Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 4 Dec 2013

Vol. 228 No. 2

Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2013: Motion

I move:

The Seanad Éireann approves the following Order in draft:

Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2013,

a copy of which Order in draft was laid before Seanad Éireann on 12th November 2013."

The most recent estimates available suggest the horse and greyhound racing industries, combined, support in excess of 24,000 jobs and generate €1.6 billion in economic output throughout the country. These industries receive financial support from the State through the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund in accordance with the legislation, specifically under section 12 of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. My Department makes payments from the fund to Horse Racing Ireland and to Bord na gCon.

In the period 2001 to date, a total of €841.77 million has been paid from the fund to the horse and greyhound racing industries in accordance with the provisions of the Act. State funding provided from the fund is crucial to the survival and continued development of the horse and greyhound racing industries. The Estimates for my Department, passed by both Houses as part of budget 2014, contained an allocation of €54.22 million for the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund. This will be distributed 80% to HRI and 20% to Bord na gCon in accordance with section 12(6) of the Act. In order to allow my Department to provide the moneys allocated in budget 2014, it is necessary to comply with a technical requirement in the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act which requires increasing the cumulative limit on the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund by €54.22 million. This is achieved by way of the regulations submitted here today. The aggregate limit on the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund has been increased in this manner in the years 2004, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, at its recent meeting held on 26 November 2013, considered this financial provision in detail and concluded by recommending the approval of these regulations giving effect to the €54.22 million allocation in support of the horse and greyhound racing industry.

The funding provided to Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon supports two very important indigenous industries and helps to sustain the role of the thoroughbred horse and greyhound breeding, training and racing enterprises in the development of the rural economy. These industries produce a very good return on the State's investment and are a significant net contributor to the Exchequer.

Horse racing is a global industry and stallions and mares can move from one country to another. Ireland must compete with world class competition in all aspects of the industry. It is estimated the Irish bloodstock industry provided 14,000 jobs - many in rural areas - almost €l.l billion in economic output and exports worth some €174 million. Ireland holds a pre-eminent position in the thoroughbred racing world, being the biggest producer of thoroughbred foals in Europe and the fourth largest producer in the world. Approximately 40% of the EU output of thoroughbreds and 11% of the global total are produced in Ireland. The industry is widely distributed throughout the country with 83% of horses bred on farms with two mares or fewer. There are 26 racecourses located across the country. Horse Racing Ireland is responsible for the overall administration, promotion and development of the industry.

The Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund has helped Ireland to develop into a world centre of excellence for horse racing and has allowed Horse Racing Ireland to undertake a capital investment programme that has underpinned a series of infrastructural improvements in the sector. Bord na gCon estimates that the greyhound industry employs over 10,300 people and contributes an estimated €500 million in economic output to local economies around the tracks which have a wide geographic spread. Bord na gCon reports that since 2002. More than 10 million people have attended greyhound racing meetings.

The funding being provided to the greyhound racing sector helps sustain a long-standing tradition as the industry is part of the social fabric of our country. This funding underpins the economic activity in what are in many instances, less affluent regions of the country. It has also contributed significantly to the improved facilities now available at 17 greyhound tracks around Ireland. The horse racing and greyhound racing industries tick all the boxes in terms of employment and foreign direct investment and they are the type of export-orientated industries we need. They enhance our international reputation and attract significant numbers of tourists to Ireland.

Successive governments have recognised the importance of the horse and greyhound racing industries and have supported them through legislation and policy initiatives. The overall objective of the Government is to ensure that these industries achieve their maximum potential and in so doing contribute to the economic and social fabric of the country. The support provided by public funds investing in these industries through the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund has enabled Ireland to become a world centre of excellence for horse racing and greyhound racing and breeding. The draft regulations before the House provide for an amount totalling €54.22 million to be allocated to the horse and greyhound industries in 2014. It is expected that approximately €25.32 million will be collected from excise duty on off-course betting in 2013.

When the Horse and Greyhound Fund was established in 2001, it was envisaged that the revenue from the betting tax would provide sufficient resources to finance the fund. However, this has proven not to be the case due to successive cuts in betting duty coupled with an increasing level of betting activity migrating to tax-free platforms. I am pleased to say that as part of its overall commitment to the industry the Government is addressing, through legislation, the anomaly whereby remote and on-line betting operators are outside the tax net. The Minister for Finance has published the Betting (Amendment) Bill 2013 which, when enacted, will extend betting duty to on-line and remote operators. I understand that this Bill will be brought before the Oireachtas soon.

The Government wishes to ensure that an appropriate infrastructure is in place to facilitate the growth and development of the horse and greyhound racing industries into the future. The Indecon report into certain aspects of the Irish horse racing industry, commissioned by my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, in early in 2012, made recommendations aimed at securing the viability and sustainability of the horse racing industry. Indecon recognised the horse racing sector as, "an important indigenous industry which has the potential to increase Ireland's export earnings and employment". Measures are being implemented to give effect to the recommendations made in the Indecon report. My colleague, the Minister for Finance, introduced the Betting (Amendment) Bill 2013 earlier this year which will bring remote and on-line betting within the tax net. This is consistent with the Indecon recommendation which advocated that, "Measures should be introduced to secure a significant increase in taxation from the Betting Sector". I expect that actions being taken by the industry aimed at growing commercial income and sponsorship and increasing efficiency through the streamlining of functions will benefit the industry. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, anticipates that he will soon be in a position to bring proposals to Cabinet setting out the legislative changes required to give effect to the recommendations contained in the Indecon report.

I recently announced the Department's intention to commission a review of certain matters relating to Bord na gCon. A public procurement process ensued and it is expected that the contract for this review will be awarded very soon. The review will encompass the policy, governance, regulatory framework and the financial situation of Bord na gCon and will assist the Department in identifying any measures required to meet the challenges that lie ahead in a very dynamic environment.

I look forward to seeing the outcome of the review, which I expect will be completed towards the end of March 2014.

State funding provided through the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund is crucial to the survival and ongoing development of the horse and greyhound racing industries. These important industries require this funding in order to maintain and grow their economic activity, thereby supporting employment and facilitating export growth. Both Houses of the Oireachtas have approved the provision made in budget 2014 to allocate €54.2 million to the fund. In order for my Department to distribute that amount to Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, and Bord na gCon, the aggregate limit of the fund must be increased by €54.2 million pursuant to the provisions of section 12(5) of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. Accordingly, I wish to request that this House approve the motion. I ask for the House's support so as to ensure that HRI and Bord na gCon receive the funding provided for in budget 2014 and that the important role of these industries, including the employment supported and the economic activity generated, is sustained. I commend this motion to this House and I look forward to discussing any matter that may arise.

I wish to amend the Order of Business, in view of the Minister of State's comprehensive report, to extend the time until 12.30 p.m.

Is that agreed? Agreed. I thank the Leader.

I thank the Leader for the extension. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes. This may be his first time handling a Bill in the House, although he may have taken some Adjournment debates. I wish him well in his new role.

This motion has been passed by the Dáil and discussed by the agriculture committee, where I raised concerns about the issue. I will do so again today and add other concerns. I am a great believer in the need to support financially the sport and thoroughbred horse industry together with the greyhound industry, given the economic benefits that they provide and that are there for all to see.

The industry is unable to sustain itself through the betting system. This year, income from betting will be in the region of €25 million. The same amount next year would lead to a shortfall of approximately €30 million. My difficulty with this is that the taxpayer is being asked to carry the burden by way of statutory instrument, as requested in this motion. There are alternatives, one of which the Minister of State highlighted. The main alternative is to extend betting tax beyond bookmakers to online gambling. The online and offline gambling sectors are worth a combined €4.6 billion to the Exchequer this year. According to the Indecon report, a 1% tax rate would generate approximately €46 million. We should at least consider increasing the rate to 2% and generate €90 million. I would not propose to give all of the additional money to the horse and greyhound racing industry, as we forget that this income is not exclusively from that industry. This country has other sports. For example, the Irish Sports Council will receive €25 million this year. It represents 57 national sports, including the GAA, 32 local sports partnerships and 18 high-performance sports. Some of the money raised should go towards the council and possibly the FAI.

To ask the taxpayer to carry the can when there is an alternative is wrong. The legislation is lying in the Department of Finance. While it is not the Minister of State's fault, it is regrettable that the legislation was not tabled ahead of this motion. We would not have needed to approve this motion. Even if the rate was left at 1%, the shortfall would only have been €8 million if the tax was extended to online gambling.

I will address the greyhound racing industry in a moment, but I recognise fully the importance of the horse racing industry. It has served this country well. However, the funding model is wrong and no request should be made to a committee or either House of the Oireachtas seeking the taxpayer to carry the can where there is a shortfall and an alternative way of raising that money.

I am unsure of how much time I have left.

Just one minute and ten seconds.

The fund is split 80:20 between horse racing and greyhound racing, respectively. The latter has received approximately €11 million this year. The Minister of State touched slightly on the issues affecting the greyhound industry. It is in chaos due in large part to the fact that Bord na gCon's chairman and board refuse to meet the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation, IGOBF. I have that in writing from the federation. This is wrong. Bord na gCon has serious questions of accountability, transparency and integrity to answer. So far, answers have not been forthcoming. I welcome the fact that the Committee of Public Accounts is examining this issue. When some 50% of the €11 million or €12 million that goes to Bord na gCon comes from the taxpayer, answers must be forthcoming. The rest of the amount comes from the industry.

The IGOBF has been in existence for more than 40 years and is the controlling body for all regional greyhound owners and breeders. It is a formidable, grassroots organisation. Often, it is also a volunteer-based organisation. Bord na gCon's 2013-17 strategic business plan is self-congratulatory and much of it has been disputed by the federation. They are one year into the plan, yet there has been no formal communication between the breeders and the executive of Bord na gCon. Its chairman refuses to allow the executive to meet the IGOBF. This is outrageous.

To be fair, a review is under way, but an integrity commissioner needs to be appointed to examine the manner in which the funding is being drawn down and spent. From information that has been passed to me, it is my understanding that Bord na gCon is indebted to the tune of €30 million and that greyhound stadiums lost €1 million last year. Serious questions need to be answered. While we can ask them as politicians, an independent investigation must be undertaken by an integrity commissioner to examine how taxpayers' money is being expended and whether we are getting the best value for that money. I am sure that the Minister of State will agree that issues should be addressed where they arise.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. As we are aware, budget 2014 included a provision to allocate just over €54 million, in an 80:20 split, to the horse and greyhound industries. This is a significant allocation and reflects the importance of both industries to the economy and sporting life. It is estimated that the combined horse and greyhound industry supports 24,000 jobs and generates €1.6 billion in economic output.

Both industries are net contributors to the economy. Funding which had been allocated to these sectors has come back to the Exchequer in multiples of the original amounts invested. Both industries have a large spin-off for the many farmers and services providers who are linked directly and indirectly to the sectors' activities.

The fund has been used by both the greyhound and horse industries to invest in the local economy. Funds allocated have been used to put in place infrastructure which allows the sectors to maintain their presence in rural Ireland. The fund has directly contributed to the improvement of 17 greyhound tracks.

As regards the horse-breeding industry, the fund was central to founding a centre of excellence which was a key component in establishing Ireland's industry on the international stage. Ireland is the largest producer of thoroughbred foals in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. We must not be complacent with this standing, however. In order to retain and improve this status, we must properly equip the industry and put in place resources to retain stocks and bloodlines.

The horse-breeding industry has a healthy investment potential, with a small market for that investment compared to other sectors. It is a market in which investment when lost can be difficult to win back, as competition from other countries is intense. The allocation is significant so I am pleased that a full review of Bord na gCon and the greyhound industry is under way to ensure that this money is spent efficiently.

I look forward to the betting (amendment) Bill coming before the House, which will extend betting duty to online and remote operators. It is only fair that all those operating in the sector should be treated equally in this respect.

I note from figures provided last week to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, that in 2012 some 1.2 million people attended race meetings, which is approximately the number who attended the GAA hurling and football championships. This demonstrates the contribution these industries make both to the national Exchequer and the rural economy. As such, it is only proper that the State should assist in putting in place the infrastructure to support these industries, in growing jobs and maintaining rural pastimes.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for the thorough outline he has provided. I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to this useful debate. I look forward to the betting (amendment) Bill, which is timely given recent changes in betting practices with people using online betting facilities to avoid tax. My colleague, Senator Ó Domhnaill, asked whether the tax would be 2% or another rate. The Department will propose a rate and 2% may well be an appropriate amount.

While I am not a fan of dogs or horses, I appreciate that this is an important indigenous industry which provides employment. It is also important culturally in promoting overseas and domestic tourism. As Senator Comiskey said, as many people attend race meetings as GAA championship matches.

I hope the betting (amendment) Bill will be before us soon and that there will be no further delays. Senator Ó Domhnaill is correct to urge promptness in this respect because this is where the money ought to be coming from. State investment in this sector is welcome but there has been a shortfall, so we would like to see the industry itself contributing financially.

Some of the additional money should be used to ensure the continued safety and welfare of racehorses and greyhounds. I know that subject is very dear to the heart of the Minister, Deputy Coveney. While we appreciate the value of these industries, we should never lose sight of the animal welfare issues at the core of both of them.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, to the House but I must say that I have misgivings about this item. The Minister of State said the subsidy was €43 million, while Senator Comiskey estimates that 1.2 million people attend race meetings, which is €36 for everybody who goes to a race meeting. That is an incredible level of subsidy for a bankrupt country to give to people who attend race meetings. The estimate for greyhound races is €10 per person. I would have to question whether the subsidy provides value for money. It is twice the amount given to human sports, as Senator Ó Domhnaill has said. I do not rate greyhounds and horses as being remotely more valuable than human athletes. This has been discussed by an bord snip in some newspaper reports, so the Department should address the issues and not come in with its own research from other people who think the subsidy is wonderful. There are serious questions to be asked about this.

I also wish to pose serious questions about why the online betting tax should be earmarked for this sector. That will add another €10 to the existing €36 subsidy to go to the races, and an extra €2 or €3 to go to a dog track. I do not think such subsidies are worth it in social terms, particularly in view of the expenditures we already have.

A lot of online betting has nothing to do with horses, greyhounds or sport generally. One can even bet on the abolition of the Seanad and make a load of money. As the Minister of State knows, the prices were an incorrect prediction of the wisdom eventually generated by the people. I appreciate all the points that have been made but if the industry is so good - particularly horse racing - it should be putting money into the Exchequer, not seeking this kind of subsidy. I do have misgivings therefore and I echo what an bord snip said about it.

It seems to me that racing attendances are in decline and that a lot of race courses around the country are maintained by the taxpayer without much going on for 350 days of the year. The value for money aspects of so many things have been questioned during this recession. Carers have been tackled and Christmas social welfare bonuses have been removed. What on earth did horses do to merit a €36 subsidy for everybody who goes to the races?

Ach an oiread le mo chomhghleacaí, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Aire Stáit as ucht a cheapachán mar Aire Stáit. Go n-éireoidh go geal leis sa jab nua. Sinn Féin accepts that a huge number of jobs are created by the greyhound and racehorse industries. In addition, many of these jobs are in rural areas and make a major contribution to the rural economy, including farm incomes.

The funds provided in the horse and greyhound racing fund are divided 80% - 20% between horses and greyhounds. We would like to see a more balanced approach and a more proportional recognition of the benefits arising from the greyhound racing industry. Bord na gCon has estimated that over 10,000 people are employed directly and indirectly in the industry, and that its value to the economy is over €500 million.

The horse racing industry is estimated to employ over 20,000 people, between racing and breeding. It is estimated that 1.2 million people attend race meetings in Ireland annually. As regards tourism, the following points are often raised by those who support State funding for the industry. The benefit to the local economy of a race meeting cannot be underestimated, along with the social benefits to an area of race day activity, the hospitality sector, retail sector and local transport companies. There is a tourism benefit to the development of the horse and greyhound industries, and exports in the thoroughbred sector are significant.

With regard to the aforementioned points, I want to raise a number of important and relevant issues. First, horse racing receives significant public funding in Ireland. In 2011, for example, €57 million was made available from the Exchequer to the horse and greyhound fund established under the 2001 Act. We accept that horse racing has a social, economic and cultural place in Irish life that can be pointed to in justifying a positive policy stance towards the industry. It is not self-evident, however, that such a policy stance should extend to the provision of public funding. If public funding is justified, it does not dictate the level of support that is required nor the means through which it should be provided.

Second, the primary beneficiary from horse racing is betting, rather than the racing industry. It is therefore imperative that the Government address the issue of excise on betting and particularly as it relates to off-course betting. If we get this right, it could save the Exchequer a minimum of €57 million per annum, remove the funding of horse racing and greyhound racing from the central Exchequer, and protect jobs in the Irish betting industry, as well as the horse and greyhound industries.

Ireland currently has one of the lowest betting tax rates in the world. This is not acceptable and needs to be addressed urgently. In the UK, the betting industry pays an effective tax rate of 3% of turnover, which is three times higher than Ireland. In France, legislation provides for taxation of 15% of turnover, some 15 times higher than Ireland, of which they return 8% to the French equine industry.

As it stands, State funding for horse racing in Ireland now goes beyond the role of securing a benefit from gambling for the industry, as it includes a subvention from general taxation.

In the context of wider sports policy, other claims on State funding could equally be made. For example, in connection with the facilities deficit that exists for children's sport. At a minimum, future policy needs to assess carefully the public benefit that is served by State support for horse racing and the priority it should be accorded in expenditure decisions.

Two other more general issues need to be considered. First, public policy needs to take greater account of the role of horse racing in fostering and promoting gambling and in the possible social costs that may arise as a result. Second, in many countries taxation on gambling is a significant part of the revenue base. Gambling in Ireland makes little contribution in this context.

In a general sense, Sinn Féin supports the measures being brought forward. The thoroughbred industry recently commented on EirGrid's decision to locate pylons close to areas where thoroughbred horses are being bred. This is a big issue from a health perspective for humans and animals. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House and for his comprehensive report on this issue. We all acknowledge the importance of the horse racing and greyhound industry to this country. As stated by the Minister, there are 24,000 people employed in the industry, which in economic terms generates €1.6 billion. This is very significant. I agree with Senator Ó Domhnaill and others that the Betting (Amendment) Bill is long overdue. I understand the UK Government proposes to introduce a tax on online betting in its next budget. Perhaps this is the reason for the delay in the introduction of the Betting (Amendment) Bill here. However, I am not sure this is the case.

On whether a proposed tax on online betting should be set at 1% or 2%, I, too, would favour a 2% tax. The vast majority of gambling now takes place online, as a result of which independent bookmakers are suffering. There is currently no licensing requirement in respect of online betting. This issue must be addressed in the Betting (Amendment) Bill. In my view moneys accruing from a 2% tax on online betting should be earmarked for the horse and greyhound industry. However, if, say, €90 million is the amount yielded from this tax I believe it should be divided between the horse and greyhound industry and other sports. As pointed out, the vast majority of betting is taking place online in people's homes. People are betting on everything from a needle to a haystack.

I agree with the comments made in regard to the need for greater transparency in the greyhound industry. I would like to again raise an issue I have raised previously in the House. I am no killjoy where betting is concerned. I enjoy a bet myself. However, there is an anomaly in this area in that a person wishing to purchase a national lottery ticket or place a bet in a bookmakers or with a bookmaker on course must be over 18 years yet children in communion dresses and younger are placing bets on tote. I have drawn the attention of the Minister to this anomaly in the law. I hope we will soon see action on it. As I said earlier, I am no killjoy. I bet on the tote myself when a child. However, I believe there are many problems arising from the accessibility of gambling to children under 18 years of age. I have been visited at my clinic by many people who because of this became addicted to gambling. I am not suggesting that everybody who as a child bets on the tote becomes a gambling addict. That is not the case. However, a particular amount of them do. I hope this matter will soon be addressed. We cannot have anomalies like this in the system. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

I am having a mental image of the Leader, Senator Cummins, in his short communion pants marching up with his shilling to the tote at Tramore races.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, and the proposal before us. For once, I am in disagreement with my colleague Senator Barrett in that the record will clearly show that every punt, euro, shilling or cent invested in the Irish horse racing industry has benefited the taxpayer and the economy in general tenfold. We are speaking not about a sport but about one of our greatest natural industries and resources. Any support which we can give to it should be provided.

We all look forward to the introduction of the Betting (Amendment) Bill, which will address issues such as how moneys should be allocated. I look forward to participating in the debate on that Bill. While as I said earlier I welcome this proposal I ask the Minister of State to reflect on a central problem in this area which has been mentioned in all of the reports and recommendations referred to but with which we have failed to come to grips, namely, the continuing decline in attendance at race meetings. This is a substantial problem. The demographic profile of racegoers is, to put it mildly, becoming more mature. We need to put in place measures and supports to encourage more people to attend horse and greyhound racing. The greyhound industry may be more successful in this regard in that it is easier to sell food and so on at greyhound races. The horse racing industry must be supported but must also lead in the efforts to encourage more people to the tracks.

Senator Barrett referred to the under-utilisation of racecourses in terms of their being only used ten or 15 times a year. We need a plan to encourage people to return to race meetings. While watching horse racing on Sky Sports and the racing channel is very effective we also need punters at the tracks. We do not want to end up like Australia and America where racing is all television and tote based. I hope that the Minister of State will instigate initiatives to encourage greater attendance at our racecourses.

I now call on the Minister of Sate, who has three minutes within which to reply to the debate.

The Acting Chairman might allow the Minister of State some latitude and extend his speaking time by five minutes.

I would like to respond to all the issues raised but will try to be brief. I thank all Senators who have spoken for their contributions.

An issue raised by all Senators was the delay in the introduction of the Betting (Amendment) Bill. I agree with the comments in that regard. However, the Bill is delayed at European Commission level. I will write again to the Minister for Finance requesting that it be brought before the Houses immediately. I will leave no stone unturned in ensuring this happens.

The Gambling Control Bill is being drafted. Discussions in this regard, including on the tote issue, are ongoing. Senator Cummins referred earlier to 10, 12 and 16 year olds betting on the tote.

In some cases, they are five and six years old.

The Senator can make his point again when that Bill comes before the House. Senator Ó Domhnaill, like many other Senators, acknowledged the economic value of the horse and greyhound industry. I do not agree with Senator Barrett's comments. The economic benefit of the horse and greyhound industry is huge. The Senator should perhaps visit the courses in Dublin to see what is happening and the number of jobs being created in this area. In south Tipperary, which is the constituency I represent, there are people in every town and parish who own a small number of horses. As I said in my earlier contribution, more than 80% of our horses are produced by farmers who own only two horses. It is a small operator's game.

There are many people in employment on the fringes of this industry, including veterinarians, meal suppliers, hay and straw suppliers. I see first-hand every day of the week the commitment of the people working in the horse racing industry.

Moreover, I see how painstakingly slow it is to produce a winner, a good horse or foal or whatever. These are highly committed people and these are real jobs. They work seven days a week, 365 days a year and to them, Christmas Day or New Year's Day are no different to any other day. These people are dedicated and committed to their job and realistically, while one refers to it as a sport, it is an industry. Were one to take Coolmore and the other big players out of south Tipperary, it would mean the departure of a huge employer from my constituency and there would be placards outside-----

The Minister of State could lose his seat.

I could. One should consider the success Aidan O'Brien has brought, as did Vincent O'Brien before him, as well as Tommy Wade with Dundrum. The list is endless in respect of horse racing, jumping and the industry as a whole. Someone made reference to the greyhound industry and Senator Ó Domhnaill in particular spoke of the difficulties therein. While the chairman of Bord na gCon, Phil Meaney and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, had discussed it, one of my first actions on taking this job was to investigate what was going on in the industry. I have put in place a structure whereby within the next few months, a report will be handed to me. I have sought a nuts and bolts, bare report and wish to be told upfront in order to ascertain how the industry can progress. Last Saturday night, I attended the night of stars in Shelbourne Park and the place was packed. I revert to Senator Bradford's point about the reason Bord na gCon is really successful in attracting people of all ages. People were on a social night out and there were traffic jams at 7 p.m. because people were trying to get into that part of Dublin. This really is an industry about which there is much good. Obviously, there have been difficulties in the past and the board is being criticised day in and day out but contrary to Senator Ó Domhnaill's suggestion, the borrowings are €24 million, not €30 million. They are a lot lower than the Senator stated and the facts are a little bit different. Moreover, these accounts have been signed off by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Bord na gCon and its future will be considered next March or April and a road forward will be charted. It involves a lot of small operators in rural areas who, like in the horse industry work out of small farms to produce dogs and pups, which they can export to England. They are really successful and are no different to the horse racing industry.

Both industries go hand in hand and that is the reason I feel vindicated and proud to stand before Members to state the Government is supporting this industry. There is a sporting aspect involved in it and I realise it has support but the other aspect concerns its economic value to rural areas at a time when rural Ireland is under a lot of pressure. Many industries are leaving, there is a scarcity of jobs and people are leaving rural areas for England, America and Australia but yet, jobs can be created in the horse and greyhound racing industry. I invite Senator Barrett to visit a place like County Tipperary and to attend a race meeting. I will introduce him to some of those involved in the industry and everyone could learn from it. After spending a day in County Tipperary or somewhere similar, as Senator Bradford might take him to Cork or Senator Cummins might take him County Waterford - it could be any part of the country - he would return and state these are real jobs with people committed to an industry. It certainly is worth supporting.

As for other issues, Senator Ó Clochartaigh asked about pylons and it would be remiss of me not to address that issue. Representatives of the industry have been speaking with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, in this regard. A meeting was held within the past week and another meeting has been scheduled for this purpose. The industry representatives have made a genuine case regarding the effect the pylons would have on thoroughbred horse breeding and on horses as they train in the fields. This issue is being investigated as part of the consultations. While it is not the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, if it has an impact on the Department, we certainly will make a submission to the relevant Minister and to EirGrid. However, I suggest that people should talk to EirGrid. A few weeks ago, I took a group of people from south Tipperary to meet representatives of EirGrid and a useful discussion ensued on the manner in which the company is doing its business. As Members might be aware, there is a proposal for a project to go through Munster in particular that is creating a lot of controversy as there is a lot of racing and many racehorses in that province.

On foot of the aforementioned consultation, the Government will take everything into account. Anything that affects the racehorse industry must be considered and I urge EirGrid to do so. I believe I have dealt with the decline in attendances and in response to Senator Bradford, I take the point that many older people attend race meetings. However, while I would love to be at a race meeting in Clonmel or Thurles tomorrow evening, I cannot go because I am here. In other words, people are tied up and cannot go as they obviously are working, whereas pensioners can go to race meetings. Certainly, there is an opening for racetracks to engage in the promotion of events in the various racetracks nationwide such as the charity events operated by Bord na gCon. I acknowledge there is a genuine need for such promotion. Overall, however, the industry is not strictly a sport but is an industry that makes a valuable contribution to rural Ireland and I certainly believe it should be supported. I am in the Chamber this afternoon to seek Members' support.

Question put and agreed to.