I make the opening statement and my colleague, Mr. Sheahan, will speak about the "Panorama" programme but we are limited in terms of what we can say.
Successive governments have acknowledged the importance of the thoroughbred horse racing industry and have supported it through legislation and policy. The support provided by public funds through investment in the industry has enabled Ireland to develop a world-class reputation for excellence in thoroughbred horse racing and breeding. The most recent estimates provided by Deloitte in 2017 show employment from the core breeding and racing industry, off course betting and secondary expenditure resulted in 28,500 jobs and generated €1.84 billion. Ireland is the largest producer of thoroughbred foals in Europe and the third largest in the world, behind the US and Australia. Some 60% of Irish thoroughbreds born annually are exported, with 80% exported to Britain. Thoroughbred breeders are based in every county and 92% own five mares or fewer. The value of thoroughbreds sold at public auction in 2020 was €151 million. Britain accounted for €123 million of this amount.
Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, is a commercial state body established under the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. It falls under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Horse Racing Ireland Act 2016 provides that Horse Racing Ireland is responsible for the overall administration, governance, development and promotion of the Irish horse racing industry, and for guaranteeing funding to the racing regulatory board to carry out its functions through an integrity services budget which is agreed annually.
Financial support is received from the State through the horse and greyhound racing fund under section 12 of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. Some €96 million was allocated to that fund in budget 2021, of which €76.8 million was allocated to HRI.
Oversight of the role of HRI is provided through a shareholder’s letter of expectation, the HRI strategic plan, compliance with the code of governance for State bodies, and regular liaison meetings among other things.
Since 1 January 2018, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, IHRB, is the regulatory body for all horse racing in Ireland. The IHRB is a company limited by guarantee set up by the Turf Club, which was established in 1790, and the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee for the purpose of carrying out the regulatory and licensing functions for Irish horse racing. This body is responsible for protecting the integrity and reputation of Irish horse racing in Ireland. The Irish Horseracing Industry Act 1994, as amended, provides for the IHRB to have the following functions: to regulate horse racing; to make and enforce the rules of racing and in so doing to promote integrity and fair play in horse racing; to provide adequate integrity services for horse racing; and to license racecourses under the rules of racing. Legislation provides for the IHRB to be responsible for the “making and enforcing of the Rules of Racing”, including “making all decisions relating to doping control, forensics and handicapping in respect of horse racing.” Funding is provided by HRI on the basis of an agreed annual budget.
In regard to welfare initiatives, HRI has an industry assistance programme in place called EQUUIP which provides education and upskilling with other supports through industry assistance programmes. The Irish Thoroughbred Welfare Council was formed in January 2020 to guide HRI policy in this area. This is a project working to ensure the widespread adoption of International Federation Horseracing Authorities, IFHA, basic standards. HRI and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine work closely with the Irish Equine Centre, and its impending redevelopment is a future keystone of horse care in Ireland. HRI’s policy is reflected in the document Promoting Responsible Thoroughbred Ownership, to which bodies concerned with welfare within the horse racing and breeding industry subscribe. The key message is that those who own or keep a horse are morally and legally responsible for its health, welfare and safety. HRI directly supports the Irish Horse Welfare Trust which seeks to rehome and retrain thoroughbreds no longer active in training or racing.
In regard to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's role in investigations, the Department is the principal regulator of the agrifood sector with regard to non-compliance with the illegal use of veterinary medicines and animal welfare issues. The IHRB regulates horse racing, as previously described. There are common compliance issues of interest to both regulatory bodies. The investigations division was established in 2014 as part of the ongoing modernisation of the structures of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the wider public service reform process. The division’s mission is: to support the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, its agencies and other relevant bodies by providing the capability to have investigations carried out as requested and to ensure that such investigations are carried out to a standard that will withstand legal scrutiny; to contribute to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's capacity in horizon scanning and risk analysis; and to support the implementation of control regimes and the development of legislation underpinning these within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and its agencies, as required.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's investigations division supports the work of IHRB through a memorandum of understanding, and the Department's principal regulatory activity involves risk-based inspection regimes and non-compliance generally, which attract financial and administrative sanctions. The Department carries out thousands of inspections annually in many diverse areas.
As members will see from my statement, the relationship between the Department, HRI and the IHRB is complex. The Department’s remit covers not just the issue of finance but also issues of governance and standards in areas such as welfare and inspection. The operation of the rules of racing and doping controls are clearly within the legislative remit of the IHRB, which is set in statute, to safeguard its operational independence. I am happy to take questions but first, with the Chairman's agreement, I would like my colleague, Mr. Sheahan, to say a few words about last night's programme.