I thank the committee for the invitation to attend today to discuss "RTÉ Investigates: Greyhounds: Running for their Lives" broadcast on 26 June. I am accompanied today by Denis Healy, veterinary director of the Irish Greyhound Board, and I wish to offer apologies on behalf of our chief executive, Gerard Dollard, who due to a long-standing commitment is unavoidably absent.
The Irish Greyhound Board unreservedly condemns the appalling practices evident on the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. They have no place in the greyhound industry or indeed in any area of activity involving animals. The welfare of the racing greyhound in Ireland is at the core of what the Irish Greyhound Board does. The Irish Greyhound Board, Bord na gCon, is the commercial semi-State body responsible for the control and development of the greyhound industry in the Ireland. The board was established under special legislation by the Government in 1958.
In the context of governance, there are seven board members as well as the chief executive officer, the chief financial officer and an executive consisting of a veterinary director, head of regulation and other executives. We have 238 employees and the industry has some 7,300 owners and is estimated to be worth approximately €300 million to the national economy.
Greyhound welfare is a top priority for the board and there is an ongoing proactive approach to ensure animal welfare standards are consistently high throughout the industry. All reported incidents of greyhound cruelty and neglect are investigation and where breaches of the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 are identified appropriate action is taken.
Addressing the recent televised exposé on the treatment of greyhounds, it is right that RTÉ would highlight illegal behaviour and the sometimes-appalling and egregious treatment of animals as a matter of public interest. The Irish Greyhound Board fully subscribes to and supports such an approach. However, we believe it is incumbent on the national broadcaster to provide factual and properly contextualised information. Balance is also important and one glaring omission from the programme was the good practice and behaviour adopted by the significant vast majority of people involved in greyhound racing in Ireland as well as the stringent legislative and regulatory framework in place to ensure general compliance and, more important, animal welfare.
The Irish Greyhound Board co-operated with RTÉ and accommodated its requests to film at our various stadia. We responded to numerous freedom of information requests and editorial queries. We offered a live interview on the issues raised during the course of RTÉ's research. This offer was not taken up. We have requested a copy of all footage and documentation from RTÉ relating to the programme to enable us to follow up on any allegations of the mistreatment of greyhounds or breaches of statutory regulation. We are currently awaiting same.
In many cases the programme used historical or out-of-context footage to highlight past poor welfare practices. It did not reflect the wider industry or the significant reforms that have been introduced by the Irish Greyhound Board in the past decade. It disregarded the thousands of genuine greyhound owners who love their greyhounds and their racing. Arising from the programme, numerous issues and areas should be highlighted. In early 2017, as part of an examination of the IGB and its structures, a company, Preferred Results Limited, undertook an analysis of the greyhound pool, although this did not form part of the brief at the time. The analysis covered 2013 to 2015 as well as a detailed study of the 2009 greyhound pool. The analysis was based on estimates and assumptions and lacked any empirical evidence base. This arises from the absence of a traceability system for greyhounds, a point I will address later. The data assumes a total of 5,987 unaccounted for dogs and assumed that these dogs were culled. The board did not accept the analysis as it did not reflect issues in the industry at the time whereby it was proving exceedingly difficult to fill scheduled race cards with racing greyhounds. For clarity, the IGB does not accept that 5,987 greyhounds were culled.
The greyhound racing industry of 2019 is an entirely different place to the greyhound racing industry of 2009 given the extent of reforms that have been made within the sector. The euthanising of healthy greyhounds is not acceptable and the board has recently taken measures to prepare a statutory regulation requiring that the euthanising of a greyhound can only be undertaken by a veterinary practitioner. The responsibilities of the IGB relate solely to the racing greyhound. They do not extend to crossbreeds such as lurchers, which featured prominently in the programme. The programme highlighted erythropoietin as being prevalent in greyhounds. The last recorded instance of EPO by the Irish Greyhound Board was in 2005.
The board is aware of the historical cases of ear tampering featured in the programme, one from over a decade ago and one from 2013. In 2016, the IGB made it a regulatory requirement and a condition of entry that all greyhounds competing at licensed stadia were microchipped. This ensures all greyhounds are identifiable and, more important, linked to an owner. Reference was made to only one disqualification order for doping offences. Under the 2015 regulations introduced by the board a greyhound is automatically disqualified from racing when an adverse analytical finding is declared and the dog remains disqualified until a clear test, free from prohibited substances, is returned.
The IGB has made strong progress in the area of doping and medication. This is an issue for all sports but the enhanced regulation introduced by the IGB in 2015 and the successful defence of two High Court challenges to the IGB regulatory system in 2018 demonstrate that the current regime is robust. A total of 5,288 samples were analysed by the national greyhound laboratory located at the IGB offices in Limerick in 2018. I welcome the statistic outlined in the programme, if it is the case, that 80% of animal remedies seized by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine relate to the greyhound industry. This is testament to the regulatory and integrity framework we have worked hard to achieve and implement. We have received excellent co-operation from the agencies involved, especially the special investigations unit of Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, which holds the regulatory powers on animal remedies. Inspections of premises have involved IGB personnel and the high level of seizures suggested in the programme sends a clear message to all that illegal substances or animal remedies are not tolerated within the greyhound industry.
The early morning meeting at Kilcohan Park Greyhound Stadium in Waterford was featured in the programme. It was presented that the addition of early morning meetings would further increase greyhound pools. This is incorrect. The early morning meetings substitute for existing meetings. Kilkenny now schedules racing on a Wednesday morning in lieu of Wednesday night and Kilcohan Park schedules racing for Thursday morning in lieu of the previously scheduled race meeting on a Friday night.
The programme outlined some appalling practices involving the treatment of animals allegedly in China. The footage in this case was disturbing and first appeared on the Internet in 2015. The practice was further reported in the Irish national media in 2016. The footage shown on the programme also displayed other breeds of dog. The practices outlined in the programme relating to live animals are absolutely abhorrent. Anyone who owns or who has ever owned a dog was sickened by what they saw. The clear position of the IGB is that export of greyhounds should only involve countries that have a strong animal welfare code. I am satisfied that the greyhound community in Ireland has been utterly shocked at such practices and has heeded the strong advice by the IGB regarding export of any animals to such countries. Neither the IGB nor any Irish regulator is responsible for the appalling attitude to wider animal welfare that may be evident in other countries. We will continue to do everything possible within our remit to prevent exports of greyhounds to countries that do not have acceptable animal welfare regimes. Ireland is not in a position to restrict exports to any country but must operate under EU law and wider world trade agreements.
In terms of the IGB spend on welfare, the false impression was given on the programme that €100,000 was the amount spent from the allocation of €16.8 million from the horse and greyhound fund. The €100,000 is a specific contribution that IGB makes to an special entity it has established to focus on the re-homing of Irish greyhounds, the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust. This contribution is additionally matched by a 2% contribution of winning owners' prize money, which derives from the horse and greyhound fund. In 2018, the total income of the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust was €242,000. This does not take into account the overall spend of the IGB on regulation and welfare matters, which was just short of €2 million in 2019. We continue to expand our welfare function as a priority area under our strategic plan for 2018 to 2022. A further full-time professionally qualified welfare officer was recruited in May 2019.
Since the airing of the programme, the board has met and agreed a range of additional measures to further enhance the welfare schemes already in place, including its fostering scheme, and to assure both the public and the wider and responsible greyhound community that we take issues of welfare very seriously. Any party aware of any breach of welfare regulation or any inadequate or inappropriate practices relating to greyhound welfare should report the matter to the IGB for full investigation. We have established a dedicated telephone line for that purpose.
Looking to the future, the board is in the course of implementing its strategic plan for 2018 to 2022 and at this point sees the key pillars to be progressed in the areas of care, ownership, breeding, regulation, doping and medication, stadia, tracks and exports. Today, I will focus on the area of care. Further work needs to be done to bring the care and welfare of the greyhound to the highest standard possible. Care and welfare are the priority in all activity relating to greyhounds. It is our intent, in accordance with the commitment in our strategic plan, to maintain animal welfare at the centre of our industry and, to that end, to devise a three-year transformative care plan for the industry. The primary responsibility for the care and welfare of any animal rests with its owner. The owner’s obligations in this regard must be reinforced and form a legal obligation for which the owner can be held accountable.
The passing of the Greyhound Racing Ireland Act 2019, for which this committee deserves great credit, provides a significant modernising of the legal framework and the first such overhaul since the Greyhound Industry Act 1958. A key provision of the Act relates to the introduction of a traceability system for the racing greyhound, which has been sought for some time by the IGB. In addition to the provision of a traceability system for the racing greyhound, the board is also promoting a number of proposals as a radical rearrangement of responsibility and oversight for the greyhound and the care and welfare of the racing greyhound. These are: increase sanctions and strengthen notification requirements to the Irish Coursing Club, ICC, as keeper of the stud book, to ensure that transfers of ownership are promptly notified at the time of the transaction occurring; in the medium term a differentiation needs to be made between coursing and racing greyhounds, as two separate bodies have responsibility for the two different types of greyhounds; provide for a levy at registration stage in the stud book to contribute towards a pension plan for the greyhound in retirement - all levies should be paid into a separate care fund to be established by the Irish Greyhound Board through a trust, with external appointees to monitor the care and welfare programme; a levy on attendance income, prize money and a percentage of all sponsorship to be paid into the care fund; and an immediate expression of interest process for the provision of greyhound care centres so that greyhounds can lead a healthy life after retirement - these centres will be funded from the care fund and a contribution from owners.
The IGB has secured an ever increasing number of re-homings through the direct activity of, and indirect supports provided by, its established trust, the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust. Some 1,021 re-homings were achieved in 2018. An initiative is at an advanced stage of discussion with Greyhound Pets of America, GPA, and Finding Loving Irish Greyhounds Homes Together, FLIGHT, which should secure a very significant increase in international re-homings. We propose engaging with the Minister on a set percentage of the horse and greyhound fund allocation being assigned to the separate care fund to cover the range of initiatives and actions I have outlined and which are set out in the three year transformative plan. Where it is necessary that a greyhound be put to sleep the euthanasia shall only be performed by a veterinary surgeon by the use of lethal injection. This requirement should be extended to all greyhounds, including coursing dogs, by way of an order under the powers contained in the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011. We have drafted such an order for the Minister's consideration. We have commissioned a full analysis of, and sought recommendations on, our industry footprint for the future. This analysis is currently being undertaken by Indecon Economic Consultants, which previously reported on the greyhound industry, and we expect that its report will be completed in the autumn.
In conclusion, I wish to strongly emphasise that the IGB is committed to strong regulation of the industry and to following up any breaches of welfare or regulation within the statutory framework available to us. There is no place for cruelty or poor animal welfare practices in the greyhound industry and we will continue to work with all agencies to eradicate such behaviour. We will endeavour to respond fully to queries from members of the committee and if any follow-up is required we will be happy to facilitate such requests.