I am the chairman of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association and we greatly appreciate the opportunity to address the committee. We welcome the efforts of the committee to create a more efficient and transparent structure, to create savings and to help reduce costs on participants in this wonderful industry. Our association is a 32-county, democratically elected body with approximately 6,250 breeders. We represent at least 90% of all breeders in terms of annual foal production. The thoroughbred industry is acknowledged as one of Ireland's great indigenous success stories, with an incredible amount of total added value in the country, generating direct employment of 17,000 people. In the past, it was about 25,000 people. The employment is based throughout rural communities and contributes approximately €1 billion to the economy. We are probably at the bottom of the production cycle and, if we can get a little more funding into our industry, we will be in a far better place to accommodate any increase in the industry that will come once the cycle returns. Breeders contribute approximately €1.25 million per annum through an annual foal levy.
Irish horses, breeders, jockeys and stable staff excel throughout the world stage. There is not a corner of the world without an Irish horseman or successful Irish horses. In America, the Far East, the Middle East and Australia, Irish-bred horses are the predominant prime product of the industry.
With regard to the Bill, under heading 4.7(1), it is envisaged that three members of the board will be appointed by the Minister.
We ask that one of these nominees would have a thorough knowledge of the industry itself and that the other two would have a working knowledge. There are particular skill sets required for our industry and we ask that whoever is appointed would be fully cognisant of the industry's requirements. Under point 3 on the explanatory note, while we understand the need to provide greater transparency, we contend that there may be occasions where a specialised chairman may be required to fulfil a specific function. We believe some of the specifications in this regard are slightly too tightly drawn. There are certain nuances within this industry for which one often needs to go outside and acquire an extra skill set to help. This would allow greater flexibility in future when new statutory committees are established in subsequent heads.
As for the nominating body, we ask that we, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association, ITBA, should be the nominating body for the breeders’ representative on the board of Horse Racing Ireland, HRI. As I stated previously, we are democratically elected every two years and our chairman, also elected, spends a two-year term. It probably is the most democratic farming organisation extant. We are organised by region, having regard to the number of horses produced in each region, but all corners of the country are represented on our council in respect of both the flat and national hunt sectors. While we probably will revert to the foal levy later, it is an important issue for us. If the foal levy is to be totally accountable, it must be sold by the breeders themselves to our own members as to why they should contribute to it. In addition, a number of minor, lesser bodies are being run by HRI, a particular one being Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, to which the breeders themselves contribute approximately €400,000 per year. Obviously, we are at the bottom level of our cycle at present but heretofore, we have been giving up to €600,000 per year to Irish Thoroughbred Marketing. It is a significant amount of money for the breeders of Ireland to be handing over to Horse Racing Ireland. I ask, as of right, that we should have a position on the committees and boards of Irish Thoroughbred Marketing. In addition, the foal levy committee is the committee of Horse Racing Ireland that is given the job of raising the aforementioned levy and spending it. The least we could ask for in this regard is that we, of right, should have some seats on the foal levy committee.
With regard to other committees, under head 6 the ITBA believes the fixtures committee should have some independence from HRI and therefore should not be limited to HRI board members. It should include members of the authority and other individuals from the industry. This is an area which requires highly specialised expertise. This committee must be fully responsive to the requirements of both the racing and breeding industries. The ITBA also recommends that the existing programmes committee should remain. Programming has a broader remit in terms of pattern - in other words, the quality of race and their timings - and its work has implications both nationally and internationally. If it is subsumed into the fixtures committee, whose decisions can be overturned by the HRI board, there is no external oversight as has previously been in place. It is important to maintain and enhance the international profile of our own race fixtures. We also ask that the new industry services committee needs clear criteria regarding constituencies and methods of election. Thus far, the specific people mentioned have been jockeys, qualified riders and persons employed in the horse racing industry. I suggest the breeding industry also could be part of this committee, in particular with regard to welfare issues for our staff.
In respect of the foal levy, probably our greatest concern here today is that as currently drafted, British breeders will be allowed to register their Irish-born foals in Britain, which would result in a reduction of levy income of approximately €170,000, which probably is 12% to 14% of the total levy. We have suggested a rewording of the provision - and have some work in this regard from Weatherbys as well - to state “The levy shall be paid by the owner of a thoroughbred foal born in the State in advance of registering the foal in a stud book in the State”. I cannot emphasise enough how important this is. We have this levy in force and it took a lot of work between the breeders of this country and HRI to have an efficient and fair collection method from our members. We do not need any slippage in this regard and if some foals are exempt, there would be leakages of registrations back to the English studbook from Irish breeders, who therefore may not pay the levy at all. In addition, in a technical point, the section as currently worded states that Weatherbys may refuse to register a foal if the levy is not paid. Again, we ask for much more robust wording in this regard, which states "A person who maintains a studbook will not register a foal". At present, this levy has a compliance level of 98.3% in respect of who pays it, which is very high and we do not want to lose out on that.
In respect of the racing regulatory authority, in order for the authority to maintain the functions of a truly independent regulator it must have access to all funds with regard to licensing. Any other model has been shown to be flawed in any other sport. Any compromise on the independence of the racing regulatory body, RBB, has serious implications for integrity, which is the cornerstone of Irish racing internationally. As the proposed requirement in section 11(1)(d) to consult with HRI before the RRB sets licensing charges is new, consequently it clearly is not in keeping with the requirements to have an independent regulatory body. As previous Acts did not include point to points, we believe they should not be included at this time. Point to points are a voluntary sporting activity akin to the GAA and are self-regulated.
On the funding of racing, despite the fact that our industry remains to the fore internationally, there are signs that it is in decline, with a reduction in numbers across the board. The numbers of mares in Ireland have reduced substantially, by 40%, over the past five or six years. As I noted earlier, we are at the bottom of the production cycle and now the number of horses in training has started to rise in our major market, we would like some pump-priming to happen here to try to help our racing and breeding industry. The key to the future of the Irish racing and breeding industries is to put in place a secure funding mechanism and we are requesting this joint committee to call on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to lobby the Minister for Finance to restore the off-course tax to the 2006 levels of 2% in the forthcoming budget and to extend its coverage to currently untaxed forms of betting.
As the representative body for the largest number of constituents in the industry, we would appreciate it were the joint committee to give consideration to our submission for inclusion in its report to the House. I thank members and look forward to their questions.