry this year would make a massive difference to the lives of those on the housing lists and to the council for providing houses. There needs to be clarity from the horse racing and the greyhound industries, that everything with this funding is above board, as well as helping smaller trainers and breeders.

I thank Deputies Carthy and Martin Browne for their comments. Deputy Carthy has indicated he very much supports the sectors but he has questions. I am not quite clear-----

I would have thought for a Minister that it would not have been a strange concept that one could support a sector but ensure accountability for the moneys spent.

Deputy Carthy, allow the Minister.

I am not quite clear as to his overall view of the funding.

If the Minister wants me to repeat it, I can.

In the horse racing sector, the allocation from the State is €76 million from the horse and greyhound racing fund. The horse racing sector contributes €1.84 billion to the economy with 28,500 people employed by it. Up to 13,000 people derive an economic benefit from the greyhound sector.

There is ongoing engagement every year between the Department, as the main shareholder, and the bodies involved. We have a shareholder letter of expectation and engagement with both of them. There are regular governance meetings within the bodies themselves. There is oversight by the Comptroller and Auditor General as well as by the Oireachtas and this committee. The bodies submit reports at the end of the year outlining expenditure, activities and results. There is certainly much accountability and transparency in place.

Deputies Carthy and Martin Browne can feed into how the funding is spent through the committee. All those in the horse racing and greyhound racing would engage with one another and feed in their views and considerations. Both organisations in question have obligations to take on board any advice and feedback in that regard to ensure they are organised as best as possible to get the maximum return on the investment made in them.

That opportunity is there. I have no doubt that any ideas Deputy Carthy has to better support that would be welcome.

The Deputy made the point about the arbitrary nature of the 80:20 ratio of funds. That is how it has been since it was established. It is arbitrary. Like any organisation, both organisations have to make the most of the funding they receive and get the best value from that.

On animal welfare, both organisations take this seriously. There has been a particular focus on the greyhound sector in the last year or two, including Government and Oireachtas engagement with the sector and the work of Rásaíocht Con Éireann. There has been agreement that a minimum of 10% of funding it receives would go towards specific welfare measures. Deputy Martin Browne also raised that point. If one looks at what that involves, the last year or two has seen the establishment of a separate greyhound care fund, a Covid-19 greyhound care payment scheme during the cessation of racing activity during 2020, the progression of the traceability provisions of the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 to devise a traceability model and a draft of those statutory regulations. Greyhound care centres were established, the first of which opened on 28 October in Tipperary. There are also financial incentives for the rehoming of greyhounds through additional supports through the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust, which was established and is operated by Rásaíocht Con Éireann. There was an extension and increase of support under the RCÉ's foster care scheme to identify new foster homes in Ireland for retired greyhounds. There are financial supports for rehoming agencies, the introduction of a greyhound injury support scheme to provide financial assistance to aid injured greyhounds to continue with a healthy life; the establishment of a confidential phone line to enable reports of welfare breaches to be reported for investigation by relevant agencies, an intensification of the inspection regimes of greyhound establishments and the rehoming of retired greyhounds in the US through Greyhound Pets of America, Finding Loving Irish Greyhounds Homes Together, FLIGHT, and Flying Irish Greyhounds, FIG. There have been significant developments in the last year or two and while there is a 10% obligation on Rásaíocht Con Éireann in the funding it has received for specific welfare measures, it intends to exceed that. It is underpinned by the new Greyhound Racing Act 2019, which was important legislation in providing a thorough and robust regulatory system for oversight under which greyhound racing can operate. That gives a flavour.

Deputy Carthy raised prize money and where it goes. Some 60% of the funding goes towards prize money. In the horse sector, that is generally paid to six to eight finishers. The Deputy is correct that there is an argument that prize money is very significant to the profile of the industry in its international competitiveness, which is a very important part of ensuring we are world leaders in the horse racing sector. Many of the reports and much of the feedback and expertise would say that it is important it is underpinned in that way. As I pointed out earlier, the €76 million State investment contributes to an overall economic benefit of €1.84 billion in horse racing, which is very significant. It is open to this committee or anyone to come forward with ideas that would help grow the industry and ensure it thrives and gets best value for investment. That is central to how both organisations operate and make their considerations. If the Deputy has any specific ideas on this, they would be welcome.

Deputy Martin Browne made similar points to Deputy Carthy on how the money is spent.

As he says, it is a very significant industry in Tipperary and one the Deputy would like to see supported. He made the point about the importance of welfare, which I covered.

Overall, there is a lot of common ground on the need to ensure that the funding is well spent, that it underpins both industries, and that they are supported at this particularly difficult time, given the pressures both sectors have had with Covid. Most race meetings happening behind closed doors has meant there has been a significant collapse in income as a result of spectators not being able to attend. That was a particular challenge last year and there will be further challenges in the year ahead. In horse racing for example, the Christmas race meetings in Leopardstown are a really significant event in the racing calendar. The cancellation of that event alone will see a €3 to €4 million loss to the horse racing sector, not to mention other local events that look unlikely to happen in the earlier part of 2021.

I thank the Minister for coming before the committee and giving some clarity on where the money is being spent. I will support the motion in the Dáil. I would appreciate some clarification. It is a lot of money, and accountability and transparency are important. The Minister outlined where the funding is going, but I want to know about how the money will feed its way right down to the roots of the problems in the horse and greyhound industries. It is quite possible that people at the top will be fighting for most if not all of this money. I look at rural communities in west Cork and events such as the Durrus, Goleen and Drimoleague road trotting races. Will funding get down to the ground for the likes of those committees and jockeys? There is a jockey in my parish of Goleen, Deirdre Goggin, and she and others like her will find it very difficult to survive. There has been a loss of spectators in the bigger arenas, and I worry that much of this money will only go to the very top and not get to the bottom. Will the Minister outline how it will feed its way back into the horse industry?

On greyhounds, a motion is coming before the Dáil tomorrow which I do not agree with at all. The Minister's remarks here make it very clear that a big percentage of the money is going into greyhound care, payment schemes, care centres for greyhounds, foster homes, greyhound injury schemes, a confidential phone line, and the rehousing of greyhounds in America. It is an opportunity that we cannot allow pass to give a percentage of the funds now becoming available to those schemes for the care and welfare of greyhounds. We are talking about 12,500 jobs in rural Ireland in the greyhound industry and God knows how many more in the horse industry. We cannot put that in jeopardy because, unfortunately, there are a few rogue traders who need to be straightened out. This funding may help that.

Greyhounds have been a tradition in my area of west Cork. Going back over 30 years, I remember my parents took me to Schull to see the winner of the English Derby, which was won by a greyhound that was lovingly treated and cared for by the Barnett family in Schull, and this brought great victory, pride and joy to our town. That is happening in other communities. We should not put any of that in jeopardy but ensure that there is animal welfare and that funding gets to the people on the ground. Deputy Carthy remarked that suckler farmers and the sheep and dairy sectors are also people we support, but today we are focusing on horses and greyhounds. I will certainly support the Minister but hope the money gets to those on the ground.

I welcome the Minister. For those who want to see this industry continue into the future, I would say that animal welfare is core to that because a lot of the people I have spoken to who were previously fans of greyhound racing, in particular, were turned off by what they saw in those documentaries.

I have questions for the Minister. We have heard that 10% of the money is being set aside by Rásaíocht Con Éireann, RCÉ, for a care fund to develop and maintain a traceability system for the greyhounds. I would have thought that traceability is a basic operational requirement, so it should not be included in the 10% that is going towards the animal welfare fund. Will the Minister confirm if it is the case that the welfare fund is being diverted for operational costs such as traceability?

Will the Minister confirm that it is impossible to compare, on an annual basis, the reports on how the care fund is being spent because it changes each year? Can we have a framework that would allow us to compare from year to year how much is being spent on care?

I welcome that the Minister said that there will be complete transparency and traceability of the whole life cycle of a greyhound, from the number bred to the numbers who die or are retired. However, will that information be publicly available? Will the Minister commit to there being a transparent and rigorous system of inspections of all greyhound breeders to ensure they are fully compliant with the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011?

The Minister mentioned the opening up of the greyhound care centre in October. Will he outline what checks and balances have been put in place on those who run that greyhound care centre? Will the Minister give a firm commitment to this committee that nobody who is involved in the running of that greyhound care centre has exported greyhounds to destinations that breach RCÉ's code of practice, which is that greyhounds should not be exported to countries that do not have adequate welfare standards? If it was to come to light that a person who is involved in running that care centre has been involved in the export of greyhounds to countries that do not comply with the RCÉ's code of practice, will that person be removed and will that tender be taken away from him or her?

I will answer Deputy Michael Collins's questions first. He made the point about the value of the investment in terms of what it does in rural areas and in terms of the importance of welfare. He also made the significant point about the importance of the money being spread across all levels of both the greyhound and horse racing sectors. I agree with the Deputy that it is important that all levels are supported.

The figures from last year would indicate that in 2019, there were 370 horse racing meetings in racecourses of various sizes, and prize money is allocated to the bigger and smaller race meetings alike. It is crucial that all levels of the sector are supported. While we are a world leader in horse racing and in the thoroughbred sector, that can only happen if the sector is strong at all levels and if funding is spread across it. That requires all levels to be supported. It is important that HRI uses this funding in that way and ensures it is spread out. That is an important point that was well made by the Deputy. That needs to be kept in mind at all times in how plans are made and in how funding is spent.

On greyhounds, there would have been thousands of races at 16 different tracks in 2019. Funding would have been distributed across all classes of dogs.

When somebody is breeding and in the sector, his or her objective is to have his or her horses either sold for breeding purposes or to supply others, or ultimately to see them racing and running, either at their local track or as high up in the chain as they can possibly go. It is important that prize money is there for all levels of races so that there is that support and strong ecosystem in place.

Senator Boylan also emphasised the importance of the welfare spending. I will give the Senator a breakdown of the spending around that. Some €1.32 million is provided for 2021 for regulation, integrity and traceability, while €407,000 is provided for the national greyhound laboratory. A total of €991,000 is provided for care and welfare programmes and €306,000 is provided for veterinary care. As the Senator has said, the 10% threshold is being exceeded. There has been significant progress in the past year or two in particular in developing those programmes and it is important that this continues. I know Rásaíocht Con Éireann is committed to that and as a Minister, I want to see that continue and be developed. The Senator pointed out that the greyhound care centre opened in Tipperary. I do not have an answer to the other questions the Senator raised on that. We can prepare a note on that and I can come back to the Senator on those points.

Will the traceability database be publicly available?

I will come back to the Senator on the operation of the database as well.

My understanding is that it will be publicly available and that it is intended to model it on something like the traceability in the cattle system.

It is better than the beef farms so that is welcome.

I welcome the Minister. While it may already be known, I want to put on record that I am chairperson of a rural Irish racetrack, namely, Kilbeggan racetrack, and I am a big breeder with one brood mare. Having said that, it will be obvious that I will be supporting the proposals here. Kilbeggan is a one-horse town but we have a racetrack and the vitality and the life that having that industry in our town provides for our community is unbelievable. I note all of the figures that have been quoted today about the number of jobs created in rural Ireland through both of those industries.

From our perspective, how it works with the majority of the HRI money, which goes for prize money, is that the racetrack has to match that funding. We have to come up with that money from sponsors within our community. Likewise, the majority of the money HRI spends goes to development and improvement grants, where they give grants of 40%. Again, we come up with 60% of the funding to match that.

With that in mind and with a view to the year that has been in it with Covid-19, some of those smaller racetracks, breeders and trainers are the big sufferers. I would like to see the Minister work with HRI and RCÉ in order that this money would filter down to the lower echelons of the industry. The development grants have completed and hopefully there will be a new tranche coming out. I ask the Minister that, along with HRI and RCÉ, to ensure that this money filters down. I mention the small breeder who would not be going to the big expensive stallion but to the lower quality horse, for which there is a market. The sales for that market were upset this year and some of those involved even moved to the UK. It would not have paid to go there. Those people are the big sufferers. I hope the Minister can work with both bodies to ensure that this money filters down, as has been said by previous speakers.

I have to comment on the debate to the effect that every year we come in here and we have members coming up with a punchline or a sound bite that is akin to selling the laying hen. The figures are there and of the €96 million that has been invested, €95 million is being returned in the betting tax and then the income, whether it is through tourism or through the jobs I have mentioned in rural Ireland, is unbelievable. We could take the money for one year and give it to one of these so called better causes that are mentioned every year but that would be like selling the laying hen. What do we do the following year when the 40,000 people employed between the two industries are on the dole and there is no tourism income? It is a fantastic investment in two seriously strong and important industries, not sports, in rural Ireland.

In the last Oireachtas, the Minister and I were both members of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as it was then. We did a lot of work with the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 and we dealt specifically with animal welfare issues. I know RCÉ has given out expressions of interest for care homes.

Many people have applied for them, been inspected and ticked all the boxes, but only two care homes have been given full ratification or notification by RCÉ. When will more care homes be identified and registered?

We are short on time but if the Minister has time I ask him to elaborate on Brexit, which was mentioned in the report. This is an all-island industry and there are two racecourses in the North. What ramifications may there be for them going forward? The UK is our major market, along with the rest of Europe.

I wish to pass on my full support for these measures. This industry has great involvement, particularly in rural Ireland, with thousands of jobs, and has gone through a very tough patch in the past seven or eight months. In the Minister's Department, Covid has had a major impact on the marine sector. It probably did not have the same effect on the dairy, beef or tillage industries but it has had a major impact on the marine and racing sectors. That is why this funding is so very important. It trickles down to every parish in Ireland. We can all talk about our own parishes and how the greyhound and horse racing industry is an important part of them.

Some of us served on the previous committee and dealt in detail with the welfare issues. I welcome the Minister's clarification and acknowledgement of what has happened in the past 18 months in particular. The public wants to hear what is being done and where. That is a great step forward and that is what we need to build on. The welfare homes are obviously an issue but we have started them and we just need more of them to be rolled out. That will be important to make sure we have confidence in the industry. When tracks are closed with no spectators, one cannot get commercial funds to come in to fund anything. There is a need for intervention at this stage. The Laurels were held in Cork a few months ago. There are usually 10,000 people at the Laurels night but there was nobody there. Those are the kind of issues we are dealing with in the industry. I welcome this funding. It is important and we need to do more for the next eight or nine months because we do not know where this Covid issue is going to go.

I thank the Senators. Senator Paul Daly noted the importance of the smaller tracks and breeders and the pressure they are under this year as a result of Covid. I agree with him and it is important that they be supported both by RCÉ and Horse Racing Ireland. I will relay his feedback, which concurs with my own, to those organisations. He made a valid point about the necessity of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund for the support of these sectors and industries. If we were to withdraw that funding from either of them, where would it leave them? As regards employment, what is the alternative and what would happen in the following years? That does not get enough recognition in the debates we have on this matter every year and that principle underpins the State support for both industries. I take the Senator's point about the need to further develop care homes. That is the policy being followed by RCÉ and is my priority as well. We will continue to liaise with the organisation to develop them.

The Senator also asked about Brexit and horse racing, which is a significant challenge. The tripartite agreement on the free movement of horses between Ireland, France and Britain has been significant in underpinning the racing and breeding sectors. That is a real challenge at the moment and is something on which we are engaging with both the Commission and Britain. We do not yet have an overall agreement, which we hope will be forthcoming, and we are all working towards that. The fact that there is no overall agreement has meant many issues that require further examination and collaboration cannot be properly addressed.

As Minister, I am very much aware of the importance of this issue and will be working with both the European Union and Britain in that regard. We will be one island from the point of view of animal health, so movement of horses between North and South will not be an issue. It is the movement between east and west that needs to be resolved and requires attention.

Senator Lombard highlighted the significant jobs that both industries represent in rural Ireland. I accept and echo his point. He welcomed the welfare measures and the importance of moving on with the care homes provision. He also touched on the pressure tracks and the sector are under as a result of Covid. There is a significant increase in the allocation for the horse and greyhound racing fund in budget 2021, specifically because both State bodies are under significant pressure as a result of Covid. Like many other sectors, particularly ones that are dependent on spectators for a large part of their income, they have not been able to hold races for a portion of the year, which has had very significant impacts. There is an onus on us to work with these sectors to support them through this period, just as there has been an onus on us to work with all businesses. In that context, we are working closely with them to ensure they are in a position to take up the batons and reins again after Covid and get back to a healthy level of income from traditional sources.

It is very disappointing that this increase in funding is so broadly welcomed by this committee. This increase will bring the funding for the greyhound racing industry to a staggering €19.2 million. Last year, we learned that 16,000 greyhounds are bred every year to keep this industry going and almost 6,000 of them are killed because they fail to make qualification times or their performance has declined. Basically, the industry kills about 6,000 dogs a year for not racing fast enough. The Government continues to fund it and is now increasing the funding.

The animal welfare issues are bad enough but it is worth noting that this is also a loss-making industry. Attendance at greyhound racing tracks fell by 55% between 2008 and 2018 and the combined losses for tracks between 2019 and 2022 is predicted to be €30 million. The Government intends to increase the funding despite the public outcry following the documentary that exposed unspeakable acts of cruelty in the industry, despite the fact that the industry relies on overbreeding and culling 6,000 dogs a year, despite a dramatic drop in both the number of people attending race meetings and advertising revenues, and despite the fact that only 16% of the Irish population agree that the Government should continue to fund the industry. It is quite frankly ridiculous to see this conversation going on in the committee. For too long, the greyhound racing industry has been kept alive by generous State subsidies This is taxpayers' money and the Irish people do not want that anymore.

I am aware that many breeders and trainers treat animals well. I am sure Senator Paul Daly is one of them. In many instances they are the people in the industry who understand where I am coming from because the overarching standards of care in the industry are scandalous. The ISPCA, which is the largest animal welfare organisation in the country, has stopped engaging with the industry because it does not believe it is serious about reform.

That is where we are at unfortunately. The €19.2 million the greyhound industry will receive next year will be six times more than the amount received by all animal welfare organisations. The 10% going towards care and traceability is not enough when one considers that 60% is going into the prize money. I strongly object to the increase in funding and the Social Democrats party and I will table a motion in the Dáil tomorrow to reverse this decision and to gradually phase out funding for the greyhound racing industry and to increase support for animal welfare causes. I do not understand how everybody can defend this or what the long game is. Is it just to continue blindly pumping millions of euros of taxpayers' money into a dying industry that maintains these appalling standards of care and to keep defending it despite the public will to end it?

Many members have referred to the need for jobs and stated that this is an attack on rural Ireland. What we really need in rural Ireland is investment in sustainable jobs. The greyhound racing industry at present, when one considers the loss-making nature of it, the standards of care within it, the public disquiet about it, defines what an unsustainable job is. What we need in rural Ireland is the opposite of that. I will leave my contribution at that but I encourage members to consider their views on this based on all of this information which we often hear. The facts put out by the national broadcaster last year have been disputed but have never been debunked. Bord na gCon itself accepted that the facts put out in that documentary are true and it is our responsibility to take those into consideration when we are looking into vast funding such as this. I thank the Chair.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. I thank him for allowing me to speak at this committee and I wish him the best in his role as Chairman. I also wish the Minister well as it is my first occasion to engage with him. I thank the Department and the Government for continuing to support what is a very valuable industry in rural Ireland.

I know that the previous speaker, Deputy Cairns, is from rural Ireland but it is a different rural Ireland from the one that I grew up in. When I grew up, there were greyhounds in the neighbouring farmer’s yard, they were well looked after, like all the other animals, and it was an add-on and part of an industry of very mixed farms in south Tipperary, west Waterford and east Limerick. It has diminished significantly but nonetheless the breeders, many of whom I know, look after the animals spectacularly. In referring to that documentary, much of it was age-old film and sensationalism that was damaging to the industry. Of all the people that I know, in the coursing clubs and who go to the greyhound meetings, and as the Chairman himself knows, in Thurles, Clonmel, Youghal and Limerick raise significant money for schools, sick children and different causes and charities at events such as nights at the dogs and at the racetracks. It is part of our culture and heritage. I look forward to debating the issue with my colleagues on the Social Democrat motion tomorrow. Do we want to have a wasteland in agriculture? It is going through a tough enough time at the moment. I have no truck with anybody who seeks to neglect animals but every horse and dog owner has to have stables or kennels, pay veterinarian fees, buy tackle and support all of the additional associated industries. This is all paid for out of their own pockets, income that they already pay tax upon from their jobs, or whatever, as farmers. That is spent in the economy and supported. I do not know what planet people are on to try to undermine, attack and erode this very successful business. It is shocking and it is going on all of the time.

We have great prowess in the horseracing industry in Tipperary. I will not mention any names but we are recognised worldwide. Somebody mentioned that 40,000 jobs were involved in both industries. How will those jobs be replaced? Are the Social Democrats, who come up with these motions, or the protesters, going to provide jobs and incomes? I asked the Minister that question and I am glad that he is supporting the industry.

I certainly ask him to examine Bord na gCon to ensure that the right people are on the board who understand the industry and are involved on the ground, not high flyers and solicitors. The problem with many boards is that the people who are on them are not properly equipped to understand the industry and it is very important that would be done. I support this industry.

Many of these tracks are run by voluntary committees. There are issues. People give their time freely to support the industry and, as I said, there is a phenomenal amount of fundraising and support for different causes. I ask the Minister to continue to give the funding but to ensure that there is transparency. Any welfare issues have to be weeded out as there is no room for any of those people, good or bad. We have the best of trainers who care for the animals and they resent being accused of animal cruelty and of being cheats.

I have one other issue. Perhaps it is the Minister, Deputy O’Brien, who issued the instruction to release all the hares that were held for the coursing this year.

We are talking about funding the greyhound industry today. That is a different issue.

Coursing involves greyhounds as well.

We are dealing with the funding.

Yes, but coursing dogs-----

We are dealing with the funding.

----- are being slaughtered by dogs with no muzzles - lurchers or terriers.

We are dealing with the funding.

Yes, but it is all part of the greyhound industry.

We are dealing with the funding now.

It is fine to make those decisions but those hares have been looked after in anticipation of coursing with greyhounds. This has been well-monitored by the proper agencies in the way that they should be, and now many Deputies are getting calls about marauding gangs lamping them and killing with them no muzzles and no controls.

Will the Deputy stick to the agenda, please?

I will but these are greyhound people, as well, who are involved in coursing.

We are here to discuss the funding.

I welcome the funding but animal welfare issues across the board have to be looked at, not only greyhounds but every dog owner and horse owner. Anybody who has them should look after them. However, there is this underbelly going on with the slaughter of these animals by other dogs and there is no talk about it. Then we were forced to release all those hares, who were brought in by the clubs, well looked after, inoculated and everything else that was needed, in anticipation of the meetings and culminating in the international finals held every year at the coursing festival in Clonmel. This is worth €6 million to the town of Clonmel. That is not going to happen now. Apart from that, hares that are healthy are being slaughtered now and this should not happen. I thank the Chair for allowing me to finish. I am sorry for bringing that up but people who own the track greyhounds also own the dogs for coursing.

I call Deputy Danny Healy-Rae.

I thank the Chair for the opportunity to contribute I thank the Minister and to wish him well in his new post as I do all the people in Donegal that he represents.

I want to thank him and the Government for the funding to these vital sections of our community. I spend a lot of time criticising the Government for things that I feel are not happening for many people but I want to thank it especially for this €19.2 million for the horse and greyhound industries. Like all sections of our community and all sporting interests, everyone is affected by this deadly virus. There have not been any gate receipts for any event for more than nine months now.

We have a vibrant greyhound industry in Kerry, including in Brosna, Castleisland, Tralee, and down even into south Kerry in places like Ballyduff and Ballyheigue. People live for their greyhounds and their legs are broken from walking them day and night and looking after them. There is talk about traceability. The real greyhound owners have no problem with traceability or checking standards and transparency and they have nothing to fear. Like many others, I was deeply disappointed last year with the RTÉ programme, which threw the greyhound industry into a bad light. It did not give a true reflection but perhaps there were some rogues.

We do not really know the background to it. Maybe they were not there at all. Maybe it was made up. It is not true to say that 6,000 greyhounds were killed or that they went missing. I reject and resent that very much. Really, maybe they do not know where they went but it is a fact that when the dogs get older they are not as visible. They are visible to their owners. They foster them out to other people who want a dog in their homes. That is happening and will continue to happen. I assure the committee that it is in the interests of the people who own greyhounds and dogs, and the farmers who own animals of every creed and description, to look after their dogs and animals. I was brought up with the idea that if we neglect or hurt an animal it will fall back on us. This is the way the people of Kerry treat their dogs and horses. They treat them better than themselves.

Deputy Mattie McGrath mentioned Clonmel and it will be a savage loss to the economy of Clonmel. Places such as Castleisland, Listowel and Tralee have suffered because of no track running. They were all cancelled. When the last lockdown began they were just starting and if they had known there would be a total lockdown they could have gone sooner. Many jobs have been affected. It is an industry, which is why I value the few bob the Minister is giving. It shows the Government has an interest in the greyhound and horse industries. We really need these sectors to continue for people's mental health. People diversify in different ways. All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy and these people need their greyhounds like other fellows need their racing cars. Everybody has a different idea of diversion. Other people have antiques and people get into valuable pictures. These people need to be recognised. I thank the Minister very much for the funding. I regret and resent the attack made on these sectors by the Social Democrats.

The Minister is well capable of answering that. I have a question for the Minister. The previous committee heard from representatives of harness racing who were seeking an allocation from the fund. Has any plan been brought forward to examine funding for harness racing? As the Minister knows, they came before the committee on a number of occasions and had plans made out. Are they in the picture at present? What is the position in respect of the funding of harness racing? We have another section to deal with and I ask the Minister to be brief.

I note the opposition of Deputy Cairns to the increase in funding for the greyhound sector. She did not express opposition to the funding increase for the horse racing sector and confined her opposition to the greyhound sector. She asked why we are providing extra funding and made the point that instead we should be reducing it and withdrawing it. The rationale for funding of the greyhound sector is the same as that for funding the horse racing sector in that it is important funding to underpin both industries. It underpins jobs and provides economic activity and return, particularly in rural parts of the country.

Without that support and funding through the horse and greyhound racing fund, the greyhound sector would not be able to operate. Certainly, the sector would see significant job losses and a massive impact as a result of the withdrawal of that funding. There would also be a significant impact on the horse racing sector were we to reduce our commitment to support that sector. That explains the rationale for it.

The Deputy made points on the importance of welfare. She pointed out a report on the number of dogs that could not be placed. That report would be contested by Rásaíocht Con Éireann but it emphasises the importance of putting a robust tracing system in place. Rásaíocht Con Éireann is putting a lot of work into ensuring that is implemented and that is essential. If we know where all dogs are at and there is full traceability in relation to changes of ownership, where they were born and right through their life period, that is the best way to ensure a clear commitment that their welfare is being monitored and validated. That is why the funding is going towards that and that is important.

The Deputy pointed out that there has been a drop in numbers attending race meetings over the past ten years, which is the case. There has been a change in the model and we have seen an increase in income for the greyhound sector from betting. As has been pointed out by a number of speakers previously, due to the increase in betting duty from 1% to 2% we saw that increase to €96 million last year, which covers the allocation to the horse and greyhound racing fund. Racing rights from television coverage have also become a significant part of the model of income for the greyhound sector.

There is a motion tomorrow, when we will discuss that in more detail and discuss the importance of continuing this funding. I welcome, by and large, the strong commitment and support from the committee for the two sectors, while recognising Deputy Cairns's contribution and the points she has made, on which I have outlined my position.

Deputy Mattie McGrath made the point around the importance of the jobs and incomes that are supported and of transparency, which I would echo. He made a point on some illegal activity. I encourage the Deputy, if he is aware of any such activity, to immediately report it to authorities. Anything like that is not tolerable and will not be tolerated.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's comments recognised the importance of the funding to rural Ireland and thanked the Government for same. I acknowledge the Deputy's recognition of that and his support for the sectors. Rural Ireland is represented in the recent budget across other sectors, particularly in agriculture, where we delivered an 11% increase in funding across agrifood over and above the budget last year to support rural Ireland. We see that here in the horse and greyhound fund, too, because we recognise the importance of it, particularly in a year where the sectors are very challenged by Covid.

Deputy Cahill referred to harness racing and that is something I am engaged with. I met with the Irish Harness Racing Association a couple of weeks ago along with some of my officials and there has been a further meeting with the association since then. We sought a submission from the association following on from that and will continue to engage with it on that.