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.