Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - International Horse Shows.


asked the Minister for Defence if he will outline his policy on the role of the Army Equitation School, particularly in view of the reduced allocation in the 1988 Estimates; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


asked the Minister for Defence the effect the 47 per cent cut in the Estimate for his Department will have towards the cost of sending the equitation teams to horse shows all over the world; and if his attention has been drawn to the potential damage this will have on our horse industry and in particular the low morale which it is causing to riders and everybody else associated with out international horse jumping teams.


asked the Minister for Defence if he will make a statement on the future of the Army Equitation School, in view of the 47 per cent reduction in the allocation for expenses for equitation teams proposed in 1988; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

(Limerick West): I propose to take Questions Nos. 10, 23 and 60 together.

As part of its ongoing review of public expenditure, the Government decided that there should be a reduction of £200,000 in the provisions for the Army Equitation School from 1988 onwards. The total estimated cost of running the equitation school in 1988 is £1.17 million after the reduction is taken into account and the reduction must be seen in that context.

The role of the equitation school is to advertise the Irish non-thoroughbred horse and it is my policy to ensure that the school will continue to fulfil that role to the highest possible standards for the future. The reduction in the amount of money available for 1988 will not affect the functions of the school but will mean that the most effective use must be made of the resources allocated.

I do not accept that making more effective use of available resources will damage the non-thoroughbred horse industry nor am I aware that it has had any effect on the morale of those concerned.

As one of the questions is in the name of my colleague, I would be anxious to pursue the matter.

There is also a question in the name of a Deputy who is present in the House. The Deputy to whom you refer is not present.

I have a priority question on this as well. What worries me is that the Minister has failed to mention to the House that the programme for presentation at international shows by our teams, who are basically the ambassadors of the horse industry, will be decimated, that they will attend very few international shows in 1988. I would ask the Minister to comment on that because whatever about the horse industry here, we gain internationally from a financial point of view. If we withdraw our teams from the international shows we have nothing to sell after that.

Hear, hear.

(Limerick West): There was no indication in my reply that we were withdrawing our teams from international shows.

Is the Minister saying that they will be able to attend as many as they did last year?

Let us hear the Minister now.

(Limerick West): We shall be adequately represented. Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that Army riders are committed to the use of the Irish horse exclusively in both show jumping and three-day events. Irish civilian riders now have no such commitment. The total cost of running the equitation school is well in excess of £1 million per year, including personnel costs. That is a substantial State contribution to the development of the non-thoroughbred horse industry.

Unfortunately, the Minister is side-stepping the question that I am putting to him. Will the Army team, both the riders and the horses, be attending as many international shows in 1988 as they did in 1987? It is a simple question.

(Limerick West): The provision under subhead V, that is, for attendance at shows and events, in the 1988 Estimate is £90,000.

Half of what it was.

(Limerick West): The officer in charge of the equitation school has drawn up a provisional programme for 1988 in line with the finances available.

Would the Minister answer the question?

(Limerick West): This is under examination at present and will be submitted to me as soon as possible. Events will be attended by the Army riders as is necessary, to ensure the appropriate public appearance of the Irish non-thoroughbred horse.

This is my final supplementary question. The Minister is side-stepping the main issue. Everybody who has a connection with the horse industry will acknowledge the fantastic contribution that our international teams have made in so far as the Irish horse is concerned. Nobody disagrees with the Minister there. However, if he pulls away the frontline ambassadors the glare of publicity which follows international show successes will be lost. My understanding is that our teams will attend less than one-third of the international shows that they attended in 1987, that the 1988 attendance will be cut by over two-thirds. Could the Minister explain if this is a priority to the Army? Surely, if the Minister agrees that attendance at international shows is a priority, he will make it his business to see that the Army teams are allowed to compete at all the big international shows.

This is becoming more like a debate. The Deputy has embarked upon a good speech.

(Limerick West): The Deputy is making assumptions.

Let the Minister prove otherwise.

(Limerick West): The question of the necessary attendance at shows will be looked at from time to time. There will have to be prudent thinking and the necessary care in view of the savings in that element of the Defence Estimate. I can assure the Deputy that Army riders will be present at the shows that he has outlined.

A Cheann Comhairle——

There are so many questions to ask on the subject that one hardly knows how to go about it.

(Limerick West): Would the Deputy ask them one by one?

Could the Minister explain to the House, if his motivation was good housekeeping and more prudent spending, how in the two areas, item N — animals and forage — and item V — expenses of equitation teams at horse shows — in those two items, exclusively, in his Estimate he managed to find room to reduce the budget for next year in the order of 48 per cent and 47 per cent, respectively? Would he not agree that this represents an out-of-hand indictment of him on the running of the equitation school to date, that he can tell them that in the coming year they must reduce their budget by up to 50 per cent?

We ask for brief and precise supplementary questions.

I cannot be any more precise than that. Secondly, in view of what I consider to be a very small investment of little over £1 million in the running of the equitation school, would the Minister consider that that is an insignificant investment in the light of the huge return to the Irish non-thoroughbred horse industry that we receive from our ambassadors abroad riding the Irish equitation school horses?

(Limerick West): In reply to the Deputy's first supplementary question, I do not accept that at all. The Deputy has his figures confused.

Would the Minister explain that?

Deputy, please.

(Limerick West): In reply to his second question——

There is a reduction of 47 per cent, minimum.

The Deputy has asked a series of supplementary questions. Let us hear the Minister's reply.

I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, I know that I cannot repeat myself——

The Deputy will please resume his seat. The Minister was in the course of replying to your supplementary question. Please allow him to do so.

He had sat down.

(Limerick West): I sat down out of respect for the Ceann Comhairle. I am sure that the Deputy knows the rules of the House as well as I do.

He is learning.

(Limerick West): In reply to the Deputy's second suplementary question, in so far as my Department are concerned, we are giving adequate prominence to the non-thoroughbred horse industry. There are other agencies also in the State which are looking after their interests; as the Deputy rightly knows.

They got the works, as well.

Could the Minister indicate, in view of the provisional programme which the director of the equitation school has drawn up, the number of international shows abroad that will not now be visited in the coming year by the Army equitation team, which they visited last year?

(Limerick West): I am not at liberty to disclose that information. The Deputy need not make any assumption that there will be less of an attendance at shows in 1988 than there was in 1987.

Surely the Minister will have to agree that with the sum of money provided in the Estimate it will not be possible for the Irish Army team to attend the same number of shows as they attended last year? Would he not agree that as 1988 will be the year of the next Olympics, it is important that our Army showjumping horses would continue to have the opportunity to participate in the major worldwide showjumping events prior to selection for the Olympic Games? In view of the amount which is being provided here, surely the Minister will have to agree that there will be a very substantial reduction in the number of shows that the teams can attend, possibly as much as two-thirds of a reduction?

(Limerick West): In response to the Deputy's first supplementary question, I do not agree with him.

Will the teams be getting free travel around the world, or what?

(Limerick West): In response to the Deputy's second supplementary, attendance at the Olympic Games will not be reduced. I do not agree with that assumption.

I call Deputy Michael Higgins.

That is not an assumption, it is a deduction. It is down by 50 per cent.

Deputy McCartan, please.

It is not an assumption.

Briefly, can it be assumed from the Minister's reply to the question and to supplementary questions that, given the reduction in the allocation for animals and forage and for expenses in relation to attendance at shows, an alternative source of financing has been identified to enable the teams and horses to attend the events that they attend last year?

(Limerick West): That could be the situation.

A great fall back.