It was obvious that Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney was earnest when he promised the support of Government for Reaching New Heights, says John Tynan.
His body language showed he meant business when he launched the report of the Irish sport horse industry strategy group on Tuesday at the Army Equitation School, watched by representatives from across an industry slowly picking itself up.
“The Government is taking this seriously. We are putting resources into this and we are going to make these recommendations happen, with you,” he declared.
Among those at McKee Barracks, there was a sense of anticipation that, possibly, the industry was receiving the recognition it deserved.
Without doubt, Coveney deserves plaudits in that he has personally invested time and effort in guiding this collaboration between HSI, Teagasc, and the RDS. Further indication of his determination to get this across the line is that he will chair the strategy’s implementation group. While it was disappointing to see no mention yet of how the strategy is to be funded, it does state that the implementation committee will develop an annual business plan, will meet quarterly to monitor progress, producing reports to be made public to “ensure full accountability”.
Coveney promised up to €2m over five years for discussion groups, modelled on those so successful in the agriculture sector. Without seeming ungrateful, there was nothing new in this. HSI chairman Pat Wall previously told this columnist that money is expected under the Rural Development Plan before the European Commission.
Coveney has already secured €600,000 for a HSI marketing programme, but he also said “we are also looking at other funding, around prizemoney, around putting marketing infrastructure in place and, hopefully, we will be able to trigger private money to match that as well, by increasing opportunities for sponsorship”.
This strategy will fail without broad support, so it was no surprise to again hear Wall warn of “fragmentation”. In that regard, a review of HSI — likely to be undertaken by Indecon and finished by year end — could prove seismic in terms of the body, and its 28 affiliates.
Coveney said it will take time to implement all aspects of the report, but urged all to be open to change.
“What we need is a bit of patience, but what we do need is strong political commitment in terms of policy and funding and I think that’s there and I think we will also need the 28 different affiliates of Horse Sport Ireland to be open to changing in a way that is for the betterment of everybody.”
Responding to questions from the media, Coveney said he would like to see a national equestrian centre being set up, but cautioned “that would take some time. I think there are a number of options. [The National Sports Campus at] Abbotstown is obviously one that has some bit of infrastructure. You may well see developments happening in the Curragh [and] I would like to see us develop clusters of equine industry that could feed of each other, bring expertise in from abroad and develop expertise here so we can create an international reputation for all things equine”.
He also said there might be “controversy” regarding the star-rating of riding schools and added: “We need some form of certification around riding as regards a recognition of standards and training and over time we can introduce that. I don’t think that should be a police-state type of approach where overnight we announce that everybody has to have a certification, but I think we will roll it out over time.”
* The father of Offaly show jumper Darragh Kenny had his nose broken when he went to the aid of his son, after he was attacked by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy in Florida on Monday night.
The attack by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy Jason Tucciarone, 41 occurred in a Wellington restaurant as Darragh’s father and mother Catherine spent their last night in the US.
Tucciarone is facing charges of battery and is out on bail of $3,000 (€2,700).
The attack occurred when Darragh, 27, joined his parents at the restaurant and took a chair. Tucciarone said it was his, so Darragh returned it and made his apologies. Then he was attacked.
“He grabbed me by the throat and pushed me through two tables,” Darragh told the Palm Beech Post.
Michael intervened and was pushed to the ground by Tucciarone. When he got up, he asked the police officer why he would initiate such an attack. The response was a punch in the face.
* Bertram Allen has jumped three places to 11th in the Longines World Rankings, his consistency highlighted by his second World Cup victory at Bordeaux, France, last month.
* World Cup show jumping comes to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida tomorrow, with Kevin Babington, Conor Swail, Darragh Kenny, Richie Moloney, and Shane Sweetnam aiming for a slice of the $372,000 (€337,000) on offer.
*A deal involving the sale of 12 Irish horses to a Chinese buyer is close.
The news was revealed in a breeding supplement in yesterday’s Irish Examiner. HSI said the deal involves eight sport horses and four thoroughbreds.
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