I thank the Chairman. The horse and greyhound racing industries occupy a special place in the Irish psyche and a key position in the rich tapestry of Irish sport. They are valuable to our economy, central to our identity and cornerstones of our social and cultural heritage.
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 swathe of the country. Time and again, through the years, Governments have acknowledged the importance of these industries and supported them through legislation and policy initiatives. The support provided by public funds through investment in these industries has enabled Ireland to develop into a world centre of excellence for horse racing, greyhound racing and breeding. The Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund has been front and centre in providing this investment and has played a pivotal role in shaping the destiny of these industries.
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 Bord na gCon. In the period 2001 to date, a total of €1.2 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 legislation, has 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 2019, this cumulative upper limit must be increased by regulation.
The Estimates for my Department, passed by both Houses as part of budget 2019, include an allocation of €84 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%, or €67.2 million, going to Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, and 20%, or €16.8 million, going to Bord na gCon. 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 fund by €84 million to €1.28 billion to allow my Department to provide the moneys allocated in budget 2019. This is achieved by way of the regulations submitted to the committee. The aggregate limit on the fund was increased in this manner in 2004 and 2009 to 2017, inclusive.
The Deloitte report, the Economic Impact of Irish Breeding and Racing 2017, commissioned by HRI, estimated that the total direct and stimulated expenditure of the breeding and racing industry was €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 significant return to the rural economy in Ireland and a positive international profile for our country. Behind all the facts and figures, of course, are the thousands of men and women who, directly and indirectly, make the industry what it is today.
As proven in 2018, Irish owners, trainers, jockeys and horses set standards globally and their stellar achievements and enduring influence underscore Ireland’s international prominence. The equine breeding and racing industry is extremely competitive at a global level, despite other major racing nations having much larger populations and economies. Despite our size, we are the third biggest producers 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. The significant threat posed by Brexit, however, to the current ease of movement of horses between Britain and France, in addition to the global nature of major breeding operations, illustrate that, while Ireland arguably has leadership position within Europe, its pre-eminence is not guaranteed. 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 throughout 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.
According to the Power report of 2017, the greyhound industry provides and supports considerable employment both directly and indirectly across the 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 industry is deeply ingrained in the social and cultural networks of rural Ireland. 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. I am pleased that the Greyhound Racing Bill 2018 is progressing well through the Seanad under the stewardship of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, and I look forward to its smooth progression through the Dáil.
In addition to its focus on the core business of greyhound racing, Bord na gCon places a strong emphasis on regulation of the industry and the welfare of greyhounds. It is evident that the successful growth and sustainability of the industry is heavily dependent on public confidence in the integrity of racing. To this end, I welcome that Bord na gCon continues to invest significant resources in regulation and greyhound welfare.
The advent of new technologies and business models has challenged the 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 of remote and online betting operators being outside the tax net. The measures introduced in the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015 had a positive effect on revenue streams with significant increases realised. Betting tax increased from a total of €31 million for 2015 to €52.2 million in 2017. I welcome the Minister of Finance's, announcement in his budget speech that betting tax will increase from 1% to 2% next year, which, it is estimated, will contribute €40 million to the Exchequer in 2019.
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 they make to rural economic activity and employment. Brexit poses an array of substantial threats to the economy and, coupled with the fact that we are a small and open economy naturally prone to volatility, it is difficult to predict what the future holds. It is, therefore, more important than ever that we support these important industries to help maintain sustainable growth in these sectors. Both sectors also face a series of challenges in the areas of funding, infrastructure and staffing but even in the face of all these challenges, the industries are steadfast in their ambition to build on recent progress and success.
Accordingly, I ask members for their support to ensure that Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon receive the funding provided for in budget 2019 and that the important role played by these industries, and the economic activity generated by them, are sustained into the future. I commend the regulation to the committee and I look forward to discussing any matters which arise.