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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Nov 2020

Vol. 272 No. 10

Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2020: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:

Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2020,

copies of which were laid in draft form before Seanad Éireann on 13th November 2020.

I am glad to be here today to discuss this issue. An important pillar of Government policy is to ensure the horse and greyhound racing industries have achieved their maximum potential and, in doing so, contribute to economic and social development across a wide geographic swathe of the country. Those industries make a valuable contribution to our economy. It is estimated the thoroughbred industry has an annual economic impact of €1.9 billion, with direct and indirect employment of 9,000 people, and the greyhound sector provides an estimated 12,000 people with economic benefit. The thoroughbred industry, in particular, brings a high level of international investment into Ireland.

Government funding, in addition to supporting these key industries, presents an excellent opportunity to yield a high return for its investment leading to a flow of income right through the economy, thereby providing widespread benefits to our society.

The Irish equine breeding and racing industry is extremely competitive, as the Members will know, at a global level. We are the third biggest producers of thoroughbred foals in the world and estimates place Ireland only behind the United States in being the biggest seller of bloodstock by public auction globally. Time and again, successive Governments have acknowledged the importance of these industries and have supported them through legislation and policy initiatives. The support provided by public funds through investment in these industries has enabled Ireland to develop a world-class reputation for excellence in horse racing and greyhound racing and in breeding.

The current Covid-19 pandemic poses particular challenges for Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, Rásaíocht Con Éireann, RCÉ, and the industries as a whole. The Government's plan, Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with Covid-19, does not provide at any of the levels for a return to full commercial operations. This will impact significantly on the finances of HRI and RCÉ both this year and up to the end of the timespan of the plan in June 2021. It is essential in these circumstances therefore that additional Covid-related supports are made available to HRI and RCÉ, reflecting costs incurred and changes to the trading environment.

These industries receive financial support from the State through the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, under section 12 of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. My Department makes payments from the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund to HRI and RCÉ. In the period 2001 to date, a total of €1.36 billion has been paid from the fund to the horse and greyhound racing industries in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The cumulative upper limit on payments from the fund, provided for under the relevant regulations has therefore been reached.

Exchequer funding provided from the fund is crucial to the survival and continued development of the horse and greyhound racing industries. In order to give effect to the provisions of budget 2021, this cumulative upper limit must be increased by regulation. The Estimates for my Department, passed by both Houses as part of budget 2021, include an allocation of €96 million for the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund. This will be distributed in accordance with section 12(6) of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001, with 80% or just over €76 million going to the HRI and 20% or €19.2 million going to RCÉ.

In order to allow my Department to provide the moneys allocated in budget 2021, it is necessary to comply with the technical requirement under section 12(13) of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act to increase the cumulative limit on the amount payable from the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund by €96 million to some €1.46 billion. This is achieved by way of the regulations submitted to this House today. The aggregate limit on the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund has been increased in this manner in 2004 and in 2009 to 2020, inclusive.

Regarding the horse racing industry, the 2017 Deloitte report into the economic impact of Irish breeding and racing, commissioned by HRI, indicates that the total direct and stimulated expenditure of the Irish breeding and racing industry was estimated at €1.84 billion in 2016. In addition, it is estimated that there are 15,200 jobs at the core of the racing and breeding industry or in directly related industries.

Horse racing generates a very significant return to the rural economy in Ireland and a positive international profile for our country. Behind all the facts and figures are the thousands of men and women who, directly and indirectly, make the Irish racing and breeding industry what it is today.

The HRI 2019 annual report indicated another successful year for the Irish racing and breeding industries. The focus on ownership leads to a further increase in the number of horses in training and to more horses competing. There was also an increase of more than 3% in attendance figures for 2019 and an increased demand for Irish horses at the sales, which was welcome, particularly given the uncertainty as a result of Brexit.

As proven in 2020, albeit mostly behind closed doors due to Covid-19, Irish owners, trainers, jockeys and horses are setting high standards globally and their stellar achievements and enduring influence underscore Ireland's international prominence. The Irish equine breeding and racing industry is extremely competitive at a global level, despite other major racing nations having much larger populations and economies.

It is worth noting that Government funding, in addition to supporting this key industry, also presents an excellent opportunity to yield a high return for its investment leading to a flow of income right throughout the economy. Support for certain strategic industries is important for future economic growth and can provide widespread benefits for society, as well as for the wider economy.

HRI has engaged extensively with my Department and other key stakeholders on the significant risks to the industry as a result of Covid-19.

It has reviewed a number of scenarios and financial forecasts that have taken appropriate measures to mitigate the financial impact to the organisation and the wider industry. The significant threat posed by Brexit to the current ease of movement of horses between Britain and France, in addition to the global nature of major breeding operations, illustrate that while Ireland arguably now has leadership position within Europe, our pre-eminence is not guaranteed.

On the greyhound racing industry, according to the 2017 Power report, the industry provides and supports considerable employment both directly and indirectly across the Irish economy. It is estimated that in 2016, the industry supported over 5,058 full-time and part-time jobs in the economy. In addition, there are over 7,000 active greyhound owners. The total number of people deriving economic benefit from the sector is estimated at over 12,371. The funding being provided to the greyhound racing sector helps sustain a long-standing tradition as the industry is part of the social fabric of our country. This funding underpins economic activity in what are, in many instances, less affluent regions of the country.

The future of the industry is dependent on a strong governance platform and on the industry having the highest standards of integrity and welfare, founded on a strong regulatory system. Provisions in the Greyhound Racing Act 2019, which came into effect in May 2019, will make a real difference. This legislation strengthens the legal basis for the industry, with a view to fortifying the integrity of the greyhound racing sector and improving provision for greyhound traceability. The new Act will improve the governance of Rásaíocht Con Éireann, strengthen regulatory controls in the industry, modernise sanctions and improve integrity within the sector. It provides the industry with real tools with which it can effect fundamental change and reform. The sections of the Act commenced on 1 October 2020 signal a new era for the greyhound racing sector. They facilitate the board in focusing on its priority objective of achieving the highest standards of care and welfare of greyhounds. The Greyhound Racing Act 2019, when fully implemented, will enable Rásaíocht Con Éireann to ensure the important heritage associated with greyhound racing in Ireland can continue under the appropriate rules and regulations.

The greyhound industry is predominantly a rural industry with a strong urban support base. The Covid-19 crisis has, similar to other sectors of the economy, resulted in a collapse of commercial activity in greyhound racing and a significant reduction of activity generally. Recovery of the industry will require ongoing support to aid restoration of normal levels of activity and to adequately manage the welfare issues that arise. The betting tax was increased from 1% to 2% in budget 2019 and contributes €95 million to the Exchequer as of the 2019 figures.

Given the wide geographic distribution of these two industries, they are fundamental to the achievement of a more balanced regional economic growth. Relieving the burden on our major urban centres and nurturing rural economies is a key priority for the Government. In this context, these industries should be given recognition for the considerable contribution they make to rural economic activity and employment. The welfare of horses and greyhounds is a cornerstone of both industries and I am assured that HRI and RCÉ are striving to ensure the highest standards for the sport and its participants, on and away from the racecourse. The horse and greyhound racing fund has played a key role in providing this investment and has been instrumental in shaping the destiny of these industries.

Brexit poses an array of substantial threats to the Irish economy, and coupled with the fact that we are a small and open economy that is naturally prone to volatility, it is difficult to predict what the future holds. It is therefore crucial that we support these important industries that are facing the perils of Covid-19 and of Brexit as we enter into 2021. Accordingly, I am seeking the support of the House to ensure that Horse Racing Ireland and Rásaíocht Con Éireann receive the funding provided for in budget 2021 and that the important role played by these industries, and the economic activity generated by them, are sustained into the future. I commend the motion to the House, and I look forward to discussing any matters arising.

I thank the Minister for his statement and I welcome him to the House on the first time I have had the opportunity to do so. Senator Lombard would have liked to have been here but he could not do so and he wanted it put on the record of the House and to let the Minister know that the Minister has the Senator's full support on this motion.

The horse and greyhound racing fund was established for the specific purpose of giving support to the horse and greyhound racing industries. It enables the State bodies to develop and provide economic support to the industries in their entirety and helps stimulate economic activity in areas with few employment opportunities. It is estimated that there are 15,200 jobs at the core of the racing and breeding industry or in directly related industries. The 2019 annual report for HRI indicated another successful year for the Irish racing and breeding industries and that the focus on ownership led to a further increase in the number of horses in training and in more horses competing. In 2019, there was also an increase of over 3% in attendance figures and there was an increased demand for Irish horses at sales, which was welcome, given the uncertainty of Brexit.

Successive Governments have acknowledged the importance of these industries and have supported them. The support provided by public funds through investment in these industries has enabled Ireland to develop a world class reputation for excellence in horse racing, greyhound racing and breeding. The horse and greyhound racing industries make a huge contribution to our economy, especially in rural Ireland in counties like my county of Tipperary. It is estimated that the thoroughbred industry has an annual economic impact of €1.9 billion, with direct and indirect employment of 29,000 people. The greyhound sector provides an estimated 12,000 people with an economic benefit. As the Minister said in his statement, these are the people and communities behind the 29,000 people who I mentioned. These are people in small communities like my community in Tipperary.

We are fortunate in my county to have a brand such as Coolmore that employs so many people directly and indirectly in Fethard and in the wider Tipperary region. It is good to our community and it gives back an awful lot in terms of both racing and in the community in general. I am sure the Minister is aware that Coolmore has been productive in trying to support Fethard as a community. It worked together with the Department of Rural and Community Development to start the new Fethard town park. A combination of 27 communities around the area have come together to build a new park, bringing sports clubs and organisations and communities together to provide a space for that area. That was done because of the commitment and support from Coolmore.

It is not just about supporting organisations. Every parish in Tipperary, and every parish in rural Ireland I am sure, has small stud farms, horse owners or greyhound owners, and it is about supporting them. We have made decisions in the Government to support so many sectors of society in the last six months, whether it is the retail sector, businesses or multinationals. It is all about trying to help sectors of society that are financially struggling through Covid-19. The horse racing and greyhound racing sectors are no different and they need support, especially at this time. I commend the horse racing industry. Since racing returned in June when a decision of the Government allowed racing again behind closed doors, it has given an awful lot of joy to people.

As the Minister knows, people who own animals, including horses and greyhounds, are animal lovers and they treat their animals with huge respect. I know that from the Department's perspective, animal welfare issues and related issues are important. When the Minister replies, could he develop on how the Department will monitor how much is being spent by RCÉ on welfare? That is central to this. Could the Minister expand on the traceability system and what it will provide for? Will there be a traceability system for all greyhounds?

Regarding greyhound tracks, will the restaurant facilities at the stadia be operating in accordance with Covid-19 protocols? I believe the restaurant arrangements should operate as a single operation within the stadia, as was the case last July and August.

My final question relates to a local issue in Clonmel. What is the position regarding the private racetracks? There are six of them throughout the country, in Lifford, Longford, Thurles, Enniscorthy, Kilkenny and Dundalk. There is one in Clonmel as well. There have been ongoing issues with Clonmel racetrack and the Davis Road Greyhound Stadium PLC. They have had engagement to try to arrive at a resolution. The new stadium was built in the early 2000s. It is important from the perspective of the people who were part of that consortium and put in a great deal of effort over the past number of years to try to keep the stadium afloat. Does the Minister agree with me that the importance of greyhound tracks such as Clonmel must be protected and supported, and that there must be engagement between both sides to ensure there is a resolution and that Clonmel Greyhound Stadium can be supported into the future?

I thank the Minister.

I welcome the Minister. We met yesterday evening at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine and discussed this issue at length. I will not repeat some of the issues I raised there. I have an interest in racing and am a regular attendee at Punchestown, The Curragh and Naas in County Kildare and, of course, Leopardstown which is quite close to where I live. I wish to put that on the record. I am a supporter of the industry and wish to use my time to discuss horse racing and the work of Horse Racing Ireland.

Horse racing and horse breeding are an integral part of agriculture, rural life, rural development and the rural economy. They are massively connected, both directly and indirectly, with rural employment. More than 90% of all owners of brood mares in this country are farmers who have fewer than four animals. That is extraordinary. The issue is that farmers across this country are keeping brood mares. There are very successful breeding programmes. It does not suggest that breeding and the keeping of brood mares are centralised by ten or 15 studs. Of course, they contribute enormously to it, but 95% of people keep fewer than four brood mares on their farms. That is particularly important.

The export of horses and inward investment are enormous. International owners choose to avail of this country for their equestrian and horse activity in terms of breeding. Yes, there are attractive tax regimes in place for that, but one must put that up against the success in terms of income and particularly employment in rural communities, where it is quite difficult to get employment. There is the issue of online betting and the revenue it produces. It has been suggested that revenue from betting is well in excess of €100 million, so there is an income from betting in the industry.

I said something yesterday and I will put it to the Minister again. This morning, I looked at the report from Indecon Economic Consultants. These consultants produced extensive reports on both Irish racing and HRI as well as the greyhound industry. There are issues in that regard that need to be revisited. I do not suggest we need another report on horses or greyhounds. We should dust down the Indecon Economic Consultants reports on both sectors. In addition, Deloitte produced an extensive report and made numerous recommendations relating to Horse Racing Ireland, which I believe should be examined.

We cannot discuss this sector without mentioning animal welfare. We are providing a substantial €96 million, which has been approved in the budget. The provision in the 2001 Act is that it gets the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. We are doing that today. There should be some conditionality and expectation, some way of measuring animal welfare issues in respect of funding. That is very important.

I note from the draft copy of the statutory instrument we are discussing, which the Minister and the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Michael McGrath, will sign, that the cumulative aggregate effect of all this money will be €1.46 billion for racing and dogs on an 80% to 20% break. That is a huge amount of money, and I do not have a difficulty with it in terms of the sport, the breeding, the economy and the benefits of it. However, it is an enormous amount of public money so, therefore, the conditionality in this regard is something I ask the Minister to examine again. Some €96 million has been approved by the Dáil to be provided in the budget.

A number of people have suggested to me that there are issues with governance in both organisations. I have looked at the most recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, which I understand is waiting on the Minister's desk to be signed, and I am satisfied with regard to the audited financial statements for Horse Racing Ireland and the greyhound industry. Having read them thoroughly, I am happy with the protections, guidance and reassurances the Comptroller and Auditor General has given us. It is a comfort to be able to say that. The Comptroller and Auditor General has looked at these accounts and issued his reports. There are strong, healthy recommendations in the reports, which are worth having.

Horse Racing Ireland has an amazing strategic plan, and those who do not have it should get it. It is important that we look at it and keep it to the fore. I give a commitment that I will continue to keep this issue to the fore in the Oireachtas committee, as I know my other colleagues will.

Finally, there is an issue with the Tripartite Agreement relating to the movement of bloodstock. Currently, it is approximately 25,000 per year between Ireland, the UK and France. That is a significant transport route in terms of both racing and breeding and the to-ing and fro-ing of animals coming through Europe, but mainly from France. The tripartite arrangement exists between France, the UK and Ireland, but things will change from 1 January with Brexit. There are already discussions about this and people in the sector are seriously concerned. Will the Minister share how those talks are going and how we are going to find a resolution to the movement of bloodstock across this country, into the UK and to France by ship and road? That is a critical question and I hope the Minister will give attention to it.

I thank him for coming to the House and for his comprehensive speech on these matters.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for coming to the House to discuss an issue that can cause passion and on which there will be different views. As always in this House, there will be a respectful debate from every side and, hopefully, we will reach a consensus.

Most people would agree that the horse and greyhound racing industries have a special place in Irish life and a fundamental position in Irish sport. They are crucial to our economy, intrinsic to our identity and are landmarks in our social and cultural heritage. There is an undeniable passion and enthusiasm for these sports across the country. It has been the long-standing policy of successive Governments to enable these industries to realise their maximum potential and, in doing so, to play a part in the economic and social development of our nation. I remind Members that those were Fianna Fáil Governments, Fine Gael and Labour Party Governments, the Fine Gael, Labour Party and Democratic Left Government, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats Governments and the current Government of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. Under all Governments in this country there has been support for the industry.

Given the wide geographical dispersal of the two industries, they are important to the achievement of more balanced regional growth. In this context, the considerable contribution the industries make to rural economic activity and employment must be acknowledged. I offer the example of the racing scene in Roscommon, Sligo, Ballinrobe in Mayo, Kilbeggan in Westmeath, Limerick, Navan in County Meath, Wexford and Thurles in Tipperary.

There are race meetings all around the country, without counting the Dublin venues in that. The Curragh in Kildare is another. One must remember that the volume of economic activity created by those events is very important to our economy. Between the horse and greyhound industries and associated jobs, we are talking about in excess of 30,000 jobs if everything is taken into account. I have done my own calculations on that.

I understand the passion of some people around animal welfare. I think we all accept that in some areas animal welfare was an issue but there are 14 greyhound stadiums around the countries in places such as Mullingar and Galway, Tipperary, Cork and here in Dublin; I think the Longford one is gone. Those meetings throughout the year generate a great deal of economic activity in those areas and a considerable number of jobs.

It is important that we look at Covid and what it has done to the business, as the Minister said. Like every other part of Irish society, Covid will have a significant impact. It is important when we talk about increased funding in the area, that we realise the great dent in the amount generated in that business.

Before I conclude, I wish to address animal welfare. I acknowledge the Minister's remarks here that, given all the moneys granted to those boards, animal welfare must be a serious consideration. We must take into account that there has been a lot of progress in animal welfare. I will give a few examples. The Greyhound Racing Act 2019 has a traceability model to enable tracing of racing greyhounds throughout their lives. The board tendered for the establishment of a traceability system for racing greyhounds in early 2020 and it is expected that the traceability system will be delivered to RCÉ, probably very shortly. Incentivising and rehoming of greyhounds in Ireland through additional supports through the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust is established and operated by RCÉ. With the establishment of a separate greyhound care fund and the opening of care centres for retired greyhounds while they await rehoming, the welfare of greyhounds remains a priority for RCÉ and was a key consideration during the suspension of racing activity. Between 24 March and 8 June 2020, RCÉ implemented a Covid-19 greyhound care payment scheme of €2 per day in respect of each active greyhound. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has received assurances that the board remains committed to the protection of the integrity of the greyhound industry and to promoting the welfare of greyhounds. The Department is also assured that all necessary resources are being committed to those ends. Greyhound Racing Ireland has been implementing an ambitious care and welfare programme through the setting up of a care fund in 2019; notwithstanding the collapse in commercial revenues arising from the impact of Covid-19 and resulting impact on care fund income, greyhound racing is committed to increasing the spend on care and welfare as part of its overall programme. There are many other issues I could mention.

The people of Ireland, and the people of rural Ireland, love their animals. I was brought up on a farm with a love of animals, of cattle, sheep and one's dog or horse. Who would have a horse on their land? All small farmers from humble backgrounds had. I think that Irish people are the same today. I am totally in favour of the welfare of animals and improving that but we must be resolute in supporting the horse and greyhound industry. There are a lot of jobs at stake but we must also be very serious about the welfare issue.

Every time I stand up here, it seems like "Annie's confessions" and what anecdote I can bring to the House that is informing my political views. My views on animal rights are no secret, and that is what I will focus on. Like many in this House, I abhor animal cruelty. We have a long way to go towards living in harmony with our furry, scaly and winged friends.

We are a country of animal lovers but we are also a country that, at times, has had a poor track record in accountability for animal cruelty. There are no circumstances, personal or commercial, where it should be permissible to excuse or overlook animal cruelty. We have relatively decent pro-animal legislation here but there is sometimes woefully poor enforcement. Every so often, an image appears online of some dreadful, heinous animal cruelty such as a poor mare with its hooves overgrown. People pile on and exclaim how awful it is, and ask "whatever can we do about it?" but it is rare that the perpetrators are held to account. There is a variety of reasons for that, including tracing, but we do not hold the perpetrators of animal cruelty to account the way that we could and should do. One reason is because it takes money to do that effectively.

The Health and Welfare Act 2013 was a significant step forward for animal welfare in Ireland. The ISPCA and DSPCA inspectors are authorised officers under the Act. They can instigate investigations into cruelty. However, these charities - and they are charities - only have enough funding for a small team of inspectors making it impossible to enforce the law effectively across the country. All welfare charities have to share approximately €3 million, with the rest done on goodwill, volunteers and fundraising. My family fundraises regularly for Drogheda Animal Rescue, a small organisation in desperate need of funding to help the animals in its care. I must confess when I hear some of the eye-watering figures mentioned today in relation to the industry we are discussing, I find myself reeling, thinking of my poor mother standing on West Street in Drogheda for a flag day trying to raise money so we can feed some animals in the rescue's care. A lot of money has been invested in this industry and I posit that perhaps we need to consider how much money we are investing into animal welfare. If we compare the billions to the couple of million for animal welfare for some of the charities, it is an enormous gap. Animal welfare charities often do this work off their own bat, on the goodwill of volunteers and not a lot of State support.

We do not do nearly enough about animal welfare in Ireland, which is the Minister's responsibility. There are other things in this area we need to look at such as the microchipping of dogs. Local authorities spend a great deal of time having to chase up where dogs come from. There are issues around pounds and proper resourcing for staff in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and local authorities are key to the full enforcement of the Animal Health and Welfare Act, the Dog Breeding Establishments Act and equine legislation. We do not need a nanny state where we chase after every animal owner - the vast majority of animal owners are good, kind people. People have spoken about animal lovers involved in the industry but better resourcing and support is needed in the sector. The people who flout the law must be held to account and I do not think that anyone would disagree with that. I am sure it is very frustrating to see people give animal lovers a very bad name. We have heard the discourse on this over the last week. Unfortunately, really serious incidents of cruelty and the abhorrent treatment of animals have come to the fore, and those people seem to get away with it. That is something that drives people's personal convictions around that.

I am aware that I have gone somewhat off track but I wanted to focus on the animal welfare issue. There needs to be tougher sentencing for those found guilty of animal cruelty. There should be higher fines and jail sentences, and, in the most serious cases, life bans on keeping animals to stop those found guilty of animal abuse from reoffending.

Many have spoken of the people behind the industry. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the animals behind the industry for whom the Minister also has responsibility. I suggest things such as funding of the charities that are responsibility for the animal welfare that sometimes get left to deal with the knock-on consequences of this industry should be examined.

We need to look at how we can fund this better to support those people who are doing really important work around animal welfare and charities. This can be quite a divisive issue and people are on both sides of it, but people who come to this with a genuine love and care for animal welfare would really appreciate seeing the Department and the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, taking that very seriously, putting animal welfare to the fore and that we are a nation of animal lovers, and that as a Government we are willing to put our money where our mouth is to ensure there is adequate funding to ensure all animals are taken care of.

I, too, wish to raise the matter of greyhound welfare as discussed at the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine yesterday. I will address the matter of animal welfare, especially in the greyhound sector. I speak in opposition to the increase in funding of €2.4 million to the greyhound industry, which brings to €19.2 million the amount of public funds they will receive. I understand the importance of the greyhound sector to the local economy, and in particular for rural jobs, and there are members here today who rightly speak about that. It cannot be denied, however, that the attendance levels at greyhound race meetings have dropped by 55% since 2008. I am no expert but any industry that is faced with this type of decline in interest surely has to stop and ask what is going on and why are people turning off from what it has to offer.

I am no fan of greyhound racing. Personally it is not my bag. I do not like rugby either but at least rugby players get a choice in the matter of participating. I know a lot of people who love greyhound racing and I know many people who have attended racetracks as part of their work outings and social gatherings. One thing that continues to come up as to why those types of social gatherings are becoming less popular in workplaces and for communion, confirmation and birthday parties is that people are being turned off by the issues of animal welfare.

I am sure that the majority of greyhound owners treat their animals very well, but we cannot ignore that we have very serious issues around animal welfare in this country, and particularly in this industry. In 2009, on the back of a disgusted greyhound breeder who turned whistleblower, The Irish Sun ran a story about unwanted retired greyhounds being shot with bolt guns for as little as €10. In 2019, RTÉ broadcast an exposé called "Greyhounds Running for Their Lives" that showed very little had improved in the situation during the intervening ten years. Despite protestations by the Irish Greyhound Board about that programme, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland dismissed the complaints and found that the programme was fair, impartial and balanced. It is now one year later. Yes, RCÉ, will say the situation has improved since that show, that it is ring-fencing funding for animal welfare, that it is implementing a traceability system, and that it is setting up care centres and working with animal welfare organisations to rehome the retired greyhounds. However, there are still concerns regarding that industry.

With any public funding that goes to an industry the public has a right to know that it comes with full transparency, accountability and the highest possible standard of animal welfare. The 10% care fund that we keep hearing about from RCÉ includes the cost of setting up and managing the traceability system. Anyone in industry will say that if traceability is a requirement of an industry, it is an operating cost. That is not an animal welfare cost and it should not be coming from the animal welfare budget. It is also vital that when this public traceability system goes up, it is completely publicly accessible and that the greyhound will be followed from birth to retirement to death. There needs to be an independent and rigorous inspection system of all greyhound breeders with regular reporting in a timely manner, again on a publicly accessible database.

While I would much rather the RCÉ code of conduct was put on a statutory basis, the bare minimum that we should expect is that any individuals who are involved in the receipt or distribution of money that comes from the care fund, which is public money, should be in full compliance with the RCÉ code of conduct. If evidence emerges, and I would recommend that people do a bit of googling, to show that there are people who are not in compliance with the code of conduct, they should be removed from any role involving the management or receipt of the animal welfare fund. That includes breaching the code of conduct on the sale or export of greyhounds to countries that do not have similar or higher standards of animal welfare to Ireland.

It is ridiculous that we give public money to an industry that deliberately overbreeds and then praises itself for using the same public money to address the consequences of the overbreeding. It is completely inappropriate that thousands of greyhounds are bred every year only to be then sent to shelters for rehoming, including transporting them across the Atlantic to the US, and what that might do for carbon footprints. Greyhound breeders are repeatedly given permission for their bitches to breed in excess of what is recommended and set out in law under the Welfare of Greyhounds Act. There absolutely has to be a cap on the number of greyhounds being bred. It is simply unsustainable to produce 6,000 dogs every year and then expect to find homes for them. These animals live for 14 years. Where are all these dogs going? Where are we rehoming them to? Yes, we all know that greyhounds make great pets and they are beautiful animals, but they are sighthounds and they have particular needs and requirements.

I put it to the Minister that the greyhound industry has a choice. It can clean up its act, implement a humane breeding policy, and can have full traceability and accountability, or it can continue with this business as usual approach. In that case, all that will happen is more and more people will get turned off from the industry. People are turning away in their droves because of the animal welfare issues. I get it that people have said it is important for rural jobs, but they need to clean up their act and address the animal welfare issues. That is the only way this will be sustainable. Public money cannot come without standards and, without the evidence to date, I cannot justify any increase in funding to the industry.

I agree with Senator Hoey that there are animal welfare organisations doing incredible work on a pittance.

The Senator's time is up.

Others spoke for longer than I did. Those organisations could do with the €2.4 million.

I understand Senator O'Reilly is sharing time with Senator Martin.

I am sure that people are quite anxious to hear the views of the Green Party today. Having listened to Senator Boylan, one could be forgiven for thinking that she was almost arguing against the greyhound industry when in fact her own party is in favour of the greyhound industry, as are the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. We are in a situation where we do not have the political will to ban an industry that the Green Party would like to see the end of. We have very different views on horse racing, and I will let my party colleague speak about that. I fundamentally do not understand the argument that one would support an industry and support funding to an industry but not support workers in the time of Covid. That is the first thing I will say.

I want to talk about animal welfare because it is really close to my heart, and close to the Green Party's heart. We argued and fought our corner in the programme for Government negotiations, and we have the biggest support for animal welfare in this programme for Government. Many here have mentioned the welfare organisations who are struggling, with which I completely concur. In the programme for Government there is a doubling of funding for animal welfare organisations within two years. That has never happened before in a programme for Government. There will also be the phasing out of fur farming, the ending of badger culling and many other measures, including the enforcement of laws, as referred to by Senator Hoey. The laws are there but they are not actually enforced. This is what we need to address.

We also want to see new policies and new laws put into place, and part of this is to develop an urban horse welfare programme. Many of the Members who may have been on city councils will be aware that we have an issue with horse welfare in our cities and towns.

I believe the Minister when he says he is going to address the issue of the welfare of dogs within the industry, because it is fundamental to the Green Party. We believe that under this Government we will see an end to the kind of cruelty that was on display in the RTÉ programme last year and that was mentioned by many.

We can see rehoming programmes, homes for retired dogs and an end to the killing of animals we all love, have in our homes and profess to care for.

Without any further mention of that, I will leave it to my colleague to speak about horse racing.

I thank the Senator for her impeccable timing.

I am sure the Minister is aware that the very fine Kildare equine tradition is second to none, not just in Ireland but in the world. Its potential is probably still unfulfilled. Kildare should be the world leader and headquarters of the equine industry. If one were to put together what the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield means to snooker, what Alexandra Palace means to darts and what Wembley Stadium means to the FA Cup Final, one would still not fully appreciate the love and care for horses in Kildare and also the economic dividend they provide. Horse Sport Ireland is working very hard, as the Minister knows, under the able stewardship of Joe Reynolds and many others such as Avalon Everett and John Moran. They are doing great work in Covid times. Horse Sport Ireland has about 25 affiliates, including horse breeding. It would like that put on a statutory, regulatory footing. Its activity generates 14,000 jobs and €816 million in income each year. Three separate teams have qualified for the Olympics next year, from dressage to showjumping, eventing and paralympic dressage. Over €1 billion is generated from Horse Sport Ireland's spiritual cousins in horse racing, with over 28,000 direct and indirect secondary jobs provided, 1.3 million attendees at Irish racing events and €1.84 billion in total direct and indirect stimulus for the Irish economy. Off-course expenditure by racegoers is estimated to be €145 million.

I have one appeal today. Horse Sport Ireland in Naas is doing great work but it has a temporary home. I would not like to see Horse Sport Ireland leave the county. We need a collaborative approach. I appreciate that this will be a cross-departmental approach, from tourism to sport to agriculture. The Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, in my neighbouring constituency of Kildare South, is very enthusiastic about this and always was. Horse Sport Ireland is like Croke Park and Semple Stadium. They are the spiritual home of the GAA. The spiritual home of the horse is Kildare. We do not want to see it fragmented. We do not want to see Horse Sport Ireland relocate its HQ outside the county. I live very close to Punchestown. They do great work there. They are very generous to the public in allowing them to use the grounds for walking, and share the grounds and so many other amenities with local communities. Under David Mongey and so many of his predecessors, Punchestown has been put on the map. They have lots of space and huge potential in a collaborative approach, from mounted games to pony clubs and disabled riders. They have a HQ, only on a far bigger scale than Abbotstown. They have lots of land and huge potential. We could bring tourism from throughout the world to Punchestown if we could sit down with the Minister and make sure we do not miss this opportunity.

I forgot to congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I know he is a passionate Cavan man. He had a brilliant week, as had Tipperary. I commiserate with the Minister from Donegal.

That is very gallant and sporting of the Senator. I thank him. Senator Ruane is next. I understand she wishes to share time with Senator Higgins. Is that agreed? Agreed?

I thank the Minister for being in the Seanad. I welcome the fact that we have been given the opportunity to debate the motion, an opportunity unfortunately denied to our colleagues in the Dáil. I imagine that the denial of such an opportunity was the impetus for the motion on the greyhound racing industry brought before the Dáil this morning by Deputy Cairns and the Social Democrats, an extremely important and worthwhile initiative that I wholeheartedly support. The motion before us is straightforward. It authorises almost €1.5 billion to the horse and greyhound racing fund under the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. What has not been provided to us in any real way, however, is an adequate justification from the Government for forcing the decision to continue to provide such substantial State financial support to a loss-making industry with a long structural record of cruelty to animals and to increase that allocation to the industry by over €2.5 million compared with 2019.

We have all seen and spoken about the "RTÉ Investigates" documentary from last year which detailed the truly appalling and unspeakable acts of violence committed against animals as part of this industry. It is an industry that kills over 6,000 dogs a year simply for not running fast enough. I cannot comprehend how an industry that has been proved so conclusively to be using such widespread cruel practices would be rewarded with increased funding. It is just unfathomable. If the RTÉ programme has not been deemed sufficient grounds for radical reform, I wonder what it would take. What additional cruelty would have to be revealed before the Government would consider reviewing State funding to such an industry? This is an industry that received over six times more State money than the total State funding allocated to animal welfare organisations combined. If the level of abuse and mistreatment revealed on the "RTÉ Investigates" programme does not give pause for pursuing a State policy of continuing and increasing funding to the greyhound industry, what would it take? Even if we set aside the decision to increase funding and only consider the extraordinary level of State support given to the industry, I am strongly of the view that public funds have to be used in a way that promotes the public good. What public good is served in this case?

In Fergus Finlay's article in the Irish Examiner yesterday, he states that the average attendance at a race meeting in one year was 288 people per race. This comes after a decade of sharp declines in attendance that leaves Ireland as only one of a handful of countries in the world that allows dog racing. This industry is failing and we are choosing to prop it up, and for what purpose?

I recognise that the industry employs many people across the country, particularly in rural Ireland, the vast majority of whom likely have a great love and affection for animals. However, the revelations over recent years show that the fundamental structure of the industry is ultimately built on exploitation of, and cruelty towards, the animals at its very centre. We would fully be able to gradually unwind State support for the overall industry while also providing alternative employment and educational opportunities for the industry's workers, much as has been done for those affected by the Bord na Móna closures. This would be doable if the political will were there and if the Government was willing to act. In the previous Oireachtas we passed the Greyhound Racing Act 2019. The Seanad played a leading role in strengthening and improving that legislation, and improving the provisions relating to dog welfare. We proposed a ban on the export of greyhounds to countries with terrible welfare records and this was rejected by the Government. I urge the Government to use the opportunity provided by this new national debate to reconsider such a ban, easily justifiable under EU trade law through the Article 36 exemptions to unitary trade action by a member state explicitly on animal welfare grounds.

We have heard about the improvements to welfare in the industry. It is really important to be clear: any of these improvements have not come about by goodwill or a sudden revelation, or even simply because a documentary exposed the horror of the current practices within the greyhound industry. The changes to greyhound welfare have happened because the industry was made to change. Senator Ruane talked about the fact that we pushed for a ban on exports of greyhounds when the Greyhound Racing Bill was going through the previous Oireachtas. We did not succeed in getting that ban into the Bill at the time, but Senator Ruane and I did succeed, with the support of others, in passing a requirement for a vet to be on the board of the Greyhound Racing Ireland and a requirement for retirement and rehoming planning. That is the reason there is a rehoming strategy now for Bord na gCon. It is because it was required to produce such a strategy.

That is why we need a firmer and stronger regulatory approach to these issues. We have heard about the rural and community aspect of racing. Let us be clear that this is an industrial-scale activity, and not a community activity, when 6,000 dogs are being bred each year for execution because they are not fast enough. There is perhaps a role for the continuation of this industry, but only if it completely changes. I support the proposals Deputy Cairns put before the Dáil because they were intended to transition this sector, scale it down and make it something which can be defended at some stage. It cannot be now.

I also note that at a time when there is great need in the animal welfare area, and other areas, as has been mentioned, the State is subsidising this sector. The betting levy has gone down from 10% in 1999 to 2% now. Ladbrokes Coral made a profit of €720 million this year. If there is to be additional funding for this sector, let it come from those who profit from the suffering of the greyhounds, namely, the betting industry and not from the Exchequer.

I declare an interest in this sector, as I am the acting voluntary chairman of Kilbeggan racecourse. I would fit into Senator Boyhan's category of horse breeder, being the owner of one brood mare and her offspring, which I could call very slow horses.

I should point out that it is now four minutes for each speech.

I have a serious interest in this sector, and I take exception to some of the remarks that have been made. I know they were made in good faith and with the best of intentions for the sector, but all those remarks seem to relate to the animal welfare side and to emanate from the famous "RTÉ Investigates" programme. While I cannot, and would not, justify anything that was seen on that programme, that was a rogue element. Some 99.9% of animal owners, including horse and greyhound owners, have more time for animals than for humans, spend more money on animals than on humans and treat animals better than humans. I stand accused of this in my own house, and I am not alone in that regard. It is unfair that good animal owners, animal trainers and animal lovers are tarred with the one brush.

I compliment Senator O'Reilly and I can see exactly where she is coming from. She is an eminent spokesperson, but we will not agree on this issue politically. There will not be the breadth of a cigarette paper between us when it comes to dealing with animal welfare issues during the term of this Government. On the back of the famous television programme which keeps being quoted, we had numerous meetings and inquiries. The Minister was on the agriculture committee with me during the last term, when the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 was introduced. It must be given a chance to come to fruition. Representatives from what was then Bord na gCon and is now RCÉ appeared before the committee. The governance of that organisation has been changed, as has how it deals with animal welfare. A traceability system is being introduced, which is long overdue and probably should have been there before. It is coming now, however, and it will be comparable to the bovine traceability system, which works 100%. It is possible to trace a calf from birth, through its life and to death.

I will not recite again the number of jobs in the industry, because those are facts and without them Ireland would be dead. Two groups have not been mentioned here today - the horses and greyhounds. They are natural racers, jumpers and runners. What do we do if we do not continue with and support these industries? What do we do if we do not love, mind and train these animals to do what they were born to do and what is in their natural DNA? Putting a greyhound in a pen behind a house or running around the garden is not enough. When a greyhound is born, it is in his or her nature to run, race and hunt. Horses are the same. If we stand these animals in a field and look at them, we can see that it is in their DNA to run, race and jump. Once they are minded and the husbandry is correct, which as I said is the case with 99.9% of the people who have these animals, that is what the horses and greyhounds also want to do.

I support the funding. I have two questions for the Minister. The additional funding is Covid-related. It is vitally important that the Minister works with HRI and RCÉ to ensure this money filters down to the people who suffered most during the pandemic. I refer to the small breeders, owners and trainers. The breeders cannot sell their horses now because the sales have moved to England as that is the market. The second question concerns Brexit and animal welfare in that context. There was mention of the tripartite arrangement. I hope it will still stand after Brexit has been negotiated, but we are hearing that regardless of the outcome of Brexit we are going to have long queues at our ports. I refer to the transportation of horses, and thoroughbreds in particular. They are very finicky animals when out of their usual environment. We must try to evolve a slip lane for the transportation of livestock and bloodstock through our ports, if we do witness the predicted delays.

We will get everybody in if we are very strict on adherence to time. I call Senator Buttimer.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I support this motion. As we have heard, horse and greyhound funding is controversial. I understand and appreciate the sentiments of some of my colleagues. It is important, however, to put this debate in context. Sport Ireland has allocated €85 million for sport in our country, which all of us herald, promote and support. We are announcing funding today for the greyhound and horse industry which provides jobs, support and enjoyment. Many of us have an interest in this area, and I was the part owner of a greyhound several times. Senator Paul Daly is right. Those of us who own or have owned animals are concerned about their welfare during and after racing.

I would like if in the debate we would not divide and conquer but base this on real facts. In some parts, we are basing this debate on a programme which revealed activities which none of us would condone. A rogue element, a minority, was involved and we condemn it out of hand. I agree with Senator Paul Daly regarding the points made by Senator O'Reilly. They were well made. Let us, however, ensure that we recognise the 50% increase which the Government has included in budget 2021 for animal welfare, allied to the work of Greyhound Racing Ireland on traceability and animal welfare to support the industry.

Senator Boylan is correct that there is a fundamental difficulty, and that is why the Indecon report was published. If we read that report, it states that in Great Britain, New Zealand, Western Australia and New South Wales over the past decade there has been a decline in greyhound racing. The Senator is correct about that and I completely concur with her in this regard.

The issue of animal welfare is one which we, universally, must tackle. We should not, however, demonise the industry in respect of the actions of rogue elements. That is the fundamental point. I also commend councillors Eileen Lynch and David McManus for their work on greyhound welfare.

I ask members of the House to stand on the Curragh on Derby day, go to Cheltenham on Gold Cup day or over to Melbourne or Kentucky and look at the acclaim which the Irish horse receives in those places. I refer to breeding, competitiveness and winning, and our jockeys with them. Are we saying, to an element, that we want to get rid of all that? I hope we do not. The Indecon report on the greyhound industry recommended root and branch reform. I am speaking in the context of the Cork and Youghal tracks. I hope it will be part of the Minister's remit to allow us to look at how we can transform, in a post-Covid world, or a new world with Covid, the use of those tracks in Cork and Youghal. I refer to promoting them and using them for conferences in order that they can become income and revenue generators for the greyhound industry.

I will finish by saying to those who have said there has been no change that they need to look at the whole issue around animal welfare. There is the halfway house scheme, the rehoming programme, the financial incentive for the rehoming of greyhounds, the foster-to-adopt scheme, the track financial support scheme, the confidential phone line that people can use regarding welfare issues and the injury at tracks support scheme.

An education allowance is being given and there is a code of practice for the care and welfare of greyhounds. All these are being implemented, and as Senator Daly mentioned, the traceability element must be pursued to its finish.

I invite all Members in the House who are opposed to this motion to go to Coolmore to speak with the owners of horses, and to speak with the owners of greyhounds, to see what it really means to us all. Please do that and let us not demonise one another. This is a very important industry that our country requires. We will make changes and we have made changes.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, to the House as it is the first time we have had the opportunity to address him. I wish him every success in his ministerial post.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in favour of this motion to provide State funding to Horse Racing Ireland and Greyhound Racing Ireland in 2021. Horse racing, the thoroughbred industry and greyhound racing are vibrant and important parts of the culture and economy of this country, particularly the rural economy and rural life. We have a long and proud tradition of horse racing in Ireland and the steeple chase began in Cork in 1752. Horse racing in Bellewstown in County Meath, where I am a volunteer member of the committee, took place in 1726. The money we get from Horse Racing Ireland every year is constantly improving facilities there for animal welfare. We welcome that.

Horse racing provides direct and indirect employment of 29,000 people, generating €1.9 billion annually for the economy. Ireland is the third-biggest producer of thoroughbred foals in the world and we attract significant interest and investment globally as a result of our high standing in the sector. Significant employment and economic benefit is derived from greyhound racing too.

The Green Party might be more appropriately called the grey party as it seems to be hell-bent on draining rural life from every bit of colour and human vibrancy. It tried to kill off the hunt in this country and now it seems to want to kill greyhound racing. What is next on the list? Are we going to be banned from fishing in our lakes and rivers?

Nobody supports cruelty to animals and I support any reasonable measures to ensure animal welfare. It is interesting to hear some Members today speaking about animal cruelty and welfare, referencing the 6,000 dogs killed each year, and yet they show no compassion or remorse for the 6,600 babies killed each year, helped by funding from the HSE.

Stick to this debate.

I did not interrupt Senator Boylan and it is very unfair of her to do it to me. I find astonishing these Members support such measures. I am really astonished by that. Not only are some Members of this House trying to depopulate us with abortion but they also want to target breeders by curtailing how many pups they can breed.

At the same time as supporting any reasonable measure to guarantee animal welfare, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the overwhelming majority of farmers, horse and dog breeders love their animals and care for them properly. It is right to support these important industries, which are part of our culture and history. They provide entertainment, employment and economic benefit, so I am quite happy to support today's measure.

My sincere apologies to colleagues but by the order of the House, the debate must end presently. I did not make the order.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach might name those of us who did not have the time to contribute to the debate.

The Senators who will not have time to speak are Senators John Cummins, Paddy Burke and Seery Kearney.

It is really important to note that our colleague, Councillor David McManus, was called a liar in the Dáil today and the record must be corrected. The figures given by the Minister are correct and our colleague indicated those exact figures on employment.

I thank everybody who contributed to the debate in the House this afternoon. It was important to have the debate and to provide oversight of the spending of the horse and greyhound fund. Between yesterday and next Tuesday I will have appeared on four occasions in one week in the Houses of the Oireachtas to discuss the horse and greyhound fund. Senator Ruane mentioned earlier that it would not be debated in the Dáil but it will be next Tuesday. It was discussed at length before the agriculture committee yesterday and in the Dáil this morning as part of a Private Members' motion. It is being discussed in the Seanad now and it will be discussed in the Dáil next Tuesday. We could not be accused of not properly teasing out these matters.

Technically, it is a requirement every year that we seek the approval of both Houses for additional allocations in the fund. As I outlined in my opening statement and many Members mentioned in the Chamber, there is value in both the horse and greyhound racing industries to the country, those who participate in them and the economy and employment. It is important that we, as a Government, support those economic activities and recognise them as an important part of rural traditions and heritage, as well as urban heritage. In the greyhound sector in particular there is a strong urban heritage for the sport.

Many of the contributions indicated the importance attached to welfare and I absolutely concur with that. It is crucial. Both Horse Racing Ireland and Rásaíocht Con Éireann are clear in ensuring the best welfare measures are implemented and that practices continue to improve. There has been particular comment on the greyhound sector in recent years and it is something Rásaíocht Con Éireann has taken very seriously. It is committing a minimum of 10% of funding it received towards continuing to increase animal welfare measures and supports that are in place.

I know many contributions referred to the traceability system that is currently being put in place and that is really important. Some of the funding is going to that. There is also rehoming support and care homes, and the funding will help continue those in the year ahead. State funding is dependent on those high standards being followed and implemented.

I ask for the support of the House with this funding. The increase particularly relates to Covid-19 as for much of the year, neither industry has been able to hold races nor have they had racing behind closed doors, thereby losing much revenue. I know there is not unanimous support for this and some people are clearly not in favour of spending public funds in this regard. The majority are in favour of it and recognise the value and importance of the industries. Some Members are very much in the middle of the road, and one of the benefits of speaking to this on up to four occasions in the course of a week is that I can see the various different approaches even within parties. I note Sinn Féin in particular in this regard, and the views depend on which Member I speak to. Over the past two or three years the view of those Members very much depended on who they were talking to as well. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the party opposed the horse and greyhound racing fund.

Last year Deputy Brian Stanley said after the debate that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party should be ashamed for passing the motion and the obscene levels of funding. The party's spokesperson, Deputy Carthy, one year on was very much in favour of the level of funding passed last year but he does not want the increases for this year. We are seeing that Sinn Féin seems to be very much in favour of the industry but is just one year behind the curve. The party now supports the levels it saw as "obscene" and shameful last year. We look forward to seeing what will be the position of the party next year or even next week. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 32; Níl, 10.

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Cummins, John.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Garvey, Róisín.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGahon, John.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Ward, Barry.


  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne; Níl, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Boylan.
Question declared carried.
Sitting suspended at 5 p.m. and resumed at 5.20 p.m.