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Horse Racing Ireland.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 11 March 2010

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Ceisteanna (7)

Pat Breen

Ceist:

7 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will respond to the unanimous decision of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to recommend the re-allocation of the Irish draught horse studbook; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11933/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (25 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am aware of the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Horse Sport Ireland is approved to maintain the Irish horse draught studbook since 2008. The Department has received applications to maintain a studbook for the Irish draught horse breed from the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited and also from the Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association.

The Irish draught horse studbook was first established by the Department of Agriculture in 1917 and was maintained by the Department up to the formation of Bord na gCapall in 1970. Bord na gCapall held the studbook from 1970 to 1989. The Department maintained the Irish draught studbook from then until 1993, when the Irish Horse Board was approved under EU legislation to do so. When the Irish Horse Board became part of Horse Sport Ireland in 2008, the Department then approved HSI, Horse Sport Ireland, to maintain the studbook. Horse Sport Ireland comprises a board of directors, who are representatives of the various affiliated bodies. One of the objectives in establishing Horse Sport Ireland was to bring together the breeding, sport and leisure sides of the industry. In respect of breeding, five members of the Horse Sport Ireland board are nominated from the breeding sub-board. The breeding sub-board is the board of the Irish Horse Board. The board of the Irish Horse Board is composed of 13 members, three of whom are nominated by the Minister and the remaining ten are voted in by the members of the Irish Horse Board, in each of the five electoral regions, for a period of four years.

The breeding sub-board formulates the breeding policy for the Irish draught horse studbook. Any paid up member of the Irish Horse Board is entitled to put himself or herself forward for election in his or her region. Therefore, breeders of Irish draught horses have the opportunity, through democratic elections, to have an input into the breeding policy for their breed.

In June 2009, HSI established an Irish draught horse breeding policy taskforce. The aim of the task force is to examine the breeding policy for the Irish draught horse and to preserve and improve the breed. The task force has five members, specifically chosen by HSI for their expertise in Irish draught breeding. Horse Sport Ireland invited submissions from interested parties and I understand that a total of 12 were returned. In November 2009, HSI published a draft policy and the task force then invited further submissions on the draft task force report and 39 submissions were received on this.

In addition, Horse Sport Ireland has published a strategic plan for the period 2009-12. This strategic plan makes specific reference to developing a sustainable breeding policy for the Irish draught breed in association with Irish draught breeders. Work on this plan is already well under way and I understand that a number of public information meetings on this will take place.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In late 2009 and early 2010, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food considered the issue of who should maintain the studbook for the Irish draught horse. The committee received presentations from Horse Sport Ireland, HSI, the Irish Draught Horse Society and the Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association, and from my Department.

In the course of an earlier exchange of correspondence with the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Minister, Deputy Smith, indicated that the Department would give due consideration to any application it receives from any organisation to maintain a studbook for a particular breed. He has now received a further communication from the joint committee, requesting that he give favourable consideration to its recommendation regarding the allocation of the Irish draught horse studbook to the Irish Draught Horse Society.

The function of my Department in studbooks is to approve organisations and associations for the purposes of maintaining studbooks and to ensure that they comply with the legislation. The Department has been involved in the approval of organisations to maintain studbooks since 1992, when the European Commission introduced legislation harmonising the rules in this area.

The approval of organisations to maintain studbooks in Ireland is governed by the provisions of SI 399 of 2004 European Communities (Equine Stud-Book and Competition) Regulations, as amended, which transposes Commission Decision 92/353/EEC which "lays down the criteria for the approval or recognition of organisations or associations which maintain or establish stud-books for registered equidae".

Prior to 2009, the Department had not received an application or request from an Irish draught horse organisation seeking approval to maintain the studbook. In July 2009, the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited submitted an application to the Department seeking approval to maintain a studbook for the Irish draught breed. The Department has been in correspondence with the society since then and is currently considering a number of submissions from the society on that application. In March 2010, my Department received an application to maintain a studbook for the Irish draught breed from the Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association.

The Department is now reviewing these applications and a decision on them will issue in due course.

No doubt the Minister of State will be aware that the committee met with all of the players in this issue and concluded after listening to all of the exhaustive evidence that the holding of the draught horse studbook is not compatible with Horse Sport Ireland's core objectives.

Effectively, what Horse Sport Ireland is involved in is genetic engineering to produce performance horses for the horse sport industry, which is a legitimate objective. However, it is the unanimous view of the committee that the draught horse studbook should not be held by Horse Sport Ireland but should be held by a breed preservation society. In a nutshell, will the Department reallocate the studbook on that basis, "Yes" or "No"?

As Deputy Creed will be aware, the Department's main responsibility — in fact, real responsibility — in this area on studbooks is to approve organisations and associations for the purposes of maintaining studbooks and to ensure that they comply with the legislation.

Of course, I am aware of the unanimous views expressed by the Oireachtas joint committee. I am also aware, as Deputy Creed correctly points out, of the fact that the committee heard submissions from a number of groups — pretty much from everybody who was interested in making submissions — and that it made a strong recommendation.

My understanding is that the Department has received, subsequent to that, in January last, one application from the group which is favoured by the committee, and more recently, over the past week or so, a second application. It is incumbent on the Minister and the Department, under the terms of the legislation, to consider all applications and having done so, to respond in due course, and that work is under way.

Has the Minister of State an opinion on the fact that the committee took a unanimous decision across all of the political party boundaries and across the political spectrum, and that such decision was based on hearing a corpus of evidence from all sides? I respectfully suggest to the Minister of State that he must take cognisance of the fact that it is a unanimous view, which should be taken seriously by him in determining the final outcome, and that when the committee took the view, it did so on the basis that the aims of the Irish Draught Horse Society were not mutually exclusive from those of HSI and that there would be no threat to HSI by ceding the studbook to the Irish Draught Horse Society.

Like Members from constituencies around the country which have a tradition of horse breeding, I have received representations directly from a number of interested individuals and groups, and the Minister, Deputy Smith, and I greatly appreciate that the committee did one of the things which one likes committees to do, namely, consider the matter in considerable detail and reach a unanimous conclusion, which is somewhat unusual. However, the Department is charged with responsibility under the regulations, SI 399 of 2004, to consider the submissions made to it. My understanding is that the submission made by the committee stands alongside the other submissions and applications. Undoubtedly, it will be taken account of. Given the points which both Deputies made, considerable weight would undoubtedly attach to a unanimous view of a committee in this regard. However, the Department and the Minister are obliged, also under the terms of the statutory instrument, to consider carefully the applications which are de facto made by two organisations.

On a point of order,——

A brief supplementary question, Deputy Sherlock.

——I respect the views of the Minister of State but the line Minister is sitting right beside him. Is it in order for me to ask whether the senior Minister in the Department would have a view on this or would proffer a view to the House on this?

During Question Time any Minister can reply——

This is very much a case of "Yes, Minister".

——and it is presumed——

I am amazed at how we operate this Parliament, which needs to be seriously modernised and overhauled. It is ludicrous.

Can I explain to the Deputy?

I just had a surreal moment. I felt I had a bit-part in "Yes, Minister."

Questions can be answered by any Minister and it is presumed, under the constitutional doctrine of collective responsibility, that whatever voice is heard is the unanimous view of Government.

As Deputy Sherlock will be aware.

I appreciate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's——

Go raibh maith agat, Ceist a 8.

——weighty advice but we need to speak to a little bit of common sense as well.

As Deputy Sherlock will be aware.

Ceist Uimh. 8 in ainm an Teachta Durkan, le do thoil, a Aire.

As Deputy Sherlock will be aware, the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, coming from the good County Clare, would be more familiar with horses than I would, or than Deputy McGinley coming from Ulster would. We are a little impoverished in that part of Ulster in that we do not have a large horse population. For example, Deputy Sherlock from north Cork, and Deputy Hoctor from north Tipperary as well, would be familiar with the horse industry, more so than Deputy McGinley and myself.

I certainly could not rule out the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's constituency either——

I did not want to draw the Leas-Cheann Comhairle into it.

——but I should not involve myself in the debate.

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