Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 23 Jul 1969

Vol. 241 No. 8

National Stud Bill, 1969: Second Stage.

I move:

That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The Irish National Stud Company was established under the National Stud Act, 1945, as a measure to assist and encourage the breeding of thoroughbred horses in Ireland. Since 1946, when it leased from the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries the property known as the National Stud Farm at Tully, County Kildare, the company has carried on the business of a stud farm. Deputies will recall that this property had been used by the British Government as a stud farm until 1st January, 1944, when it was transferred to the Irish Government. The transfer did not, however, include any bloodstock.

Since the war the importance and value of the Irish bloodstock industry have been increasing progressively. Yearlings and foals from studs in Ireland command attention at Irish and English sales where buyers from the major racing countries compete for them at excellent prices. Irish bred sires have been exported to most countries in the racing world, where their blood lines have boosted the quality of the thoroughbred and enhanced the prestige of the Irish horse.

The net export value of the thoroughbred industry is in the region of £4m. a year including worthwhile indirect export benefits which accrue from the substantial expenditures of foreign owners sending their horses to Irish training stables and their sires and mares to Irish stud farms. The industry provides a significant quota of good employment in rural areas. The State through the National Stud has contributed a good deal to the prosperity of the thoroughbred industry. Conditions are changing radically, however, in this industry as in so many others. Ireland's prestige as one of the greatest nurseries of thoroughbred horses by itself is not sufficient to compete with developments in other countries — notably the United States, Great Britain and France.

The directors of the Irish National Stud Company have been taking stock of the company's position in the light of changing times and of the findings of the Survey Team on the House Breeding Industry which reported in 1965. I must accept the considered view of the directors which is that, unfortunately, the National Stud has not been able to keep up of late with what a national stud might ideally be or even, perhaps, with the standards set by the best privately-owned stud farms at home and abroad.

For instance, a large part of the accommodation for visiting mares and their foals, besides being very old, is uneconomic in its lay-out and in its location vis-á-vis the stud's operations generally. Then, the number of stallions at the stud which used to be six or even seven is now reduced to four. This quota is quite insufficient to meet the demands of breeders.

It is five years since a stallion was purchased by the stud. "Fashion" is very important in this business. Many high-class young horses have been acquired by private studs over the last two or three years. The National Stud should clearly be in a position to provide the services of comparable sires. The special feature about the National Stud is that the smallest breeder — provided his mare is of acceptable quality — can compete with all comers in the ballots for nominations. The stud's fees are modest and the "no foal no fee" basis of charge is a valuable concession which is not common in the industry generally as far as high-class sires are concerned.

The need for new and additional stallions is represented by the company as necessary also to provide the extra revenue needed to meet steeply rising costs of maintenance and overhead charges. Since 1960 the company have spent some £300,000 on capital account on bloodstock and on additions and improvements to the stud's facilities.

The recent outlay has virtually exhausted the company's capital resources. I am satisfied that the case made to me by the board of the company for a substantial injection of new capital is a good one. All told, the purchase of additional stallions; the construction of new yards for their visiting mares and the replacement of out-of-date and uneconomic buildings and installations in conformity with modern standards and specifications would be likely to cost the company some £500,000 to £600,000 in a programme phased over three or four years.

Since the authorised share capital of the company is limited under the National Stud Act, 1953, to £500,000— it was only £250,000 under the original Act of 1945 — an increase to at least £1,000,000 would be necessary for the purposes I have already described. It is contemplated that if this Bill is enacted the additional finance found to be required by the company should be provided in the form of share capital taken up by the Minister for Finance under section 19 of the original Act of 1945 after statutory consultation with the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries.

Up to now I have been speaking of objectives which would call for an increase of half-a-million pounds in the company's share capital, that is, from £.5m. to £1m. Deputies will have noticed, however, that clause 2 of the Bill before them provides for the increase of this capital to £2m. This brings me to the question of the acquisition by the National Stud of what has been described as a "prestige stallion."

The Survey Team on the Horse Breeding Industry agreed that, as at the time the team reported (1965), the National Stud was providing a reasonable service to small breeders. However, after reviewing all the evidence available about the quality of the bloodstock produced in this country and on the reputation of Irish horses generally, the team went on to recommend that "there should be at all times at least one prestige stallion standing at the National Stud." The directors of the Irish National Stud Company agree with this view while, naturally, stressing the risk involved in the investment of a great deal of money in a horse which might well prove disappointing.

This, then, is merely an enabling provision against the contingency that an opportunity might arise of obtaining what the directors of the company considered to be the right kind of horse at the right price. A factor of special concern to the Minister for Finance would, of course, be the capacity of the Exchequer at any given moment to provide the company with the amount of share capital needed to effect a proposed purchase.

Clause 3 of the Bill deals with the company's bank borrowings. These are restricted to £100,000 or to the amount of share capital unissued whichever is the less. That restriction relates back to the 1945 Act when the share capital of the company was £250,000. If the fixed capital of the company is increased as provided for in this Bill some corresponding increase in working capital facilities will obviously be needed. Clause 3, accordingly, purports to raise the company's borrowing capacity to £200,000 without limitation by reference to unissued share capital.

As the Minister said, the purpose of the Bill is to increase the share capital so that the Irish National Stud Company can undertake necessary capital development in the way of providing up-to-date buildings and facilities at the stud farm and also for the purpose of acquiring, should the opportunity offer, a high-class, exclusive sire. I think it right to say that the National Stud has done reasonably well since it was established. Indeed, as I look around the House — I suppose it is a sign of age — I find I am the only person here who was here when the original Act was introduced.

The stud and the stud company, on the whole, have been reasonably successful. The business, as those who are familiar with it know, is one in which very considerable risks are involved. No matter how alert or energetic the board or their advisers may be in acquiring suitable bloodstock, it does not always follow that the success which they expect for the progeny will be achieved. The stud company's early purchases of sires were particularly successful. "Royal Charger" and "Preciptic" were, I think, both very successful and so were one or two other sires. The Minister's reference to the idea of purchasing a prestige stallion prompts me to refer to this: no matter how successful a stallion may be on the racecourse, there is no absolute guarantee that the same success will attend his efforts as a sire or that his progeny will inherit the characteristics which marked his racecourse career.

Indeed, here again the stud had, I suppose, quite an unusual experience. In the 1950s they purchased what was then the most renowned racehorse of its time from the late Aga Khan, Tulyar. Undoubtedly many eyebrows were raised at the purchase price at the time and, if my memory serves me correctly, we had an amending Bill to provide the funds necessary. That attracted a lot of attention, of course. The purchase was questioned on a number of grounds. In any event, whatever about the purchase price, they made a very successful sale in getting rid of the horse subsequently. To that extent, I suppose, they had the best of both worlds.

At the same time, it is true to say — and it is borne out by all students of breeding — that horses with traditional classic pedigrees, who have displayed capacity on the racecourse, generally tend to transmit those abilities to their progeny. The late Sir Charles Lester, who used to write each year's article prior to the Derby, always stressed the fact — other writers and commentators adverted to it, too— that, by and large, the well-known bloodlines which had themselves attained classic success, or had finished in the first two or three in the classic races, generally tended to transmit the same characteristics or the same racing ability to their progeny. To that extent, there is merit in the idea of endeavouring to do this. There is undoubtedly a risk in it. The fact that a horse has attained success does not always mean that this will follow, and Tulyar was a case in point.

There is a great deal to be said for the Irish National Stud Company endeavouring to maintain as part of the quota stallions, or at least one stallion, of classic standard. This depends, of course, as the Minister remarked, on a horse being on offer and available at the right price. Undoubtedly the postwar development of syndication and share-ownership in one form or another has, to a great extent, increased prices beyond the capacity of an individual owner to acquire, on his own, sires of the value involved in buying classic horses.

At the same time, if we are to maintain — and there is no doubt that the competition from Britain, France and America is very keen — our place, which is a high one, and if we are to continue to maintain the share of the bloodstock market which this country has — in round figures I think it is estimated at over £4 million a year — it is essential that we should at all times endeavour to produce and breed the best. I agree entirely with this idea and I think it was one of the objectives laid down in our discussions when the original Bill was going through.

So far as I am aware, it has always been the policy of the board to give encouragement to and provide facilities for small breeders. This country has undoubtedly many large stud farms and establishments owned by people of considerable means. On the other hand, the backbone of the trade — and it is of particular value from the point of view of dispersing employment throughout every county or almost every county — is the small breeder. We must ensure that the small breeders get the return to which they are entitled and get the encouragement they expect. This depends on enabling them to avail of sires in the way in which the National Stud has made them available by allowing them to operate through balloting nominations and giving them right of access to sires of this sort. There is no doubt that many of the less expensive sires that have been available at the stud have been used with advantage by the smaller breeders. It is essential that they should continue to have these facilities made available to them.

It is desirable that the standard of accommodation at the stud should be improved. This originally was quite a well-equipped stud. It was equipped by the late Colonel Hall-Walker who owned it and subsequently, as is generally known, handed it over to the British Government and it was later transferred by the British Government to the Government here. The equipment provided during the first war, or even earlier is, of course, by modern standards, by no means adequate or sufficient and it does not provide the amenities or services necessary. I believe it is desirable that the highest standard should be provided. It is essential from the point of view of ensuring that the Irish National Stud affords the services which people expect.

I know the view has been expressed that, with the large number of privately-owned studs here and because of the fact that a great deal of capital is involved in it, it is not necessary to have a State company carrying on a stud of this sort. I do not agree with that view. At any rate, we have this stud available. It was provided initially by Colonel Hall-Walker and the reputation it achieved as a stud reflected considerable credit on Colonel Hall-Walker and those associated with him for their foresight and for the success that has attended, in the main, the sires provided there — particularly the earlier ones, also in recent times and some of the sires at present standing there.

We believe this is a desirable proposal. I think it is essential to realise, in accepting it, that there is no guarantee that purchasing what is described as a prestige horse will ensure success and that it is important that the stud should continue to ensure that full consideration is given to the interests of the smaller breeders who not only breed horses for flat racing but also store horses for alternate sale as hurdlers or 'chasers. We agree to this proposal.

I would be the last to pretend to any expert knowledge of the bloodstock industry, but in the enforced absence of my colleague, Deputy Murphy, I should like very simply and briefly to say that the Labour Party also accept and welcome this Bill. We think this is a most important major industry in Ireland, and more particularly it is a prestige industry of the kind which, perhaps, a small country like ours can most successfully sustain. We also in the Labour Party take a small private and understandable interest in this industry because it demonstrates a rather unusual example in Ireland of the effective working of public enterprise in a productive sphere. As both the Minister and the Leader of the Fine Gael Party have pointed out, the National Stud is in competition with private studs and is, nevertheless, successfully so and is performing a very useful function. We are very glad to see an instance in which a public enterprise can compete with private enterprises in the same sphere without, in that process, inducting alien Marxist or Maoist philosophies into the horses of Ireland.

I thank the Minister. We are glad to see that principle accepted by the Minister and the leader of the Fine Gael Party. Indeed, we will go further and say that, perhaps, the same principle might be extended to other areas of public enterprise, for example, the Irish Sugar Company, Erin Foods or even Irish Steel Holdings. However, in this small way in this stud we are grateful that public enterprise can act effectively, can help the small breeder, and we think this contingency measure by the Minister is a justifiable and desirable one. We support it and we trust that if and when the contingency arises that the National Stud acquires its prestige stallion they will similarly be able to do so in the interests of the State without bringing in foreign influences of one kind or another.

We might have to bring in an alien stallion.

As long as it was not a communist stallion.

I should like also to welcome this Bill. It is a very worthwhile measure. The small breeders of thoroughbred horses are entitled to support from the Exchequer. I note with a certain amount of disappointment that the number of stallions at the stud has dropped from seven to four. This is unfortunate and I would ask the Minister to ask the manager of the National Stud to bring the number of horses back to its traditional number and in doing so to try to establish a balance between sires for flat racing mares and sires for hurdling and steeplechasing mares.

In regard to the prestige sire, I also think this is a good idea. However, I am wondering if the price of, say, the Derby winner is going beyond the national purse. Would the Minister consider, if he cannot buy a top-class sire like Sir Ivor, allowing the National Stud to take, say, ten nominations to a Derby winner such as Sir Ivor and, by ballot, allot them out to small breeders? This could possibly save the Exchequer money and it would also help the small breeders to improve the blood line.

Would the Minister also consider diverting a small amount of the taxation on betting to help the National Stud with its running costs. It might be only one per cent of the revenue from it, but this would help especially to maintain the facilities of the stud. Again, I welcome the Bill and give it my wholehearted support.

I also welcome this Bill. Ireland is renowned for its horses and is known as the cradle of good horses which have won races all over the world.

And a few good greyhounds too.

Yes, indeed. The people concerned in the breeding of horses have been helped and encouraged by the National Stud down through the years. As the Minister said, we are exporting in the region of £4 million worth each year. This is very important to the economy and to farmers and breeders. Those connected with the National Stud have done a reasonably good job on a very limited purse and the money has been well spent. As the Minister has stated, the industry provides a significant quota of very good employment in Ireland throughout the whole year.

I entirely agree with the Minister that the National Stud has not been able to keep up with the standards that have been set by private studs here and in England and especially in France. It certainly does not compare with the privately-owned studs that we have here in our country. The National Stud should be the showpiece of studs here in Ireland. It certainly should have proper standards. It should be a place where small breeders or any other type of breeder can visit and get valuable information to help them on their own farms or studs.

With Deputy Collins I regret the reduction in the number of stallions from seven to four. This has been a retrograde step but in view of the small amount of money at their disposal they were doing their best. The small breeder cannot afford to pay £500 or, perhaps, up to £1,000 for a first-class sire. Could the Minister bring into operation a scheme which would provide a first-class sire to small breeders at a low cost, even if it had to be subsidised by the State? The small farmer and the small breeder have been the backbone of the horse breeding industry down through the years. It is a risky business as everybody connected with it knows. A well-off man can put up with a severe loss for a year or two but the small man is not able to weather the storm.

I also agree with Deputy Cosgrave and the Minister in regard to having one or two prestige stallions in the National Stud. It is a pity that, as the Minister stated, we have not bought a stallion for the past five years. The sooner we give the National Stud permission to go ahead with their good work the better for all concerned. We welcome the Bill and think it should be supported.

I am grateful to the Deputies who have spoken for their keen interest in this matter and, indeed, for their helpful suggestions, suggestions which I shall carefully consider. I agree with the Deputies who praised the work of the National Stud and I am hopeful that, when I get this piece of legislation through the Oireachtas, we will be able to urge the board of the company, if urging be needed — I do not think it is — to get on with a considerably expanded programme of activity.

Apart from the things Deputies have mentioned, I think the board could do a great deal to run courses, give demonstrations and generally be helpful to the industry in much the same way as the Agricultural Institute helps the other branches of agriculture. The Agricultural Institute has, of course, taken a considerable interest in bloodstock breeding and has always been helpful to breeders. However, I assure Deputies who have shown an interest in this national institution that it is my wish and the wish of the Government that this should become a real National Stud — as someone mentioned, a show place, a place of which we can all be proud and to which we can bring distinguished visitors to show them our premier product, the Irish horse at its best.

I am particularly glad Deputy Thornley welcomed the Bill. I agree with him that in a matter of this sort there is no reason why State enterprise should not come along and do a good job, setting an example to the industry as a whole. That is our philosophy. We, in Fianna Fáil, have nothing against State enterprise as such. I do not think any Deputy has anything against State enterprise. We recognise that, from time to time, in particular circumstances State enterprise can do a very good job and we have no intention of stopping it doing a good job and no intention of withholding the resources necessary to enable it to do that job. That is what we are doing here. I am very grateful to the House for the manner in which it has received this small, but important, measure.

Do they still run courses?

Not to the extent we would like.

They should be encouraged.

We will do that. There is also a suggestion that Department of Agriculture sires should be taken into the National Stud during the winter. We shall consider that too.

Question put and agreed to.