Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Wednesday, 11 Nov 2009

Irish Draught Horses: Discussion.

I welcome delegations from the Irish Draught Horse Society and Irish Draught Breeders Association who will make separate presentations to the joint committee. I draw attention to the fact that while members of the committee have absolute privilege, the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. 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 House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I call on the chairperson of the Irish Draught Horse Society, Ms Anne Loughnane, to make her opening statement. She will be followed by the Irish Draught Breeders Association, Mr. Kevin Croke. I appeal to both speakers to confine the duration of their presentations to 15 minutes at most. Following contributions from the main spokespersons and other members, we will have a question and answer session.

Ms Anne Loughnane

I ask the Chairman to accept a copy of a commemorative book compiled by the society entitled "Irish Draught Horse Society 25 years". Perhaps the Chairman will find something of interest in the book.

Thank you.

Ms Anne Loughnane

Copies are also available for other members of the joint committee. The book gives an insight into the past, present and future of the Irish draught horse.

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for affording us an opportunity to make a presentation to the Oireachtas joint committee today on behalf of the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited, the legal, registered breed society that represents owners and breeders of Irish draught horses in Ireland. We are honoured to be here and will try to provide the joint committee with as much information as possible in the time afforded to us.

I propose to give a brief outline of our society and related matters under seven headings: what is an Irish draught horse?; the history and function of the Irish draught horse; the formation of the Irish Draught Horse Society in 1975; the transformation of the society into a limited company known as the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited in 1989 and operation of the company; the reconstitution of the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited as a co-operative in 2007; the vision and aims of the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited; and the obstacles preventing the society from realising its vision.

What is an Irish draught horse? Some members will remember the Irish draught horse as the working horse in the countryside. Irish draught horses were a common sight throughout the country in the fields and on the roads up to the 1970s. The Irish draught is a robust, docile and intelligent horse that fulfilled many needs on farms. It did week day farm work, pulled the trap to the market, took the family to Sunday worship, carried family members safely under saddle and in the hunt and mares bred a foal annually to produce much needed income. Today, family members of all ages can enjoy the Irish draught horse. It is a versatile and intelligent riding horse and ideal for an amateur rider who wants to have fun in a wide range of disciplines, ranging from show jumping, working hunter and dressage to eventing, driving, trekking and many other disciplines.

On the history and function of the Irish draught horse, the Irish draught is the only indigenous breed of horse in Ireland. Its first authentic mention in literature as a distinct horse was in the 17th century. It has been recognised as a distinctive breed since 1917 when the then Department of Agriculture established a book for horses of the Irish draught type.

The Irish draught horse thrived in Ireland up to the 1970s owing to its central role in Irish life. However, with the dominance of mechanisation in the 1960s and 1970s, the Irish draught was quickly replaced by the tractor on farms and the car on rural roads. It moved from having a central position in rural life to the margins of farming. In many cases, a farmer's pair of Irish draughts was sold to get the £250 needed to buy a tractor. Irish draught mares went to the meat factory and in equal measure to the boats for export, which proved to be of lasting benefit to many European breeders. This process occurred quickly and resulted in the tragic loss of a rich part of our valuable breeding stock and culture. In hindsight, while we knew the price of the Irish draught, we did not know its value.

The Irish Draught Horse Society was established in 1975. Fortunately, a small number of people realised that the breed was in danger of extinction and took steps to preserve the Irish draught horse. It is generally accepted that Mary Joyce Quinlan, who lived in Cork and later became the first national secretary of the society, took the first steps on the road to the formation of the Irish Draught Horse Society. The first public meeting that established the society was held in Dunmanway, west Cork, in 1975. This meeting was followed by countrywide meetings and the establishment of a national structure.

In its early years, the Irish Draught Horse Society did valuable work in promoting the Irish draught horse, lobbying for Government support for the breed and securing sponsorship for flagship events such as the Greenvale Championship in Millstreet which had up to 30 qualifying rounds at shows countrywide, generating enthusiasm and interest in the breed and a strong sense of pride among Irish draught mare owners.

The society was instrumental in organising an annual breed show and national breed sales at different venues. These events helped to raise the morale of loyal enthusiasts who had held on to their Irish draughts and rekindled interest in the Irish draught horse.

A decision was taken in 1989 to seek the protection of limited company status. Memorandum and articles of association were registered in the Companies Registration Office and the society was incorporated as a limited company called the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited. However, the society was not operated in compliance with its memorandum and articles of association. While individuals were allowed to pay annual membership fees to the company and were issued with individual membership cards, they were not allowed to vote at general meetings of the society. For many years, members felt that their voices were not heard in the formulation of policy for the Irish draught horse and believed there was a democratic deficit in the society. A number of different versions of the memorandum and articles were circulated and at different times the society operated under different versions. However, only the original memorandum and articles were duly registered in the Companies Registration Office.

It proved impossible to obtain clarity on the legal position from within the society, effect change or get transparency in the operation of the company or decision-making regarding the Irish draught. A large number of members grew dissatisfied with decision-making in the society. Following a long process, a general meeting of members was held in July 2006 and a committee was elected to seek a workable solution to the situation.

The reconstitution of the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited as a co-operative took place in 2007. The committee elected in July 2006 took legal and professional advice for several months from July 2006 to January 2007. A consensus was reached that a co-operative structure was the most appropriate configuration for a breed society and a number of examples of co-operative structures, including the cattle breed societies, were examined. The preparation of a suitable set of rules was carried out in close consultation with the Irish Co-operative Organisations Society, ICOS. During this time and prior to the circulation of the proposed rules, a number of efforts were made to secure agreement so that a united proposal could be put before the members. The governing body of the society was written to in this regard, but the request did not receive a positive response. A general meeting of all members of the society was called under legal advice and direction on 31 March 2007. The resolutions were duly circulated beforehand and the meeting was supervised by a representative of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society and a legal adviser who specialised in company law. A copy of the resolutions has been circulated to members. A large majority of ballots were cast in favour of all the resolutions.

The first resolution provided for the removal of the existing directors of the company and the appointment of named directors in their place. However, following the meeting and vote, the former directors refused to accept the validity of the meeting and continued to act as directors of the society. The Companies Registration Office refused to register the newly elected directors as an objection had been lodged with the office. The bank which held the funds and bank accounts of the society refused to freeze the accounts, recognise the newly elected directors and give them access to the existing bank accounts. In the circumstances, the directors opened an interim bank account in April 2007 under the name of the Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association. That bank account still exists and we subsequently registered the title Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association as a limited company for the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited, in which it holds one share.

The newly elected directors of the company had to take legal action against the former directors personally in order to uphold the validity of the March meeting and the resolutions adopted by members at that meeting. Following postponements and failed mediation efforts, the case was due to be heard in the High Court on 4 April 2008. On that day the former directors accepted in full the validity of the meeting and that the resolutions passed a year earlier on 31 March 2007 were binding from that date. The terms of settlement were placed before the High Court and a court order issued on foot of it on 11 April 2008. The process of reconstituting the society as a co-operative was completed on 9 July 2008 when the Registry of Friendly Societies issued the registration certificate, number 5487R. Copies of the terms of settlement, the High Court order and the registration certificate have been circulated to committee members.

The Irish Draught Horse Society has absolutely no interest in squabbling with anybody. It is an equitable, legal and transparent entity. As an affiliate of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society, we must observe that body's rules and are bound by European Union legislation as we work to maintain the Irish draught horse for future generations. The Irish draught horse is in decline and has lost both many of its traditional characteristics and many of its bloodlines. The Irish draught horse is a distinct foundation breed. It is also a victim of its own success because of the wonderful qualities of its progeny when crossed with the thoroughbred. The hybrid vigour that comes from the distinct qualities of the Irish draught horse and the thoroughbred have made the Irish horse world famous.

While the society is pleased to see the Irish draught horse contribute to the admirable qualities of the sport horse, formerly known as the half-bred, the breed society is concerned with promoting the pure Irish draught horse. The Irish draught horse makes an enormous contribution to the sport horse industry, but that contribution must never be the primary focus of policies for the Irish draught breed. The Irish draught horse cannot be used and abused for purposes that dilute and erode its inherent characteristics. The Irish draught horse owes its survival to those who retained it at times when it was neither fashionable nor profitable to do so. Like the horse, its owners are intelligent people who endure the winds of change and passing whims. They support the breed because they cherish it. The owners of Irish draught horses who continue to feed, breed and work them during the tough times are the custodians of the breed.

The Irish Draught Horse Society Limited is a breed preservation society. Since its registration as a co-operative in July 2008, more than 400 shareholders have been accepted as members of the co-operative, all of whom are registered owners of an Irish draught horse. The society has a clear vision for the Irish draught horse and that vision is expressed in our breed policies. These policies were discussed by society members and endorsed at the 2009 annual general meeting. The policies to which I refer are the studbook rules, breed standard, breed objectives and the breed preservation and development plan. A copy of each of these policies has been circulated to members of the committee and my colleagues and I will gladly discuss them in detail with members.

All studbooks in member states must comply with European Union equine legislation. The Irish draught horse studbook is currently maintained by Horse Sport Ireland. The studbook rules submitted by Horse Sport Ireland to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as part of its application to maintain the Irish draught horse studbook are a matter of serious concern to us. Copies of the studbook rules submitted to the Department in February 2008 and in April 2009 have been made available to the members of the committee. My colleagues and I would appreciate the opportunity to specify our concerns in the course of today's discussion.

It is remarkable that the Irish draught horse is the only species in Ireland in respect of which the breed studbook is not maintained by the relevant breed society. Irish Pony Society Limited, Connemara Pony Breeders Society Limited, Irish Piebald and Skewbald Association Limited, Kerry Bog Pony Co-operative Society Limited and the Irish Cob Society are all equine breeding organisations which maintain their own breed studbooks. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is the competent authority in this regard, that is, the body which allocates studbooks to appropriate breed organisations.

As its name and remit indicate, the main focus of Horse Sport Ireland is the sport horse. Given that it has no representative of the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited on any of its boards and no mechanism for the inclusion of any representative of the society in its decision-making, we do not consider it to be a suitable entity to maintain the studbook for the Irish draught horse. The Dowling report which set out the template for the creation of Horse Sport Ireland states: "The responsibilities of HSI are to develop and implement strategies for the development and promotion of an internationally competitive Irish sport horse industry". This clearly does not have the distinctive qualities of the Irish draught horse at its core. I was unable to find any reference whatsoever to the Irish draught horse in the Dowling report, although it is interesting to note that specific provision is made for the inclusion of a representative of both the Connemara Pony Breeders Society and the Irish Pony Society.

In order to apply to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for approval to maintain a studbook, the first requirement is a legal personality. In June 2009 Irish Draught Horse Society Limited which has a legal personality applied to the Department for approval to maintain the Irish draught horse studbook. We supplied all requested documentation and are awaiting a final decision on our application. The issues of most concern to us are the preservation and development of the Irish draught horse for future generations; our recognition by the Department and all other Government funded bodies as the legal, registered breed society which represents owners of Irish draught horses in Ireland, and approval to maintain the Irish draught horse studbook. I thank members for their attention.

I thank Ms Loughnane for her presentation. I invite Mr. Kevin Croke, chairmam of the Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association, to make his presentation.

Mr. Kevin Croke

I thank members for the opportunity to address them. I will begin by introducing my colleagues: Mr. Damien Kenny and Mr. Owen Griffin, both members of the governing body and the breed committee; and Mr Stephen Keeley, national treasurer.

The request we received was to brief the committee on our day-to-day operation. In order to do so, it is necessary to address several areas. These include our origin, functions, including matters of finance and legality, the studbook, rare bloodlines and European law, Horse Sport Ireland and Irish draught horse representation. The association was formed when a substantial number of Irish draught horse breeders came together to establish a formal grouping by virtue of which their common interests could be represented. The original Irish Draught Horse Society was a 32 county organisation based on a branch structure. The new proposed co-operative did not make provision for this corporate structure.

In May 2008 in response to a number of concerns, a valid requisition for an EGM was lodged in accordance with the requirements of the Companies Act 1963 with the support of 21% of the membership of the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited. This requisition sought to retain the society in its then format, retaining the 32 county organisation and branch structure. The IDHS directors refused to call the EGM. The signatories then called the EGM, as provided for in company law.

The EGM was called and held on 13 July 2008. All motions on the agenda were passed. The Companies Registration Office was duly informed of the outcome, and the new directors were registered. The previous directors had the EGM declared invalid in the Companies Registration Office, citing an allegation of forgery on the requisition documents. The actions of these directors are now the subject of a complaint and an investigation by the Director of Corporate Enforcement. We anticipate a satisfactory outcome to this investigation. Legal action has also been initiated over the accusations of forgery.

The Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association, IDHBA, commenced its operation and activities in July 2008. The IDHBA has a membership of 992 distributed throughout the whole of the 32 counties. No one forced them to join, they came freely. All of the former chairmen of the IDHS, with one exception, are members of our organisation.

We have a governing body of four officers and one nominee from each branch. This has made us an all-inclusive organisation with country-wide, 32 county representation. All governing body and branch elections are held in an open and transparent manner. The object of our organisation as set out in our draft rules is "to promote, preserve and endeavour to improve all that is best in the breeding, rearing, sale and exportation of Irish Draught Horses".

We are there to support anyone interested in the Irish draught horse. We run a full programme of training and information evenings at national and branch level. We run national and regional breed shows annually and in the 2009 national show our entry witnessed the biggest single collection of Irish draught horses seen in Ireland. We also ran a national performance show in 2009 to demonstrate the versatility and capability of the Irish draught horse. We are currently conducting a judges course and we have just completed a week of training clinics in all provinces. We produce a quarterly newsletter, a free yearbook is given to all members and we have a web site, www.idhba.ie. We would have liked to have brought a yearbook but we were oversubscribed and we have since run out of them. An annual dinner and awards night is taking place on 28 November.

Despite starting with no funds in July 2008, the IDHBA has had sufficient funds to finance all of its activities and is financially solvent. The day to day running of the organisation is administered from the offices of our secretariat, located outside Mullingar. While we are not a company, we are none the less a legal entity in accordance with the law. We should emphasise that we are not the Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association Limited. This is a company registered some time after our association commenced operation, causing considerable confusion amongst breeders. Our association is what is termed an "unincorporated association", run on similar lines to the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association and GAA clubs through the country. Our membership categories include life membership, family membership and annual membership. Life and annual membership carry one vote at branch and national level while family membership covers two designated members with one vote each.

The operation and control of the studbook is of vital importance to the well-being of any breed. This is especially so for an equine breed like the Irish draught, which needs to be measured against the breed standard and objectives not against market requirements or performance capabilities. This is paramount to retaining a breed's qualities. Market forces, if one submits to them, can have a very detrimental effect on a breed. This is best exemplified in the canine world, with the damage caused by developing designer requirements in dogs. It has also led to problems in the Irish draught, which has lost type over the last two decades. This loss of type has been the product of an unsuitable inspection process for stallions and a degree of generosity in the mare inspections.

A test that inspects a stallion for two studbooks with totally different objectives cannot be carried out. This process becomes even less understandable when one realises that it was not only Irish draught inspectors who were inspecting the stallions. The net product of this process was that stallions that were true to type were not approved, and lighter performance type horses that are not true to type, were approved. It was a Mutt and Jeff situation. Over the generations this has had a negative impact on the breed type to the point that the bone we associate with the breed has almost been lost. While one understands the need to increase mare herd numbers, it should not be at the loss of quality.

To indicate our concern about the breed we initiated a report in 2007. This report was submitted to Horse Sport Ireland. We set out clear objectives for the breed, we advocated the need for a new inspection process, we sought the abolition of the performance test and that inspections be only for the Irish draught horse studbook. These recommendations also contained a new classification process that took account of the need to expand the availability of the genetic base. To this end, this year we held a class at our national breed show for those animals deemed to be of special genetic merit. Our 2009 review of the breeding report even went so far as to give a recommendation on the restriction of line breeding and inbreeding, thus widening the genetic base. Studbook returns show that there is roughly a 50:50 breakdown between colts and fillies born in any one year. The breed cannot be about fillies only, there must be a future for the gelding.

The show ring cannot be the end product in itself. We have included riding classes at our national show and at our branch shows in Wicklow and Laois. As we have already said, we held a performance show this year to take us beyond the show ring. The 2008 champion ridden hunter at the RDS was a pure Irish draught. We believe that control of the Irish draught horse studbook is best placed with ourselves as an open democratic group with the interests of the breed at heart, and we are prepared to work in harmony to ensure that its best interests are served.

We have complied with any request received from the current custodians of the studbook, Horse Sport Ireland, HSI. This compliance has resulted in a loss to our members and to us as an association. The action of the HSI in conducting its validation inspection for free for non-compliant owners has effectively funded the co-op group while our members fail to receive even an acknowledgement of a request for the refund of moneys collected without authority. This favouritism of one grouping was pointed out to the HSI in advance of its validation inspection. It should also be noted that our 2007 report was submitted to the HSI and an updated version was submitted in 2009. It suits certain agendas to say that the horse has been forgotten. If it was forgotten, we did not forget it, to which our list of activities will attest.

It was disappointing to see that the HSI's Proposed Breeding Policy for the Irish Draught Horse 2010, which was published on its website last Saturday, proposed the progeny of veterinary unsound mares be allowed to go forward for inspection. This recommendation, a further indication of market-driven forces, will in time ruin a breed so famed for its soundness. We are at a point where it is easier to get a national hunt horse with more bone than an Irish draught.

The HSI failed to invite both interested parties to participate in this breeding task force or, at least as a minimum, to meet the group. We are concerned about the HSI's statement that the disagreement between the two Irish draught groups is personality driven. As we noted earlier in this presentation, the dispute is about our opposition to the corporate structure of the co-operative. The HSI declared its exhaustion at trying to resolve the dispute. I wish to clarify the position. The HSI met with the governing body of the Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association on two occasions, for one and a half hours in Mullingar and subsequently at the HSI's offices for another one and a half hours, making a total of three hours of consultation. We were accused of intransigence by the HSI. This is absolutely untrue. The chairman of the HSI, Mr. Joe Walsh, stated at the second meeting that the best way forward was for the establishment of a new organisation based on democracy and majority rule. However, the HSI was proved to be disingenuous when it then declared that it saw the way forward as being with the existing co-op system with some amendments to the rules. This would not be a new organisation.

The committee has heard about the progress of the organisation from its initiation to now but it has not heard that a request for an EGM was made to the directors and the meeting held but matters fell by the wayside afterwards. We believe the long-term interest of the Irish draught horse would be best served by a single democratic organisation, where members have full and proper involvement. To this end we also believe that the HSI and its predecessor, the Irish Horse Board, have not given the breed the attention it deserves. The control of the studbook should be in the hands of those who care about the breed. Last July, we made an application to be the holder of the studbook and to control it. The laws of natural justice demand that it must be placed with the largest solvent association. We thank the committee for its time and will be happy to answer any questions that members may have.

I thank Mr. Kevin Croke for his presentation.

I welcome both organisations. It is clear from the presentations and the opening remarks of both organisations that they have a deep commitment to the Irish draught horse. Leslie Poles Hartley published a book in 1953 called The Go-Between, the opening line of which was, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”. Today, we must strive to put the past behind us and to work collectively in the interests of the Irish draught horse. We must bear in mind that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has categorised the draught horse as an endangered species. That is manifest, if not stated, in the opening remarks of both organisations on the commitment to preserving the breed.

I had some trepidation about this meeting because I thought there would be fireworks but I earnestly believe the two groups have more in common than that which divides them. The title of the book The Go-Between is interesting because I do not know for whom the committee is the go-between. Is it for these two organisations or for the interests of the draught horse as outlined by both organisations and Horse Sport Ireland? What is apparent from both statements is that the two bodies are committed to the breed and anxious to hold the studbook. Previously, I made the point that to bring matters to a point where a single entity represents the interests of the draught horse, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should signal its willingness to allocate the studbook to a single organisation and that single organisation must emerge from the delegations before us today. That is obvious, whatever format it takes.

It seems the continuation of two organisations which advocate the interests of the draught horse but which are not unified serves a divide and conquer approach. This might be implicit in a line in Mr. Croke's presentation, with which I was taken: "It suits certain agendas to say that the horse has been forgotten." Will Mr. Croke develop on this in respect of Horse Sport Ireland and the draught horse?

I have a number of specific questions, which perhaps are relevant to both organisations, on the recently published Proposed Breeding Policy for the Irish Draught Horse 2010 by Horse Sport Ireland. How does that policy proposal compare or contrast with the delegations' respective views on the operation of studbook rules, classification and breed standard objectives, preservation and development plans? Is it compatible? Can the delegations live with the policy proposal or do they have fundamental objections to it on the basis of what they see as objectives for preserving the breed?

Are the objectives of the traditionalists who wish to preserve a breed which was common to farmyards during the 1950s and 1960s and those who seek to commercialise the Irish draught horse as a foundation breed for sport horses mutually exclusive?

Are narrow breeding objectives and intensive selection causing a decrease in genetic variation in the Irish draught horse? Certain characteristics would be prioritised in the stud book for breeding purposes. Is the society in danger of leaving behind the virtues of the original breed? How does the management of the stud book by Horse Sport Ireland compare with practices elsewhere?

It is desirable that the stud book be controlled by a breed association. Having listened to the contributions from both organisations, I believe they have much in common and that neither is entirely happy with Horse Sport Ireland. There is much room for optimism, therefore.

I welcome the two organisations. It is a difficult task to set out one's arguments before an Oireachtas committee, particularly in this case where views differ as to the future of the breed. In regard to the legal position, Mr. Keely has stated that the previous directors declared the EGM invalid on the basis of allegations of forgery in the requisition of documents. Ms Loughnane, however, stated:

Following postponements and failed mediation efforts, the case was due to be heard in the High Court on 4 April 2008. On that day, the former directors accepted in full the validity of the meeting and that the resolutions passed a year earlier on 31 March 2007 were binding from that date.

As I am trying to reconcile the dates to my satisfaction, perhaps Ms Loughnane will outline the course of events and Mr. Cooke will describe the nature of the complaint.

It is clear that both organisations are passionate about the breed. The involvement of Horse Sport Ireland does not sit well with me. If the Connemara Pony Breeders Society and the Irish Cob Society can control their own stud books, it is ludicrous that the Irish Draught Horse Society, if that is to be the legal entity, cannot have control of the breed's stud book. What sort of political intervention is needed to restore that control?

I ask for the delegates' views on the proposed breeding policy for the Irish draught horse and why such proposals are only now coming into the public domain. The policy's objective is: "To breed Irish Draught Horses with good conformation, movement and temperament that conform to the breed standard, which will make good quality, sound, versatile horses and be a foundation breed that, when crossed with other breeds, will produce performance horses." As I am a layman, perhaps somebody can explain what this means. I suggest it represents a continuation of the existing policy, which could lead to further dilution of the breed.

If one or other of the organisations before us controlled the stud book, would it be possible to ensure that the sport horse can flourish even while the draught horse is preserved in its purest form? The two objectives are not mutually exclusive. If we recognise the legality of the Irish Draught Horse Society on the basis of the various High Court actions that have been taken, we would also acknowledge that it should control it stud book and that its aims do not exclude Horse Sport Ireland.

I welcome the representatives of both organisations and thank them for their presentations. It is disappointing that people who passionately believe in the survival of the Irish Draught Horse find themselves going in different directions. However, I can only comment on the evidence placed before me. I understand the two organisations were formerly united but that is no different from Members of the Oireachtas. If one goes back to 1903, we were all part of the same organisation.

I would like to elaborate on the comments made by Deputy Sherlock in regard to the EGM of 31 March 2007. The resolution circulated in advance of that meeting was supervised by a representative of ICOS and a legal adviser specialising in company law. A large majority voted in favour of the resolution on the appointment of new directors but the matter ended up in the High Court. That court's judgment in the case is definitive in ordering that the previous directors refrain from purporting to act as directors, acknowledge the validity of the resolution and consent to the ordinary court making an order directing the registration of Anne Loughnane, James Cooke and John Varley as directors of the Irish Draught Horse Society. The society's accounts held €48,000 on the day of the EGM but this had diminished to €543 by the time the trial terminated. If the organisation established that day was a legal entity, where did all this money go? Who signed off on it and who had the use of it? There was a severe difference between two groupings that went to the High Court and the money has gone from the account. That is one question I would like dealt with.

Both presentations mentioned breeders and memberships. How many of the members are breeders? There were more than 900 members and approximately 400 extra came in with the group on whose behalf Ms Anne Loughnane is speaking. That information would be helpful. Were any of those present today involved in this industry a couple of decades ago? If there are people who have been horse breeders for a long period, I would like to hear their opinion.

It is very regrettable that it has come to this. There are ways and means of sorting issues out initially but when they become deep and festered, it becomes impossible, especially when a court case has been determined. I may come back in with other questions.

I welcome the representatives of both bodies and thank them for their presentation. It is disappointing for me to see two sets of people from separate bodies making such presentations. I have been involved in the horse industry since I was a very small boy and grew up with horses. The two sets of people here have the same interests at heart and it is disappointing to think we cannot resolve the problems that have arisen over a period.

The Irish draught horse is unique. We all agree on that sentiment and that we must preserve it at all costs, regardless of who will do it. That is an important point for me. We have one of the oldest breeds and we can trace the indigenous breed back more than 300 years. Even in my memories of the Irish draught horse I have seen significant change, and by and large it has been change for the worse rather than for the better where the breed is concerned.

I attend many shows throughout the country, including the Dublin Horse Show. The type of mare put forward and taking the prize away on the day does not reflect the Irish draught I grew up with and which I would call the original Irish draught. I see this with my own two eyes. For me, an Irish draught as a mare is typically 15 to 16 hands high and the horse is 15.3 hands high up 16.2 hands high. Anybody who goes to these shows can see exactly what is happening. There is an input of different breeds into the Irish draught. When I look at some of these Irish draughts I can see Clydesdale breeding in them, which is ludicrous if we are talking about preserving a breed unique to the country.

I could go on for a long time speaking along this line. I can see what is happening and I can see Horse Sport Ireland coming into the picture. It does a great job promoting the Irish sport horse but this breed is unique. It is vital that this stud book and the breeding process is kept within the people who are looking to preserve the breed and return it as near as possible to its original state. That is what we must try to do but I do not have the answers for how to do it.

I refer to the application for the approval and maintenance of the stud book and what is laid out in those documents. At this point we have the Irish Draught Horse Society in charge of the inspection of mares, according to the document before us. That is accepted. What is being proposed? Are we saying it should be handed over to the HSI which is in charge of the stud book currently? That is crazy. It is an organisation formed to promote the sport horse and it has a cross-section of breeds in its stud book, which may include the Irish draught horse. It has a different function from what we are trying to achieve, which is to ensure we have an organisation in charge of bringing the draught horse to as near as possible to an original state. That is what we must strive to do.

I am prepared to work with anybody on this. I sincerely urge the people sitting across from me who have similar interests and spoke largely in the same vein to get down to business. I cannot for the life of me see why this cannot happen. We must ensure the people charged with bringing this draught horse back to its original state will be masters of their own destiny, which is the stud book. Every breed that has been named has people in charge of their own stud books and destiny. I may come in again with a few questions later.

Ms Anne Loughnane

There are many points I would like to address. I draw the committee's attention to the copy of the Irish Draught Horse Society limited rules, which are the ICOS-drafted rules with consultation from us. A few inaccuracies were put out and I need to correct them.

Nowhere in the rules is there an exclusion of anybody living anywhere in the Thirty-two Counties. That was never on the agenda or proposed by anybody connected with drawing up those rules. From the initial proposal put before members, it has always been a 32-county body. There is also an issue about branch structure and I draw the attention of the committee to page 18 of those rules, No. 46. It states: "The council may, following a request from a group of members resident in an area, establish a branch of the society in that area." From the initial placing before the members, the rules allow for a branch structure.

Our society, as a representative of the Irish draught horse, has an admission policy where everybody accepted into the society should be a registered owner of an Irish draught horse. We also have a patron system which allows enthusiasts to join but decisions on the draught horse, as I indicated in my opening remarks, need to be made by the people who feed, breed and use them — people who actually own Irish draught horses. I have no interest in animals I do not keep and I do not think I should be involved with them. That is an important point with regard to our rules.

Our organisation is based on democracy and majority rule. For many years — although I do not want to dwell too much on it — there was mismanagement, at the very least, and a lack of democracy within what was a limited company. It was a long struggle to achieve an open, transparent and democratic structure for all Irish draught owners. That was put in place on 31 March 2007 and endorsed by High Court order on 11 April 2008. It was unfortunate that it had to be endorsed by the High Court, but it is a matter of record that it was. That was all done over several years because of concerns within the membership.

The membership wanted a stud book for many years. However, I refer members to the stud book rules, a copy of which was made available to the committee. The first requirement is a legal personality. It was necessary to establish a legal personality for Irish draught breeders so they could apply for a stud book. Anybody who does not have a legal personality is not entitled to apply for it. The Irish Draught Horse Society Limited has a legal personality and has applied for the stud book, and we expect our application to be considered favourably. Some of us have visited the European Commission, with whose rules Irish equine law must comply, and it is our understanding that we are entitled to a stud book as representatives of the owners of Irish draught horses. We have applied, openly and transparently, on behalf of the society and its members for a stud book licence and our application is being processed at the moment. All documentation asked for has been supplied.

Reference was made to some proposals that have circulated in recent days from HSI with regard to the future of the Irish draught horse. I will not at this point discuss all the problems that currently exist. The proposals are merely proposals — they may be twisted, turned and changed before they become actual policy. From the cursory glance I have had at them — I have not studied them in detail — I am alarmed by what I see. While the Irish draught horse may be in a difficult situation now, if those proposals become policy it would be far worse. The proposals are highly dangerous to the Irish draught breed and show a lack of understanding of what the breed is; they also show a lack of understanding of what will happen to the breed if they become policy.

I do not want to dwell on the proposals any further because I am not here today to discuss them. Instead, I draw the attention of the committee to the breed policies of the co-operative Irish Draught Horse Society Limited. There are four breed policies we have put before the committee which represent the views of the members. When the Irish Draught Horse Society became a co-operative and was registered in July 2008, we immediately began work on consulting members and drafting policies that represent their views. They were circulated to members, put to the floor at the general meeting, voted on and adopted as policies.

There are four policies before members. The stud book rules are important because they are the basis on which we applied for the stud book and on which we intend to run it. They are in compliance with EU legislation. We contend seriously that core elements of the current stud book rules do not comply with EU legislation. We have drawn the attention of the Department to this and we are in communication with it at present in this regard. I can specify the issues in question later should members wish. However, I wish to concentrate on what is in front of members, which is our vision for the Irish draught horse. We have the stud book rules, the breed objectives, the breed standard, and the breed development and preservation plan. The latter is a key issue; we are a preservation society. As Deputy Creed mentioned, the FAO has registered the Irish draught horse as an endangered species, and it needs to be treated with great care as its numbers are low. We need to make sure it continues into the future with its traditional characteristics and not as a diluted version, as Deputy O'Sullivan mentioned, of what it once was.

The Irish draught is a wonderful leisure riding horse in its own right. We have an expanding market for the leisure horse as more people want a calm, intelligent and docile horse for amateur riding. That is the major market in terms of numbers; the demand for high-performance horses is lower. In other words, the highest demand is for horses for amateur riders, and that is ideally what the Irish draught is and what it needs to be promoted as.

The traditional characteristics of the Irish draught — its substance, intelligence and compactness — are wonderful for crossing with thoroughbreds, but if it is similar to a half-bred horse, as I am afraid has been the case in recent years, it has nothing to bring to the table in terms of cross-breeding. Its essential characteristics include durability, soundness and sense, and through cross-breeding to produce a half-bred — these are known as sport horses — or a further cross to a three-quarter-bred, the essential Irish draught characteristics are found in the background of performance horses. However, that is not really our main concern; rather, it is to maintain the traditional characteristics. The most important of these is substance, so that the horse is in proportion and can remain useful for many years, as the Irish horse has traditionally done.

I ask members to consider how far down the road we have come. We have a legal entity and breed policies, and we represent the owners of Irish draught horses. Everything is in the open; all the information is up on our website. We are open to applications from anybody. We all applied for membership; that was the process under the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society. The Irish Draught Horse Society is open to applications from anybody and nobody in Ireland has yet been refused. It is an open, welcoming organisation and we want to go forward together as a legal entity with anybody who has the true interest of the Irish draught horse at heart.

There are many more issues I could go over.

I ask Ms Loughnane to concentrate on the questions that were asked.

Ms Anne Loughnane

Is there any other question I have missed out?

The question about the number of members.

Ms Anne Loughnane

We have a clear, strict process through ICOS in which each member becomes a shareholder and his or her application is processed through the national council. The applicant's ownership of an Irish draught horse is investigated and then he or she is issued with a shareholder card. This is quite common in the co-operative movement; we are all shareholders in common. We have more than 400 shareholders at this point, all of whom are registered members. That process has been taking place only since July 2008 and it is ongoing. At each meeting of the council, whether it is every month or six weeks, a raft of new members are admitted. However, we do not just take membership money and issue a card; we are a society in which all members have a common goal, which is to represent the Irish draught horse. We are all owners of Irish draught horses.

Other speakers want to come in. I want to run this meeting properly for everybody's sake, so I will take supplementary questions at the end if that is all right.

Mr. Kevin Croke

I will start with Deputy Creed's question on the proposal for the draught stud book. The Deputy's question was a long one but I am taking this out of it. We originally proposed that all Irish draughts, with the exception of those that are unsound from a veterinary point of view, be eligible for inspection. We then proposed, in 2009, a different inspection process in which performance was eliminated, so we are now putting forward a horse with the traits of the breed. We have reservations at this stage. However, the proposal makes provision for inspection of the progeny of mares that do not meet the traits of the breed by what are now called class 1 stallions. Originally we felt that if one allowed the progeny of a class 2 stallion which was judged veterinarily sound for inspection, it might widen the genetic base. However, with the re-inspection of what are now known as S-1 stallions, those that are sufficiently correct to meet the requirements of the breed will be upgraded to a class 1. That should widen the genetic base straight away.

The next question concerned agendas. Whose agendas? The interests of those who found it handy to have a pot shot at both organisations that are here lay in other areas. The committee has heard from both sides. We both worked for the horse. Therefore, it was the agendas of those who like to say the horse is forgotten about. We have not forgotten about the horse.

Regarding the sister stud book, that is mentioned in the draught schedule in terms of drawing in the other stud books. Under EU law there can be insistence that Irish draught stud books in other countries comply with the mother stud book which is in this country. They then become daughter stud books rather than sister stud books.

Since 2007 we have canvassed for the operation of a worldwide standard for the stud book. The committee will be told there is a worldwide standard. It is the standard we have in Ireland which was performance testing. Performance testing was directly related to the stallion's suitability for getting onto the Irish Horse Board register rather than into the Irish draught horse stud book. We think the appetite might not be there for that in the future. I hope that answers those three questions.

However, stud books throughout the world are looking at us to see if we can harmonise it. We had a stallion that was passed in the United States, which won the championship in the RDS, subsequently went for inspection and failed. There were 11 in the class in the RDS and he came first. There were ten approved stallions behind him but when he came for inspection he was failed. He was inspected in America as an Irish draught horse. There is a flaw in the policy. I do not think I need to say any more about that.

Deputy Sherlock asked about the legal aspect, the court case and the emergency general meeting. There was a requisition for an EGM on 24 January 2007. A requisition for an EGM under company law requires that 10% of the membership must sign the requisition. The requisition that was submitted had 114 signatures. There were approximately 243 members at the time. However, of the 114 signatures only four were of paid-up members. That is how one must judge it. If one wants to operate by company law, one has to suffer by company law as well.

After the court case which endorsed the agreement between the legal teams, the two sets of barristers agreed that an annual general meeting would be held. One of the solicitors then said there had been no such agreement and an EGM was subsequently requisitioned on the new directors. That contained 21% of the valid membership's signatures which was way above requirement. Then we were told it had not been given in to the secretary's office. It had been. In the office then registered, the requisition was given to the secretary who also happened to be the chairman. We had democracy and company law working at one time but not at the next.

Rather than continue in that vein, a meeting was called. I should say there had been mediation before this. In July 2007 I wrote a letter asking for mediation. On 8 August in the High Court, mediation was agreed. On 22 November there was mediation but it was mediation with a caveat, namely, if it was not to go the one way, nothing would go ahead. I shall return to that mediation when I deal with Deputy Ferris’s questions.

The question was asked whether we would go back into court. We were put up as the directors of the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited. A high-powered letter arrived which said there were forgeries on the requisition, we had not given it in at the company's office, and so on. It was taken down.

What does Mr. Croke mean by "a high-powered letter"? This goes to the——

Mr. Kevin Croke

I mean that a high-powered firm of legal people obviously sent it in. I do not know why the company's office changed but it is the subject of a complaint and investigation by the Director of Corporate Enforcement and could overturn everything.

Does Mr. Croke recognise——

I will allow supplementary questions afterwards.

While Mr. Croke is speaking on this point it is important to be clear about what is being said.

Be as brief as possible.

The case was heard in the High Court on 4 April 2008. Does Mr. Croke recognise the validity of the decision arising from the High Court proceedings?

Mr. Kevin Croke

Of course I do. That was the decision for a company on that day. Does life move on after that? That becomes the question. The validity was accepted and, under company law, it was available to members at that stage to put a requisition for an EGM to the new directors. That is all that happened, in compliance with company law.

What is the nature of Mr. Croke's assertion regarding the forgery? I cannot reconcile——

Mr. Kevin Croke

I did not say that. I apologise. Very cleverly, it was stated there was forgery and therefore the requisition that followed the High Court case was deemed to be invalid on the basis that there were forgeries on it. We do not know whose were the forgeries and have never been told.

Rather than get into the court scenario again, it was decided it was time to do something else. The option was there and everybody was made aware of the fact. It was a case of: "You can go left or you can go right. This is what's happening." That is the way we came about. In July 2008 the Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association came into being. We wanted to retain the old corporate structure of the limited company with a 32-county branch representation. That is what we sought to do. We were trying to work from within and not to push beyond that.

I was asked whether the objectives of Horse Sport Ireland, HSI, were compatible with the Irish draught horse. Obviously, there are twin objectives, one concerning the Irish draught horse and the other the possibility that they can be crossed with thoroughbreds. It is well established now that the Irish draught horse would probably be in the third, if not the fourth, generation of a performance pedigree, as is the thoroughbred nowadays if we are talking about show jumping. We would back the pedigree issue too. That is the way life has moved on. We are no longer milking short horns. We are moving on with performance animals such as the Holstein.

Deputy Ferris also asked about the EGM in January 2007. I have given the figures for that. We spoke about democracy happening after that. The Deputy said — I wonder where the figure came from — that on the handover, €540 remained. I find this a little bit astounding given that only €12,000 was handed over. The Deputy asked where the money went. We had a mediation day with Mr. John Mc Bratney, appointed by the chairman of the Bar Council. It cost us €8,000 that day to agree many points. We were there from early morning until about 6.15 p.m. We agreed to have a simple vote of all the members. If they wanted to be a co-operative, that was fine. If they wanted to be a company, that was fine. We asked if that was agreed. Yes, it was. The question was, "Do you understand that if the majority votes in favour of the co-operative, we will back out of the situation and accept democracy?" Yes, they were happy with that. The next question was, "Do you understand that if the majority votes in favour of the limited company remaining, that is the way it will go and the co-operative idea will be dropped?" The answer to that was," I am sorry, it is back to court in that case." At that stage, after one day of mediation at a cost of €8,000, the two people on the opposite side from us withdrew. We asked Mr. McBratney to talk to their legal team and asked them to come back in, but they never came back. We held a meeting in Portlaoise chaired by Mr. Michael Berkery. Some 475 people attended from all walks to try to resolve the problem. There was a follow-on meeting and then we had HSI one and HSI two.

The question of the relationship between members and breeders was asked. I do not have the figure but I would be pleased to say that of the 992 members, we operate somewhere between 750 and 800 breeders. Let us remember that several of the 400 shareholders believed they had no option in the beginning and are members but not functioning shareholders per se. From a quick survey of the Irish draught herd, it appears our members have almost 2,000 Irish draughts between them, which is relevant.

I refer to when the EGM took place in 2007 and a new directorate was put in place. Who had control of the finance?

Mr. Kevin Croke

Quite obviously the treasurer and the directors had control at that stage.

Were they the new directors?

Mr. Kevin Croke

In 2007? No, they did not have it then. Let us be honest about that.

When did they get access to it?

Mr. Kevin Croke

They got access to it on the day of the court case, or the day before if this was agreed before going into court.

Will Mr. Croke state categorically how much was in that account in 2007?

Mr. Kevin Croke

I cannot. I would be telling lies.

Let me refresh Mr. Croke's memory. On 30 March 2007 there was €48,547 in the account. On 1 April 2008, there was €543.77.

Mr. Kevin Croke

Hand it over.

No. It is in the accounts.

Mr. Kevin Croke

Can the Deputy provide the figures again, please.

Did that information come through the secretary?

No. It is information I got myself.

Mr. Kevin Croke

Obviously, the Deputy has seen an audit for that stage.

There was €543.77 in the account. My point is new directors were elected. They were democratically appointed and, according to Mr. Croke, did not have access to the bank account. By the time they were offered access to the bank account, only €543.77 remained. Will Mr. Croke clear up the matter?

Mr. Kevin Croke

I do not know from where the Deputy got the figures. My understanding is — I use the word understanding — only €12,000 was handed over. By the way, the offer was made in writing to the legal team to the effect that the figures were in place and ready to go to audit. It was reported subsequently in the newspapers that the figures were in a heap. However, they were not. The figures were in place and ready to go. The offer was made in writing to have the figures ready to go to audit. It was refused. However, I believe it is a sad day when those figures are being represented as true figures. This is a sad day for all concerned.

Can we have the matter cleared up?

We must move on from that point because other Members do not have that information and that is not fair. Let us move on to the next issue.

Mr. Kevin Croke

That is fine but the matter has been raised. This is a serious issue.

I wish for the point to be cleared up and I seek a comment from the deputations.

Let Mr. Croke finish first and I will allow the others in when he is finished.

Mr. Kevin Croke

Deputy O'Sullivan made reference to his vision of the Irish draught horse. This comes back to what we said earlier. Unless it comes to breed type, inputs that should not be there will come back in time. This is why the little red head appears in the family after several generations because someone way back was a red head. I make the same point for unsound horses. If a beautiful looking horse is unsound, one might get away with it for one or two generations but in the third, forth or fifth generation, out it pops again and we will do ourselves damage.

Ms Anne Loughnane

Some points need to be corrected and clarified. We stand over the legality of our actions for every step along the way, including the legality of calling for an EGM on 31 March 2007, having the rules drawn up in consultation with professionals, placing those rules before the members and having them endorsed in terms of a settlement and by the High Court. Is a question mark being placed over what the High Court did? I believe it is a basic requirement that we all follow the law of the land in this country. We stand over all our actions. Anything which was not legal was not done or followed through with. Our legal team advised us on every step of the way because we are aware that if we need legal personality to apply for the stud book on behalf of the breeders, we have followed this every step of the way. We wish to clarify some of the financial questions which arose. The best person to do so is our treasurer, Mr. Jim Cooke.

Mr. Jim Cooke

The facts are there. I have a statement in front of me from the bank account of the Irish Draught Horse Society. On 1 April 2008 it was overdrawn by €543.77. That is a matter of record and I can give the document to Mr. Croke if he wishes.

I refer to the legal fees mentioned by Deputy Ferris. In excess of €80,000 was spent by the old Irish Draught Horse Society. That is also a matter of record and it is in the audited accounts we presented at our AGM. I refer to other legal issues raised by Mr. Croke. The simple fact is our organisation was always a 32-county organisation. It always had a branch structure. The misrepresentation is central to this matter, whether it is real or whether Mr. Croke did not read the rules or does not understand them. We were misrepresented constantly at meetings throughout the country regarding our true objectives.

I refer to the name of the Irish Draught Horse Breeders' Association. This name was first used in March 2007 to open a bank account. I have the details before me as well. The name is registered to us. It is our name. I do not know where Mr. Croke got the idea that he could simply turn around and use it. I agree with Deputy Creed that we are where we are and we have two organisations. One has a serious legal basis and foundation, the other a business name. That is what the Irish Draught Horse Breeders' Association is; it is a business name. It has no legal footprint or standing whatsoever, and that is a matter of public record.

I will keep my questions as direct as possible. Can I infer from Mr. Croke, when he stated the stud book should be given to the largest solvent association, that his organisation is in money and the other side is not? He stated as much twice in his presentation. Of the 992 members of his organisation, he stated between 750 and 800 members are breeders or horse owners. Will he clarify this with the committee using passports after the meeting today?

The whole discussion appears to centre around the stud book. I am not up to speed on equine pursuits but the association was set up in 1975. Who has held the stud book from 1975 to date? What is Horse Sport Ireland doing with the stud book? Why did it get the book? Somebody had to have it since 1975. How did it come to be in its possession? During the course of the year, between the registration of foals, mares, stallions and the issuing of passports, what is the turnover of whomever has the studbook? If €80,000 or more was spent on legal fees to date to try and sort this out, how much is the studbook worth?

I ask members to be as brief as possible.

I welcome the delegations, which have outlined very good cases. I am amazed to hear that there is a division such as this between the Irish Draught Horse Society, which was established 25 years ago, and the Irish Draught Horse Breeders' Association. It is a pity such a division has occurred. There is an old saying, "United we stand, divided we fall" and that, unfortunately, is the situation. I have a letter from the West Cork Horse Breeders Co-Operative Society which has 150 paid-up members who are good horse breeders and, if there is no studbook, do not know what will happen to the horse industry in terms of half-bred horses and the Irish draught horse.

Horse Sport Ireland currently has the licence to run the studbook. Have the delegations consulted with it and given it their views? I have a letter from Horse Sport Ireland stating it is only too happy to talk business with the delegations. To come in here and talk to the committee for the past two hours——

That letter is for the members and not for discussion. We only received it this morning.

I know but I presume Horse Sport Ireland is willing to speak to the two organisations and settle this question for once and for all. I have great respect for the Irish Draught Horse Society, which was formed 25 years ago, because it was the backbone of the industry down through the years. I do not know why the studbook was taken from it. The Irish Draught Horse Breeders' Association was formed in 2007 or 2008. Surely there are ways and means for it to air its grievances with the Irish Draught Horse Society, which was the parent body of the horse breeding industry in this country, and iron out their differences.

I am sure the Irish Draught Horse Society is willing to listen to the board of the Irish Draught Horse Breeders' Association. If there was an irregularity regarding an American stallion coming into this country, surely both organisations are big enough to iron out such a difficulty. Both organisations should go back to the drawing board, let common sense prevail, speak to Horse Sport Ireland and try to get the studbook back to the society which was formed 25 years ago and bred many thoroughbreds and half breeds which won the Grand National and every point-to-point chase and steeplechase in the world. If that happens they will get back on track but they will get nowhere by arguing between themselves.

I ask members to be as brief as possible as we have to be out of the room by 2 p.m.

When the meeting is finished I must return to the debate on NAMA in the Seanad. As complicated as NAMA is said to be, we would find it easier to resolve than the matter before us. I am trying to introduce a degree of——

Could we have a vote on this? It might sort it out.

——lightness to the issue. I do not dispute the fact that every witness before us today is committed to the Irish draught horse and its preservation, but the question is how we can resolve this dispute, which has to be described as quite nasty. I will confine my comments to a few straightforward questions to which, it is to be hoped, I will get simple answers. Mr. Croke said the dispute concerns his organisation's opposition to the corporate structure of the co-operative.

Mr. Kevin Croke

That is correct.

Can Ms Loughnane or Ms Deane summarise in a single sentence or a one page statement what they feel the dispute is about? If all it is about is the corporate structure of the co-operative it should be possible to make progress and get all sides around one table. I understand both organisations are deeply unhappy with the fact the studbook is held by Horse Sport Ireland. It being in charge of the studbook for the Irish draught horse is akin to telling the GAA it should be in charge of the rules of soccer. Both might play with a round ball but the concepts are entirely different. I am sure everybody here agrees that Horse Sport Ireland should not be the governing body for the Irish draught horse.

Both organisations have a deep interest in the Irish draught horse. Mr. Croke said he could summarise the dispute in less than two lines. If it is as simple as that it should be possible to resolve it. I am not sure what his summarised version of the problem would state but we know where we want to go. Mr. Croke gave a four point summary of his organisation's aims, all of which are very laudable. There are no aims and ambitions for the Irish draught horse to which it would not subscribe. Is personality part of the core of this problem? Can we reach above and beyond it? The Berlin Wall, which was built to stand forever, was breached and fell 20 years ago this week and the dispute was resolved. All organisations will have to rise to the challenge. Sometimes it is difficult to blink first.

It is rather tragic that we are discussing a horse breed which, as Deputy Creed said, is at grave risk of termination. The future of the Irish draught horse as a breed is more important than any individual, organisation or society. It is a question of putting in place a mechanism to help the breed to survive. I am a little stressed and depressed about this situation. It is difficult to see to where we should move next but if the dispute is just about corporate structure it should be possible to make progress. No one in this room feels the stud book should remain the preserve of Horse Sport Ireland. The HSI has indicated to us that it would be willing to move on if we could achieve a degree of compromise and co-operation. Could both groups indicate what should happen next? There have been presentations and court cases. Days in court can be high drama but they are also very costly and do not seem to have sorted anything out. Bad as it is, court normally brings clarification but, uniquely, the law seems to have made matters more confusing in this case. I appeal for the groups to be bigger and bolder than they were.

I compliment Ms Elizabeth Deane on the wonderful book she edited. The most impressive thing I have seen as someone from a rural background is that the group is affiliated to Irish Co-operative Organisations Society, where there is one man one vote, which swings the argument in its favour.

The draught horse is unique to Ireland and I do not want to lose that heritage. Much of our heritage has been lost in the animal area. Our short horns and our Kerry cattle have been lost because modern, trendy, fancy ideas have eroded and destroyed the breeds. I heard reference to the British Friesian and the Holstein breed and we must be careful because this breed which is the subject of discussion could face extinction in the long-term. There is great research in the book. The Irish draught horse is prominent in New Zealand and other parts of the world, something I must recognise.

Are any of the members of the group also members of Horse Sport Ireland, the new agency that was set up? What funding does the organisation have and what sort of voting criteria are there when there is an annual general meeting? Is it based on the co-operative principle or on company law? Company law means nothing to me. If I go to a meeting where there are public shareholders, it is a different voting system and it is not equal and fair.

I am convinced the stud book should be in the hands of the members, not in the hands of an agency. None of these horses will ever run in Kentucky or Dubai. These horses are unique to Ireland and have fed the families of Ireland over the years for decades. I believe that west Cork has been the driver of the draught horse industry as long as I am on earth and that is a while now. One man, one vote is the strength of this organisation.

I thank both parties for their presentations. Like everyone else, I am confused. This comes down to two issues. The Irish Draught Horse Society has 400 members and is growing. I take it that the members are horse owners or breeders. This will have to be resolved somehow. The stud book is the main issue. Someone must decide that but who is the person who has the wisdom of Solomon to sort this out? Would it be the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or is it Horse Sport Ireland? Who decides?

I welcome the two groups. It is disappointing to see this division in a society that has an indigenous horse in this country. I appeal to both sides to come together. There are people in the committee who would help to achieve a solution to this.

Deputy Ferris asked about the numbers of members and Ms Loughnane stated there are 400. Are those 400 members owners and breeders of Irish draught horses? Mr. Croke gave a reply where he gave a different figure, although I may have missed some of it. Are all the people on the books owners of Irish draught horses or are they breeders of other breeds?

It is regrettable that both sides do not have the stud book. Every other society in this country has its own stud book. That is imperative and coming from this meeting today, our members would like to see that situation and for the stud book not to be with Horse Sport Ireland which has a different agenda. For the sake of the Irish draught horse, if there are personality or other differences, the two sides should come together to clear this up once and for all.

Can anyone confirm who originally represented the Irish draught horse? Was there one group or were there two groups? The two groups must put their heads together and get this done for the sake of the Irish draught horse.

I welcome both organisations to the meeting. I was most interested in Senator Bradford's sensible and conciliatory contribution. Four Oireachtas Members are in Israel as members of the Friends of Israel society and I presume when they saw the agenda for this meeting, they saw the politics of the Middle East as the easy option.

I am ignorant of these matters and it has been interesting to hear the views expressed by both organisations. I note that Ms Loughnane's submission goes back to the establishment of the society in my home town of Dunmanway in 1975, a town that is steeped in the tradition of the Ballabuidhe horse fair, with a huge appreciation that is shared by all of the witnesses today, irrespective of the internal politics.

It is a shame the organisations are in this situation. Instead of splitting hairs, we should admit that we are where we are and should realise that this is about the future preservation of the Irish draught horse. Personalities and internal politics must be put to one side to achieve the best possible result.

What developments need to happen to bring about a co-ordinated, unified, strategic approach to the preservation of the Irish draught horse? Is the issue of the stud book and Horse Sport Ireland the Government's way of saying that it will hold the stud book? What must happen in that respect to reach a satisfactory conclusion?

Ms Loughnane paraphrased Oscar Wilde to make a point about knowing the price of the Irish draught horse and not its value. As he once said, to lose one parent would be a pity, to lose two would be carelessness. It would not be carelessness to lose both organisations in this instance. It is the sensible approach and, ultimately, what has happened thus far has enriched barristers and solicitors. At the end of the day, the organisations will be drained of resources the longer the conflict goes on. I thank them for their passionate and driven contributions and I hope common sense will prevail for the benefit of their ultimate objective.

I expected a fundamental difference in what both organisations believed was in the best interest of the Irish draught horse. I am happy that is not the case but, on the one hard, Mr. Croke said there was opposition to the corporate structure of the co-operative while, on the other, Ms Loughnane said for many years members felt their voices were not being held in the formulation of policy on the draught horse and there was a democratic deficit. That is the core difference between the two organisations.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has placed the studbook with Horse Sport Ireland, which is concerned with the sport horse, not breeding. A registered sport horse studbook has emanated from the half-bred to maximise the ability of the sport horse. Why is such an organisation permitted to set up a task force in the best interest of the draught horse and to set out its agenda? Ms Loughnane said she was not present to discuss this issue but an alarm bell rang for everybody interested in the draught horse when it was stated the intention to produce "good quality sound versatile horses and be a foundation breed that when crossed with other breeds will produce performance horses". That should not be at the core of what everybody in both organisations or anybody else interested in the draught horses is about. The comments of Senator Bradford and others about an agenda of transferring the studbook from the Department to the HSI serves to do only one thing, which is to maintain possession of the studbook for whatever interest. It is a farce to have the HSI host mediation, as it cannot be seen to be objective.

Following the report of the Irish draught horse breeding policy task force, it was recommended that the HSI contacts the authors of studbooks in the UK, America and Canada notifying them of the changes in classification and encouraging them to harmonise their classification and inspection process. I doubt if they have examined their classification process in the first place. There is no difference in the two presentations about how to best maintain and preserve the Irish draught horse but there may be something fundamental between them on the task force's recommendations, which will undermine this aim. Unless there is an agreement or conciliation, the studbook will rest in a place that puts the draught horse in jeopardy and everybody should realise that. If we are to serve a significant purpose, the committee might consider a way to resume the conciliation process. The issue is corporate governance and a democratic deficit. I attended a presentation by the Carer's Association to another committee earlier. Members and witnesses should watch the video of what ordinary people are putting up with. We need to get our act together and we need to be straight.

Ms Anne Loughnane

One of the core questions that came up was why we moved from being a limited company. That was a deliberate decision. The limited company over many years proved itself to be a failed entity, which did not represent Irish draught owners and breeders. It proved impossible within that entity to get democracy for people. We were advised that the most appropriate structure for a breed society was a co-operative. We did not come to it with an agenda of going for a co-operative. I can name many cattle breeds and horse societies that operate as co-operatives. One of the advantages of the co-operative structure is ICOS and its representatives work closely with the organisation and individual co-operatives. One of the stipulations in our rules is if a dispute or difficulty arises, ICOS will come on board and sort it out. Legal action is not required. In the case of a limited company, organisations that deal with it are remote and take many years to act. They were asked over many years within the failed limited company structure that existed for the IDHS to take on board the concerns of members and it did not happen. It was a long process to come to the conclusion that a co-operative best represents individual owners in a breed society and we have many successful examples of where it is operating.

We are happy with the co-operative structure. We know where we stand with it, we know the rules, we have an umbrella body and it is close to the members. At our AGM this year, a representative of ICOS attended. An ICOS representative is never more than a telephone call away for clarification of rules and we have never acted independently of ICOS. We always refer to it for guidance because we came to this process not knowing very much about how a co-operative operates. It has been successful in the way we have been able to process our policies and consultation through the structure that exists and the openness in it. We focused on the two issues of legality and democracy. We should not have to concern ourselves on a daily basis with legality and democracy. They should be taken as read in order that we can spend our day-to-day workings concentrating on the horse.

It has never been the case that the breed society has had the studbook officially. It had never applied for it until June this year. However, the society and many of its members would have wished to apply for it before now and one of the prime reasons for the reconstitution of the society and one of its aims was to have a suitable legal structure through which the society could apply for the studbook. It was not just on a whim that it was applied for. That process involved a great deal of thought and consideration and it was worked through to have a legal personality. I emphasise that to apply for the studbook one requires a legal personality. That is stated in the terms of conditions for application.

The Irish draught horse studbook has been held by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food since 1917. It was transferred to Bord na gCapall when it came into existence. When the board went out of existence, the book may have spent time with the Department before being transferred to the horse board. It has never been held by the breeders. For example, the Connemara Society's ponies won gold and other medals at the European pony championships this year. However, we must be aware that the Connemara pony studbook has been controlled since the beginning of time by its members. We look to their success with envy. We look at what they can do when they manage their own affairs. There are specific guidelines for managing a studbook. It is not a terribly difficult issue once one follows the rules. They are there in an equitable, open fashion. That is all that is required. We see where the common sense of the Connemara pony breeders has led them to world success and strong international organisations.

I saw Deputy Fahey in Clifden, County Galway, earlier this year when I attended the annual Connemara pony show and it was a joy to be there to see the enthusiasm and to hear foreign voices speaking in their own languages. They were not holidaymakers but people from overseas organisations. They engage fully with the process. That is where we want to be. We want to be a vibrant, enthusiastic organisation. The Clifden pony show was evidence of great enthusiasm and people attended in great numbers. We looked at the ponies. There was such uniformity and they had their traditional characteristics. That is not so, unfortunately, with the Irish draught horse. The council, of which I am a member, sees that the root of that problem goes back to the fact that the breeders do not have authority over their own studbook. Common sense will prevail when the breeders, the people who feed them, breed them and use them, make decisions. Decisions should not be made by people, whether Government employees or members of an organisation which is Government-funded, who are not the people who breed and feed the Irish draught horse. My colleague, Ms Elizabeth Deane, has many years of experience within the Irish Draught Horse Society and she will speak on some of those matters.

Ms Elizabeth Deane

I am an ordinary woman who breeds Irish draught horses. I grew up in the 1960s and I saw the tail-end of the working horse on our farm, the Irish draught working horse. As a child and a teenager I travelled to the fairs with my father and I saw the Irish draught at those fairs. I joined the Irish Draught Horse Society in the early 1980s and have bred Irish draughts since the very early 1980s, 1981, so I am almost 30 years in breeding. I have quite a large herd of Irish draught mares and they are my passion. What breaks my heart is when I go around the country to sales and shows and I see horses that have lost the type. I have shown the members a book which has on the cover a white mare which is really true to type. She has short cannon bones for power, short pasterns, a round barrel of a body and a powerful hind quarter. If such a horse were to be boiled in porridge you would know she was an Irish draught. What saddens me deeply is when I go to the sales and people ask me to admire their Irish draught I would not know the difference between some of them, not only from a half-bred but from a thoroughbred horse. As a result of all the cross-breeding we have heard about from some of the members of the committee, they have gone up in the leg and up in the body and we are losing the type. There are remnants of our breed left. It was mentioned earlier that there are 2,000 animals in the stud book. I spoke to HSI, Horse Sport Ireland. That figure cannot be confirmed because when animals die the owners do not notify HSI or send back passports. Of those 2,000, I can honestly say as someone who has slept them, loved them, bred them — they run in my veins — I would guess at the number of true Irish draughts left, of true to type such as on the cover of the book, as being less than 500 mares. As a breeder I cannot use English stallions that have bone and are true to type and neither can I use American stallions because HSI's rules do not recognise those stallions. I am pleading with the members of the committee to support us. We need our stud book back before our breed is destroyed forever. People can call them Irish draughts and use our name and call them a brand but the type of draught I was privileged to see working as a child, those horses are gone forever and this is the reason I joined the co-op, why I put my full might and main behind the co-op. I sat in meetings since the early 1980s and the voices of people like me with a passion were never heard. Different people came every year with the same problems and none of them was ever heard.

I have a vision for the Irish draught, that breeders will not make the wrong decision for their draughts. I really believe this. We have one man, one vote, in the co-op and we saw this working at our AGM this year. Our policies went to the floor, they were discussed and people voted. There were proposals and counter-proposals. The rules before the committee——

I ask Ms Deane to concentrate on the questions asked. We have heard all this from other speakers from the group.

Ms Elizabeth Deane

I apologise. That is my piece. I am pleading for my breed and for its preservation.

I ask witnesses to be brief.

Ms Anne Loughnane

I wish to clarify a point raised. We were asked about our relationship with Horse Sport Ireland who are the holders of the stud book. We have made great efforts to bring to their attention and to have resolved individual problems and inequities that exist as well as individual issues with regard to the stud book which we believe are allowing for fair treatment for owners. Different technical issues are causing great problems and loss of income for owners. We have failed to have those problems resolved. We have had many meetings with HSI and we have put those issues on the table but those problems still remain. While they might be unresolved problems on paper, these people are human beings trying to make a living with their horses. We need to be aware that we need an organisation which addresses those problems and puts the individual owner and horse at its core and not just as a number to be shuffled from meeting to meeting.

Mr. Kevin Croke

I know the committee is under time pressure so I will deal with the questions as quickly as I can. Deputy Tom Sheahan asked why the stud book was held by HSI. Part of the answer has been given already. It finished up with the Irish Horse Board and then the Government decided that funding would go to a new organisation called HSI. The Irish Horse Board, IHB, could not retain the stud book without going under so the stud book went to HSI after a vote. Money from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food goes to HSI for that stud book.

Senator McCarthy and Deputy P. J. Sheehan asked about membership. We have 992 members and between 750 and 800 of those are owners of Irish draught horses. There are just 2,000 draught horses. One wonders if every member of a GAA club is a player. Is there a function for non-owners in an organisation? Can they contribute something to the organisation? I argue the GAA would vanish in the morning if only players could be members. These things must be kept in context.

I will deal with Senator Bradford's question last. The question of legality and democracy was raised by speakers. There is a question of an EGM being held by directors but not held in front of the members. When there are 300 people in a room waiting for an EGM and the directors decide that it is illegal, that is not democracy.

I ask the delegation to explain why this was the situation.

Mr. Kevin Croke

The then directors said it was invalid and it is for them to defend that position. This matter is the subject of a complaint and an investigation by the Director of Corporate Enforcement. Any decision to go to Blackdrum, to go to the co-op, could be overturned. The clock can be wound back completely and the directors removed at that stage.

Money is taken from people for an inspection which a person does not have the authority to conduct and the person does not reply to those who have applied for a refund and does not give refunds. That is not democracy. This has created a significant problem and a sticking point.

In reply to Senator Bradford, the significance of the day is not lost on us. We have started mediation. We called a meeting to resolve this. We agreed with HSI and met it in good faith. I refer to a letter I wrote to Mr. Walsh, the chairman of HSI. We went in good faith with a view to a new organisation. We believe that in the long term the interest of the Irish draught horse would be best served by a single democratic organisation where the members have a full and proper involvement. We have gone forward and have been proactive. However, somewhere along the line it needs two to tango. I agree with the Senator's sentiments. The committee will recall that I said earlier that every member of the organisation should be asked what he or she wants. There is no company law involved at this stage.

Would Mr. Croke have objected if a new organisation had been established as a co-operative?

Mr. Kevin Croke

We went in with no mandate as to what it might be. We agreed in principle to the establishment of a new organisation. However, it was necessary for both sides to agree to that. Otherwise, no progress would be made. We did not even put any type of structure on it. We realised that there would have to be a structure. There is no point in talking about structures if one does not have a basic agreement, not to mention the basic goodwill, to move forward. We have to be aware that, as was said earlier, divided we fall. We must also be aware that one cannot reinforce failure. There are plenty of examples from history in which law did not win out. One can have all the law in the world, but it does not matter if one does not have the support of the people. One can go a few miles up the road to get an example of that. The law, in itself, is no good if one does not bring the people with one.

I am impressed with the enthusiasm and passion of all the witnesses. Perhaps we can be of assistance by organising a process of mediation to try to bring the two groups together. One has to be impressed with both of them. I will not repeat everything that has been said. I suggest that this committee could consider asking one, two or three people to assist the mediation process. I note that the former Deputy, Avril Doyle, is present. The committee might recommend to both groups a person who could act as a mediator, for example by dealing with the two groups in two separate rooms and then together. It seems to me that the way forward is to find a way for the two groups to come together. I have a keen interest in the Connemara Pony Breeders Society, which has been mentioned. I wondered for a while if a dangerous Cork-Kerry alliance was being formed, but I do not think there is any danger of that. The Connemara Pony Breeders Society is an example of how it can be done. I did not want to say anything earlier because I wanted to wait before making my recommendation. I ask both groups to agree to allow the Chairman to recommend a person who will act as a mediator to try to get the two sides together. It strikes me that the seven people at this meeting are extremely sound and genuine. If they were to get together and sort out their few differences, they would have done a good day's work.

I was going to suggest the same thing. The Deputy stole my thunder.

I will raise the matter in private session at next Wednesday's meeting of the joint committee so that all members can contribute to our decision. Many members have already left today's meeting. I fully agree with what Deputy Fahey has said. It seems to me that there is a bit of a power struggle between the two parties. Maybe that is wrong. Both of them seem to have their own interests. When I look at the photograph of the horse-drawn binder reaping the harvest, I am reminded of when I was young. It is great to remember the era of the draft horse, which was followed by the era of the Ferguson 20. It brings back great memories. I thank the two delegations for attending this meeting, making their presentations and answering the various questions they were asked. If the committee agrees next week to allow me to suggest a mediator to sit down with the two groups and chair a meeting, I will certainly do that.

Can we establish whether both groups would agree to participate in such a process?

That is what I was just about to ask.

Ms Anne Loughnane

I thank the joint committee for the time, attention and obvious care they have invested in listening to us. The Irish Draught Horse Society will give positive consideration to any recommendation made by the committee. We will be grateful for anything the committee might do to help to give our society, which represents many owners and breeders of Irish draught horses, control of the stud book. The committee would be doing a great service to the Irish draught, or indigenous, breed of horse.

Mr. Kevin Croke

We have been through this three times. The committee can rest assured that we are firmly in favour of proceeding with a positive engagement in any form of mediation that would help to resolve this problem. We have approached this issue in a positive manner at all times, so why would we change now? I assure the Chairman that we would be glad to get involved in a process of mediation that might help to resolve matters.

Would the groups prefer if the mediator was someone in the business, or would they prefer to go outside the business altogether?

Mr. Kevin Croke

It might be best if the Chairman were to write to both organisations stating who he has in mind. To be fair, both sides might have a hang-up one way or the other. If the Chairman asks us to work with someone, we will decide whether we are in a position to do so.

Is that okay with Ms Loughnane?

Ms Anne Loughnane

There is a lot of wisdom on this committee. We will be very open to whatever the committee brings to us for discussion. We will respond to it.

We will discuss the matter at next week's meeting of the committee. I thank the delegations for attending today's meeting. Like many members of the committee, I was wary in advance of this meeting, but it was very constructive and successful, thank God. I thank everyone involved.

The joint committee adjourned at 2.10 p.m. until 11.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 November 2009.