Chairman and Members of the Committee,
Thank you for the opportunity to attend before you to update you on the activities of Bord na gCon particularly in relation to the care and welfare of the racing greyhound.
I am accompanied today by Gerard Dollard - Chief Executive Officer, Denis Healy – Veterinary Director and Pat Herbert – Head of Regulation.
At our attendance before the Committee in July last, I outlined the Board’s commitment to greyhound welfare and the objective of our Strategic Plan 2018- 2022 to maintain animal welfare at the centre of our industry. I want to again reiterate Bord na gCon’s absolute commitment to the care and welfare of the racing greyhound. This continues to remain a priority focus for the Board.
At the July meeting I also outlined details of a range of initiatives proposed by Bord na gCon and would like to update the Committee on the present status of these initiatives.
Traceability has been a priority action for the Board following legislative provision being made for such a system in the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 which came into effect on 29th May last. A separate Board sub-committee was established to devise the appropriate framework for a traceability system for the racing greyhound. We are now commencing the formal tendering process with the issue of an open request for tenders.
When implemented, the system will allow the whereabouts of a racing greyhound to be monitored by the IGB throughout its life stages – birth, registration, its racing career, all changes of ownership and location, and end of life.
Separately the Board has approved the acceptance of a tender to provide a scanning and drug sampling system to the Board. This system will allow a significant upgrading of IT infrastructure and progressively move the Board from a predominantly paper-based system to an online system.
The establishing of Care Centres where racing greyhounds can be socialised with other animals and prepared for re-homing in their forever home has also been progressed. These centres, which will help the transition between the ending of a racing career and permanent re-homing, have been the subject of an e-Tenders process. Sixteen submissions were received for the provision of Care Centres at a variety of locations. These tenders are being evaluated and a recommendation will be brought to the Board for consideration very shortly.
Bord na gCon has also established a greyhound Care Fund whereby all monies in the fund are dedicated to initiatives to support and improve the care and welfare of the racing greyhound. Funding for the Care Fund comes from the following sources:
The international rehoming initiative with Greyhound Pets of America (GPA) and Finding Loving Irish Greyhounds Homes Together (FLIGHT) has also progressed. Initial transportation of racing greyhounds has taken place to Boston and Atlanta and ongoing discussion is taking place with the representatives of Greyhound Pets of America towards the establishing of a number of hubs across the US to accept retired greyhounds. The incentives introduced towards fostering and Irish rehomings have also been positively received with 51 greyhounds in foster care at the end of October 2019.
This work enhances and progresses Bord na gCon’s overall rehoming initiatives in conjunction with the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust, a registered charity established and operated by the Board, which helped to rehome over 1,000 retired greyhounds in 2018 and has assisted in the rehoming of more than 800 greyhounds so far this year.
The confidential Greyhound Care line and email has been up and running since early July 2019. This recorded phone line is available 24/7 for members of the public to report greyhound welfare concerns which are followed up by a member of Bord na gCon’s designated welfare team. 108 calls/emails have been received to the line to 31st October 2019. These calls cover a range of issues, some not related to care and welfare. Arising from the calls received, 31 separate welfare investigations have been initiated.
At this point the following is the status of these investigations:
The issues raised in the 31 cases can be summarised as follows:
We are also continuing our comprehensive programme of welfare related inspections. 576 inspections have been undertaken in 2019 up to 31st October 2019. These include welfare inspections, kennel inspections and out of competition sampling. The National Greyhound Laboratory has processed 5,149 samples to the end of October 2019 with 13 samples (0.25%) returning an adverse analytical finding.
The IGB also launched its Greyhounds at Tracks Injury Support Scheme in early August 2019. The purpose of this scheme is to provide financial assistance up to a maximum of €500 to assist owners to deal with injuries to racing greyhounds where the injury is incurred on a greyhound track licenced by Bord na gCon. Initial take up on the scheme has been slow which has also been the experience in the Greyhound Board of Great Britain. It is expected that as the scheme becomes embedded a significant number of applications will be made. Bord na gCon is budgeting on the basis of 100 such applications during 2020.
Bord na gCon has also prepared a draft of a Statutory Instrument for consideration by the Minister to require euthanasia of a greyhound to be undertaken only by a veterinary practitioner. The Statutory Instrument will require to be made under the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and the draft Statutory Instrument is currently being considered by the Minister and his officials.
I would again emphasise that the responsibilities of Bord na gCon relate solely to the racing greyhound. They do not extend to cross-breeds such as lurchers which are commonly confused with racing greyhounds. I would also reiterate the overall position in relation to exports of greyhounds and confirm that Bord na gCon will do everything possible within our remit to prevent exports of greyhounds to countries that do not have acceptable animal welfare regimes.
I wish to make it clear that Ireland as a country is not in a position to restrict exports of any animal including greyhounds to other countries and must operate under EU law and wider world trade agreements. Bord na gCon, or any Irish regulator, cannot be held responsible for the appalling attitude to wider animal welfare that may be evident in other countries. We will, however, continue to promote and advocate for a responsible attitude by the greyhound community to the export of racing greyhounds. I am satisfied that the greyhound community has been receptive to this message and has acted on foot of same.
It should also be stated that the primary responsibility for the care and welfare of any animal rests with the owner. The owner’s obligations in this regard need to be reinforced and form a legal obligation for which the owner can be held accountable. The measures, initiatives and schemes put in place by Bord na gCon are to facilitate and support the owner in meeting their obligations in this regard.
We have prepared an update of the Code of Practice relating to the care and welfare of the greyhound and an initial draft of same has been considered by the International Greyhound Welfare Forum. The draft is due for consideration by the Board at its meeting on Thursday next (14th November) and following approval, same will be put forward for public consultation as required by the Welfare of Greyhounds Act, 2011.
The Board has also agreed additional staffing resources in relation to the care and welfare area to support the expansive Care & Welfare Programme that is in place. A Director of Care & Welfare is being recruited with the primary role of leading on the care and welfare initiatives and to challenge all stakeholders to further improve behaviour, measures and approaches in the area of care and welfare.
I am confident that Bord na gCon and the greyhound community has made very significant progress in relation to improving care and welfare practices within the industry. This progress can be seen in the last decade particularly with the introduction of the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011; the Animal Health & Welfare Act 2013; increased regulation regarding doping and medication within greyhound racing (2015) and the requirement for microchipping for all racing greyhounds (2016).
These measures, combined with the initiatives which I have outlined above, and further initiatives which the Board will be focussed on implementing provide a continuum on which the greyhound community is travelling to achieve a standard of excellence in relation to the care and welfare of the racing greyhound.
There is no place for cruelty or poor animal welfare practices within the greyhound industry. We will continue to work with all agencies to eradicate any such behaviour.
Before I conclude, I must commend also the wider greyhound community, particularly those in Cork and Limerick, who have spearheaded funding initiatives to support greyhound racing at both locations. These initiatives have been tremendously successful and are testament to the passion and commitment that exists for the sport of greyhound racing.
Finally, can I say that we believe that our industry is already heavily regulated, and the provisions of the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 will further strengthen this regulation. We subscribe to the principles of the welfare of our dogs and the integrity of our sport. We have in place the tools to defend these principles against transgressors. Greyhound racing has deep roots in the Irish community, our challenge is to preserve our sport for future generations.
Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to come before the Committee today and we will endeavour to respond to all of your questions. However, if there is any additional information required arising from this meeting, we will be pleased to provide that information in a prompt manner.
Chairman Bord na gCon