This Bill proposes to amend the State Property Act, 1954, so as to remove reference to the National Stud Farm from the First Schedule to the Act.
This amendment is of a technical nature and is designed to address current circumstances which were unforeseen when the National Stud Act, 1945, was enacted by the Oireachtas. That statute vested the National Stud Farm in the Minister for Agriculture and Food and, while it did not prohibit the sale of any part of the National Stud Farm, it did not contain any provisions providing for the sale of such land.
Section 10 of the State Property Act, 1954, provides a general power to a Minister of State, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to sell, exchange, make a grant gratuitously or lease any State land for the time being vested in that Minister. However, the first subsection of section 10 of the Act provides that this power shall not be exercisable in respect of the State land mentioned in the First Schedule to the Act. Among the properties listed in the First Schedule is the National Stud Farm.
The issue of the power to sell part of the National Stud Farm has been brought to a head by the ongoing work on a motorway to bypass Kildare town, which many southern Senators will appreciate. The motorway will go through the lands of the National Stud Farm. The part of the National Stud Farm required for the motorway, amounting to 17 hectares, has been acquired by Kildare County Council by way of a compulsory purchase order. A further 22 hectares of the National Stud Farm will be severed by the motorway from the main stud farm and will no longer be useful for the purposes of the National Stud.
The State Property Act, 1954, also includes general provisions regarding the leasing of State property; thus when it is amended it will confer on the Minister for Agriculture and Food the power to lease the National Stud Farm or any part of it. More restrictive provisions regarding leasing are contained in section 7 of the National Stud Act, 1945. Since the Minister for Agriculture and Food will have a general power to sell or lease under section 10 of the State Property Act, I consider that the retention of section 7 of the National Stud Act, 1945, would be inappropriate and the Bill includes a provision repealing it.
Anyone who travels to the south through Kildare and Monasterevan will be well aware of the need for the Kildare town bypass. My main concern regarding it was to ensure as little disruption to the National Stud as possible. It would have been ideal if the bypass could have also bypassed the National Stud but I have been assured by Kildare County Council that there was no other feasible route. In the circumstances I am pleased with the measures which are being taken to ensure that the environment in which the National Stud operates will be maintained.
It is appropriate in the context of the amending legislation to reflect on the origin, history and character of the National Stud. During the past 100 years, since its inception as a stud, Tully has been the nursery of so many world famous racehorses that its name is almost a household word, synonymous with all that is best in the thoroughbred industry. Shortly before the start of this century a Colonel William Hall-Walker acquired possession of Tully for the purpose of training his horses there. However, it was soon realised that its resources were more suited to the breeding and rearing of thoroughbreds. Some time during 1915 the colonel decided that, in view of the difficulties caused by World War I and increasing age, he would give up his interest in the stud. He decided to offer the bloodstock at Tully as a gift to the nation to form a National Stud. A condition of this gift of bloodstock to the nation was that the Government should purchase his interest in the Tully estate at valuation. This interest consisted of the freehold to about 195 acres and a judicial tenancy in respect of the remaining 674 acres.
In 1922 the Irish Government pressed its claim on the British Government for possession of Tully. Negotiations continued between representatives of the two Governments for over 21 years, until the British Government finally agreed to hand over its interest in the National Stud Farm. In January 1944, the Irish Government decided to establish a National Stud at Tully and approved the preparation of legislation to form a company to take possession of Tully for the purpose of operating a National Stud. The National Stud Act was passed by the Oireachtas in August 1945, and thus the Irish National Stud Company Limited was formed.
Returning to the present, it would be remiss of me not to mention the valuable work done by another occupant of the National Stud Farm, namely, the Racing Apprenticeship Centre of Education. Since its inception 25 years ago RACE has trained in the region of 450 students who have gone on to work with top Irish trainers and breeders. Indeed, many have gone on to earn distinction in racing in England, France, USA, Germany, India and Japan. Some have been highly successful in their chosen careers and a significant number of RACE graduates have gone on to the top of their profession. Among these are Shane Kelly, Johnny Murtagh, Conor O'Dwyer, David Casey, Jimmy Quinn and Robert Winston to name but a few. Recently, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach is aware, Robert Winston had two winners in Wincanton and I am delighted to see this young man from Finglas coming from the Dublin light horse brigade into this area. Even where trainees do not make it as jockeys the majority of them continue to work in the industry in a variety of responsible roles.
The debate on this Bill presents the House with the opportunity of reviewing the state of the horseracing industry, particularly from the point of view of the breeder. It will be realised from the account I have given that there is a great tradition at Tully which must be maintained and perpetuated. I and my colleagues in Government are committed to the future development of the horse racing industry and in particular to the continued existence of the National Stud. This support manifests itself in a concrete fashion through the direct funding to the Irish Horseracing Authority, the operation of the National Stud by the State on behalf of the industry and the taxation system. Next year we will contribute almost £15 million to the Irish Horseracing Authority, a considerable increase over the current figure. Since 1994 much capital has been injected into the National Stud Company to restore it to profitability and to ensure it continues to provide top quality stallions for the use of Irish breeders.
It is universally accepted that the structure of thoroughbred breeding in Ireland is unique to this country. On the one hand, there is a relatively small number of specialised stud farms with large numbers of mares and stallions and, on the other, there is a substantial number of farmer breeders. Most of them have one or two mares producing foals for flat or national hunt racing. While the last few years have been satisfactory for these breeders they had come through a difficult period with very little financial reward from the marketplace. Their involvement, however, is one of the strengths and stabilisers of the thoroughbred breeding sector. They combine a passionate interest in horse breeding with a more traditional farm enterprise, such as cattle or tillage.
These breeders must be responsive to the message coming from the marketplace in recent years. With no support or safety net system in place it is vital to concentrate scarce resources on the production of quality stock which will bring long-term benefits. Overall production is tending to increase and returns for 1997 show that thoroughbred foal registrations increased by 574 on 1996 and stood at 7,130. In view of our reliance on exports, the tax treatment of stallion fee income has been one of the major factors in ensuring that Irish breeders have access to world class stallions. The Revenue authorities have agreed on principles to be applied in respect of valuation of registered thoroughbred brood mares. This matter had been a worry for many breeders and I am pleased that it has been resolved. Breeders have been patient, often waiting year after year for a decent price for a yearling or foal.
The last two years, however, were a time of cheer for them with significant increases in yearling prices. Yearlings at Goff's commanded an average price of just over £33,000 last year as opposed to almost £21,000 in 1996. Average yearling prices at Tattersalls remained at the 1996 average of almost £7,600.
To the Irish, horse racing is not simply a sport, it is a way of life and it is not surprising that as such the horse features large in our history, place names and literature. Its economic importance is significant and has been recognised in the support it obtains from Government.
However, in recent years horse racing suffered badly from under-investment and competition from other leisure sports. Nowadays people are not prepared to put up with second class facilities and services. The sport of horse racing has a significant job on hand to attract newcomers, male and female, young and old, from all walks of life to this sport. For my own part I have always loved horse racing It is a very exciting sport and I am satisfied that the potential is there for significant growth provided the facilities are upgraded and the sport is marketed properly. I have been most impressed with the work of the Irish Horseracing Authority since it was established in 1994. In 1996 it produced its strategic plan for the development of the Irish thoroughbred racing industry up to the year 2001. The plan deals comprehensively with all aspects of the industry, from how the industry is administered to how the difficulties in areas like racecourse development, betting, prize money and marketing should be tackled. It is an ambitious plan which has already got a good kickstart with the opening of the new racecourse at Mallow in County Cork, the new stands in Clonmel and the investment planned for Limerick Junction racecourse.