DÁIL SPEECH ON GREYHOUND RACING BILL 2018

I am delighted to be able to contribute briefly on the Greyhound Racing Bill 2018. This Bill has been a long time coming before us. As other Deputies said, in 2014 we had the Indecon report which highlighted many severe deficiencies within the industry, in 2015 we had the report by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and in July 2016 we had the Morris review of anti-doping and medication in Ireland commissioned by Bord na gCon. All three reports, sadly, found major issues with governance and regulation in dog racing.

I commend my colleagues in the Seanad, in particular Senator Ruane and her staff and the Civic Engagement Group, on the amendments they put forward in trying to improve the Bill. There are still opportunities to greatly strengthen areas of the Bill, especially on animal welfare. I agree with my colleague, Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan, that it is in the whole area of sanctions that we need to be taking action in respect of the well-intentioned provisions of this Bill. I refer specifically to the export of greyhounds. I was pleased to see that the amendment concerning the gathering of export data was accepted by the Minister of State and included in this amended version of the Bill. It seems like an attempt to have a comprehensive look at the major elements of the dog racing industry. I notice that in section 13 the four aims are governance, development and promotion as well as the health and welfare of the animals.

Throughout the Bill references to health and welfare are fairly minimal and that is the big weakness that jumps out of the Bill. In Part 3, for example, which deals with racing and racetracks in sections 20 and 21, all the strengthened regulation that is being brought in concerning permits for people who work in the industry is welcome. Part 4 is also welcome in respect of training and public sale and the similar issue of licensing and permits. That is all welcome, as are sections 27 and 28 regarding substances and traceability. In all that, however, the role of the Minister of State and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the enforcement of these provisions is important. Perhaps the Minister of State might respond to us on how exactly he is going to request the board of the new Rásaíocht con Éireann to implement those sections to which I have referred. That is what people who love dog racing and the industry and who want to protect the dogs – I accept that includes many owners and followers – will all be studying in particular.

That is why Part 6 providing for authorised officers is very important. A wide range of functions has been given to those officers as well as powers to protect them from anyone who tries to interfere with their business of inspections and the power of using search warrants with the support of An Garda Síochána. Part 7 and Part 8 relate to investigations and the system of enforcement which could, ultimately, lead to the District Court. Elements of all that are meritorious. All of it depends, however, on the Bill being actually implemented.

Almost two years ago, I introduced the Welfare of Greyhounds (Amendment) Bill 2017 to amend the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and to provide for the control of export of greyhounds and for the publication of a white list of countries to which the export of greyhounds under licence would only be permissible. The white list was to be drafted by the welfare members of the International Greyhound Forum in conjunction with Bord na gCon, which will become Rásaíocht con Éireann as determined by this legislation. The countries on the white list are those which “meet minimum standards with regard to the welfare of greyhounds” and the past records of relevant countries, including enforceable welfare protections for greyhounds equivalent to protections available in Ireland, would have to been taken into account.

The horror stories we hear from China, Pakistan and various other countries concerning how our dogs are treated in a savage manner after export bring home to us the essential nature of the provisions to which I referred. I, my colleague Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan, and others will try to amend the Bill to reflect such provisions. My Private Members’ Bill would also make it an offence for persons to export greyhounds to countries not on the white list and would provide for related matters. That Bill still remains on the clár of the Dáil. Of course, the Minister of State has said that Bord na gCon is responsible for the governance, regulation and development of the greyhound industry in Ireland. That would include all the elements in respect of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and Bord na gCon’s own code of practice. That code of practice, however, is not on a statutory footing and we have had to deal with that.

The problem of secondary exports has also been mentioned. Of the seven or eight million dogs on the island of Britain, 80% of the racing dogs are Irish. A great number of the other dogs are also Irish. It now seems that on the morning of 30 March Britain will be a third country. Is the Minister of State taking any steps, with his colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to negotiate with the British Government on all our agrifood exports but also in respect of our dogs, in particular, and their good treatment and protection? In fairness, most people who buy Irish dogs are dog lovers. They have that tradition on our neighbouring island just as we have. It important, however, that the issues of protection and treatment are addressed.

I also received the support of Ms Nessa Childers, MEP, in Europe on this issue. Ms Childers was very helpful at the time and informed me of the maltreatment of galgos españoles, Spanish greyhounds, in Spain. This not just an issue pertaining to Ireland. She informed me that the European Court of Auditors was to audit the implementation of the EU Animal Welfare Strategy 2012 to 2015. That is another area through which we can approach this issue as well. It is important to note that the Irish Greyhound Board has welcomed the Bill before us today. It stated that the Bill will offer further opportunities to grow the industry and extend its appeal to a wider audience. It also stated that welfare of greyhounds continues its number one priority. If that was the case, however, we would not be here with this legislation today. It cannot possibly be the number one priority of the Irish Greyhound Board.

I commend Dogs Trust, the ISPCA, PAWS and the other animal welfare groups on the work they have done on this issue. I know they have liaised closely with the Minister of State. From working with my colleague, Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan, other Opposition Deputies and Senators, liaising with the Minister, Deputy Creed, and submitting reports to the agriculture committee, the determination of those civic society groups to improve welfare standards for greyhounds is to be applauded. Dogs Trust, of course, is a member of the International Greyhound Forum, along with the ISPCA, PAWS and the Irish Blue Cross. Last April, Dogs Trust launched the campaign “Greywatch” to highlight what great pets greyhounds and lurchers make. The very helpful Oireachtas Library and Research highlighted that over the last ten years more than €116 million from the Horse and Greyhound Fund, including the 2019 allocation, has been transferred to Bord na gCon. Admittedly, Exchequer income from the fund declined. We were informed that last year, as mentioned by the Minister and others, there were just over 5,000 full-time and part-time jobs in the sector with an estimated 7,313 greyhound owners.

We were told the multiplier effect creates approximately €300 million. These statistics are all the more reason to establish definitively and maintain the highest possible welfare standards in the breeding, racing and export of these wonderful animals, which have in some ways become symbolic of our nation. Other countries recognise the Irish greyhound, as well as the Irish wolfhound, as a dog par excellence.

Other statistics quoted in the research document on the Bill produced by our excellent Oireachtas Library and Research Service give a deep but worrying insight into the industry. Figures provided by the Irish Coursing Club show registered litters declining from approximately 3,000 per annum in 2010 and 2011 to just over 2,500 in 2016, with more than 18,000 greyhounds born in 2010 declining to 15,000 in 2016. In the same period, nearly 3,000 greyhounds were surrendered to dog pounds with just under 2,500 dogs put to sleep. The Greyhound Rescue Association has stated that approximately 10,000 dogs are missing from official statistics for 2010 to 2015. It is disappointing that although such high ambitions have been outlined in reports by Bord na gCon, the Department and so on, the reality can be different. The Minister of State has indicated that there will be another Indecon strategic review of the infrastructure services and the standard of facilities at Shelbourne Park and the remaining 15 stadiums. In 2017, there was the controversial sale of the five-acre Harold’s Cross greyhound stadium to the Department of Education and Skills for €23 million, or was it €26 million, which gave a surplus to Bord na gCon to address its financial crisis. It was such a successful stadium that many people in the south inner city considered its sale a strange decision.

I have other points to make but we will have another chance on Committee and Report Stages. While the Bill is comprehensive, its application will be the key, particularly in respect of the welfare of these lovely dogs. I hope this long-delayed and belated Bill will greatly improve the governance and administration of the new Bord na gCon. It will go some way to stamping out the quite serious abuses in the industry. The continuing dangers of dreadful abuse and death for animals through export to secondary countries remain a serious problem. Will the Government work with the UK to ensure that secondary exports to the UK will operate on a white-list basis?