The general purpose of the Greyhound Industry Bill—in the debates on which I am deputising for the Minister for Agriculture—is to provide an adequate regulatory system conducive to the better development of the greyhound industry—that is to say, in particular the breeding, coursing, racing and export of greyhounds. The Bill primarily owes its origin to the Report of the Advisory Committee on the Greyhound Industry which was set up in 1951 with terms of reference as follows:—
"To ascertain and report on the position respecting coursing, greyhound racing, greyhound breeding and other related activities and such measures, if any, as are considered desirable in the national interest for the better control and development thereof."
Coursing has a long tradition in rural Ireland, but the term "greyhound industry" is more readily associated with the development in fairly recent times of track racing and the export trade in greyhounds for that purpose. Coursing interests in this country set up the Irish Coursing Club in 1916 to regulate greyhound breeding and coursing activities. When greyhound racing made its appearance in 1927, the Irish Coursing Club, after some deliberation, decided to undertake regulation in that sphere also. With the expansion of greyhound racing, a growing commercial element developed and an export trade was built up in greyhounds for racing purposes, mostly to Britain. During and after the late war period in Britain, greyhound racing attracted increasing patronage, with resulting benefit to our export trade in greyhounds. For example, exports rose in value from about £77,000 in 1938 to £130,000 in 1942, £733,000 in 1945 and over £1,000,000 in each of the years 1946 and 1947. During the middle and later 1940's also, greyhound racing in this country experienced considerable prosperity.
The export figure declined rapidly to about £409,256 in 1951. Since that date, however, a slow but continuous improvement has been experienced so that last year, 1957, 5,101 dogs, valued at £543,000, were exported.
It became fairly clear that, for the future progress of this promising industry, a more effective type of control would be needed. The Advisory Committee on the Greyhound Industry stated in their report (page 56, paragraph 136):—
"We have been impressed with the demand from practically all quarters for a control board to be established by an Act of the Oireachtas, somewhat on the lines of the Racing Board"
(that is, for horse racing under the 1945 Act).
The Committee went on to say (in the same paragraph):—
"We were informed that the Irish Coursing Club is doubtful as to whether it is legally entitled to take the obvious steps to deal with certain abuses and gathered that the club, while naturally desirous of continuing more or less in its present form, would welcome the establishment of a Control Board."
The Committee had earlier said (page 52, paragraph 127):—
"While we feel bound to agree that many of the criticisms directed against the Irish Coursing Club are well founded, we also feel that its faults have been largely due to the assumption of functions which were not anticipated by its founders and that the necessary reorganisation of the club did not keep pace with the newly assumed functions and increasing responsibilities."
The Advisory Committee's Report summarised their main recommendations as follows (page 81, paragraph 186):—
"1. The reorganisation of the Irish Coursing Club.
2. The establishment of a control board.
3. The transfer to the board from the Irish Coursing Club of control of greyhound racing.
4. The installation of totalisators on city tracks and the imposition of a levy on the betting turnover thereon.
5. The imposition of a levy on course betting on all tracks.
6. Supervision by the control board of sales and exports of greyhounds."
Provisions to give effect to these and other recommendations of the Advisory Committee are contained in the Bill.
As to the Bill itself, Part I deals with some points of interpretation and procedure. Part II provides for the establishment and functioning of the proposed control board to be called Bord na gCon. The board will consist of a chairman and six ordinary members, appointed by the Minister for Agriculture, and three of the ordinary members must be drawn from the standing or executive committee of the Irish Coursing Club. Section 16 sets out the purposes conducive to the improvement of the greyhound industry towards which the board may contribute out of its funds. A good part of these funds which, the committee hoped would amount to about £100,000 in the first year, would come from the operation of totalisators by the board, under Section 20, at the few main tracks.
Part III of the Bill deals with the licensing of greyhound racetracks by the board. The board will be obliged to grant applications for licences in respect of tracks affiliated to the Irish Coursing Club in 1957, but will have discretion otherwise—for example in regard to the licensing of "schooling" tracks. Under Section 25 the board will have wide powers to make regulations in regard to the operation of tracks and the conduct of greyhound racing, with a view to preventing abuses. The section also provides that the Irish Coursing Club may make racing rules and under sub-section (5) of Section 26 such rules would require the consent of the board.
Part IV of the Bill deals with the internal reorganisation of the Irish Coursing Club as set out in the proposed new constitution attached as a Schedule to the Bill, which was worked out with the Irish Coursing Club having regard to the Advisory Committee's recommendations. Subject to the general authority of the board, the Irish Coursing Club will continue to exercise direct control of breeding and coursing matters.
Part V of the Bill will enable a levy to be imposed on course bets as in the case of horse racing, for the purpose of helping to finance the board's activities. Under Section 31 the levy may be replaced at any time, if considered appropriate, by the collection for payment to the board of a specific amount as part of the admission charge for a bookmaker to a greyhound racetrack or coursing meeting. It is believed, however, that a levy on course bets cannot be avoided in the early years if the board is to get sufficient funds to undertake its tasks satisfactorily. I should emphasise here that a levy will require the consent of the Minister for Agriculture.
Part VI of the Bill deals with some miscellaneous matters mainly arising out of the Advisory Committee's Report, such as the authorisation by the board of certain officials to function at coursing meetings, regulation of the training of greyhounds for reward, control of public sales of greyhounds, investigations by the board and the Irish Coursing Club of suspected abuses, the taking of disciplinary action by the board and the club where cases of wrongdoing may warrant it, control of the admission charges for bookmakers and members of the public at greyhound racetracks and coursing meetings. Sections 50 and 51 provide means of appeal to an independent committee against decisions by the board in regard to the grant or revocation of licences and permits.
I commend the Bill for the favourable consideration of the Seanad. I think it provides a satisfactory basis for the future regulation of the greyhound industry, which is a growing and important industry. I think it will be found that the provisions of the Bill will operate in the best interests of all who are concerned to build up the trade in greyhounds.