Engagement with Representatives of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association and Alliance of Racing and Breeding

On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Shane O'Dwyer, chief executive officer, Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association and Ms Elizabeth Headon, spokesperson, Alliance of Racing and Breeding, to our engagement today. I know that all of the members will be interested in this engagement. We appreciate their presence. Before we begin, I will read an obligatory note on privilege that we read in all instances.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If, however, they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I invite Mr. O'Dwyer and Ms Headon to make their opening remarks and call on Mr. O'Dwyer to commence.

Mr. Shane O'Dwyer

I thank the Senators for inviting us here to discuss our concerns about the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. I will begin by giving an overview of the thoroughbred industry for the benefit of anyone who is unfamiliar with the industry. The thoroughbred industry in Ireland is highly successful and globally competitive. It directly employs approximately 17,000 individuals and thousands more indirectly. It makes a direct contribution to the Irish economy of approximately €1.3 billion. There are 6,777 registered breeders in the Thirty-two Counties. The breeders account for 14,617 mares and their mares produced 8,563 foals in 2016. There were 246 registered stallions in Ireland in 2016. Ireland is an international leader in racing and breeding. We continuously punch above our weight and breed the best horses in the world. Irish stallions are the best and we attract many foreign mares to be covered by those stallions.

At a time when other forms of rural employment are under threat from the consequences of Brexit, the maintenance and expansion of activity in the thoroughbred industry is important. Brexit creates concerns for the thoroughbred industry, which I will deal with.

The Irish thoroughbred industry has great economic significance. As much as 65% of Ireland's annual foal crop is exported, 80% of which are exported to the UK. The UK is the single biggest market for Irish bloodstock and is a major source of overseas revenue for Ireland. In excess of 10,000 horses were exported or imported between Ireland and the UK in 2016.

Ireland has two major sales companies - Goffs and Tattersalls. They both have sister companies in the UK and there is a significant presence of Irish vendors at all UK sales every year. Approximately 33% of sales in Goffs are to UK buyers, which equates to between €33 million and €35 million per annum. Approximately 10% of sales in Goffs are by UK vendors and equate to €10 million per annum. When the impact of Irish business in Goffs UK is added then another £27 million is threatened. Therefore, I conclude that €75 million of Goffs's business is threatened by Brexit.

If the UK introduces a form of tax for UK buyers buying outside of the UK then it will discourage UK buyers from travelling. It would also threaten up to €80 million each year in inward investment for both sales companies. Ireland's exports of thoroughbreds to Britain are worth approximately €225 million each year. That business would be at risk due to reduced trade flows following the vote in favour of Brexit. Exchange rate volatility will also make Irish exports more expensive.

I will discuss the movement and transport of thoroughbreds and people within Europe. To a large extent, the horse racing and breeding industries of the UK and Ireland operate as one with all stakeholders ranging from horses to trainers, riders, agents, stable lads, owners and vets regularly travelling between both jurisdictions. I will outline a typical example. In the industry there is something called day walk-in covers. In such cases a mare is transported to Ireland from the UK or vice versa to be bred within a 24-hour window, a practice that has become increasingly popular. This is also very popular between Ireland and Northern Ireland. There are 687 mares in Northern Ireland who are bred and almost 90% of them would be brought to the South of Ireland to be covered by stallions. A hard border would restrict the free movement of horses and could have an adverse effect on trade. British breeders would also be more inclined to cover their mares in the UK rather than risk delays at ports due to customs procedures, veterinary requirements, etc. Another issue is the free movement of EU nationals and the employment of UK citizens in the EU and vice versa.

The thoroughbred industry is extremely well regulated. Ireland and the UK operate as a single entity for stud book purposes. Basically, British and Irish foals are registered in a single stud book controlled by Weatherbys, which has an office in Naas. We maintain, as would our counterparts in the UK and further afield, that Weatherbys should continue to maintain the ongoing stud book for both countries. The situation is further complicated by the fact that horse racing and thoroughbred breeding have always operated on an all-Ireland basis. For example, foals born in Northern Ireland carry the IRE suffix, rather than GB. As Elizabeth Headon will outline later, two of Ireland's 26 racecourses are based in Northern Ireland.

Crucial to all of this is the high health of the animal. There is a tripartite agreement in place in that regard. Together with France we have historically had a tripartite agreement between the respective Departments with responsibility for agriculture to facilitate the movement of thoroughbred horses between the three countries. This agreement predates EU law. The ability of EU member states to use such flexibility was incorporated in subsequent EU laws on equine movement. This is now at risk. The UK leaving the EU might be used to revoke the tripartite agreement on the premise that it only has validity in the context of an EU directive, that the UK is no longer a member of the EU and that France and Ireland cannot make bilateral agreements with non-EU countries. It is vital that this agreement is retained.

The introduction of tariffs and regulations would increase the cost of business and reduce the free movement of labour and horses. Without an EU 27 and UK trade agreement on tariff and non-tariff barriers, it is possible that tariffs up to the standard World Trade Organization, WTO, 11.5% might apply on racing animals, particularly geldings. As mentioned, the industries in Britain and Ireland are also in competition for investment, sale of media rights for racing, location of bloodstock and training operations. Our concern is that once Britain leaves the EU it could offer a raft of taxation and other incentives which Ireland would be unable to match. I can give an example. The rise of good stallions standing in Britain since the removal of the stallion tax exemption in Ireland is a bellwether of what can happen. We would have to mark their move in the event of a hard Brexit. The industry and the Government would have to examine incentives that could be offered to keep the Irish bloodstock industry competitive.

I will now discuss various solutions. We wish to maintain the long-standing trade relationships that worked together on harmonised approaches long before the creation of the EU. As an industry, we are working with our EU and UK counterparts to ensure that the close relationship with Ireland and the special case for Ireland extend to thoroughbred breeding and racing, given our common stud book and close racing relationships. We wish to avoid reciprocated barriers to trade and the dangers and costs of non-tariff barriers of health certification, temporary admission requirements and restrictions by requirements to use only border inspection ports being reciprocated between the EU 27 and the UK. UK and EU 27 legislative equivalence already exists through the zootechnical and equine identification regulations. Much work was done in the last number of years by the industries in all countries to ensure these regulations are in place. The Irish Government should work with other member states to ensure that this equivalence is implemented after the UK leaves the EU. On that note, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association has just assumed the chair of the European Federation of Thoroughbred Breeders Associations. At a meeting involving 15 European countries last weekend it was agreed that Brexit is high on our agenda and that lobbying should take place between EU countries to ensure that legislation and so forth is in place and that Ireland retains its special position.

Innovation is another solution. We must promote and develop reassurances as to how high health status with high levels of control are implemented for thoroughbreds by EU and UK competent authorities for animal health. Animal health and welfare are crucial. We wish to evolve existing controls of thoroughbred identification to deliver real time digital identification and movement controls for tripartite activity and real time reporting in the 21st century. Animal movement through border checks could be facilitated through enhanced chip technology and dedicated lanes at key ports. We must work co-operatively with all stakeholders, not just within the industry but also at Government and EU level, to get the message across that Ireland must maintain its status quo with the UK post-Brexit. The licensing of medication could be harmonised. For example, there are products available in the UK that are not available in Ireland. Horses are sometimes moved to the UK to access treatment. This must continue with minimum disruption. At EU level the thoroughbred sector could be better classified as agriculture in the application of state aid rules. It is a rural industry with all the characteristics and social impact of agriculture.

That gives the committee a flavour of the industry. The single message we wish the committee to take from it is that we are an important global leader in this industry, with an economic input of approximately €1.3 billion to the economy. It must be maintained and passed on. Any negotiation or papers on Brexit at Government level should include our industry. I thank the members for their attention.

Ms Elizabeth Headon

I thank the committee for its focus on the thoroughbred racing and breeding industry as part of its deliberations on the challenges of Brexit and for inviting us to appear before it today. I am here on behalf of the Alliance for Racing and Breeding. The alliance brings together the associations for jockeys, trainers, stable staff, owners and breeders. It represents approximately 10,000 people, most of whom rely on thoroughbred racing for their livelihood. I am also a recent ministerial appointee to the board of Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, and I understand that the committee will hear the views of that organisation at a later session.

Shane O'Dwyer has comprehensively dealt with many of the key issues, so I will try to avoid being repetitive. I will focus more on horse racing than on the breeding sector. Some 80% of people living in Ireland believe that horse racing is an important part of our heritage. Irish people value the national prestige its success brings to the country. In no other international sporting activity have Irish people succeeded as much or as consistently over decades as in horse racing. This is not just due to one or two individuals but has been achieved through the work of many trainers, jockeys, stable staff and, of course, their famous horses. Proximity and ease of access to racing in the UK is a key element in these achievements.

However, the sport is really the shop window and the springboard for a much larger agricultural and rural industry - breeding. Ireland’s racing successes have built the brand of Irish bloodstock and the UK offers many of the most prestigious races in the world, which are currently easily accessible to Irish trainers and owners. We are fortunate to have many natural advantages for horse racing in Ireland: climate, limestone, great pastures, the best bloodlines and superb horsemen and women. We do not talk as often about our disadvantages, such as our geographical position as an island surrounded by water and our comparatively small population. Unfortunately, Brexit could bring those disadvantages into sharper focus.

Horse racing has always been organised on an all-island basis and two of Ireland's 26 racecourses are in Northern Ireland. Nine out of ten horses racing at Downpatrick and Down Royal are trained in the Republic of Ireland and they receive capital development grants and prize money support from HRI. This will be a focus for the committee's future meeting on all-island bodies. It is almost impossible to imagine Irish racing without British racing and vice versa. Of all the sectors the committee will meet, we maintain that ours is the most highly integrated. As much as Ireland relies on Britain as a buyer of its horses, Britain at present relies on Ireland to supply the racehorses it needs, both in terms of number and quality. They are, in effect, twin industries. British racing is an important proving ground, especially for Ireland’s future breeding stock, stallions and mares.

Ireland's foal crop is almost twice as big as that of the British, but British racing is much bigger than our sport here in Ireland, thereby providing opportunities to Irish jockeys, stable staff and trainers.

In 2016, just over 2,500 races were run in Ireland, compared to 10,000 in the UK. Ireland had nearly 29,000 runners compared to the UK’s almost 90,000. Last year, Irish trained horses ran 1,471 times in Britain, winning €17.5 million in prize money. We had 309 British trained runners in Ireland who took home €4 million.

At a prestigious level, Ireland's reputation is very high. In Cheltenham this year, there were a record 19 Irish-trained winners. More than two in three races were won by an Irish-trained horse. At Royal Ascot last year, one in three races was won by Irish-trained horses, and 63% of the winners were foaled in Ireland. Looking at the race card of any meeting in the UK, it is clear from the names how many Irish jockeys are working there, but there are short-term and long-term threats arising from any changes in this status quo.

Ireland’s easy access to British racing is very appealing to overseas investors and we would be very concerned that any impediments to this could be a disincentive to racehorse owners to keep their horses in training in Ireland. Furthermore, the possibility of the UK introducing incentives for its industry over time is a real threat, especially if racing in Ireland is still excluded from the usual state aid exemptions for agriculture and thereby limited in the scope of its competitive response.

British racing is not a replaceable market for the Irish thoroughbred industry. Unlike many other Brexit hit sectors, unfortunately, we cannot create or develop large racing industries in other EU countries such as Denmark, Germany or Portugal or adapt our product to suit new markets. As members heard from Mr. O'Dwyer, there are approximately 200 thoroughbred horse movements a week between Ireland and the UK. That accounts for half of all horse imports and exports to the UK. France would have half that number and is the next closest in that regard. The implications of a hard border, therefore, would be severe for both people and horses.

While it is the hope and expectation of industry parties in the UK and Ireland that the tripartite agreement that exists between Britain, France and Ireland will endure, the mundane logistical challenges of moving horses through border controls and checkpoints needs to be worked through. Thoroughbreds are highly sensitive animals, selectively bred for their flight response for the past 300 years. Horses in training are young equine athletes, at peak fitness. Any new delays that can increase time in horse boxes stuck in queues at ports could prove extremely difficult for trainers and their staff to manage and still permit the horse to perform to its maximum potential on the track.

For some major racing events, it is not unknown for jockeys to race in both Ireland and Britain on the same day, for example, travelling from Haydock to Leopardstown by helicopter for Champion Stakes day. That is not common, but it is a very exciting occurrence for the racing public and can be important to owners. It is essential that Irish jockeys are able to freely work and ride in the UK, which is great grounds for them to gain experience, and that they can move easily between the jurisdictions.

There are also the threats of virtual borders. With close and positive working relationships between the sport’s governing and regulatory bodies, we hope that there will not be any future divergence in veterinary and racing regulations. The importance of a level playing field as regards availability of medication and control of those therapeutic treatments will be essential, as we know from horses running in other jurisdictions that it can become problematic.

From an economic point of view, racehorses are luxury products and any downturn in the UK economy will be felt in Irish racing and breeding. While sales figures for Irish bloodstock have held up in the past 11 months since the Brexit vote, the drop in the value of sterling has already seen stallion fees here reduced, and it is making boarding a mare in Ireland more expensive for British based breeders. Media rights, which are negotiated fees paid by bookmakers to show Irish racing, will be paid in sterling from 2019, and this brings further uncertainty.

Turning to solutions, which I know are the members' focus, the committee will understand that anything other than the current integration and ease of movement for people and horses will have significant negative consequences for Ireland. Some of these issues are outside of Ireland’s control. However, this industry has proven its resilience in the past so with support and goodwill from the authorities in Ireland, the UK and Brussels, solutions can be achieved. These may include the development of clear customs and border protocols applicable to thoroughbred horses to facilitate ease of movement and traceability. Technology may offer solutions here but there will be a cost in implementation. An example of that is when there were tailbacks at Dover because of the issues in Calais. The UK authorities issued red As for everybody transporting animals to allow them be taken out of the queue and let through. Thoroughbred horses are at another risk level entirely from a standard livestock consignment, therefore, we believe that the thoroughbred industry needs its own clear protocols.

A professional sports person category could permit jockeys to move easily between the jurisdictions. We need clarity that thoroughbred breeding and racing are considered agricultural activities. Domestically, the resolution of a secure and sustainable funding model for the industry would provide some certainty as we move through challenging and unprecedented times.

I will conclude by saying that the other major racing nation in Europe is France. Their industry is extremely well supported through funding from betting, and while there are risks to France, they are fewer. It is up to Ireland, therefore, to keep the concerns of thoroughbred breeding and racing on the Brexit agenda during negotiations and we look forward to continuing to work with the Minister, Deputy Creed, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in that regard.

I thank Ms Headon. I have one question before I open the floor to members. Do Ms Headon and Mr. O'Dwyer perceive that this message has percolated to Government? Do they believe there is a consciousness of it as we approach negotiations? It is our job as a committee to deal with this issue, and we will do that, but do they perceive an awareness of its gravity? I am struck by the extent of this problem, which is enormous. Do the witnesses believe there is sufficient awareness of it at the level that matters? I will open the floor to the members and suggest to the witnesses that we will group the questions. I call Senator Paul Daly who has no lack of expertise in this area.

I thank the Chairman. I welcome Ms. Headon and Mr. O'Dwyer and thank them for the comprehensive and frightening reports they have given us. I say that as someone who has a keen interest in and love for this industry. From a racing and horse breeding perspective, getting out this message is one of the biggest concerns because it is seen as a sport among the general public. When one mentions Brexit, economies, trade and borders, sporting activities are probably way down the list. From the point of view of the Irish economy, the figures Mr. O'Dwyer has given are startling. It is a major industry from an Irish export point of view.

We are a world leader in the industry and the consequences of Brexit are being well flagged by the witnesses and by our Government in negotiations. However, in terms of the European organisation Mr. O'Dwyer mentioned, how high up the list of priorities is this issue for Prime Minister Theresa May? This negotiation will involve Prime Minister May on one side of the table and 27 other member states on the other. We will be one of the 27. Where do the witnesses believe their concerns might figure in those negotiations? How can the members of this committee, by virtue of our report, highlight their case to that extent and try to get it higher in the list of priorities in negotiations?

Mr. O'Dwyer rightly pointed out the IRE suffix. Where might that be after a potential hard Brexit? We have to look at every scenario. As I said earlier, the only thing that is predictable is the unpredictability of the situation. We hope for an easy Brexit, but we have to prepare for a hard one.

I will be in Downpatrick tomorrow evening. A situation might arise in two years time whereby if I am going to Downpatrick, not only will the horses have to have a passport or go through security but I will have to show my passport also. That is one possibility. How do the witnesses see us prioritising the horse in that situation? The horse will be pushed down the line, so to speak, if people have to show their passports. A horse crossing over to be covered or to race in either of the two tracks or vice versa will not be high on the list of many people's priorities. How do we get out that message?

Anybody involved with horses or in horse racing knows the story about the horse which befriended the goat for relaxation purposes or to overcome nervous traits, but getting that goat to travel with the horse to Cheltenham was unbelievably difficult.

Could we, in a worst case scenario, potentially see the same difficulty for the horse? Without putting Mr. O'Dwyer on the spot for specifics, could he give us a ballpark figure for the economic impact on the industry of a very hard Brexit?

In an ideal world we would like to see the tripartite agreement remain, so that horse racing and horse transport across borders would not change post Brexit irrespective of what kind of Brexit we had.

During an earlier discussion on cheese exports with Teagasc, the option to export to France would be the next port of call. The land bridge to France is through England. If trainers such as Willie Mullins or Aidan O'Brien decide because of the barriers post Brexit that they will bypass English racing and head to France, their best mode of transport is through England. Would there still be difficulties inadvertently, without even stopping over?

I would like to hear more from the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association on what might be potential solutions to the worst case problems that will arise. As I said at the outset, we are hoping for the best but we have to ask about worst case scenarios. None of us wants the worst case scenario but we do not have very much control at this point in time as to which outcome will come. I think that in Mrs. Theresa May's list of priorities, this industry, which is very close to my heart will not be very high up on her list and I wonder how we can get it up that list.

I thank Mr. O'Dwyer for his presentation. I do not have a great understanding of the horse racing industry apart from going to the races. Obviously I am aware of the beauty of these incredible animals. I echo Senator Paul Daly's concern about the priority of horse racing in Mrs. May's list. The reality of going through borders, particularly from North to South would be very worrying for thoroughbred horses. That would be something that I too would be very concerned about. I would also be concerned about the economic impact of change.

Senator Craughwell put a question to the president of the Ulster Farmers Union this morning and I am going to ask the same question. Senators Craughwell and Richmond were in Brussels and the nub of the question that was put to them, was to give an ideal, no matter how over the top it might be, of what they would like to see. What would be the ideal dream scenario for the ITBA?

I will invite responses now. Does Mr. O'Dwyer wish to start?

Mr. Shane O'Dwyer

First, I will respond to the Acting Chairman's question on awareness. The Department has set up a stakeholders' consultative group and the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association has appeared before it to outline our concerns, as we have done today. We would like it included in any report that the Department commissions.

There is awareness in Europe of the industry's perspective, in particular among the 15 countries, including the United Kingdom, that were around the table at the weekend. It is high on the list of priorities. When the Government produces papers on the impact of Brexit, we would like the economic value of the equine sector to be included, as Senator Daly has said.

It was asked whether this sector was high on the UK priority list. We also share that concern. We raised it with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine at one of the stakeholders' meetings. When we were speaking to our counterparts in the United Kingdom, we made the point that whereas agriculture is high on the list of Ireland's concerns, in the UK it is not, while in agriculture, within the bloodstock and equine element might be even lower down on that list. We were assured. Ms Headon made the point that while we might breed more horses, there are more racers in the United Kingdom. This year, 50% of the horses that ran in Cheltenham were bred in Ireland, some 25% of them were bred in the United Kingdom and 25% were bred in France and Germany. The racing model in the United Kingdom, particularly the National Hunt is built around race meetings on a Saturday. They are not producing enough horses, so they are reliant on Irish bred horses to run in England. They are acutely aware of that. The chairman of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association, TBA, and the chairman of the British Horseracing Authority, BHA, are keen to get that message out. In fairness to them, everything has been delayed a little bit. The calling of the election has put things back a little bit. The chairman of the British Horseracing Authority accepts that we in Horse Racing Ireland are joined with them at the hip.

Members heard me mention that 50% of vendors at the major sales in the United Kingdom are Irish. The TBA and the BHA will bring the message to Mrs. Theresa May for no change to the present arrangement. That message will be high up on their list of priorities.

Downpatrick was mentioned. We must be concerned about the number of mares that are moving. The ideal scenario is no change.

I was listening to the discussion with the road hauliers on "Morning Ireland" yesterday. Some 1,000 plus lorries per day will travel between the Republic and Northern Ireland, of which some 8% will be diverted into trade facilitation centres located some ten to 15 miles from the Border. We want to avoid that. We want to be able to get animals from North to South with the minimum of fuss. That is our ideal scenario.

On the economic figures, Horse Racing Ireland is setting up a sub-committee. There will be a round table discussion next week, where with one voice the focus will be on investigating solutions and whether figures will be got. Our aim is to keep the status quo; that is important.

Ms Elizabeth Headon

The questions were germane and very relevant. I will start with the question on how detrimental a hard Brexit might be. As Mr. Shane O'Dwyer stated, in the short term Britain will have to maintain good relations with Ireland and keep using our horses, which is very positive. There is a very benign, strong close relationship. Some thoroughbreds, particularly if they are moving for racing, develop a condition called travel sickness from the stress of being in a horsebox while travelling and out of their normal surrounding. Not all horses are susceptible to it but some are and it can become quite serious and almost like a pneumonia type condition. That is a big risk for a valuable racehorse. We have many major UK owners who keep their horses in training in Ireland and can bring them to Cheltenham and to the big race meetings in the United Kingdom. One would be very worried that over time they may gravitate back to keeping their horses in Newmarket, with significant consequences for rural employment in Ireland. That would be very negative. The other consequence that would be negative over time would be on the breeding stock. Even though there is a small number of stallions, as Mr. O'Dwyer mentioned, they are the foundation of our industry and they must win a big race such as the Epsom Derby or major high profile races. The United Kingdom rather than France is seen as the proving ground for stallions because people turn towards the winner of the major races. Horses would have to make a longer journey to race in France and the United States.

I spoke recently to a person involved in transporting horses who told me that at present if he is moving a horse to the United Kingdom, he will have to think about it about two days beforehand.

If he is looking to move horses to America, which is also an English-speaking country, for the Breeders' Cup, which takes place in November, he will have to start getting through the paperwork in August. As we all know, the more paperwork is involved, the more costs are involved. In a worst case scenario, we could be looking at quarantine problems and the various associated difficulties. When a horse is in training, a great deal can happen in the four or five days before the race. The horse might not be as ready for the race as its trainer expected it to be. It is not easy to plan, or to be certain which horse will be going where and when. Problems like those I have mentioned can be extremely disruptive in such circumstances.

France has great racing. The French authorities have introduced funding structures that prioritise or incentivise French-bred horses. Irish horses are at a little bit of a disadvantage in that regard. The real disadvantage, as Senator Daly suggested, is that nobody is going to put a horse on a boat from Rosslare to Cherbourg. If a horse develops colic or gets some other kind of sickness while travelling by boat to or from France, it is not possible to take the horse off the boat to get to a vet. The option of going to a vet would be much more quickly available if the horse were being transported through the UK. These things do not happen very often. Racehorses are valuable animals and there is a lot riding on their success. People put years of effort into bringing them to the point at which they are ready to be raced. Given the risk of being out at sea for very long with a horse, it is really not workable to travel directly to France. Even if it is technically possible to avoid going through the UK, it is not really achievable in a practical sense. We must be able to transit through the UK if we believe racing in France is an attractive proposition.

I was also asked about our priorities. As Mr. O'Dwyer has said, it is positive that everyone who is looking at this issue is taking a very benign attitude to it. While this may be quite a hidden issue at present, if we reached a position where there were fewer Irish runners at Cheltenham, it would become much more visible and public very quickly and everybody would ask what was going on. They would want to know where the Irish horses were.

It was a little disappointing that our sector was not specifically mentioned in the Government plan for Brexit. We know there is a lot of interest in and support for the equine sector. It is up to the sector to propose workable solutions. I do not believe we will meet resistance to that. If Ireland does not keep saying that the huge issues which are arising do not need to be resolved in respect of thoroughbreds, things could become very difficult. As Mr. O'Dwyer said, the dream scenario is for us all to go back to where we were 11 months ago so that this does not happen. I am sure the committee is hearing that from everybody. If that is not possible, we need to work closely with our UK and French counterparts to put systems in place that will ensure the disruption is minimised as much as possible, particularly from a welfare point of view for the animals involved.

I am a member of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which has published a report on Brexit. It was remiss of us that the equine sector was given little or no mention in the report. For that reason, it is very important for it to be included in this committee's report.

I would make a statement, rather than asking a question, in response to what Mr. O'Dwyer said about Ireland being joined at the hip with the UK. As he said, the ideal situation would be for everyone to go back to square one as if none of this had ever happened. Many people who have appeared before this committee have said it would be acceptable to them if Northern Ireland were to get special status because it would solve many of our problems. It would solve the problems with Down Royal, Downpatrick and Northern Ireland mares. I have a fear - it is important for this to be reflected in the negotiations - that if the EU 27 were to see the granting of special status to Northern Ireland without interfering with the island of Ireland as a means of giving Ireland a great deal and being seen as heroes, the imaginary border - the east-west border - would be much harder than a hardened Border between the North and South would be. I think the witnesses know the point I am making. Such a scenario could make the equine industry's relationship with the UK far more difficult than a perceived hard Brexit would make it. If we are seen to get a good deal by securing the retention of an all-island situation, it is possible that a far stronger border will be drawn along an imaginary line in the Irish Sea. We have heard the point that has been made today by the breeding and racing sectors from other groups, particularly within the agriculture industry. This point has been made with regard to cheddar cheese and mushrooms, to mention just two products. We are talking about an entire industry. I do not think we can stress that point enough when we produce our final report.

Senator Neale Richmond resumed the Chair.

The Senator has spoken about many important issues today. I apologise for my intermittent appearances. We picked up on these issues during our preparatory meetings. When we examined the report published by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, on which Senator Daly sits - I am not criticising the report because it is excellent - we said that as a committee we wanted to focus on the whole equine industry. We have had good feedback from our colleagues. When I was in Scotland on Friday, I spoke to my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament. We have discussed this issue with MPs and Lords. We have suggested that all of Ireland and the UK could take a clear common stance on whatever deal is forthcoming in the equine area. I thank Mr. Shane O'Dwyer and Ms Elizabeth Headon for coming to the Seanad Chamber to discuss this important issue. As I have mentioned to everyone, the committee's report is a live document. We will be meeting in public session until 15 June. We will have two weeks to compile our report before it is submitted to the Commission and the Government. We would appreciate the ongoing engagement of Mr. O'Dwyer and Ms Headon on this matter. I thank them once again.