Alleged Issue of Abuse of Greyhounds: Irish Coursing Club

We are resuming for our last session of the evening. From the Irish Coursing Club, I welcome Mr. D.J. Histon, chief executive. I thank him for coming at short notice and apologise for keeping him around all evening.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Mr. Histon to make his opening statement.

Mr. D.J. Histon

I thank the Chairman and members. At the outset, the Irish Coursing Club, ICC, wishes to state clearly that it does not condone any acts of greyhound cruelty as highlighted on the "Prime Time Investigates" programme.

The images shown on the programme have jolted the industry and the participants in the industry want to see change to eradicate such actions in the future. While time could be spent analysing and explaining elements of the programme it is more important to focus on what needs to be done to ensure the continued viability of the industry with the greyhound as the primary focus. The Irish Coursing Club, ICC, was established in 1916 and was reconstituted under the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 and is responsible for the regulation of coursing in Ireland. It is the keeper of the all-Ireland Irish greyhound stud book which was first published in 1923. It publishes the sole greyhound weekly paper under the Sporting Press title which was renamed in 1952. It regulates greyhound racing in Northern Ireland, in the Brandywell in Derry and Drumbo Park in Belfast. It operates one of the four Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine approved micro-chipping databases under the name of MicrodogID.

Following a review of the programme, the following areas require change and enhancement to restore general public confidence and to maintain the confidence of greyhound people and stakeholders within the industry: the issue of traceability; the export of greyhounds to other jurisdictions with no welfare regulations; clarification of the Whiddy Island footage; prohibited substance testing in coursing; and re-homing of greyhounds as they transition from performance to retirement.

On traceability, the introduction of a traceability system for the greyhound industry will ensure that real-time accurate information will exist for all categories of greyhounds as they progress through their lifecycle. This will mean that at any one time, the industry will know the number of live registered pups, the number of live registered named greyhounds, the number of live greyhounds registered for track racing and coursing, the number sold in Ireland and to other jurisdictions, the number euthanised by a vet and the number re-homed through various re-homing bodies and the number retained as pets. The system will also categorise the number of brood bitches by establishing a brood bitch register, which will require an inspection of the breeding facility prior to breeding. A person will have to register as an owner prior to registering a greyhound. The owner will be given a unique ID to link all greyhounds in his or her ownership and to track movement of his or her greyhounds during their lifecycle.

A traceability system must be executed on an all-Ireland basis given that the majority of greyhounds move freely between the North and the South in terms of competition and breeding. It must also link in with the Greyhound Board of Great Britain's system given the close relationship between both jurisdictions. This will ensure a single greyhound system with the co-operation of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, GBGB. A review of traceability systems in the UK and greyhound racing states in Australia, such as Victoria and New South Wales is ongoing. A meeting is scheduled with the GBGB this month and this topic will be on the agenda. This will ensure the model adopted in Ireland is effective and complete. The ICC also suggests the establishment of an Anglo-Irish committee to keep matters of integrity and welfare under review.

On the export of greyhounds via the UK for forwarding to other countries with no welfare standards should be structured around strong legislation, the export of greyhounds to countries with no welfare regulations is not illegal per se but we can work with the GBGB to assist it on implementing the GBGB policy on such exports which states: "Involvement in the export of greyhounds to jurisdictions where welfare standards cannot be verified is not acceptable and GBGB will employ the full powers available to it to prohibit individuals from deliberately undermining the good reputation of licensed greyhound racing in Great Britain." In order to monitor the movement of greyhounds to other jurisdictions, the following procedure is to be agreed, as movements of greyhounds to other jurisdictions mainly flow through the UK in the first instance: the seller must receive export permit and provide the necessary information on end destination and the reason for the export; new owners must include an owner code allotted by the GBGB on the transfer notification form; the ICC must notify GBGB of movement to the UK registered owner; the GBGB must mirror ICC export system; and if a greyhound is found to be located in another jurisdiction following arrival in UK, then the GBGB can sanction that individual.

On the Whiddy Island footage portrayed as illegal on the "Prime Time" programme, by way of background, the ICC regulates coursing and clubs operate under the Open Seasons Order 2005 in terms of legitimacy to course at regulated coursing matches. Clubs listed on the licence schedule are authorised to net and tag hares for the purposes of coursing, while the Open Seasons Order 2005 permits coursing in general during a defined period.

Coursing clubs comprise the following membership-affiliation: park clubs require the netting and tagging licence and all greyhounds are muzzled; open coursing clubs are affiliated and are listed on the licence schedule and all greyhounds muzzled; and associate open coursing clubs are not listed on the licence schedule and all greyhounds are muzzled. The membership type distinction between affiliated and associative affiliation is that the latter does not attract voting rights at ICC provincial AGMs or at the ICC national AGM. All clubs pay insurance premium and affiliation fee to ICC regardless of membership type. Bantry Open Coursing Club paid its insurance and affiliation fee on October 9 2018 for last season and is one of 19 associative clubs and was established in 1950. The club has coursed on Whiddy Island since that time and would offer that is why the Island has such a strong hare population, unlike Bull Island which is often said to have no hares on the island anymore.

Associative clubs typically course on Sundays, with landowner permission, and organise small, mostly four-dog events with the odd eight-dog or so events, with token prize money and trophy. Associative coursing is the foundation of coursing prior to evolving into park coursing which we have today. The associative clubs operate under the Open Seasons Order 2005, in the same way as a pack of beagles or harriers or someone shooting the hare, in that they do not require a licence, with the proviso they observe the period specified in the order, that is, 26 September to 28 February.

The ICC promotes hare and greyhound care as per the code of practice in appendix 1 which was submitted to the secretary of the committee. To make a distinction - Deputy Martin Kenny raised this issue - Illegal hunting is where packs of unmuzzled dogs hunt with the express purpose of killing the hare. It is indiscriminate in nature and occurs on a 12-month basis. This illegal activity is conducted without landowner permission, often involves intimidation and threats to landowners and often results in assaults. The ICC is working with the Garda, National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, and the IFA on this issue.

On prohibited substance testing in coursing, the full rule on which is contained in appendix 2, the ICC adopted rule 88 to deal specifically with prohibited drug breaches after reviewing all other racing jurisdictions. It extended its testing regime to include all provincial coursing meetings. Over the last three years, 679 tests were taken, with 668 negative and 11 positive findings. The purpose of testing and the associated penalties is: to protect the welfare of the greyhound; to protect the integrity of coursing; to maintain public confidence in coursing; to maintain proper standards for all coursing participants; and to bring about a positive behavioural change. A sanction may be accompanied by an advisory notice to point out what changes in behaviour or attitude is required. The procedure then involves an adverse analytical finding. Once a positive test is notified to the ICC, the greyhound is suspended immediately until the conclusion of the hearing before the independent hearing committee. Therefore, it is possible that the greyhound cannot compete until that hearing is completed. There is minimum mandatory fine range from €1,000 to €3,000, depending on the substance categorisation. The independent hearing committee has discretion to increase a fine by a further €7,500 and fix the hearing costs against the transgressor. The minimum mandatory suspension range is three months to five months to be served during a coursing season. This can be extended to six months by the hearing committee. In the event of the fine remaining unpaid, that person is then placed on a forfeit list, whereby he or she cannot attend a coursing event or register or transfer a greyhound. A further amendment will be placed before the ICC AGM to debar a greyhound found in breach of rule 88 from competing in any coursing classic event.

On the re-homing of greyhounds, the ICC currently provides administrative support to welfare bodies in terms of registration and micro-chipping services which is free of charge. It proposes to work with its membership and re-homing bodies to promote the homing of ex-coursing greyhounds. Owners currently adopt privately or through the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust, IRGT, and this can be expanded on further by working in tandem with the announced changes. The implementation of levies to be ring-fenced in support of re-homing efforts and building on the existing structure is necessary to fund this strategy. Economies can be achieved by developing a central structure that can be leveraged appropriately.

The industry incorporates both track and coursing and therefore all greyhounds are equal in terms of industry responsibility and all opportunities should be open to either code by way of setting up a structure where the ICC contributes appropriately.

In conclusion, a paradigm shift is taking place and it is important not to react but to act in a responsible way to ensure the changes implemented consolidate the industry on every level while keeping the greyhound to the fore. The industry relies on a significant voluntary effort across both codes, with each owner sharing the responsibility of caring for his or her greyhounds. It is the industry regulator's function to be accountable for implementing and policing the rules, policies and procedures on behalf of all industry participants. The ICC considers it critical that engagement with the Irish Greyhound Board and the Greyhound Board of Great Britain is appropriate in promoting joined-up thinking in a cohesive manner for the sustainability and betterment of the industry as a whole.

Thank you. I call Deputy Cahill.

I thank Mr. Histon for his presentation. It is very late at night and we have been sitting for nearly seven hours at this stage. I will not repeat the issues I set out to Bord na gCon in regard to our abhorrence of what was seen on the television programme. Instead, I am going to focus on items in the ICC presentation and the ICC can take it that our position has not changed from one hour ago, when we were interviewing Bord na gCon.

The first paragraph that I would welcome in the presentation is that which refers to the export of greyhounds to the UK and the ICC's plans to try to work with GBGB to ensure that dogs only go to countries where there are acceptable welfare standards. If we can work on that and make sure it happens, it would do a lot to restore public confidence in our sport, which would be welcome. None of us, in particular members of the public, want to see dogs go to countries where welfare standards are not compatible with our own. We need to co-ordinate that work with GBGB. As the Chairman said at the end of the meeting with Bord na gCon, we hope the ICC will be able to come to us in the autumn and report on progress on that paragraph as to GBGB policies on such exports.

The clarification on the meeting on Whiddy Island is also welcome. The programme definitely gave the impression it was an illegal meeting. Open coursing happens in my county as well, and there is definitely one club, if not two, that practices open coursing every weekend. That is their sport. As I said, the dogs are muzzled and the meetings are held under strict rules. Those people who attended that sporting event on that day deserve an apology because it was definitely portrayed that something unregulated was happening. As Mr. Histon has clearly stated, it was a licensed event and was operating fully within the rules of the sport.

When Bord na gCon was here, we mentioned the issue of illegal hunting. One month ago, we had officials from the Department at the committee to discuss the legislation governing animal welfare as regards horses and dogs in particular. Unfortunately, illegal hunting is a serious issue and it is happening more frequently. In my county, virtually every Sunday, there are reports of gangs coming with ten or 12 lurchers. They are hunting across the country and killing anywhere up to ten or 12 hares in a session, then putting this up on Facebook and betting on which lurcher kills the most hares. This illegal activity has to be stamped out. Earlier today, we talked about the resources in regard to the microchipping of horses. More resources need to be put into this area and we need to have more dog wardens. Gardaí have said to me that if they catch someone hunting illegally and the dog warden is not on duty, they cannot seize the dogs. That will have to be addressed. A dog warden will have to be available outside of office hours to ensure that if these people are detected hunting, their dogs can be seized and the appropriate action taken against them. This activity has no place in any society. The hare is a beautiful creature and to have that kind of illegal hunting happening is abhorrent.

The ICC went through its findings and the procedures it has in place. The minimum mandatory suspension ranges from three months to five months during a coursing season, and this can be extended to six months by the hearing committee. I would like to see that expanded. Obviously, a person might offend once and, for example, as in horse racing, a dog can receive a substance that the owner might not be aware was prohibited. That can happen, and accidents do happen. However, for anyone offending on more than one occasion, the suspension should be larger than what has been outlined. There is no place in coursing or dog racing for people who are giving prohibited substances. While I accept mistakes can happen and an owner can give a remedy to a dog and not know it is prohibited, a repeat offence would warrant more than the suspension outlined. Mr. Histon says it is a minimum but I would like to have more clarification and stronger rules for repeat offenders.

With regard to the rehoming of greyhounds, as Mr. Histon rightly said, there are dogs that run at coursing meetings and dogs that run on tracks, and both industries have to work together as regards welfare. Bord na gCon has given a clear indication of what it has been spending on welfare and what it intends to spend in the future. I notice the ICC has a clear declaration that it is going to contribute to the same extent, as appropriate to its industry. It is important that coursing is shown to put its shoulder to the wheel as regards the rehoming of greyhounds, and it is important that some resources are put into this by the ICC. I know all dogs are registered with the ICC and a levy needs to be put on the registration of all dogs. I understand the ICC would not have the corporate facilities that Bord na gCon would have, and there is not the same opportunity. However, Clonmel is a great event and there are sponsors in Clonmel, so there could be opportunities to get money for the rehoming and welfare of dogs. Bord na gCon has clearly stated it intends to levy virtually every aspect of the sport where revenue is coming in to put a pot in place for the rehoming of greyhounds. I would like to see a little more flesh on how the ICC is going to do that. I fully accept the point in the presentation that the commitment is there. When the ICC comes back to the committee later in the year, it should be able to show us how it is going to co-operate with the other sections of the industry to ensure adequate revenue is in place so we can be sure dogs are well catered for in their lives after racing.

I thank the ICC for the report and there are some positives to be acknowledged in it. However, it is no secret that I am against live hare coursing. I have tried to get it banned and I will continue to try to do that. While our emphasis this evening has been on the greyhounds, there is tremendous suffering for the hares also. We have list after list, catalogue after catalogue, after each hare coursing meeting, legal and illegal, of the tossing, the mauling and the injuries to the hares. Hares die or have to be put down afterwards, not to mention what happens with the netting of the hares, both legal and illegal. We know the hare is a solitary creature yet, in this netting process, it is brought into confined space with a lot of other hares.

Many other countries have banned live hare coursing and have turned to drag coursing.

Why is that not even being considered? There is an animal welfare issue regarding to the hare, which is an iconic animal in Irish culture and mythology.

How many coursing meetings does the ICC test at? Is testing done at only certain meetings? Is it all random? Are they announced or unannounced?

The fines are meagre compared to the prize money. How many owners were suspended? How much was collected in fines?

I am bemused that if the greyhound tests positive, it is suspended. The greyhound is not responsible for taking the drugs. Why is the owner not suspended during the testing process?

Is Mr. Histon saying that the Whiddy Island trapping was legal because it was an associative club? There is very clear evidence of the injuries, mauling and tossing of hares, but it seems that is fine.

Mr. D.J. Histon

I did not-----

There are greyhound owners who do not want their greyhounds to course yet they must pay a fee to the coursing club. These are people who do not agree with coursing and do not want it to happen. I do not know why Mr. Histon is comparing beagles and harriers to greyhounds. That does not make sense.

I thank Mr. Histon for his presentation. I return to the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. His referred to traceability and he said that the ICC "wants to put in place a better traceability system which will be linked on an all-island basis and also with the Greyhound Board of Great Britain". An issue that featured in the programme was dogs without ears, where they had been cut off the dog. If a large volume of blood testing is ongoing and the tests are being sent away, is it possible that tracing be done there to match samples with microchips? Can that be done when the dog is microchipped in order that one could be sure where a dog comes from and which dog it is, especially if people will resort to such a barbaric way of camouflaging traceability?

On exporting, the dogs on the programme were shown as being in other countries and were advertised yet were still owned by people here. What sanction, if any, is available for people in that position? Has this been investigated by the coursing club?

Regarding Whiddy Island, I am aware of similar happening elsewhere, where there is coursing, hunting or something else. Are officials from the ICC or any other club there to monitor that type of coursing?

Mr. Histon referred to tests, of which only 11 proved positive, and the associated penalties to protect the welfare of greyhounds and the integrity of greyhound coursing. It is peculiar that there would be such a low number of positive tests in the context of what we see in many of these programmes and the culture that I have come across reflects. I pick up a culture of acceptance of doping. It is seen to be okay and someone might get caught once in a while, but it is very seldom. Speaking to people on the ground who deal in the greyhound business and are out with their dogs, there is little regard for there being a firm hand of control being brought to them from any part of officialdom.

Mr. Histon also mentioned the rehoming of greyhounds, which brings us back to the destruction of dogs that are not running or are no longer able to run. We have seen how they are brought to the knackeries and so on. Is there any sanction for this? I spoke to a woman on the phone recently. They were trying to get a SNA in a school for a child who has autism and they have been told there is no money for that. She put it to me that the greyhound industry is getting €12 million. I understand the concept of the State giving seed money to an industry or sector of society to develop, but when we consider the amount the State is putting into greyhound racing, and we see the kind of carry on in the context of the many problems for so many other sectors of society, it does not add up and it never has. I have felt for years that the greyhound sector is getting far too much money from the State. This has shone a light on it and, hopefully, we will come to a point where the Government will sit up and conclude that it is no longer sustainable. It is no longer sustainable that the greyhound industry can be pumped with money at the same time as it is pumping the greyhounds full of all these illegal substances. Mr. Histon can deny it but it is happening. One might say that the dogs on the street know it but the greyhounds certainly know it because they are getting it all the time.

I will be brief as it is very late. We have had two presentations, one from the ICC, which give some clarity on the programme. Traceability came up again, and it was probably the key issue discussed in both presentations, and the matter of how we can put in place a platform that would work with traceability from birth until the dog is put to sleep. That will probably be the key issue for the entire industry into the future, and how we can work in a process that covers Northern Ireland, Ireland and the UK. It must be based on all three or it will not work. When we return in September, we must discuss how to implement this and ensure that we have a policy that will work.

Two organisations have come before the committee to explain the issues and what they believe needs to be done on welfare, what should happen to dogs at the end of their lives on the track and so on. Something that was raised earlier is the illegal hunting element, to which Mr. Histon's opening statement refers on page 4. As a landowner, I witnessed it myself last winter. People came onto my land whom I did not want there. I did not know what they were doing and knew no more about it until they started digging up ditches. It was crazy stuff. The illegal element is an important issue. It is unregulated and happening at all hours of the night and day. Some are lamping, putting up nets and God knows what else, without the permission of the landowner. It was mentioned earlier how fear is massive issue. There is great fear among landowners and rural dwellers where people are out lamping late at night or are hunting without permission, when we do not know what they are hunting or when or what they are at. That needs to be addressed.

We have discussed the tracks and coursings and the lack of regulation but this is illegal and bizarre. When we return in September, we should not simply examine how this issue has progressed but consider what we will do about this and how we will ensure that rural dwellers get some bit of security, especially on lamping. It is a massive issue in my part of the world at a particular time of the year, where there are big lights shining around the place.

We do not know what they are doing. It is crazy. We need to take those issues forward. The report and presentation follow on from what we have heard today. I refer to issues involving welfare, end of racing life, where we need to move dogs and a fund to be put in place. They all need to be reconsidered in a few months. When the recess ends in September, we should examine what progress has been made on these matters.

Senator Lombard touched on traceability, which I wanted to raise. I will ask almost the same question I asked of the IGB. How does the ICC expect the matter to be worked out? What onus will be on owners to register or chip pups, and how can it be made a success? Knee-jerk reactions after the programme and so on are all good and fine, but there has to be traceability of greyhounds from birth to death, and everything in between.

I watched the programme. The coverage of the Whiddy Island event was disingenuous of RTÉ, in view of the true context we have heard during the meeting. The event was run by a registered coursing club and was regulated. Individuals were named and identified in the programme and it was portrayed in no uncertain terms as an illegal event. That was wrong and disingenuous of RTÉ. One can have one's opinion of coursing but that is a different argument. While I accept that some of the aspects that were highlighted needed to be highlighted, RTÉ cannot ride roughshod, identify people and portray them as attending or partaking in something illegal, given that it has been proven to us that it was far from an illegal event.

Mr. D.J. Histon

Deputy O'Sullivan asked why we do not have drag coursing. It is banned in other countries such as the UK, where the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs conducted a report following the ban. It reported a severe decline in the hare population and a clear rise in hare poaching by non-coursing people, which sits at 36%. Banning coursing will do little for the hare and ignores the strong link between coursing and the conservation of the hare. Quercus University conducted a study that found there are 18 times more hares where there is coursing because of the coursing club working with landowners and farmers on habitat protection and so on, as well as reporting and preventing illegal hunting.

Deputy O'Sullivan also asked whether testing was random or targeted and where it takes place. Testing takes place at all park coursing meetings. After the finals are run, all dogs engaged in the finals must remain on the premises and a draw is made in public by two officials, which can be observed by any member of the public. The winners of two events are tested. We use the Berlinger bottle, which is the Olympic standard for taking samples. We provide A and B samples and give a copy of the testing details form to the owner. The samples are analysed by LGC, one of the top five laboratories in the world in respect of accreditation. Following a hearing, the person responsible is fined and suspensions are meted out. The Deputy suggested our fines are meagre but they are more substantial than those of any other racing jurisdiction in the world. We examined every jurisdiction when we put together the rule because we want to promote compliance and ensure we deter people from using prohibited substances.

Deputy O'Sullivan asked about suspending the owner. In the event of someone coming before the committee a second time, he or she has to appear before the committee and cannot just pay the fine. We can also seek an exclusion at the time as part of the penalty, although that has not yet happened because such a scenario has not developed.

On the incident at Whiddy Island, Deputy O'Sullivan stated hares were mauled and tossed but I did not see that on the programme.

Mr. D.J. Histon

I did not see it but we can agree to disagree in that regard.

It was very clear.

Mr. D.J. Histon

The Deputy asked why I mentioned beagles and harriers. The open seasons order permits coursing, hunting the hare with packs of beagles or harriers, or shooting the hare.

I also sought clarification about the amount collected in fines and how many owners have breached the rules. Is the testing for banned substances carried out only at the finals?

Mr. D.J. Histon

The Deputy also mentioned significant prize money but prize money in coursing is not significant. The highest value event at a park meeting for a trial stake is €1,000, while for the all-age event, it may be €2,000. While it is true that the winner's prize money is significant at Clonmel stadium, there is a higher rate of testing, with all dogs on the final day being tested, and there is random testing on the first and second days. The same is true for the Irish Cup.

Does the ICC test at other coursing meetings?

Mr. D.J. Histon

Yes, at all other provincial meetings. If a person does not pay the fine, he or she is put on a forfeit list, cannot attend a coursing meeting and cannot register or transfer a dog. He or she is effectively excluded from the industry until the fine is paid.

Mr. Histon has not acknowledged the cruelty to hares. It is almost as though he is saying there should be licensed cruelty to prevent unlicensed cruelty. Cruelty is cruelty.

Mr. D.J. Histon

I differ with the Deputy in that regard. She mentioned netting the hare, which is a century-old way of capturing any animal and is the safest way to do it. There is not much point in capturing an animal if it will be injured, given that it would not be of value for an event.

The animal can just be injured in the race.

Mr. D.J. Histon

It is a condition of the licence that injured or nursing hares are not taken up. Hares are examined before they are returned to the hare park. Hare parks are arranged to mirror what happens in the wild and they are not small areas where hares are confined. Hares are given access to a coursing field. The hare welfare code of practice outlines the various stages involved in managing the hare and we must comply with 26 conditions attached to the licence. We also have meetings with the NPWS.

On cruelty, the hare is one of the most prolific prey species in the world. It can be found in any terrain or territory, from the tundra to the desert. Coursing does not present it with anything it is not familiar with. Due to its genetic make-up, it can turn at right angles in one stride. It has stereophonic hearing and 360° vision and can swim a mile voluntarily. It has tremendous stamina, speed and agility. Its ability to adapt is one of the reasons it remains prevalent today, despite changes in farming methods and land structures over time and so on.

What is the total amount of fines collected?

Mr. D.J. Histon

Three fines are outstanding and the people responsible are on the forfeit list. All other fines have been paid. The most recent fine is being paid in instalments, which we allow. In the event of a default, one is automatically put on the forfeit list.

What were the total fines for 2018?

Mr. D.J. Histon

I do not have the detail to hand. The most significant fine was €5,000, the lowest was €2,000 and there was also a fine of €4,000. It was in that range. As I said, one will not find such fines in any other jurisdiction.

Deputy Martin Kenny asked about traceability, ears being cut off and so on. There are not many such cases, although that is no excuse, and they happened prior to the introduction of microchipping. All dogs are now tattooed and microchipped at the same time. We also obtain the DNA of the dam and the stud sire. In the event of a blood analysis, therefore, a DNA check can be done at Wetherby Racecourse, where all the information is stored.

I touched on the export of dogs. Work with the GBGB commenced before the "Prime Time" programme aired. The Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 obligates an owner and a buyer to notify the stud book of changes of ownership and so on.

In these cases, however, the dogs go to the UK in the first instance. We have seen that certain dogs can end up in Pakistan as well. As to how we can close that loop, Deputy O'Sullivan said that where there is a will, there is a way. I know that the Attorney General has said that one cannot stop dogs being exported to countries which the Deputy thinks do not have proper welfare standards.

I know they do not.

Mr. D.J. Histon

This is why we are looking for a way around that, or certainly to make it more complicated and add some layers of bureaucracy to prevent dogs from going to countries such as China, etc. We are to meet the GBGB on 24 July. The meeting will touch on other topics, not just this issue. The IGB has indicated that it will attend the meeting as well, so the three bodies involved in the industry will be present. When this is brought in, the GBGB and we in the ICC will say that any owner must register as an owner before he or she can even buy a greyhound. At present one does not have to do that. One can buy a greyhound and register afterwards. We want to reverse that such that the owner is given a specific number and every greyhound he or she owns will be attached to that number. That will be part of the traceability. We will ask the GBGB to do the same thing in order that when a dog is sold to the UK we at least have the identity number of the person in the UK. That way we can then notify the UK that the dog has gone from us to the UK. If the dog then happens to end up on Facebook as being involved in illegal activity or whatever Deputy Cahill said, the GBGB can go to that owner, ask where the dog is and exclude that person from the industry over there. The GBGB is not a semi-state body. It is a limited company.

Deputy O'Sullivan mentioned funding. To be clear, the ICC does not receive any Government funding. We are self-funding.

Deputy O'Sullivan spoke about people being forced to register their dogs even though they are against coursing. However, they register their dogs with the Irish greyhound stud book, which is an all-Ireland stud book, and have been doing so since 1923. I personally have never received one letter from anybody objecting to registration with the Irish greyhound stud book. I am not disputing what the Deputy says. I am just sharing with her my experience.

Deputy O'Sullivan said the number of detections of illegal substances was low. I cannot comment on that except to say we test the dogs and the samples are sent to one of the top five labs in the world - they have an extra accreditation of 63 labs in the world - so if those labs cannot find an illegal substance, I do not know who will. We have done an awful lot on testing. We bring in amendments if we see loopholes. We have done so every year. As I said, even this coming year we will put an amendment before the AGM to the effect that if a dog is found to test positive and the owner is in breach of rule 88, the dog is no longer allowed to run in a classic, that is, in the big events. This is a serious deterrent. It is like saying a dog on the track cannot run in the Oaks, the Derby, the Laurels or any of the other big events. It is about deterring. It is also about acknowledging the people who play the game straight, for want of a better phrase, because there is a balance to be struck there as well.

Regarding euthanasia and knackeries, we do not regulate knackeries and cannot prosecute in that regard. As the chairman of the IGB indicated, however, under the Greyhound Racing Act 2019, which has just come in, the Government will introduce a statutory instrument whereby a greyhound must be put down by a vet. One cannot bring the dog to any other person, only a vet. That will be statutory legislation, so it will be a criminal act to euthanise a dog under any other method. As part of the traceability, which the UK has as well, that vet must sign a form and that form must come back into the traceability system. That is then updated on the system as well. I think they were the main points Deputy O'Sullivan raised.

I do not think Senator Lombard asked a specific question but he touched on traceability. Again, the only way we can have traceability is if the ICC, the IGB and the GBGB are involved. It is one greyhound system. Many of our dogs go over to the UK. Some come back here for breeding and go back again. Our organisations depend on one another to survive, so the only way forward is to work together.

I firmly believe that illegal hunting is a huge issue. As I said, the president of the Irish Coursing Club and I met the IFA, the Garda, the NPWS and the ISPCA. Someone spoke about the ISPCA seizing dogs. Unfortunately, if one seizes a dog, the dog must be held, there is a cost to that for the ISPCA, and then, when the court case takes place, the dog might be handed back again. It is not straightforward. Perhaps this is where legislation needs to be changed as well to make it easier to seize dogs without having that cost factor. It is a rampant problem. It has improved, I think, because the Garda, in conjunction with the NPWS, has held a number of seminars around the country to educate gardaí on wildlife legislation. These meetings are ongoing, and we will also attend them to make the distinction between what is illegal and what is legal.

Senator Paul Daly was the final speaker. The way I see traceability working is that everything is captured at puppy stage but that we do not then wait until the dog is 12 months of age, and instead that it is examined again at six months of age. The dog must be named at six months of age, so now we have puppy stage and an examination at six months of age. If there is a gap there, we know about it then and do not leave it until the dog is 12 months old. At 12 months I suggest that one must register as to whether one wants the dog to go coursing or track racing. One must nominate. Then the dog goes on the system. When the owner is finished racing, he or she either retires to breed, keeps the dog as a pet or rehomes it. If it is not suitable for rehoming - realistically, not every dog will be - the vet must euthanise that greyhound. The idea is to create as many rehoming opportunities as possible to make it as easy as possible for every owner to avail of that facility. That is where the focus should be. There was mention of ring-fencing moneys for the fund. There was also mention of levies at registration stage, which is where we come in, and we will certainly play our part in that. People involved in coursing will also be more than happy to play their part in it because it is our industry. Ultimately, the greyhound owner is responsible, but we are accountable in policing the sector, and that is why we are here today. I believe traceability will bring accountability.

I hope that when we come back here in September, we will be able to update the committee on the changes we have discussed today, the timelines, what can be achieved, and public confidence, which is the reason we have been brought before the committee. We must try to restore public confidence and bring back our sponsors, which I think will happen. That would be a better place to be. The industries in England and Australia have gone through similar changes but have come out the other side. This happens in a lot of industries. It is now, unfortunately, our chance to do this, and we must take it on for the decent greyhound people out there who get up at 6 a.m. and go to bed at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. and love their greyhounds. It is our job to represent them and to do the best job possible for them. I have been in the greyhound industry since I was five years of age. I have worked in the industry since I was 18. The word "passionate" is often used by greyhound people, and I know it slips off the tongue nice and easy, but there are passionate greyhound people out there, and they are the people we represent. We do want to exclude people such as those Deputy O'Sullivan has mentioned. I have no qualms in doing so and I know that the executive committee of the Irish Coursing Club has no qualms in doing so. Therefore, I think the committee will see changes on that front as well. The changes are all needed.

I have a very quick comment that follows on from what Mr. Histon said. He did refer to the illegal activity, and we know it goes on. My point is that it is not just one set of people carrying out the illegal activity and a totally different group doing the legal coursing. There must be a crossover-----

No, there is not.

-----so I want to know what happens. Those taking part in the illegal activity are just doing so because they can. The greyhounds are not muzzled so they can carry on and do what they like with the hares, and we know that the blooding of greyhounds goes on, so there must be some crossover. Mr Histon says the ICC is working with the Garda and the National Parks and Wildlife Service on this. It would be good to see the ICC ban people from the club because they are doing this.

Mr. D.J. Histon

I thank the Deputy for her question. Illegal hunting is completely separate from legal hare coursing. The people involved in illegal hunting are not involved in coursing. The people involved in coursing are the ones reporting illegal hunting, preventing it and working with the NPWS and the Garda to protect the preserves where the hares reside to ensure that coursing can take place yearly. If anybody involved in coursing is involved in illegal hunting, they should absolutely be debarred from the club. I am not aware of anyone being involved in this way. If they were, I would have heard by now because our people would report them immediately. These are therefore two completely separate activities. This is a point one does not hear about in the media, unfortunately, and one that is very seldom raised by Deputies in the Dáil.

That is disappointing, given that we are talking about hares, which are a protected species that can only be hunted under specific licences and legislation, such as the open seasons order. I think that is the point the Deputy was making.

I thank members and I thank Mr. Histon for his contribution and patience. It has been a long day for members in particular, as we started at 3.30 p.m. and it is now 10.30 p.m. We have done much good work. We will invite both the IGB and the ICC to appear again before the committee when we return in the autumn. However, some of the issues that came up in the "Prime Time Investigates" programme, such as the licensing and control of knackeries, do not come under the remit of either organisation. It might be useful, therefore, to invite departmental officials who deal with those matters to come before this committee again. Ironically, they were here discussing horse-related matters only a few weeks ago. They may have a part to play in this as we go forward, because some questions remain unanswered. With members' consent, we will invite them here in September as a follow-up to this, and will invite both the ICC and the IGB in later this year as well.

The joint committee adjourned at 10.32 p.m. until 3.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 September 2019.