The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food, and the Marine today publishes its report Horse Racing in Ireland in which it makes a series of recommendations around the governance of industry bodies, the integrity of drug testing procedures, CCTV at racecourses, and equine traceability.
The Committee wants to see a review of the board structures of the horse racing regulatory board, an independent review of the industry to ensure that Ireland’s drug testing procedures match international best practices, an outside audit of all equine drug tests carried out here, mandatory drug testing of all favourites and those finishing in the top five in races at all race meetings, and an electronic tracing system similar to that for cattle.
Launching the report, Deputy Jackie Cahill, Cathaoirleach of the Committee, said: “The horse racing sector is an important contributor to Ireland’s rural economy, providing direct employment and bringing indirect economic benefits to rural areas on race days. Despite our small size, Ireland plays a significant role globally in the horse racing and breeding industries.
“We are the third-largest producer of thoroughbreds in the world and Irish-trained and bred horses compete successfully in major races worldwide. Trade-in Irish-bred horses is estimated at €300 million per annum. The reputation and integrity of this industry are essential.
“The primary objective of the Committee in this series of meetings was to establish what systems and processes are in place in relation to drug testing in the horse racing industry and whether they match top international standards, and to discuss any policy issues arising.”
The Committee held three days of hearings in July 2021 and engaged with relevant stakeholders to discuss integrity in the horse racing industry. The Committee met with representatives of Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB), and the Irish Horse Trainers Association (IRTA), and officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).
The key themes arising from these discussions included the financial resources of HRI, which receives 65 percent of its income from the taxpayer through the Horse and Greyhound Fund, including €96 million allocated in Budget 2021; governance and board structures of the IHRB; lack of transparency relating to salaries and contracts of employment in the IHRB, which is a taxpayer-funded body; the equine drug-testing process carried out by the IHRB on behalf of HRI; traceability in the horse population in Ireland; and the installation of CCTV systems at all Irish racecourses.
The key recommendations made by the Committee are that:
- The IHRB board composition is reviewed and that the lack of independent members and the lack of gender balance be examined.
- DAFM should review legislation in relation to the statutory functions of the IHRB and examine the current governance structure in place, with input from anti-doping organisations and horse-racing authorities internationally.
- It should be considered if legislation should be altered to reclassify the IHRB as a semi-state body under the aegis of DAFM to ensure complete transparency in its governance
- Any future contracts of employment should specify that employees’ income bands can be made available publicly, in line with all other public service bodies and employees.
- An independent review of the horse racing industry by an outside body is needed to ensure that Ireland’s drug testing procedures match international best practices. This review by the independent body should also include a full audit of all tests previously carried out.
- DAFM needs to employ vets and technicians to manage and oversee the sampling of racehorses when it comes to testing for doping and ensure that the most modern and comprehensive testing regime is in place both before, during, and after the race meeting.
- DAFM considers developing laboratory testing capacity in Ireland to build national expertise in testing as well as employment opportunities in this field. This laboratory testing must be carried out by independent sources: a laboratory in the proposed new National Equine Centre under the control of racing authorities would not be acceptable.
- DAFM examines the current equine passport-issuing systems in place and considers streamlining the system by having a central database for all equine passports to decrease errors and passport costs.
Deputy Cahill said: “The Committee recognises the importance of the integrity of services that the IHRB provides in the horse racing industry. However, as the IHRB is funded by public money, a clear policy on the composition of the board would help build public confidence in the integrity of the horse racing sector. The board structure of the new governance regulatory body in the United States could be used as an example in this regard. With regards to the composition of the board, the Committee recommends that a majority of independent members be appointed to the board by the Minister.
“The Committee has recommended a review of the industry by an outside body that should include a full audit of all tests previously carried out. This audit should have particular reference to the number of samples taken, and laboratory tests carried out, with a clear indication of the correlation between these two numbers going back over the past five years; where, when, and how the samples were acquired; which substances were tested for; was each sample tested individually or group tested; and what actions, if any, were taken based on these test results.
“The Committee also recommends that at all race meetings, all favourites and those finishing in the top five of any race must be mandatorily tested after the race by taking hair samples. There must also be a point on the track prior to the start of the race at the stall or before the start tape that random samples can be taken, taking into full account animal welfare.
“On the issue of equine traceability, the Committee believes that an electronic system, like the AIM system for cattle, needs to be introduced by DAFM immediately for full traceability of all horses. A database that can provide data on the number of horses in Ireland, horse ownership details, track the movements of every horse through its life and record if they are exported to another jurisdiction is essential for animal welfare and public health.”
Deputy Cahill thanked the Members for their input and their commitment in bringing forward this report and expressed sincere gratitude to every stakeholder that came before the Committee to give evidence in person or remotely. He said these discussions were critical to the development of the report and he acknowledged the shared commitment of all stakeholders in ensuring that the horse racing sector is a drug-free sport.
The report Horse Racing in Ireland is available on the Oireachtas website.
The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food, and the Marine have 14 Members, nine from the Dáil and five from the Seanad.