The purpose of the Bill is to repeal the Horse Industry Act, 1970, and to wind up the affairs of Bord na gCapall. Part III of the 1970 Act dealing with the licensing of riding establishments was never brought into force. A voluntary registration scheme is now run by the Association of Irish Riding Establishments and has proved very successful.
In the context of the 1987 budget the then Government decided to abolish Bord na gCapall because continued expenditure on the board could not be justified in the current financial situation. The essential functions of the Board, that is the maintenance of the Irish Horse Register and the list of approved stallions, have since been carried out by the Department of Agriculture and Food. The Register is the stud book for non-thoroughbred horses and its maintenance is fundamental for continued breed improvement in the industry.
In 1966 a survey team established by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries recommended the establishment of an Irish Horse Board to co-ordinate the activities of the various associations dealing with equestrian matters and to set up a national training centre for riders and instructors. Bord na gCapall was established with high hopes following enactment of the Horse Industry Act, 1970. It was anticipated that it would be the beginning of a well organised and properly motivated programme to promote and develop the non-thoroughbred horse industry.
One of the board's earliest achievements was the setting up of a farriery apprenticeship scheme under which a number of young people became qualified farriers. The Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association and other interests have now organised a new farriery apprenticeship scheme. This move is welcomed and it is hoped that it can be further developed to meet the demands both of the thoroughbred and non-thoroughbred industries. Under the board's tutelage a number of people were prepared for and passed their Equestrian Science examinations. This function has now been taken over by Teagasc.
The board's most important and significant achievement, however, was the foundation of the Irish Horse Register in 1974. This incorporated the approval of stallions for breeding and was essential for maintaining the high standard of the Irish sport horse. During the board's existence the number of sport horses increased by 50 per cent (21,000 to 34,000) and the value of exports reached £4 million in 1988.
This is not to say that the board's story was one of unending success. Indeed had it achieved the goals for which it had been set up we would not now be proposing its abolition. I do not wish to hold up the House alluding to the failures of the board, facts which are common knowledge to all concerned.
In 1983, following considerable adverse publicity, the Bord was restructured and staffing levels were reduced from 34 to 15. Following the then Government's decision to abolish the Bord, these remaining staff received redundancy payments in April-May 1987 and provision was made for preservation of their pension entitlements.
Yet, while acknowledging the fact that there were problems over the years, tribute should be paid to those board members and staff who selflessly sought and worked for the advancement of the industry. It was through no fault of theirs that the expectations at the time the Bord was established were not realised.
In October 1987 a new board was appointed, comprising of three civil servants from the Department of Agriculture and Food, to wind-up the Bord's affairs. Considerable progress has been made and the remaining tasks include the disposal of the Bord's leased stallions, its main assets. The existing lessees have been given first option to purchase them but if no agreement can be reached it is intended that the stallions will be offered for sale by public tender. In that event the lessees will, of course, be free to compete in the sale.
Conscious of the need to restore confidence and a sense of direction to the industry but aware that the present economic climate limits the scope for financial incentives, the Minister launched a new national programme for this sector in November of last year. For the benefit of this House I would like to mention again the objectives of the programme which are: to maximise output and exports by exploiting to the full our national resources in breeding stock, soil, climate, expertise and reputation; to maximise returns to breeders and to develop further the equestrian and leisure side of the industry.
The principal features of the programme include the conservation of the Irish draught breed. Many of the qualities and much of the international reputation of the Irish sport horse derive from the breeding system whereby Irish draught and Irish draught-type horses are crossed with thoroughbreds. The complementarity of traits between the Irish draught and thoroughbred and the associated hybrid vigour result in horses having strength, courage, stamina and good temperament. The continued breeding and production of such horse is dependent on the maintenance of a viable nucleus of the Irish draught population. However, the future of the breed may be endangered if insufficient numbers of mares are pure bred to maintain population size and to enable selection within the breed for quality improvement.
A scheme, therefore, was introduced under which a grant of £400 will be paid to the breeder of each pure bred Irish draught foal registered in the Irish Horse Register. Indeed, you may have seen advertisements to this effect in the national press recently. This grant will compensate for the difference in value between pure bred Irish draught and thoroughbred crosses. The scheme will operate for a five-year period commencing next year. Application forms and conditions are now available from the Department of Agriculture and Food. In association with the Irish Draught Horse Society, initiatives will also be taken to increase the number of progeny by top mares and to conserve rare blood lines utilising artificial insemination and embryo transfer technology.
Beginning this year, headage payments will be made in respect of eligible registered mares in all disadvantaged areas in which cattle headage grants are paid at an increased rate of £70 per head for up to eight mares and £66 for the next 22 mares. These payments will be calculated separately from any other headage payments to which the producer may be entitled.
As part of the new western package, the Department of Agriculture and Food are finalising a new scheme to provide incentives in less favoured areas of the country towards the cost of providing facilities which will enable them to diversify into alternative farm enterprises. It is intended that this scheme will include for the first time grant-aid towards the cost of basic housing for non-thoroughbred sport horses.
In addition, last week the Minister announced a scheme to encourage agritourism, also in the western package areas, which would include grant-aid for farmers investing in facilities for leisure activities, such as pony-trekking and horse riding.
The Irish Horse Register will now be administered on a permanent basis by the Department of Agriculture and Food and has, in fact, had new modern computer facilities installed to ensure its efficient operation.
Accurate identification of individual animals and complete, accurate recording and registration of pedigree and performance data are fundamental to successful breed improvement, marketing and trade. The operation of the Register by the Department should ensure that: (a) standards and procedures will be followed for the registration and documentation of horses which will allow the Register to be approved under proposed EC zootechnical legislation; (b) a reliable basis is available for payment of grants. The requirement that the grants should be paid only on registered animals will have the very beneficial indirect effect of increasing the proportion of horses registered. The result will be a widening of the base for genetic improvement and an increase in the range of Irish sport horses for marketing; (c) a reliable data base will be built up for objective evaluation of the breeding merit of animals which is a prerequisite for constructive breeding programmes; (d) the Connemara and other Irish pony societies who currently maintain non-computerised stud books will be encouraged to join the Irish Horse Register; (e) the Register will be the authentic source of all genealogical and zootechnical information included in the passports of all Irish sport horses and ponies.
Selection and approval of stallions to sire animals for registration in the Irish Horse Register and the publication of their pedigree and breeding value in the Register of Approved Stallions are also crucial for breed improvement of Irish sport horses. This task, which will also be undertaken by the Department of Agriculture and Food, will involve: the organisation of centres for carrying out inspections and suitable riding/jumping tests, in association with industry representatives; ensuring that best estimates of breeding values, based on all available progeny and performance test data, are used in selection; investigating, in association with the industry, how some proven National Hunt thoroughbred stallions might be approved for inclusion in the Irish Horse Register.
Given the progress made in the development of artificial insemination and embryo transfer technology and the potential of these techniques for genetic improvement, conservation of rare blood lines and eradication of sexually transmitted diseases, it is intended to sponsor new legislation to facilitate their development and application in the non-thoroughbred horse industry. Although only available on a limited scale at present, the industry should be encouraged to utilise these techniques. EC legislation on animal health, zootechnical and genealogical conditions governing intra-Community trade in horses is currently being drafted. The objective is to liberalise trade in horses, horse semen and embryos. Close liaison with the relevant interests will be maintained in relation to these matters.
In association with the horse industry and Teagasc, initiatives will be taken to develop advisory and training programmes to improve fertility, artificial reproductive techniques, breeding merit, feeding and husbandry of sport horses. Teagasc also has responsibility for awarding the Irish Certificate and Diploma in Equestrian Science.
The introduction of the single European market in 1992 will bring increased opportunities. However, effective marketing will be required if the horse industry is to take advantage of the opportunities opened to it when barriers to free trade are removed. In the horse industry marketing encompasses a wide range of activities from the production of the foal, through schooling and training of the animal, to the sale of the finished riding horse for export. It is envisaged that the establishment, with national and EC aid, of a small number of equestrian centres, strategically located, so as to provide high quality facilities for the final preparation, evaluation and marketing of sport horses should result in more foreign buyers thus increasing exports; promotion, publicity and the orderly development of markets; greater awareness by producers of the requirements of the market-place; greater opportunity for breeders to reap a high proportion of the final value of sport horses.
The activities of Córas Tráchtála Teoranta and Bord Fáilte in promoting the sport and leisure horse area are invaluable to the industry. Both organisations have been asked to review the scale and intensity of their marketing and promotion of the sector.
A feature of the non-thoroughbred horse industry in Ireland is the large number of representative bodies catering for the various interests. It is proposed to forge stronger links between the Department of Agriculture and Food and these interests through an advisory committee whose terms of reference will be to advise the Minister on policy and on planning and co-ordination of the different elements in the national programme which I have just outlined.
It is proposed to ask the committee to report to the Minister for Agriculture and Food as soon as possible on the following important areas: the operation and management of the Irish Horse Register; the identification for registration purposes of animals produced by artificial reproductive techniques; the most suitable method of selecting stallions and the development of progeny and performance testing and the problem of weeding out inferior stallions which are presently causing damage to the quality of our breeding stock.
The setting up of this committee is now in train and I expect it will be in action in a few weeks. It will be self-selected to the extent that the main bodies involved in the industry have been requested to nominate one representative each. The Minister has expressly asked for nominations only of people who are fully conversant with all aspect of the non-thoroughbred industry and who can be expected to make a positive contribution to the development of the industry. These will be supplemented by representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Food and others whom the Minister considers appropriate.
The Minister believes that the new national programme for the development of the non-thoroughbred horse industry will prove effective. Any programme on its own, however, cannot succeed without the full co-operation and commitment of everyone involved in the industry. This is a labour-intensive industry with potential for expanding employment. Our traditional affection for and skill with horses can be harnessed into a worthwhile and profitable enterprise. Now is the right time to put this industry in readiness to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 1990s.
I would like to take the opportunity as well to compliment national organisations. Recently Bord Bainne, the national body for the export of dairy products, agreed to sponsor the Irish Horse Show in Dublin for a considerable number of years. I would urge a number of substantial commercial organisations to put money into the horse industry. It is a tremendously effective way of merchandising not alone the horse industry but Ireland itself. The return on it would be a very good investment, indeed. I would certainly like to see many more commercial organisations putting substantial amounts of money into the Irish horse industry. The price alone which people get and the prize money available for various competitions would never compensate the owners. We need to increase the amount of money involved.
I also want to compliment the University College, Dublin. They have an equine studies course in their Agricultural Faculty. It is producing some very good young people who are coming onstream into the industry. It is fair to say that there is tremendous confidence and very high morale in the non-thoroughbred horse industry in Ireland. I am very pleased with the response to this development programme.
I have great pleasure in commending this Bill to the House.