Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2019: Motion

I remind members and witnesses to make sure their mobile phones are completely turned off. We are here to consider the motion on the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2019.

I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, and his officials. The motion to approve the level of funding for the horse and greyhound industry for 2020 has been referred to the committee by Dáil and Seanad Éireann. Under the terms of the order of both Houses, the committee must consider the matter and having done so report to the Dáil and Seanad not later than 3 December 2019.

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 either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I call the Minister to make his opening statement.

The horse and greyhound racing industries occupy a special place in the Irish psyche and a key position in the rich tapestry of Irish sport. They are valuable to our economy, central to our identity and cornerstones of our social and cultural heritage. There is an indisputable passion and commitment to these sports across this island.

An important pillar of Government policy is to ensure these industries achieve their maximum potential and in so doing contribute to economic and social development across a wide geographic swathe of the country. Time and again through the years, Governments have acknowledged the importance of these industries and have supported them through legislation and policy initiatives. The support provided by public funds through investment in these industries has enabled Ireland to develop into a world centre of excellence for horseracing, greyhound racing and breeding. The Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, HGRF, has been front and centre in providing this investment and has played a pivotal role in shaping the destiny of these industries. These industries receive financial support from the State through the fund under section 12 of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act, 2001. My Department makes payments from the fund to Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, and to Bord na gCon.

In the period 2001 to date, a total of €1.28 billion has been paid from the fund to the horse and greyhound racing industries in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The cumulative upper limit on payments from the fund, provided for under the relevant regulations, has, therefore, been reached. Exchequer funding provided from the fund is crucial to the survival and continued development of the industries. This cumulative upper limit must be increased by regulation to give effect to the provisions of budget 2020.

The Estimates for my Department, passed by both Houses as part of budget 2020, include an allocation of €84 million for the HGRF. This will be distributed in accordance with Section 12(6) of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001, with 80% going to HRI, €67.2 million, and 20% to Bord na gCon, €16.8 million. It is necessary to comply with the technical requirement under section 12(13) of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act, to increase the cumulative limit on the amount payable from the fund by €84 million, to some €1.36 billion, to allow my Department to provide the moneys allocated in budget 2020. This is achieved by way of the regulations submitted to this committee. The aggregate limit on the HGRF has been increased in this manner in 2004 and in 2009 to 2019 inclusive.

The 2017 Deloitte report on the economic impact of Irish breeding and racing, commissioned by HRI, indicates that the total direct and stimulated expenditure of the breeding and racing industry is estimated at €1.84 billion in 2016. In addition, it is estimated that there are 15,200 jobs at the core of the racing and breeding industry or in directly related industries. Horse racing generates a significant return to the rural economy and a positive international profile for our country. Behind all the facts and figures are the thousands of men and women who, directly and indirectly, make the racing and breeding industry what it is today. According to HRI's annual report for 2018, there was a sharp increase in the number of new owners engaging in racing last year. An increase of almost 800 new owners, up 16.2% year on year, was a significant factor in the growth in horses in training numbers throughout the country.

Retaining existing owners and increasing the number of new owners has been a priority for HRI in recent years. The knock-on effect is an increase in horses in training up 2.4% in 2018. The HRI capital development fund, covering the period 2015 to 2019, enabled projects to be completed at nine racecourses across last year with works at six further tracks continuing in 2019. As proven in 2019, Irish owners, trainers, jockeys and horses are setting standards globally and their stellar achievements and enduring influence underscore Ireland's international prominence. The Irish equine breeding and racing industry is competitive at a global level, despite other major racing nations having much larger populations and economies. Despite our size, we are the third largest producer of thoroughbred foals in the world and estimates place Ireland only behind the US as the biggest seller of bloodstock by public auction globally. However, the significant threat posed by Brexit to the current ease of movement of horses between Britain and France, in addition to the global nature of major breeding operations, illustrates that while Ireland arguably now has leadership position within Europe, its pre-eminence is not guaranteed. Government funding, in addition to supporting this key industry, also presents an excellent opportunity to yield a high return for its investment leading to a flow of income right through the economy. Support for certain strategic industries is important for future economic growth and can provide widespread benefits for our society as well as for our economy.

According to the 2017 Power report, the greyhound industry provides and supports considerable employment both directly and indirectly throughout the economy. It is estimated that, in 2016, the industry supported 5,058 full-time and part-time jobs in the economy. In addition, there are 7,313 active greyhound owners. The total number of people deriving economic benefit from the sector is estimated at 12,371. The industry is deeply ingrained in the social and cultural networks of rural Ireland. The future of the industry is dependent on a strong governance platform and on the industry having the highest standards of integrity and welfare founded on a strong regulatory system. I am confident that provisions in the new Greyhound Racing Act 2019, which came into effect on 28 May last, will make a difference. This legislation strengthens the legal basis for the industry, with a view to fortifying the integrity of the greyhound racing sector and improving provision for greyhound traceability.

The new Act will improve the governance of Bord na gCon, strengthen regulatory controls in the industry, modernise sanctions and improve integrity within the sector. It provides the industry with tools with which it can effect fundamental change and reform.

Traceability has been a priority action for Bord na gCon following legislative provision in the new Greyhound Racing Act and a formal tendering process has commenced to establish such a traceability system for the racing greyhound. Bord na gCon has also created a new position of director of greyhound care and welfare and the person appointed will have responsibility for the development of programmes and initiatives that exceed industry standards of care and welfare and foster a culture of continuous improvement and excellence.

Bord na gCon has introduced a range of care and welfare initiatives, which include the following measures: the introduction of a greyhound injury support scheme; financially incentivising the rehoming of greyhounds in Ireland through additional supports through the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust, IRGT, which is operated by Bord na gCon; the establishment of a confidential freephone line to enable the reporting of welfare breaches; and a revision, in conjunction with the International Greyhound Welfare Forum, of the code of practice and the care and welfare of greyhounds to address retirement and transportation of greyhounds.

The advent of new technologies and business models has challenged Government to re-evaluate the funding mechanisms for the industry. As part of its overall commitment to the industry, the Government has addressed, through legislation, the anomaly whereby remote and online betting operators were outside the tax net. The measures introduced in the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015 had a positive effect on revenue streams with significant increases being realised. Betting tax was increased from 1% to 2% in last year’s budget and contributed €62 million to the Exchequer in the period from January to August 2019.

Given the wide geographic distribution of these two industries, they are fundamental to the achievement of more balanced regional economic growth. Relieving the burden on our major urban centres and nurturing rural economies is a key priority for Government. In this context, these industries should be given recognition for the considerable contribution that they make to rural economic activity and employment, although I acknowledge that there is a long-standing urban tradition of greyhound ownership and interest in greyhound racing. Brexit poses an array of substantial threats to the Irish economy and coupled with the fact that we are a small and open economy naturally prone to volatility, it is difficult to predict what the future holds. It is, therefore, more important than ever that we support these important industries to help maintain sustainable growth in these sectors. The welfare of horses and greyhounds is a cornerstone of both industries and I am assured that HRI and Bord na gCon are striving to ensure the highest standards for the sport and its participants on and away from the race course. Accordingly, I ask the committee for its support to ensure that HRI and Bord na gCon receive the funding provided for in budget 2020 and that the important role played by these industries, and the economic activity generated by them, are sustained into the future. I commend this regulation to the committee, and I look forward to discussing any matters arising.

I thank the Chairman for his statement. As a small country, there are very few things we can claim to be the best in the world at but we can justifiably claim to be the best in these two sports. We produce the best and can compete with, and beat, the best, which is a significant achievement for a country of our size. The chairman of HRI and the chief executive and chairman of Bord na gCon have made presentations to us in the past few weeks regarding where their respective industries are going, their need for funding and their plans for the future of both industries. Fianna Fáil supports the HGRF.

The points made by the Minister about standards in welfare and governance are well made. A highly publicised television programme on the greyhound industry did a lot of reputational damage to it. The industry's response to that programme was swift and a great deal of action has been taken. The enactment of the Greyhound Racing Bill will permit much more enforcement, which is needed. There were many high-profile cases over a number of years in which the public did not feel enforcement was carried out by the industry. We had high-profile cases of classic-winning greyhounds being found with prohibited substances, which did a lot of reputational damage to the industry. Hopefully, under the new Act, anyone who transgresses will face the full rigours of the law. Figures were given regarding the extensive testing being conducted. The figure that stuck in my head was that only 0.25% of samples were found to contain prohibited substances. Anyone found with prohibited substances must be clearly and strongly dealt with. In respect of Bord na gCon's argument for funding, it has put its shoulder to the wheel. A total of 50% of sponsorship is now devoted to welfare issues along with 10% of admission and restaurant receipts and 5% of Tote profits. Bord na gCon has, therefore, shown significant willingness to put its shoulder to the wheel in providing finance for ongoing welfare issues. The post-career life of a racing greyhound is paramount to the public. We must ensure that when greyhounds retire from racing, they are properly cared for. I was happy with the presentation made to us by the chairman and chief executive of Bord na gCon three weeks ago. They told us that the board is increasing its standards all the time. It is also important to stress that its welfare standards were in place before this programme was broadcast. Additional funding is being put in, which will bear fruit going forward. Over time, public confidence in the industry will be restored.

Brexit will be a challenge, as it will be for all industries. The movement of animals is paramount for both industries. It concerns the financial viability of both industries - breeding, racing or the export and sale of horses and greyhounds. Brexit is probably one of the major clouds hanging over both industries. Hopefully, there will be a conclusion when the UK general election is over and a common sense deal can be put in place in order that the free movement of animals can continue to allow these industries to maintain their eminent position. A major concern involves French bloodstock or brood mares coming here to our top stallions. It is important that they still have ease of passage to this country because if this was disrupted, those mares would stay in France and, over time, stallions would be relocated to France, which could have ongoing implications for the bloodstock industry. This is something about which the industry is worried. Hopefully, it will not come to pass.

I have been asked by Deputy Darragh O'Brien, who represents Dublin Fingal, to raise the issue of funding for the Irish Harness Racing Association, IHRA, an issue that has arisen on a number of occasions. The industry believes it has jumped through all the necessary hoops to get access to funding and has published a five-year strategy plan, which was launched in October. It has been given access to a 70-acre site. Fingal County Council and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have been involved in that. The association plans to build a national trotting stadium on the site. It feels aggrieved. It has put forward proposals. The French authorities have contributed in excess of €1 million to the association in prize money over the past six years. The association feels that if it is unable to progress its industry and put it on to a solid footing, much of the progress it has made will be lost.

The association has strict legislation on doping and has adopted many of the French protocols in that regard. It feels the protocols it has in place would stand up to scrutiny as regards the integrity of its racing. It sent 16 drivers to France in the recent past to compete in international races. The association feels it has done everything that was asked of it. It was promised on a number of occasions that if it did A, B and C, funding would come its way. At this stage, the IHRA is at a crossroads. It has asked us to support its cause. The association has done everything it has been asked to do and I ask the Minister to find funding for the association to allow it to proceed with its ambitious plans.

Are HRI, Bord na gCon and the IHRA all-island groups or is it intended for that to be considered by any of the groups or the Department?

I thank Deputy Cahill for his observations and questions. He began by commenting on the greyhound industry. It has been a challenging period for the industry. The industry and Bord na gCon are well aware that their viability into the future, both economically and in terms of the support not just of those who attend but the public generally, which is critical, is contingent on them embracing the integrity, welfare and governance issues. To be fair to them, they were proactive in the debate that took place prior to the passing of the legislation. They were asking, in effect, for the toolbox to enable them to meet these challenges. I thank the committee for its support with the legislation. There is a changed environment with that legislation passed and we are in a position to deal with those issues. I am glad to see the response of the board since then, particularly with respect to the welfare of greyhounds. It is something the legislation provides for, but the board has responded to it as well. The Deputy referred to the financial support and so forth through the IRGT and apportioning a proportion of the gate and restaurant receipts and so forth. There will also be greater conditionality in our funding to ensure that these important issues are addressed.

The Deputy also spoke about freedom of movement and the UK leaving the EU. That is a significant challenge. The equine sector is governed by a tripartite arrangement, which predates our entry into the European Union, on the movement of high value bloodstock in the equine industry between France, the UK and Ireland. To have a relationship that is as seamless as possible post Brexit, we have had to examine how we can facilitate the continuation of this industry, for which the interaction between the three jurisdictions is very important. While the system will not be as we know it today, we are doing everything we can to ensure continued movement through border inspection posts. Most of that high value bloodstock is either flown or goes through approved border inspection posts, be they at Shannon Airport, Dublin Airport, Dublin Port or Rosslare. This is in the context of new investments in infrastructure being made for the post-Brexit period. It is also contingent on the UK being listed as an approved third country for equine movements after its departure. I expect that will be the case. The UK will be required to have health certification, conditionality regarding residence periods and so forth, but I am satisfied that everything that can be done is being done to ensure the industry continues in the best way possible, while acknowledging it will not be same as it is now.

Irish harness racing is a long-standing issue and there has been a great deal of engagement. As a consequence of that engagement, considerable funds have been spent by the Department in receipted expenditure on the commissioning of plans, the Indecon report and so forth on the industry. We have spent in excess of €100,000. We recognise that there is potential in this regard. Deputy Darragh O'Brien and some of my party colleagues have been in contact with me about it. There are pockets of interest in this issue. There is an interest in north County Dublin and there is an interest in my area of west Cork. There is an interest in other pockets around the country. There is potential in the sector.

Deputy Corcoran Kennedy asked whether it was all-island in nature. It is an interesting question. The Indecon report, if I recall it correctly, made an observation on the desirability of having an all-island, uniform approach to it. I am not aware of any jurisdictional support from outside this State, but I am subject to correspondence from the industry in Northern Ireland to say it is not part of the IHRA. Be that as it may, I acknowledge the association has an issue with its access to the track it currently uses. It is in ongoing engagement with Fingal County Council on the possibility of alternative track provision. There was engagement in the past week or ten days with officials in the Department and we are awaiting further submissions from the association regarding its ambition. Details must be worked out as to where that ambition can be delivered in respect of a site. The tenure it has where it currently races is not secure so that must be resolved. We have supported it in terms of standards in the sector. That is important and, to be fair, the association has delivered on its side of that support. However, there is another question. We would like the industry to survive and prosper and will do what we can in that context, but there is the question of what Department should fund sporting investment, stadia and so forth, which is where the next phase of this development should be. It is not a core function of my Department to provide funding for stadium development. The responsibility is elsewhere in that regard.

What generates the interest in the context of this annual event for the HGRF is that people look at it and say these are horses and that they would like a piece of the action HRI gets. However, what we are delivering here is in compliance with the legislation. The fund is available not to the sport horse sector, for example, Horse Sport Ireland. This is for the HRI thoroughbred sector. The funding the Department gives to Horse Sport Ireland, which received an increase significantly above what anybody else got this year in a very difficult budgetary situation, reflects the fact that there are many constituent members in Horse Sport Ireland. This is another sport horse in many ways. I am not sure what relationship the IHRA has with Horse Sport Ireland but the latter works with various disciplines in the equine sector outside of the thoroughbred sector.

That is to give the context in terms of the HGRF. Under the current law, it is not at our discretion to give some of the fund to, for example, Horse Sport Ireland or the IHRA. We are constrained by what the law provides in respect of the fund.

The association is probably agnostic about how it should be funded as long as it is funded, be it through the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, in terms of sport infrastructure and stadium development, or another body. This is, in effect, what its engagement with us is about now. I hope there will be circumstances in which the organisation migrates successfully to a site provided by Fingal County Council, if that is possible, and that the provision of the infrastructure, in terms of the stadium, can be achieved through the sports capital section of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. We continue to engage with the Department on how we might be of assistance. It is not a core function of my Department. HRI invests the money it receives from the HGRF as it sees fit to develop the thoroughbred sector. It is not for us, through the fund, to say some of it should go to harness racing. It is not provided for by the law at present. I hope that provides some clarity on the issue.

My understanding is that it is not able to get funding from Horse Sport Ireland. It is just an affiliated member and funding is not available for that reason. I appreciate the Minister's very detailed answer. It was helpful and I thank him.

To be fair to Horse Sport Ireland, it has a broad constituency of interests and affiliated organisations competing for funds. It achieves quite extraordinary feats on the international stage in terms of flying the flag at the highest level for sport horses. I would like to be in a position to provide more funding. There is no shortage of asks. We will continue to engage with the IHRA to see how we might chart a way forward for it given its ambition.

I appreciate that others want to contribute but I have one further question. The association's access to Tote betting is an issue. If it is to stage racing here, it will be an issue. Does legislation allow that access?

Tote betting licensing and the control of betting and legislation in this area are matters for the Department of Justice and Equality. I draw the Deputy's attention to the international debate on Tote betting, not just to the debate in Ireland; he may have seen coverage of this in recent days. Internationally, Tote betting, as a vehicle for wagering on horse and greyhound racing, is declining substantially because most people are betting by other means. I am not sure the issue raised is of the greatest concern but I appreciate the point the Deputy makes. It is ultimately an issue for the Department of Justice and Equality.

Pari-mutuel works well for the French-----

I accept and acknowledge the support the association has received from the French authorities and the governing body in France. It has been significant over a number of years. The sport is very significant in France, as it is elsewhere, including in Scandinavia. It is much more popular there than it is here. There is an interest here, however, and there is potential. It is important to ask how we might find synergies making use of the infrastructure we have in the sector generally, not just the equine sector. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we might consider this.

I thank the Minister and his officials for the presentation. The Labour Party is acutely aware of the undeniable importance of these industries to rural Ireland and the significant contributions made to rural economies in indirect and direct employment and through exports, especially in the horse racing area.

Our support for the fund, however, is very much conditional. Five months ago, the Minister would not have had Labour Party support. It is the first time to receive such support in two decades. I was present for the introduction of the 2001 Act. Everybody has to get his act cleaned up. There are valuable funds being invested. The beneficiaries of all State funding have to get their house in order, and rightly so because the funding is significant. A sum of €84 million is significant Many other areas could benefit from it. Organisations must keep their houses in order, including by ensuring the welfare of horses and greyhounds. The greyhound industry, in particular, was the subject of a documentary in this regard some months ago, as Deputy Cahill stated. The highest welfare standards must apply and animals should be treated with compassion and respect from birth right until their final days. Mr. Nyhan and others reassured the committee in this regard. Deputy Cahill stated Mr. Nyhan and Mr. Dollard were very reassuring in their recent appearance before the committee, especially in respect of retirement, rehoming and trust homes. It is about time.

In fairness to everybody involved in the industry, all of this work starts with the animal owner. If I have an animal, I should look after it. It should be part of my remit to do so and I should not transfer responsibility to somebody else, unless there is a great number involved or some such reason. Bord na gCon has got a handle on this. That is why we will support this measure today. It is only in the past couple of months that I have been able to say this. The chairman, who is now more than a year in his position, has certainly a handle on it and reassures one and gives one confidence. It is vital and paramount that all industries receiving State subventions act with absolute integrity and probity in their governance, in running their affairs and in respect of the welfare of the animals under their supervision. Traceability is important, especially in the greyhound industry. I saw an advertisement recently for welfare officers and senior executive officers. That is another very positive development. Those concerned need not think we are taking our eye off the ball. We are all watching. We do not need any programmes to tell us when something is wrong. Our constituents also tell us.

Over the years, Mr. Kavanagh always stated - I did not always agree with him - that he would like the horseracing industry to reach a point where it would be self-financing and would not depend on State funding. It is an objective. It is one of the objectives that I hope will be achieved.

Some €60 million was obtained from increasing the betting tax. That was for two thirds of the year. That would equate to approximately €90 million for a full year. The €84 million provided by the HGRF is, therefore, covered by the betting tax. I could say the money should be used for orthodontic treatment and everything else but the funding is coming from within the industry. It is important that this message goes out. It must be stated straightaway, however, that the football clubs and other clubs are saying that they also bet. This is the argument they make but, nevertheless, it is worthwhile saying the money is coming from within the betting industry. The way to make the industry fully self-financing is to make sure all areas are levied appropriately.

Some of the money goes towards prize funds, particularly in horseracing. There is no problem with prize funds in horseracing but I would like more money going towards prize funds at a lower level. It is great having the big races in the Curragh and elsewhere but tracks in places such as Kilbeggan, Roscommon, Sligo and Ballinrobe need to be given more help. If I disagree with HRI over anything, it is on this. There is an old expression in Ballinacarrigy that the fat goose always gets fatter and that if enough grease is rubbed to its posterior, it will get fatter still. That is how I feel about this.

The thoroughbred industry is well able to cater for itself. It has a lot of advocates. There are only four or five, but Senator Daly is chairperson of the racecourse and doing a great job in Kilbeggan with more expansions and everything else. They are fighting there every day trying to get a bit of sponsorship and make races attractive. Sometimes HRI is not as generous as it should be in the allocations and attaches lots of conditions. Sometimes there might be only six or seven horses competing in the big races with four or five out of the one stable. It is a little bit of an irritation with me that the €68 million is almost going into a fund that provides significant prize money that the ordinary Joe that I meet at the race meeting and people who own shares on horses and stuff like that never have an opportunity of being on that pitch, whereas at jumps meetings small owners can compete with Michael O'Leary even if they have a horse born somewhere down a back lane. That is what I like about that, and that is the difference. That is why I am supportive of the jumps industry in that regard.

I knew the IHRA issue would come up, and in fairness there are plenty of people nudging along the harness racing submissions and everything else. They seem to be a very reputable group. Any time they have come before the committee, they have made very strong, impressive presentations. The 2001 Act underpinning the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund can be amended to provide a dedicated sum. Allocating €500,000 to the IHRA is the similar to some other body getting €10 million. The fund amounts to €84 million next year but €1 million would go a long way, and if we had to, we could amend the legislation to ensure that. There is a new body, which has developed in the past few years. There is an international aspect to harness racing and the IHRA does its business in a very professional way, and I concur with Deputy Cahill that we should divert money to it in some shape or form by amending the legislation. I know the Minister would act ultra vires the legislation if he carried on like that now, and he has tried to give them some money without trespassing into this area, but it is a new body in a new area that could become self-financing much quicker than the others with a little boast. That is an important area.

Every time Brian Kavanagh appeared over the past 18 months, he wanted to talk about Brexit. We are all acutely aware of the trilateral relationship and the way that could be significantly affected. I am glad there is an all-Ireland dimension now to integrity and probity in the greyhound industry. The Bord na gCon staff are working with their British colleagues, and that is important to root out anybody who has misbehaved. There should be no tolerance, whatever the status of the individuals, whether they are the top trainer or whatever else. There should be no one smiling out of the television getting top awards where they have transgressed. The good example is that of the ordinary people who try to mind their greyhounds or run their greyhounds with limited resources and do the best they can to provide top-class welfare. We have reached that stage now that the bigger the transgressors are, the harder they should fall.

I welcome the Minister and his officials and I also welcome the House and Greyhound Racing Fund. As Deputy Cahill said, Fianna Fáil will support the motion. The Minister's statement gives all the figures and there is no need to rehash them. Deputy Penrose mentioned that the fund is probably cost neutral because of the revenue from the betting tax. However, betting tax aside, the fund is not only cost neutral; it is a good investment when one takes into consideration the employment it creates in rural Ireland in areas where there are not many jobs available. With the tax returns and the tourism returns and, indeed, the exports of our thoroughbreds, it is like the old say, "You have to speculate to accumulate", and from the Government's perspective this is one of the better speculations. It is a very worthwhile investment. I have an interest as chairman of Kilbeggan racecourse, and while I appreciate that we had Brexit budget and somewhat neutral, I was disappointed that the HGRF was not increased at a time Bord na gCon has made Trojan efforts to get its house in order. That comes with added expense for next year to get the greyhound industry to where everybody wants it to be. We all appreciate, as Deputy Penrose said, that 99% of the people in both horse racing and greyhound racing are horse owners or dog owners and they are good, genuine people. Their hearts and souls are in the industry. There are a few rogues who bring everything down, and they need to be weeded out but that results in added expense. Through the implementation of the recent Greyhound Racing Act, this is probably a year where Bord na gCon could have done with a little bit more. While I accept and appreciate that it was a Brexit budget, it is unfortunate that there could not have been a few more bob put aside.

We had HRI officials before us last week, and they pointed out that the National Equine Centre in Johnstown is not fit for purpose and there is need for a major overhaul and major investment. It is in their plans to do that along with examining the viability of a second all-weather track. I hope the fund can be increased with a view to enhancing both industries.

I do not want to play politics on this but while I welcome the support for both industries through the fund, it is unfortunate that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in a knee-jerk reaction turned around and asked Fáilte Ireland to take greyhound racing off its recommended list of activities. If the Government is supporting the industry, it should support it. One does not kick somebody when he or she is down. As the Minister responsible for both industries, it might not be any harm if someone could have a word with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and get that reversed because the money being provided through the HGRF is only a portion of their income. The industry bodies have to more than match that funding through their own income, and tourist attendance is a big one for the greyhound business. If Government is giving a handout on the one hand and then discouraging people from attending on the other, it is a bit of a contradiction. The Minister could take this up with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and try to have this change reversed in the interest of the greyhound industry.

Finally, has the Minister any contingency for a hard Brexit? Brian Kavanagh told us last week that the British Horseracing Authority, BHA, is actively promoting the development of breeding with a view to moving away from, or not being as dependent on, the Irish thoroughbred national hunt horse. BHA is thinking ahead of Brexit. We are dependent on the British market at our sales. If the BHA was to fulfil what it is promoting, it would be a big knock-back for the industry, and that would be directly Brexit-related. If the tripartite agreement was to go wrong, considering the logistics of getting horses to England or through England to France or whatever, is there a contingency plan in place because more support would be needed in a bad Brexit scenario?

I thank Deputy Penrose and Senator Daly. It is good to have the midlands voice on the committee. Regarding the Deputy's observation on welfare and where we are at with new legislation, even outside of the equine and greyhound sectors, welfare is a crucial issue for our international reputation, full stop. That is why whether it is calf welfare, live exports or everything else that the Department touches, we are acutely conscious that this an area where there is a lot of public interest, and that we have to abide by and comply with the law. Very often our own regulations are of a higher standard because that is what the market in respect of the agrifood sector, for example, demands and the public asks for nothing less than that these industries are highly regulated from a welfare compliance point of view.

Bord na gCon was in the vanguard of looking for change in order that it would have the toolbox to deliver on higher standards of welfare and integrity in the industry, which is important. Members will acknowledge that my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, is driving that change. Given that we now have the legal framework, I hope the industry can proceed from what has been a challenging time for it. Whereas it has been challenging for the greyhound sector, there is no room for complacency in any sector. In the equine and bovines sector, we need to remain continuously engaged on the issue of welfare.

I take Deputy Penrose's point about the betting tax. Following the increase from 1% to 2% in the tax, 2020 will be the first year when receipts will exceed the level of State funding in the horse and greyhound racing sectors. Of course, the Department of Finance is broadly hostile to the idea of ring-fencing a tax stream for a particular purpose. It is not that it does not happen, but broadly speaking, the Department is not supportive of it. Not all the funding from betting tax comes from horse or greyhound racing. People can have a punt on anything. Whether it is Premier League football or horse racing, the fund is the fund. For the first time it will exceed the amount available in the HGRF.

Regarding all the funding that HRI gets, Senator Paul Daly made a point about the equine centre, which is one of its concerns That is a valuable asset to the industry. It is not just for the thoroughbred industry; it is an asset that delivers in many other respects also. We are acutely aware of that and we will commence working with HRI and the equine centre, looking at how we can make progress on the investment that is necessary, perhaps along a model similar to that used in the Curragh, using outside investment, etc. We are anxious to proceed with that.

Deputy Penrose rightly made the point that it is not just about all the big days out, the big race prizes and the big trainers. The entire edifice is built on a foundation that is much more grounded. I do not use that term in any pejorative way in respect of the excellence we achieve and the people who achieve it for us. Small breeders who might own a couple of mares are also important. In my engagement with HRI in recent years I have made a request for it to put more money into point-to-point racing outside the rails, and it has. That is important because that sector was feeling the financial challenges of continuing to run what I regard as important events, as well as the capital investment programme HRI has had. I have not visited Senator Daly's operation in Kilbeggan yet, but that investment has delivered specific projects at Mallow, Listowel and Killarney that have been beneficial to the enjoyment of the punter very often as much as the infrastructure for horses and jockeys and facilities, all of which needs an upgrade. It is important to maintain that ongoing investment.

I appreciate the Senator's point about budget 2020. It was framed in a particular context. We can look back and say with the benefit of with hindsight it could have been done differently. However, we were faced with the very live possibility of a no-deal Brexit. It was broadly introduced on the basis of no change, which is effectively what has happened with HRI and Bord na gCon funding where there is no change year on year. In a different environment whoever might be doing this job or the budget this time next year, that can be looked at.

I thank the Minister and his officials for being present and engaging with the committee.

The chairman and chief executive of Coillte will appear before the committee at next week's meeting.