Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Questions (8)

Martin Heydon


8. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the estimated impact of Brexit on the movement of horses and the equine industry, the protections that can be provided and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5676/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

The estimated impact of Brexit on the movement of horses and the equine industry in general is a significant source of concern. What protections can be provided to the industry? As the Minister is aware, the tripartite agreement between Ireland, the UK and France allows for the movement of and trade in horses between countries without the need for veterinary inspections or-and health certificates. This could be greatly challenged by a no-deal Brexit. Are there any contingency plans?

I appreciate the Deputy's ongoing interest in this issue. Ireland has a strong reputation for the quality of its horses and the quality of its horsemanship. The current EU rules on the movement of horses between EU member states require that the animals being moved are inspected by an official veterinarian and accompanied by a veterinary health certificate issued under the EU TRACES system and that a horse passport is issued by an approved horse passport issuing body.

However, these rules also allow member states that have implemented alternative but equivalent health control systems in their respective territories to grant one another derogations from the standard movement rules. The derogation provided for under Community rules on the movement of horses is applicable to movements between EU member states only. It is not inclusive of movements between the EU and third countries.

Currently, Ireland is part of a tripartite agreement with the UK and France that allows for the movement and trade of horses between the three countries without undergoing veterinary inspections and without health certificates. As the agreement is based on EU legislation on the movement of horses within the EU, the UK cannot be part of the agreement once it becomes a third country.

The current focus of our no-deal contingency planning is on the arrangements that will be necessary for the Department to fulfil its legal obligations with respect to import controls on live animals and agrifood products as efficiently as possible while also ensuring the minimum possible disruption to trading arrangements. As part of this planning we are upgrading existing border inspection posts and developing additional border inspection posts to cater for the increased volume of inspections necessary, including in respect of equines being imported from the UK, and making arrangements to facilitate the certification of horses to the UK as necessary.

I thank the Minister for his response. As he outlined, the concern involves what happens when the UK becomes a third country and the impact of that, be it a no-deal scenario or a more managed way. The impact on the equine industry in Ireland could be akin to the effect on the beef sector because the Irish and UK markets for the breeding and racing of horses are so interlinked. If there was no deal at the end of March, it would be far more difficult for Irish horses to travel to Aintree the following week for the Grand National festival. Later that month, we want the best of the English horses who have been successful in Cheltenham to come and contest in Punchestown. A couple of weeks later, we are into the height of the breeding season. Some of the top stallions in the world are found in this country and mares will be travelling to and from this country so that concern is there. Our racing and breeding industry is worth well in excess of €1 billion to this country and jobs in this sector are core economic jobs across rural Ireland. Might we need to look at the relaxation of state aid rules to support the industry? We need reassurance that the Department stands ready to help the industry in every way possible.

The Department has had extensive and ongoing negotiations with the industry and the Commission on this matter. I raised the subject with Commissioner Hogan on Monday of last week in Brussels. It does not just affect the thoroughbred sector because the horse sport sector also sees very considerable volume. I saw figures recently suggesting that anything up to 30,000 sport horses outside of the thoroughbred sector move east to west on an annual basis. The issue with regard to the thoroughbred sector is complicated by the fact that there is all-island administration of racing through the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board and there is an all-island stud book for the thoroughbred sector. It is complex. We are looking at ways to facilitate that. There will be some additional administrative obligations but we are trying to make the matter as simple as possible to ensure that movement can continue because that is critical to the industry here. I am very conscious that it is a highly mobile industry and that anything that is perceived as an impediment could be to our disadvantage if it is not resolved. We are looking for clarity in many respects on a range of issues where none is immediately available because we do not know what the UK's response is but we are committed to working with the industry to make the new arrangements relating to when the UK becomes a third country as user-friendly and efficient as possible.

I am delighted to hear that the Minister is open to working with the industry across the board whether it is the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association or racehorse trainers through Horse Racing Ireland. I ask that the Minister and Department work with all key stakeholders in the industry to look at initiatives that could help those who will be impacted both in the short term and long term so that we safeguard an industry that is crucially important and provides thousands of jobs across rural Ireland in many areas that do not have a significant amount of other economic activity. That is what our racing and breeding industry is worth to us and we need to make sure it is protected in every way possible. I thank the Minister for his response.

I acknowledge the Deputy's ongoing interest in this area. Given where he is from, it is a critical issue. We have had extensive engagement. It is an issue of which we are very aware. It will involve change to the current arrangements but we are endeavouring to make those as user-friendly and efficient as possible.