I thank the committee for the opportunity to attend to update it on the activities of Bord na gCon, especially about the care and welfare of the racing greyhound. I am accompanied by Mr. Gerard Dollard, chief executive officer, Mr. Denis Healy, veterinary director, and Mr. Pat Herbert, head of regulation. In July, I outlined to the committee the board's commitment to greyhound welfare and the objective of our strategic plan for 2018 to 2022 to maintain animal welfare at the centre of our industry. I reiterate Bord na gCon's absolute commitment to the care and welfare of the racing greyhound. This continues to remain a priority focus for the board. At the July meeting, I outlined details of a range of initiatives proposed by Bord na gCon and would like to update the committee on the present status of these initiatives.
Traceability has been a priority action for the board following legislative provision being made for such a system in the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 which came into effect on 29 May. A separate board sub-committee was established to devise the appropriate framework for a traceability system for the racing greyhound. We are commencing the formal tendering process with the issue of an open request for tenders. When implemented, the system will allow the whereabouts of a racing greyhound to be monitored by the Irish Greyhound Board throughout its life stages, including birth, registration, racing career, changes of ownership and location, and end of life.
The board has approved the acceptance of a tender to provide a scanning and drug sampling system to the board. This system will allow a significant upgrade of IT infrastructure and progressively move the board from a predominantly paper-based system to an online system.
The establishing of care centres where racing greyhounds can be socialised with other animals and prepared for re-homing in their forever home has also been progressed. These centre will help the transition between the ending of a racing career and permanent re-homing, having been the subject of an eTenders process. Sixteen submissions have been received for the provision of care centres at a variety of locations. These tenders are being evaluated and a recommendation will be brought to the board for consideration very shortly.
Bord na gCon has established a greyhound care fund. All moneys in the fund are dedicated to initiatives to support and improve the care and welfare of the racing greyhound. Funding for the care fund comes from the following sources. Some 50% of all existing sponsorships are assigned to the care fund. Bord na gCon has undertaken to continue to match existing prize money structures on existing sponsorships. Some 10% of all admissions, 10% of all restaurant packages and 5% of net tote profits are assigned to the care fund. In preparing our budget for 2020, it is estimated that €750,000 will be generated for this fund. Combined with the funding generated in the latter part of 2019, this will ensure a dedicated fund in excess of €1 million for care and welfare initiatives.
The international re-homing initiative with Greyhound Pets of America and Finding Loving Irish Greyhounds Homes Together, a long name which has an acronym of FLIGHT, has also progressed. Initial transportation of racing greyhounds has taken place to Boston and Atlanta and ongoing discussions are taking place with the representatives of Greyhound Pets of America to establish of a number of hubs across the US to accept retired greyhounds. The initiatives introduced for fostering and Irish re-homings have been positively received and 51 greyhounds are in foster care as of the end of October 2019.
This work enhances and progresses Bord na gCon’s overall rehoming initiatives in conjunction with the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust, a registered charity established and operated by the board, which helped to rehome more than 1,000 retired greyhounds in 2018 and has assisted in the rehoming of more than 800 greyhounds so far this year.
The confidential greyhound care line and email have been up and running since early July 2019. This recorded phone line is available 24-7 for members of the public to report greyhound welfare concerns which are followed up by members of Bord na gCon’s designated welfare team. Some 108 calls and emails have been received to the line to 31 October 2019. These calls cover a range of issues, some not related to care and welfare. Arising from the calls received, 31 separate welfare investigations have been initiated. At this point, the status of these investigations is that 11 cases have been investigated and closed, while there are ten open cases currently being investigated. Three cases have been referred to other authorities and seven cases had been previously investigated and the files closed. The issues raised in the 31 cases can be summarised as follows: 13 cases referenced export to other countries and 11 reports referenced poor welfare conditions at greyhound premises. In six of these cases no issues were identified on investigation. The remaining five cases are currently being investigated and seven cases referred to queries regarding the whereabouts of greyhounds.
We are continuing our comprehensive programme of welfare-related inspections. Some 576 inspections have been undertaken in 2019 up to 31 October. These include welfare inspections, kennel inspections and out-of-competition sampling. The national greyhound laboratory has processed 5,149 samples to the end of October 2019 with 13 samples, or 0.25 of 1%, returning an adverse analytical finding.
The Irish Greyhound Board launched its greyhounds at tracks injury support scheme in early August 2019. The purpose of this scheme is to provide financial assistance up to a maximum of €500 to assist owners to deal with injuries to racing greyhounds where the injury is incurred on a greyhound track licensed by us. Initial take-up of the scheme has been slow but that has also been the experience in the UK. It is expected that as the scheme becomes embedded a significant number of applications will be made. Bord na gCon is budgeting on the basis of 100 such applications during 2020.
Bord na gCon has prepared a draft of a statutory instrument for consideration by the Minister to require euthanasia of a greyhound to be undertaken only by a veterinary practitioner. The statutory instrument will be required to be made under the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and the draft statutory instrument is currently being considered by the Minister and his officials.
I again seek to emphasise that the responsibilities of Bord na gCon relate solely to the racing greyhound. They do not extend to cross-breeds such as lurchers, which are commonly confused with racing greyhounds. I reiterate the overall position on the export of greyhounds and confirm that Bord na gCon will do everything possible within our remit to prevent the export of greyhounds to countries that do not have acceptable welfare standards. I wish to make clear, however, that Ireland as a country is not in a position to restrict exports of any animal, including greyhounds, to other countries and must operate under EU law and wider world trade agreements. Bord na gCon, or any Irish regulator, cannot be held responsible for the appalling attitude to the wider animal welfare issues that may be evident in other countries. We will, however, continue to promote and advocate for a responsible attitude by the greyhound community to the export of racing greyhounds. I am satisfied that the greyhound community has been receptive to this message and has acted on foot of same.
It should be stated that the primary responsibility for the care and welfare of any animal rests with the owner. The owner’s obligations in this regard need to be reinforced and form a legal obligation for which the owner can be held accountable. The measures, initiatives and schemes put in place by Bord na gCon are to facilitate and support the owner in meeting their obligations in this regard.
We have prepared an update of the code of practice relating to the care and welfare of the greyhound and an initial draft of same has been considered by the International Greyhound Welfare Forum. The draft is due for consideration by our board at its meeting next Thursday, 14 November, and following approval, it will be put forward for public consultation as required by the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011.
The board has also agreed additional staffing resources for the care and welfare area to support the expansive care and welfare programme that is in place. A director of care and welfare is being recruited with the primary role of leading on the care and welfare initiatives and to challenge all stakeholders to further improve behaviour, measures and approaches in the area of care and welfare.
I am confident that Bord na gCon and the greyhound community has made very significant progress in improving care and welfare practices within the industry. This progress can be seen in the last decade particularly with the introduction of the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011, the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, increased regulation regarding doping and medication within the greyhound industry, which took place in 2015 and the requirement for microchipping for all racing greyhounds, which took effect in 2016. These measures, combined with the initiatives which I have outlined, and further initiatives which the board will be focused on implementing provide a continuum on which the greyhound community is travelling to achieve a standard of excellence in the care and welfare of the racing greyhound.
There is no place for cruelty or poor animal welfare practices within the greyhound industry. We will continue to work with all agencies to eradicate any such behaviour.
Before I conclude, I must commend also the wider greyhound community, particularly those in Cork and Limerick, who have spearheaded funding initiatives to support greyhound racing at both locations. These initiatives have been tremendously successful and are testament to the passion and commitment that exists for the sport of greyhound racing.
We believe our industry is already heavily regulated, and the provisions of the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 will further strengthen this regulation. We subscribe to the principles of the welfare of our dogs and the integrity of our sport. We have in place the tools to defend these principles against transgressors. Greyhound racing has deep roots in the Irish community and our challenge is to preserve our sport for future generations.
I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to come before the committee today. We will attempt and endeavour to respond to all the committee's questions. However, if any additional information is required following the meeting, we will provide same in a prompt manner.