Joint Oireachtas Committee calls for national equine plan

A report published this week by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture has called for a national plan for the Irish horse sector.

It comes after the committee held a number of meetings with relevant stakeholders. Its 44 recommendations include the transfer of overall responsibility for all horse and related equine matter to the Department of Agriculture, Food, and Marine (DAFM) with a specific division within DAFM for equine issues, and that all funding for the horse industry should be under the remit of DAFM to cover Horse Sport Ireland (HSI), Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), and the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB). The committee said the funding of elite show jumpers should remain with the Irish Sports Council.

Notably, the committee points out that a “disproportionate” amount of money is given to racing from the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund. Money for the fund comes from a betting tax and State finance, with 80% of the fund going to HRI and 20% to the greyhound industry.

A HSI spokesperson yesterday said it hoped the report would result in increased funding.

“Horse Sport Ireland has been making the case for additional funding and we are glad the committee recognises that current levels are disproportionate. HSI get circa €4m while HRI get almost €60m.

Yet, our economic contribution is 50% of what racing contributes. Equestrian sport and breeding takes place in every parish in Ireland and it makes a huge social contribution. The current situation is simply not fair.

“Whether the funds come from the Horse and Greyhound fund or from other exchequer sources is not really the issue. The issue is that our sector is underfunded.”

HSI, however, comes in for a fair bit of negative comment in the report, including that it does not have an accurate figure for the number of horses in the country, though the HSI spokesperson said monitoring the herd population is not a function of HSI.

The report also said the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association had claimed that, “in terms of registration and disease-control regulation, the high rate of non-compliance in the non-thoroughbred sector held risks for the entire horse industry”.

HSI countered that the issue is horses in the unregulated sector who are a risk to both the thoroughbred and sport horse sectors.

The report also noted that “there is anecdotal evidence that HSI continue to accept registration and issue passports, without full compliance with the Control on Places Where Horses are Kept [legislation], ie horses can be issued passports without the identification and registration of the place where they are been kept”.

HSI, however, yesterday said it “complies fully with all legislation”.

The ISPCA told the committee that “while the HSI vision statement declares that ‘welfare of the horse is placed at the centre of the industry’, it doesn’t have any welfare fund or a dedicated welfare officer”.

HSI yesterday cited a lack of money: “This is not possible given our current funding levels. The Department of Agriculture contribute substantial, direct funding to ISPCA.”

The report also referred to the fact that, “unlike in the UK, there is no mandatory licensing or inspection system for riding schools in Ireland [and] that the total number of riding schools and trekking centres in Ireland is unknown”.

The report notes that the Association of Irish Riding Establishments (AIRE) — a HSI affiliate — is the only body inspecting riding establishments, but it said it is a private organisation, its membership is voluntary and comprises only a percentage of all riding schools.

The committee is highly critical in its assessment, saying “the fundamental educational basis for the riding element of the sport horse sector suffers from lack of organisation, scant regulation, the absence of quality control, and inadequate safety and welfare regulation”.

The HSI spokesperson said: “Mandatory regulation would require legislation which is not within the gift of HSI.”

The report also stated that HSI has not ensured there is a single accreditation system for riding instructors.

It pointed out that “HSI acknowledges that Ireland has “no single system or structure of education or training that offers educational development from a young age”, yet it chose not to use the British Horse Society educational model as a foundation for its education plans, even though it is considered to be the world standard.

Accordingly, the committee recommended that “a single Irish accreditation system be created to produce instructors for riders from beginner level upwards, to ensure high quality instruction as well as proper safety and welfare standards”.

HSI said efforts were being made to address this, and it added: “The HSI coaching programme is extremely successful. While the point is fair, the reality is that young Irish riders have had extraordinary success in the European stage. The current arrangements might lack cohesion, but are delivering success.”

- Find the report HERE

- Ray Buchanan was installed as the new chairman of ShowjumpingIreland on Tuesday. Representing the Ulster Region, he was unopposed.


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