Tuesday, 28 February 1989
Dáil Éireann Debate
In the context of the 1987 budget the then Government decided to abolish Bord na gCapall because continued expenditure on the Bord could not be justified in the current financial situation. The essential functions of the Bord, that is the maintenance of the Irish horse register and the list of approved stallions, have since been carried out by my  Department. The register is the stud book for non-thoroughbred horses and its maintenance is fundamental for the continued breed improvement of the industry.
In 1966 a survey team established by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries recommended the establishment of an Irish Horse Board to co-ordinate the activities of the various associations dealing with equestrian matters and to set up a national training centre for riders and instructors. As a result Bord na gCapall was established under the Horse Industry Act, 1970, in order to promote and develop the non-thoroughbred horse industry and to advise the Minister on matters relating to breeding, sale and export of horses.
One of the Bord's earliest achievements was the setting up of a farriery apprenticeship scheme under which over 70 young people became qualified farriers. The Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association and other interests have now organised a new farriery apprenticeship scheme. This is a welcome development which, I hope, can be further developed to meet the demands of both the thoroughbred and non-thoroughbred horse industries. Under the Bord's tutelage a number of people were prepared for and passed their equestrian science examination. This function has now been taken over by Teagasc.
The Bord's most important and significant achievement was the foundation of the Irish horse register in 1974. This incorporated the approval of stallions for breeding and was essential for maintaining the high standard of the Irish sport horse. During the Bord's existence the number of sport horses increased by 50 per cent — from 21,000 to 34,000 — and the value of exports reached £3 million. Since the Bord ceased its operations the value of these exports has continued to rise, to £4 million in 1988.
In 1983, following considerable adverse publicity, the Bord was restructured and staffing levels were reduced from 34 to 15. Following the then Government's decision to abolish the Bord, these remaining staff received  redundancy payments in April-May 1987 and provision was made for preservation of the pension entitlements which will increase in line with future pay awards.
Subsequently I appointed a new board, comprising of three civil servants from my Department, who were charged with the winding-up of the Bord's affairs. Considerable progress has been made in this regard and the remaining tasks include the disposal of the Bord's leased stallions, its main assets. The present lessees of the stallions have been offered first option to purchase them but if satisfactory sales are not concluded it is the intention to offer the horses for public tender.
Conscious of the needs of the industry generally I felt it necessary to redefine policy against the background, on the one hand, of restoring confidence to the sector and, on the other, that in the present economic climate the scope for financial incentives was limited. In the event, I believe a fair balance has been struck in the new national programme which I announced last November. For the benefit of the House I would like to mention again the objectives of the programmes. These are: to maximise output and exports by exploiting to the full our national resources in breeding stock, soil, climate, expertise and reputation; to maximise returns to breeders and to develop further the equestrian and leisure side of the industry.
Many of the qualities and much of the international reputation of the Irish sport horse derive from the breeding system whereby Irish Draught and Irish Draught-type horses are crossed with thoroughbreds. The complementarity of traits between the Irish Draught and thoroughbred and the associated hybrid vigour result in horses having strength, courage, stamina and good temperament. The continued breeding and production of such horses is dependent on the maintenance of a viable nucleus of the Irish Draught population. However, the future of the breed may be endangered if insufficient numbers of mares are being bred pure to maintain population size and enable selection with the breed for quality improvement.
 A grant of £400 will be paid to the breeder of each pure Irish Draught foal registered in the Irish Horse Register. This will compensate for the difference in value between pure Irish Draught and thoroughbred crosses. The scheme will operate for a five year period commencing in 1990. Conditions for this scheme are being drawn up and will be announced shortly. In association with the Irish Draught Horse Society, I will be taking initiatives to increase the number of progeny by top mares and to conserve rare blood lines utilising artificial insemination and embryo transfer technology.
Beginning this year, headage payments will be made in respect of eligible registered mares in all disadvantaged areas in which cattle headage grants are paid at an increased rate of £70 per head for up to eight mares and £66 for the next 22. These payments will be calculated separately from any other headage payments to which the producer may be entitled.
As part of the new western package, my Department are finalising a new scheme to provide incentives in the less favoured areas of the country towards the cost of providing facilities which will enable them to diversify into alternative farm enterprises. My intention is that this scheme will include for the first time grant aid towards the cost of basic housing for non-thoroughbred sport horses.
Again, as part of the package, I hope to make an early announcement on a scheme to encourage agri-tourism which would include grant aid for farmers investing in facilities for leisure activities, such as pony trekking and horse riding.
The Irish Horse Register will now be administered on a permanent basis by my Department. I have, in fact, arranged for the instalment of new modern computer facilities to ensure its efficient operation.
Accurate identification of individual animals and complete accurate recording and registration of pedigree and performance data are fundamental to successful breed improvement, marketing and trade. Operation of the register by the Department should ensure that:
(b) A reliable basis is available for payment of grants. The requirement that the grants should be paid only on registered animals will have the very beneficial indirect effect of increasing the proportion of horses registered. The result will be a widening of the base for genetic improvement and an increase in the range of Irish sport horses for marketing;
Selection and approval of stallions to sire animals for registration in the Irish Horse Register, the publication of their pedigree and breeding value in the register of approved stallions are also crucial for breed improvement of Irish sport horses. This task which will also be undertaken by my Department, will involve: the organisation of centres for carrying out inspections and suitable riding-jumping tests, in association with industry representatives; ensuring that best estimates of breeding values, based on all available progeny and performance test data, are used in selection; investigating, in association with the industry, how some proven National Hunt thoroughbred stallions might be approved for inclusion in the Irish Horse Register.
Given the current state of development  of artificial insemination and embryo transfer technology and the potential of these techniques for genetic improvement, conservation of rare blood lines and eradication of sexually transmitted diseases, I intend to sponsor new legislation to facilitate their development and application in the non-thoroughbred horse industry. I would encourage the industry to utilise these techniques. European Community legislation on animal health, zootechnical and genealogical conditions governing intra-Community trade in horses is currently being drafted. The objective is to liberalise trade in horses, horse semen and embryos. Close liasion with the relevant interests will be maintained in relation to these.
The introduction of the single European market in 1992 will bring great opportunities. Effective marketing will be required if the horse industry is to take advantage of the opportunities opened to it when barriers to free trade are removed. In the horse industry marketing encompasses a wide range of activities from the production of the foal, through schooling and training of the animal, to the sale of the finished riding horse for export. I envisaged the establishment, with national and EC aid, of a small number of equestrian centres, strategically located, so as to provide high quality facilities for the final preparation, evaluation and marketing of sport horses. The establishment of these centres should result in: more foreign buyers thus increasing exports; promotion, publicity and the orderly development of markets; greater awareness by producers of the requirements of the market place; greater opportunity for breeders to reap a high proportion of the final value of sport horses.
The activities of Córas Tráchtála Teoranta and Bord Fáilte in promoting the sport and leisure horse area are invaluable to the industry and I have requested  both organisations to review the scale and intensity of their marketing and promotion of the sector.
A feature of the non-thoroughbred horse industry in Ireland is the large number of representative bodies catering for the various interests. I propose to forge stronger links between my Department and these interests through an advisory committee which would advise me on policy and on planning and co-ordination of the different elements in the national programme. I intend to appoint the most capable people available but I have, however, decided to give representation to the main organisations. My Department will write to them for nominees to the committee.
One of the main areas of potential to enhance farm incomes will be the programme for rural development to be launched by the Commission next year. In fact, we in Ireland are already moving in advance of that launch and we are the only country in Europe which has pilot scheme programmes in various parts of the country. The potential for generating new or extra income for small farmers through the non-thoroughbred horse programme is very considerable. Linked to the agri-tourism scheme which I will shortly be announcing, pony trekking, riding and holiday competition can be a major tourism attraction in rural Ireland.
With all the curbs on production being imposed by the Commission in the dairy, beef, sheep and cereals sectors it is essential that we exploit every opportunity in this area where there is shortage rather than surplus and no restriction on production. The programme I am putting in place now will give us a headstart over other countries and I am determined that we will stay the course and negotiate any obstacles with courage and skill. The prize money and the awards will richly repay our efforts.
Mrs. Doyle: I am delighted to have the  opportunity to contribute to this debate on the dissolution of Bord na gCapall. It is rather tragic that we should be discussing the dissolution of a board from which so many of us had such high expectations. I am sure the Taoiseach is far from happy with this situation, but I must be frank and say that it was my Minister for Agriculture and Food, encouraged by me and others, who took the first step that has us here this afternoon. We were the envy of many European countries and of the US in having a semi-State board whose sole functions were devoted to the furtherance of the half bred industry. I refuse to use that awful expression “the sport horse”. Everyone in Ireland loves horses whether they be people who are actually involved in breeding such as the farmer breeder and the professional breeder, whether it is the child in the pony club, or in the show ring or the man, woman and child on the hunting field and in the show jumping arena, whether it is the eventers or the dressage people. We have many organisations devoted entirely to various aspects of equestrian sport. As a nation, we love our horses, not to mention our racing fraternity, many of whom never see a race course but whose visit to the local bookmakers is part and parcel of the day's routine.
In every walk of life there is a love of horses. I freely admit interest here. The horse and before that the pony has given me some of the greatest pleasures of my life and some of my happiest moments. I often look back with a wry smile to when I was 13, 14 or 15; I had reached a stage in my life when I thought the only friend I had was a pony. I felt no one else was listening, and looking back on it, how right they were. The pleasure the pony or the horse has given to the small child, right through to the professional sportsman and woman today, is inestimable and we cannot do it justice in the few words we will be able to say today.
The Minister had the benefit of a Civil Service-prepared script which contained some very interesting points which I will take up. There is also a lot with which I do not agree in it. If I can be forgiven for speaking more from the heart than from  the head here this afternoon, the Minister will understand why. I have a deep interest, I am actively involved and I am delighted to admit it here. We are into conflicts of interest and declarations of interest in a big way at the moment.
Mrs. Doyle: It is the flavour of the month, but I am delighted to be able to admit a deep interest. Would that my lifestyle gave me more time to pursue that interest. Regrettably it does not, but as I got great pleasure in my childhood from ponies and horses, I am delighted to see my children having the same interest and getting the same pleasure. We should all be endeavouring to ensure that pleasure from ponies and horses has as wide an appeal and accessibility to people in as many walks of life as possible. That is what I would like the Minister to ensure in his role as custodian of the Irish half bred, as Minister for Agriculture.
I fully support the need to dissolve Bord na gCapall. We all had high expectations and aspirations in relation to Bord na gCapall when it was formed under the Horse Industry Act, 1970. Some excellent functions were carried out by the board and I concur with the Minister that their role in relation to the Irish horse register was a wonderful service to the industry. I am slightly concerned — perhaps we can put it down to teething problems, but it has gone on for a bit long now — about what is happening to the horse register in the Department at the moment. Suffice it to say that there does not seem to be a demand from the industry to have their animals registered. It behoves us all to heighten an awareness of the necessity to have every half-bred produced in this country and indeed our Connemara ponies and draught horses registered and with a passport. We could rationalise our passport system. I have on my desk at this moment a green passport, a green passport with a gold stripe  and a pink passport, all referring to the same animal at different stages. That is not the fault of the civil servants who are handling this at the moment. The problems in relation to this are historic. However, we need to rationalise our system of registration and above all ensure that there is a demand from the industry to have clear identification and registration of all animals. Apart from the necessity for us to trace through performance recording and performance rating of our animals for export and those who go on to represent the country abroad, after 1992 we will need to have passports for all these animals if we want to trade and increase our export trade in half breds generally. The European horse Directive to which the Minister referred briefly is to be welcomed in that the Community is turning its attention to a most important leisure activity and an area where there is enormous potential for increase in output and increase in its contribution and to our GNP and to that of member states generally.
Many aspects of what is now proposed are extremely worrying. I would appreciate if the Minister could give specific attention to what is being talked about in Europe at the moment in relation to this Directive. I will come back to that in a moment.
At a time when there was never a greater demand for Irish half bred horses and despite the dissolution of Bord na gCapall, our exports are increasing and foreign visitors come to buy Irish bred Irish horses. Indeed such is the name of the Irish horse abroad that one only has to pick up the British publication Horse and Hound and look to the back of it to see the advertisements for horses for sale in the UK and every other one is described as Irish bred or Irish. I would ask the Minister to invoke the Trade Descriptions Act on these people, because effectively most of these are not Irish bred horses. They are using the flag of convenience of labelling them Irish to increase their value. They are doing a tremendous disservice to the name and reputation of Irish bred horses and half breds generally. This should be looked to  immediately because the good name that the farmer producer and the Irish rider built up over the years in relation to the Irish half bred should not be allowed to be abused in this way any longer. If every animal can be sold without penalty as Irish bred, when it is not, the name of the Irish horse will suffer and its reputation will decline accordingly. Hence the industry and exports will suffer. I draw the Minister's attention to that situation to see if there is any way we can invoke any specific piece of UK or Community legislation to ensure that does not continue.
As I said the disillusionment of our breeders has never been greater, ironically, at a time when the Irish half-bred has never been in greater demand. We must look at the problems of the industry, define them, identify them clearly and move forward from there. One of the greatest problems the Minister has as Minister for Agriculture and Food — perhaps he has not been actively involved in this himself — is deciding who he can listen to, which aspect of the horse industry representatives he can trust — and I will call a spade a spade — and who represents what in the industry. Having enjoyed their company and been involved to a greater or lesser extent at different levels over the years, I can frankly say that I do not blame the Minister if, even two years into his job as Minister for Agriculture and Food, he is still confused and still does not know who represents what.
Mrs. Doyle: The Minister should tread very carefully. The one reason we could perhaps forgive inactivity during the past two years — except for the announcement before Christmas to which the Minister referred again this afternoon — when very little happened, is that unless the Minister was one of their number and knew them over the years, he could be forgiven for being confused and not  knowing whom to listen to. They are all experts on everything and they all represent the entire industry, but the Minister should beware because those who purport to be national groups representing the industry as a whole may not do so.
The Minister should not let any one aspect of the industry or any one organisation bend his ear or monopolise him to the detriment of others. In theory, the Equestrian Federation of Ireland are the advisory committee the Minister should be looking to but I know — and many of that organisation would admit this, whether openly or not I am not sure — that they do not represent the entire industry. The largest and perhaps most important sector of the breeding industry are not represented on the EFI. I and others in the industry worry most about the advice the Minister will get on the breeding area. We are not sure who has the Minister's ear at the moment, who is bending his ear and in which direction he is being pulled and dragged, but we have no doubt that he is being pulled and dragged and I sympathise with him.
A national organisation, an extremely reputable body, are of the opinion that they should be able to dominate any advisory committee the Minister might set up since in their view, they represent all aspects of the industry nationally. The Minister must be very careful about this. The Minister's secret in getting the committee right will be to resolve the problems in the breeding area and to resolve the decline over the past 12 or 15 years in relation to the half-bred brood mare. There has been a reduction from 15,000 to, I think, under 5,000 half-bred mares breeding at present; there were fewer — and I stand to be corrected on this but I think my information will stand up — than 2,000 half-bred foals registered in 1988 and there are fewer than 5,000 breeding mares.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, have laid down criteria for endangered species and I put it to the Minister that the half-bred mare, and particularly the draught mares which are breeding in this country, have  fallen way below the criteria the IUCN consider acceptable for the future of any particular species. While I am not talking about a species as such when I talk about the half-bred mares, nevertheless I am talking about a very important section of the Equidae, of horses generally, and because of that I should like to underline the critical importance of the Minister getting right advice on how to resolve the problems in relation to the breeding aspect of the industry.
The Minister referred in his speech to the advisory committee he intends to appoint. I want to ask him to stop and think, even if we have to wait a little longer — we are already two and a half years down the road on this — and not to appoint the committee himself. He should ask the industry to self-select what they consider to be a representative committee. There are many reasons this would be far better than a politically appointed committee, and whether the Minister or I are sitting on that bench, the same will hold. Over the years political appointments to Bord na gCapall — and there have been Coalition Governments as well as Fianna Fáil Governments — have not been a success because the people who are most likely to bend a Minister's ear, or to get to him, are those most likely to have visions of self-enhancement through their role on that committee, or the board as it was previously. I am afraid that is not acceptable.
As I have said, every aspect is organised by the breeders and if they were told to set up on a national basis and include for example, the western breeders, the north-eastern breeders and other excellent groups, to represent all breeders and to join with other representative groups, the industry could hire and fire each year at their various annual general meetings. It would not be at the whim of the Minister of the day to appoint people for three or five years. Both the Minister and I know that if one makes appointments which turn out to be unsuccessful — and every Minister has done this regardless of his political leanings — there is no question of turfing these people out after  a couple of years; they will be left there until their five years' appointment is up. This has been the problem not alone with Bord na gCapall but with many other semi-State boards to which there have been political appointees.
I plead with the Minister, in relation to the committee which he referred to and which he intends appointing — if I interpret him correctly — to consider asking the industry to self-elect, or at least — I do not know how many people the Minister has in mind but let us say there will be 12 members — to tell the industry they may appoint nine members and he will reserve two or three appointments to the committee. It is preferable, both from the industry's point of view and politically, to let the industry self-select and then hire and fire if people fail to deliver or measure up to the expectations of the different groups. The responsibility for that should be left with the industry itself.
An ironic aspect of the failure of Bord na gCapall has been that they took over all the functions of the various voluntary groups who represented the different strands in the industry. As long as people felt an official body was doing A, B and C, they made no effort to carry out those functions themselves. Before Bord na gCapall were set up there were various representative groups some who even started off their own stud books, and a lot of work was done on a voluntary basis, but that was swept away the day the Horse Industry Act, 1970, was enacted. We have to get back to the stage where the industry accept responsibility for their own output and future policy. There should be a committee to advise the Minister but they should be appointed by the industry and if individuals fail in their responsibilities the industry should get rid of them. The Minister is not going to fire people after two or three years and if I or anyone else happened to be Minister for Agriculture and Food we probably would not be in a position to do so either.
The key to the success of what happens now in the wake of Bord na gCapall  depends entirely on how effective this advisory committee will be. If they are a disaster we will be going nowhere fast and an essential industry effectively will have a major problem in the year ahead. If this committee — which I know will not be a statutory committee, and effectively will be fairly toothless — know what they are about and can give the Minister of the day sound solid advice, the industry will be in good hands for the future.
I am not being political because anything I say about political appointments would apply equally to a Fine Gael Minister for Agriculture. I plead with the Minister to be absolutely sure that he gets the advisory committee right because on them depends the future direction, policy and advice any future Minister may get in relation to our half-bred industry generally.
All was not wrong with Bord na gCapall and both the Minister and I have pointed that out. The Minister pointed out their succeses but he omitted to acknowledge that there were any problems. I can only assume, as the Minister is proposing this Bill to the House, that he accepts there were problems with Bord na gCapall.
Mrs. Doyle: I thank the Minister. I notice he has reneged. That was not missed by me. Many might ask, reading the Minister's speech and reference to the good things about Bord na gCapall  and the goodies there will be in the future, why there was a need to dissolve the board at all. As the Minister has admitted and as I know, there were many problems with the different boards: this was not specific to one particular board. There were, however, excellent board members as well, solid individuals, men and women, appointed by different Ministers since 1970, who had nothing in mind but the further advancement and betterment of the industry as a whole and this was so in the contributions they made at the different board meetings. Unfortunately, that was not the case with all the members of all the boards.
As in most cases, some of the more high profile figures could look to the board and use it for their own self-advancement, perhaps over and above the advancement of the industry as a whole. There was a funny little scheme operating a short while before the board was dissolved which, however, kept in line with one of the functions given to the board under the 1970 Act — and 11 different functions were detailed. One of the functions was to promote and develop the export trade in horses other than thoroughbred horses,` to provide for persons outside the State an information service of such kind as was considered appropriate in relation to horses. Another function was to promote the organisation of sales of horses other than thoroughbred horses and to co-ordinate and undertake publicity on horses.
Some members of the board took those words literally. They promoted and developed an export trade in horses but this was only the export trade of certain people's horses, as the Minister and I both know. At one stage, if you did not pay £100 to the club as a farmer-producer, no itinerary included your yard, so you had not a chance. There was no chance of people who came to purchase Irish-bred horses seeing what you had produced or raised up to that date. If you did not have £100 in the kitty, you were not visited — end of story. An old pals act was operating in that regime which did little credit to the industry or to the country.
 There was also a very bright stallion scheme dreamt up whereby the board contributed X per cent of the cost of purchase of a stallion. The Minister and I both know what happened in that regard and there is no reason why we should be coy about it this afternoon. If I was selling a stallion to the Minister, I was visited by the purchaser and by a member of the board who had me firmly in tow. I was not allowed certainly out of hearing distance of him and rarely out of his sight. As the board were putting up a contribution towards the purchase of the stallion, there was a cosy agreement that the actual cost of the animal was increased by the amount that the board would subvent. The difference between what the vendor wanted and what was agreed to be put through as the purchase price was divided up. This cosy set-up was quite widespread.
There was another example I witnessed myself at the Dublin Horse Show a couple of years ago. An employee of the board heard that a Wexford farmer-breeder had an animal for sale and also that next morning at 8 a.m. in the veterinary paddock a certain interested American gentleman was coming to try out this horse. The representative of the board collared the Wexford man in the bar at the RDS, under the clock, the night before and asked what he expected to make of the horse. He was told that the owner would be satisfied to take £10,000, would be very happy with that. He would have a little profit which he could reinvest. The representative of the board asked the owner to leave it to him. He said that everything he got over £10,000 would be divided and that there would be an agreement on it. Perhaps with some naiveté, the Wexford man agreed to this. The then representative of Bord na gCapall asked the American purchaser for £23,000 or £24,000 for the animal that the farmer had honestly valued at about £10,000. Rightly, the American visitor told him to keep the animal — in less polite language than that, I can assure the House. That was the end of that deal and the farmer brought home the animal  worth £10,000. The board representative was doing an enormous disservice, not just to that farmer but to the reputation of all traders of Irish horses in this country. That practice went on wholesale.
As the Minister knows, people were hired, fired and hired again by the board. It was a fascinating scenario. At one stage, even though it had been democratically set up, the board effectively operated like a triumvirate. It appears that decisions were taken before the board met and that three rather domineering and strong-willed people presented the decision and dare anybody question them or disagree with what they said, the wrath of the triumvirate descended on that person from above, as it were. There were no discussions. What was decided behind closed doors outside the meeting was what happened.
If we are to be honest and to point out the excellent successes in limited areas of the board, we must give some of the reasons those of us with a passionate interest in the long-term profitability of this industry could no longer sit on the sidelines and accept what was going on, why I and others of my colleagues brought to the attention of the then Minister for Agriculture our disapproval of what was going on. There was seethíng disapproval throughout the industry. Apart from what was said in this House, outside the board altogether there was seething disapproval and the wheeling and dealing was bringing the Irish half-bred industry into such disrepute that something had to be done.
I shall not dwell on the negative side; we could all regale the House with different stories on specific industries but there is no point. I concur with the Minister that one of the great successes of the board was the register. That was an excellent success but because of the disrepute caused in the industry by certain activities by certain members of the board during the last year or two of the board's existence, the green passport was being devalued. If a foreign visitor came and wanted to purchase a two or three year old, or a made animal, and asked for the passport and what the animal was by, the  retort at the time was “What would you like it to be by, Sir?” If it happened not to be by what was then fashionable, because a mare would have been covered several years previously, it turned out not to be registered. The green passport went over the ditch and you started off from scratch. You brought in your vet, filled in your identification chart, paid your fees and you had a new passport and the animal was said to be whatever you liked at the time. That was the disrepute brought to the industry by some members of the board — and this was by the activities of a very few members of the board. It caused a problem with an excellent system of registration.
I do not envy the Minister his job in getting his advisory committee right; if ever he wants to have a private chat with me on that subject I am available. Apart from getting his advisory committee right, he must ensure the future of the Irish horse register, that it is kept scrupulously up-to-date and that there is a value on the green passport. Above all else, everybody should want and need a green passport and there should be value in having every animal registered and its performance recorded and rated from there on.
I referred briefly earlier on to the European horse directive and the various demands that will be made on us in relation to registration and passports post-1992. The Minister should now state that no animal foaled from 1989 onwards should be exported from this country or even allowed to go abroad, if it does not hold a current Irish horse register passport. The Minister should implement that scrupulously. It still will not get all into the fold, but the serious breeder will persist and the monkey business in relation to passports will be stopped. There were proposals that from this year the Minister should not allow any animal to be exported or go abroad without a passport. An SJAI passport is essential for competing, which may have breeding recorded or performance rated but the change cannot be implemented from this year on in relation to all animals sold abroad because many have not been  registered and it will only encourage deviousness in terms of efforts to comply if you say that any animal exported from this year must have a passport. Certainly, any animal born this year should not be allowed out of this country without an Irish horse register passport and if that was made abundantly clear the serious producer and the farmer-breeder who want to stay in the industry and who have a love of horses will comply without any difficulties.
The register was a great success. Apparently the Minister transported an awful lot of the registration system into the Department of Agriculture. I will not go into the saga in the Equine Research Centre, it is history and the Minister knows my views in relation to it. To be blunt, I would like the Minister to have requested tenders from different bodies such as the IFA, the SJAI and Wetherbys as well as considering the Department of Agriculture and Food officials. The Minister should have looked at what was on offer in terms of keeping the register and what would have been the best interests of the register's stability and its standing in the future. That was not done and the register is now in the Department of Agriculture and Food. We should all ensure that it is an enormous success, that they register animals and issue passports. I am afraid I was the butt of ridicule over Christmas when I preached the necessity of having passports and to register stock. One particular lady threw a letter across the table to me which indicated that weeks and weeks of effort in trying to get a passport out of the Department had come to nothing because apparently the section ran out of paper. I put down a Parliamentary Question in this regard asking about the problems of supply of stationery. In the vernacular that means that they ran out of paper.
We cannot have an efficient system if we do not even have proper passport covers and paper on which to print them in the Department of Agriculture. I never again want to be in a position of trying to defend the Department or a system if we have the idiotic problem of running out of stationery. The Minister could have  asked the SJAI for a supply because they had plenty of similar stationery. They issue passports too and have plenty of passport covers albeit there is a stripe on one and none on the other. The Minister should have swallowed his pride but, for historic reasons, he would not even pretend he had a problem. He did have the grace to answer my Parliamentary Question indicating that they had a problem with stationery. There were weeks and months of delay in issuing passports and then we preach to the industry to register and to have their passports in order. Please never let that happen again. It may be a small point but I was extremely frustrated and if that were to be symptomatic of the efficiency of how the Department were dealing with it, I am afraid I will get very cross in the future. However, to be fair, apart from that particular hiccup, I have found them very efficient in my personal dealings with them, and they have responded to my questions and helped me with advice. I am sure other Members have also found this. The Minister knows that the small things make the difference as the big things usually have to be right. If they are not, the Minister should land like a ton of bricks on his officials. The small things may not be brought to the Minister's attention but they do make the difference in terms of public perception.
Mrs. Doyle: They are different systems and it will be very expensive, difficult and inefficient. Both bodies were only computerised in the last two years, virtually simultaneously; they inter-relate to a great extent but I do not know how they could end up with two computer systems who do not “talk” to each other. It is another symptom of bureaucratic  inefficiency. I am not saying it is specifically the responsibility of the officials of the Department of Agriculture and Food nor can I blame the SJAI but, between them, they have made a total hames of what should be an inter-related computer system when both were installed simultaneously. I think the SJAI went along with the system which the Equine Research Centre had said they would use when the Minister announced he was giving the register to them. The SJAI put in their order and installed very expensive hardware. The Minister then changed his mind and said he would keep the registration in the Department of Agriculture and Food. He took on the system worked by Bord na gCapall. Now the system in the Department is similar to that used by Bord na gCapall and there is another in SJAI, neither of which “talks” to the other. It is yet another example of bureaucratic bungling. I do not know who is to blame but it is a mess. I will leave it to the Minister to resolve.
There is also a problem in relation to the stallions' register, their inspection and AI. The Horse Breeding Bill, 1985, has been on the Order Paper since 1985, and I am now giving notice that even though a colleague of mine in the former Government sponsored the Bill, if there is any attempt to proceed with the Bill, Fine Gael will oppose it tooth and nail. I want to give notice of that now lest we come here some Tuesday and find that there is a Second Stage debate on it. It is not that the Bill is so important that we cannot do without it but it is a fact that with the dissolution of Bord na gCapall there will be no other legislation which will allow us control or will allow ministerial involvement in the half bred industry. In the absence of replacing this antiquated and antediluvian legislation with something updated and better, I want it left on the Statute Book. I will be opposing any effort to repeal the Horse Breeding Act which will be done by way of the Horse Breeding Bill, 1985. One of the main reasons we will not support the Horse Breeding Bill, 1985, is that there is provision in the legislation for ministerial control in relation to stallions, and the  whole area of their inspection is dealt with in the Bill. With the dissolution of Bord na gCapall and the Horse Industry Act repealed, the only legislation on the Statute Book will be the Horse Breeding Act. I will not allow the Horse Breeding Bill, 1985, to remove what could be our only line of defence between the industry and outside influences.
This is relevant in relation to the whole problem of stallion inspection and AI. I notice the Minister promised — should I say threatened? — legislation in relation to AI at some time in the future. I do not know how close this is. Does the Minister realise that the thoroughbred industry have rejected AI as an option? Perhaps their system of monitoring and identification is the best in the world. They have Wetherbys who can scrupulously identify pedigree records and trace all thoroughbred animals that have been bred in this part of the world and the United States have a similar system. The thoroughbred industry, with their almost foolproof system of monitoring and identifying breeding and specific animals have rejected AI as a future in terms of breeding policy.
The Minister intends to allow the Irish half bred industry to be the guinea pig in relation to AI and embryo transfers. The Minister is probably also aware that there is a private initiative in operation at the moment in relation to AI and embryo transfer. I do not think they are publicly funded and I would ask the Minister to confirm whether they are. I would ask the Minister to get the facts and figures in relation to the fertility rate achieved in the AI programme undertaken in recent times by that private company. We are talking about appallingly low levels of fertility, less than 12 per cent in some instances.
The half bred industry is bedevilled with low rates of fertility, less than 50 per cent, and this is an indictment of all who have been involved in policy making and in directing the industry during the years. It is also an indictment of Bord na gCapall. To go from the natural procedure to the AI procedure using our half bred industry as a guinea pig, given that  Wetherby's and the thoroughbred industry have said they cannot identify and monitor the AI procedure, would be an appalling retrograde step for three reasons. First, monitoring and identification would be virtually impossible given the propensity of the people involved in the Irish half bred industry to avoid most systems of rules and regulations. I would hate to be charged with the responsibility of monitoring what goes on. The second reason is the very low level of fertility. A third reason would be that we have a small pool of brood mares. There are less than 5,000 quality half bred brood mares left. I am taking a chance in calling each of those quality half bred brood mares. If a substantial proportion of these were to be used in any AI experiment, even embryo transfer techniques, which proved to be unsuccessful we would effectively be taking them out of the market for the production of foals for whatever number of years the experiment goes on for.
The Minister will be told that the semen used on a particular mare is from a certain horse but I ask him how he will be able to prove this. If we were to be quite blunt about it, there has been difficulty with the present system for registering foals — the covering certificates that stallion owners have to issue and the checking of books — where there has been the natural physical act so that one could see what was happening. Even with all of that it has been almost impossible to keep tabs on the industry in respect of what a foal is said to be by. The Minister now suggests that we adopt a system which the thoroughbred industry has rejected because they cannot monitor or control it despite all the strict procedures in place. The Minister wants our half bred industry, involving less than 5,000 mares, to act as a guinea pig, but he should think again. I am aware that the European Horse Directive goes into this area in a big way and this has probably spurred the Minister into action in respect of this matter.
I appeal to the Minister to talk to those involved in the thoroughbred industry and to Wetherby's and not just to have  the Civil Service advising him and to try to understand the difficulties being experienced and to make a considered opinion as to whether we should proceed in this way at this point. If we had 15,000 brood mares as we had in 1970 when Bord na gCapall were established it would be a different kettle of fish entirely as we could afford to use a couple of thousand in an experiment and this would do no harm to the overall pool of produce. Given that our pool of brood mares has dwindled to such an extent, to the point where we could almost speak in terms of the extinction of the species, we cannot afford to experiment in an untried and very unproven arena.
We should leave countries, such as Germany which has 50,000 brood mares, to experiment with AI and to improve the techniques so as to ensure there would be high rates of fertility. Let them also improve the monitoring and identification techniques and let us then piggyback on their experience given that they have the necessary numbers of mares and finance to carry out these experiments. Let us learn from them as to whether AI can be used successfully in terms of identification of the produce in years to come and to implement what they come up with. I am not ashamed to say that we should piggyback on the bigger and larger nations who have larger pools of brood mares. We have too small a pool of brood mares to risk carrying out such an experiment on something we do not know anything about and which to date has proved very unsuccessful.
I appeal to the Minister to speak to the private companies. To date it has been an abysmal failure. The fertility rates are appalling. That is not just my word. The Minister should speak to the vets involved and to those international vets who have visited this country to see what is going on. He should also speak to the Swiss to get their views on AI and the problems they have encountered with it. We should not get involved in this arena with our eyes closed. We should learn from those nations who can afford to make mistakes, unlike us, who have a  greater pool of brood mares, and to piggyback on their experience, only then moving forward on this issue.
I referred earlier to the Horse Breeding Act and the efforts being made to repeal it. I am opposed to this. I wonder whether the AI procedure is legal at present. If we were to look at the provisions contained in that Act and the strict controls in place in relation to the registering of stallions to be used in covering mares — I think that legislation was enacted in 1935; I stand to be corrected on that but it is very old legislation — I wonder if the AI procedure is legal. The Minister referred to the introduction of legislation. Perhaps there are more reasons than one as to why he feels legislation is necessary. It may be that those using the AI procedure at present are acting outside the law. Perhaps our inspectors in the Department of Agriculture and Food should take a look at this matter. I put it to the Minister that there is an area that we are not monitoring properly. Identification, monitoring and registration are as important as having an advisory committee. The proper implementation of the register is as important.
I wish there was a debate raging in the horse industry in relation to the proposals contained in the European Horse Directive on the importation of stallions and semen of warm bloods generally. Again, we have to come back to the fact that we only have 5,000 half bred mares in the country and I am being generous with that figure. The Americans, the British and Swiss all come to this country to buy Irish bred Irish horses, sound in wind and limb and with great stamina — the progeny of the cross between the Irish draught mare and the thoroughbred horse. They come to buy what I call Irish bred Irish horses. I do not know of any foreigner who comes to our shores looking for Irish bred warm bloods. Perhaps some do but I am not aware of them. I suspect that they go to Germany or the Netherlands if they wish to buy warm bloods. At the same time I do not think we can stand in the way of technology.
With the advent of free trade and the  single European market post 1992 we have to take a look at this area and make our minds up. It is, as one might say, make our minds up time. If we were to have warm bloods standing in this country or to use the semen of warm bloods — my arguments in respect of the monitoring of the AI procedure apply even more in respect of imported semen — it would only be a short time before all of the Irish half bred mares would have warm blood in their pedigree. If it subsequently turned out to be a mistake to do this and we found we had departed altogether from having the traditional Irish bred Irish horse which is in such demand throughout the world, it would take generations of breeding to get that blood out of our pedigrees and we would have ruined our core stock of breeding mares. The Minister has to tread with enormous caution in this area.
There is one way in which we may be able to do this and that would be for the registration system to allow strict colour coding of the passports of different groups of Irish bred horses. We could use sections A, B, C and D. Section A of the register could relate to the pure Irish draught mare and the produce of the appendix draught mare if they pass inspection and are deemed eligible to be included in the draught register. Section B could be a first cross. You could have a particular colour stripe across the green passport. The first cross of the draught mare and the thoroughbred may be the second, up to the seven eighths half-bred. You could have a third section, C, for the cross of the Irish-bred Irish mare with a warm blood, so a green passport with a red stripe would identify very clearly any Irish-bred warm blood horse as distinct from an Irish-bred Irish horse.
The Minister regaled us with the increased export figures. Indeed, he and I both know the value is probably far more than what he has there. There is a tendency to undervalue the exports because of the VAT implications of other countries, so he could safely double it and we would not be too far out. With the increase in exports visitors coming to  buy these horses would at least be able to identify from what would then be compulsory passports the line of breeding when an animal was produced in front of them. We could then have a section for our Connemara ponies and so we could have sections A, B, C and D or variations of what I am proposing of a colour coded register, to keep a very clear distinction between the Irish-bred Irish horse and the Irish-bred warm blood. I would like to talk to the Minister some time about this area because there are enormous possibilities here. If we do not get this right we could destroy the pool of brood mares in this country, our foundation stock. The pool is so small we cannot afford to experiment and then be sorry a few generations later, because there is no going back and the Irish half-bred will be gone.
Mr. O'Kennedy: I am following the Deputy with great interest. She will appreciate that what she said is a terrible indictment of so many people and their motivations in the industry if it is true. You do not seem to be able to trust anybody.
Mrs. Doyle: Take the introduction of warm blood. I do not think there is any malice aforethought or bad motivation. Given the success of the Germans, for example, on the Grand Prix circuit there are people who genuinely think that the be-all and end-all is the warm blood. Fashions come and go in this as in any industry or walk of life. Other countries with a large pool of brood mares can affort fashions or trends and if it does not work out they can excise the damage, get rid of it. We have not enough means to take the risk that this trend will be unsuccessful, but if under Community law we have to open our frontiers with no technical barriers at all to warm blood semen and stallions, we must be sure that the progeny are clearly identified and separated from the Irish-bred Irish horse. That is all I am appealing about. There is no malice aforethought.
God knows, there are many other areas we could talk about in the horse  industry in relation to what the Minister is saying and perhaps I would agree with him. In relation to my last point on the warm blood, I feel that these who are proposing this do so in the best interest of the future progeny and the production, particularly of show jumpers and perhaps eventers to some extent.
Mrs. Doyle: It is fashionable at the moment. I think the figure is about 50,000 brood mares in Germany but it is all warm blood we are talking about there. They have a very strict culling policy at the yearling and two-year old stage for the stallion. Anything that does not pass a very strict inspection is gone to the meat factory or gelded or whatever. It is not allowed to remain an entire, and the same with the mares. They have such a strict policy there that even with the huge numbers they are dealing with, intensive culling at the different stages and inspections, the numbers that reach the top are not that impressive taken against the numbers that are bred. When you think of the number of our horses that reach the top and have done so over the years, our breeding policy is far superior.
Perhaps I exaggerate when I pretend we even have a breeding policy. I am sure the Minister will agree with me that as a rule we bred from the maim and the lame, those that could not be sold or those that broke down. Anything that could be put in the back pocket was put in the back pocket if that is what you were about, and you bred from the mare when nothing else could be done with her and so forth but despite an inverted breeding policy, so to speak, we had enormous success.
Now that we are looking at a positive policy and are going to put down on paper the direction we are going, we must be terribly sure it is right and is going to work, given the success we had up to recent years with no policy at all. We have the soil, the climate and the core of  the stock in terms of the draught mare. I welcome the Minister's initiatives in relation to the foal premium on the draught side. I hope he will be able to expand that into the half-bred and not restrict it. He is talking probably about 60 to 70 foals per year. Lest people thought there were hundreds of foals or benefactors for this £400 draught premium, let me say it will affect 60 to 70 foals per annum. Notwithstanding the fact that the Minister is getting away lightly, it is an excellent concept except it has not been extended far enough. It is the half-bred mare and her progeny we must look to in regard to it.
I mentioned the stallion book. There have been major problems about that. We need a book; we need some sort of register available or document stating the stallions in the different counties for covering either the draught mare or the half-bred mare. Many a farmer-breeder just wants to know where is the nearest stallion to him and if he is not too scientific or technical he goes to the nearest one regardless. If he is persistent, if the mare does not hold he will go back a second time. The problem is most of them will not bother to go back a second time; hence the very low fertility rate of under 50 per cent.
For years the stallion book has not been updated. About a third of the stallions in it at one stage were dead but still they appeared every year in it until somebody bothered to check whether they were still around. Others were so old they were irrelevant to any breeding policy. We had the spectacle last year of five or six Bord na gCapall stallions being put down. Some may have considered that an over-reaction but when the taxpayers' money was being spent we had to be sure that, technically speaking, we were getting the best possible value for money.
I welcome the suggestion that proven National Hunt sires should be included in a register or some sort of book that will allow their progeny out of Irish Horse Register mares to be registered themselves. One of the greatest scandals at the moment is that this is not implemented  already. The half-bred season starts a little later than the thoroughbred season and I would say virtually no half-breds are covered at this moment. Next month or so everything gets under way with the half-breds. Traditionally, National Hunt stallions cost far more than those in the stallion register of Bord na gCapall. If any brood mare owner thinks it worthwhile to cover a half-bred mare by a National Hunt stallion standing at any stud I ask the Minister to ensure that he is allowed to do so. I do not think there is any risk of them going to an unsuitable horse without sufficient bone because if the owners are going to pay the extra money they will do what is best and will know enough about it. If technically they do not know what they are about they will go to the £50 or £100 a jump horse in the stallion register down the road, not a registered National Hunt stallion. If they go to the wrong horse and produce an unsuitable foal without sufficient bone, that will not sell. There is nothing like the experience of not being able to market your produce for putting manners on you and teaching you the right thing to do. Performance rating will very soon limit any mistakes that may be made in that regard.
Therefore, the Minister need not go to the trouble of saying he is going to select “proven National Hunt sires”. If they are proven in the National Hunt sense they are going to be very expensive and so effectively very few half-bred mare owners will go to them anyway. I would allow any National Hunt sire to cover a registered mare and the progeny of that to be put in the register and the Minister will save himself and his officials a great deal of trouble and to-ing and fro-ing. However, I would continue to publish a register because it is needed for the farmer-breeder, the man who has the love of the horse in his bones for whom mechanisation, tractors and technology will never replace the horse in his life. You need a register of what is available locally for that person to keep the tradition and the love of the Irish horse and the breeding of the Irish half-bred alive.
 I would request that in regard to stallion owners who now wish to purchase stallions — there are a few around because there has been an upswing in trade; a good half-bred commands reasonable money and exports have increased — there be some system akin to that of the purchase of land subject to planning permission. Now they cannot purchase a stallion subject to inspection. I had three queries in the past six months, and I am sure many other Members of the House had many more, from stallion owners or potential stallion owners who wanted to go either to the North or here in our country to purchase a stallion but were afraid to put down their money in case subsequently that horse would not pass the inspection and they would be left with an expensive horse the progeny of which would not be eligible for the register.
We need some system whereby a prospective purchaser can avail of the services of an inspector of the Department of Agriculture and Food to give a pass or a preliminary pass to an intended purchase to ensure that money is being spent in the right direction. If assurances cannot be obtained that the horse will subsequently pass inspection, it will not be bought. Many small communities are being deprived of the benefit of potentially very good sires because the farmer will not put down his money and risk failing inspection the following spring at the annual stallion inspection. There is a logistical problem. Most prospective purchasers spending £8,000 or £10,000 and more on a stallion would gladly pay £50 or £100 to have a Department of Agriculture inspector inspect a stallion within three weeks — or a finite time — before the deal is closed. This would give either preliminary sanction or sanction to the registration of the stallion. We need a system like this to ensure that there are no hiccups or logistical problems in furthering our breeding policy in relation to stallions.
The Minister might explain his intentions in relation to stallion owners who are now standing Bord na gCapall stallions. Letters have been issued in recent  times suggesting that these stallion owners should now purchase the Bord na gCapall stallions — I think the cost is to be three years of the premium they were paying to Bord na gCapall. The Minister has a legal contract with the individual stallion owners. Is he breaking what I thought to be an irrevocable agreement with these stallion owners? What is the legality of what is involved? I put down a Parliamentary Question and got a rather curt reply to the effect that the legality was not a matter for the Minister. The gist of it was “do not be troubling me with trivia — go and find out for yourself”. Perhaps the Minister would tell me what legal agreement there is between him as Minister for Agriculture — it was Bord na gCapall — and these stallion owners who are now standing Bord na gCapall stallions. Is it the position that they have to buy these stallions and that there will be no more State-owned stallions with the dissolution of Bord na gCapall? The Minister's proposals in this area are far from clear. Many stallion owners are looking to the legal contracts drawn up many years ago to see what the legal position is and whether there is a binding agreement on which the Minister cannot renege. I should like to know the Minister's views.
Mrs. Doyle: I am subject to correction, but I understand that in view of the unexpected interruption of business this afternoon the Whips are discussing the possibility of extending this debate to 10.30 p.m. with Second Stage going on until about 10 p.m. I have a feeling that the Report and Remaining Stages will not trouble us very much.
An Ceann Comhairle: My information is that Second Stage is due to conclude at 9.30 p.m. Intervening we have the debate on the Adjournment of the House  in the name of Deputy John Bruton and conceivably we have Private Members' Business at 7 p.m. Time is limited.
Mrs. Doyle: I will try to wind up my remarks, even though it is a most important area. I must mention the role of McKee Barracks and the Army Equitation School. We are talking about the half-bred horse. The role of the Army Equitation School is to show off to the best possible advantage our half-bred horses, both at home and abroad. They have done a wonderful job under very difficult circumstances. I would ask the Minister personally to take an interest in the future of the Army Equitation School, with his responsibility for the half-bred horse in mind. I would ask the Minister to ensure that our Army riders have sufficient money to pay entry fees to different shows in order that they may show off the half-bred horse we care so much about. I would ask him also to ensure that his colleague, the Minister for Defence, is aware of his concern as to the future of McKee Barracks and the role of this extremely important equitation school in showing off the half-bred horse. It has come to my attention recently that Army riders can only attend shows, in terms of eventing and show jumping, if the riders themselves pay the entry fees and travel costs out of their own pockets. I do not consider that appropriate and it is a matter which needs to be resolved immediately.
The farrier scheme was a great success under Bord na gCapall and I commend all those involved. Many rural communities would be in serious trouble today but for Bord na gCapall-trained farriers. I hope the present arrangement is as successful in servicing the industry as was the Bord na gCapall scheme.
I will not go into the serious problem of the small number of draught mares — 500 registered mares plus an appendix. The Minister pointed out that he initiated a scheme before Christmas. That is excellent, as far as it goes. I am asking him to extend the scheme to the half-bred industry. The draught mare is the core of the half-bred industry. It is the cross of  that draught on the thoroughbred and the cross on another thoroughbred again that we are talking about. It is the seven-eighths that will be the Irish horse of the future, a seven-eighths of bone and substance, sound of wind and limb.
The National Stud has to date dealt only with thoroughbred horses. I would ask the Minister to consider opening a half-bred or draught section there. It is funded by the taxpayers' money and its own commercial semi-State business. It has done a wonderful job for the thoroughbred and it is a showpiece we are all proud of. Let us have a centre of excellence in relation to the half-bred industry there.
The objectives of the Hunter Improvement Society are objectives which every Minister for Agriculture should come to understand and promote. If we do not have the right half-bred brood mare and the half-bred filly kept in the country and identified as being what we want for the future, and if farmer breeders are not given incentives for holding on to their two year old fillies and to breed them, we will have major problems. The pool of mares will dwindle and in years to come we will have nothing to talk about.
I was delighted to read recently of the establishment of the degree of bachelor of equestrian science at Thomond College and I congratulate those whose initiative it is. I await with interest further developments. We should be the world centre of equestrian education. Our young people have the Irish certificate of equestrian science, ICES, and the Irish diploma of equestrian science, IDES, but now there is this degree course, which should be the envy of the world. We should have foreign students clamouring for our equestrian education facilities. It could spawn a business and be self-financing if given a high enough profile.
Proper identification involves the register. It also involves looking at freeze breeding and micro-chip implanting. I am not talking only about competition and show horses. We have the urban horse to consider. The horse breeding directive which the Community will be foisting on us in the years to come deals with all  equidae, down to the ass and the donkey and the urban horse in the housing estate in town. The more we can get young people even in urban areas to appreciate, love and look after their horses, the fewer problems we will have in those communities. We must have a clear and unequivocal method of identifying all horses in town and country. There is a freeze branding exhibition to be held in the RDS shortly. We must look to a national system, whether by freeze branding or micro-chip implanting or a combination of both.
There are so many other aspects with which I could deal, so many other points made by the Minister I could take up, but I am mindful that I have spoken for quite some time. I have waited quite a while for an opportunity to put my thoughts on the future of the half-bred industry on record. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that whatever decisions are taken now will be in the best interests of the half-bred industry, that the people from whom the Minister seeks advice, give it, not from a self-enhancement point of view but from the enhancement of the industry generally. Above all I would appeal to the Minister to allow the industry itself select the advisory committee and to give the compilation of the proper register urgent attention.
Mr. Sherlock: This Bill is dishonest in that it purports to dissolve Bord na gCapall although that board effectively has been wound up already without any reference to this House. What we are being asked to do today is merely rubber stamp that decision. It is a procedure which shows little respect for the House. It is not acceptable that Ministers should be able to abolish, by the stroke of a pen, a body established by the Oireachtas. We had a similar experience last week when the Government announced the decision to abolish Fóir Teoranta, another body established by legislation, when there was no consultation with or announcement made to the Oireachtas.
We are being asked to approve a Bill whose provisions are in direct contravention of an undertaking given in the  Fianna Fáil Manifesto prior to the last general election. Lest the Minister has forgotten what was said in that document I will remind him that, under the heading of agriculture, it was specifically said a key element of the Fianna Fáil approach would be the development of the half-bred horse industry by a reorganised Bord na gCapall.
At the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis over the weekend there were plenty of attempts by Fianna Fáil to redefine the meaning of words. For example, the Taoiseach and others assured us that people living on paltry sums were not really living in poverty. Now, from this Bill, we note that in the new Fianna Fáil dictionary the word “reorganisation” actually means “abolition”. This Bill also reflects current Fianna Fáil preoccupation with what the British Prime Minister would refer to as rolling back the frontiers of the State, in other words, contending that the State should withdraw as much as possible from social and economic activity, allowing free market and private enterprise to have full rein.
For example, a number of public agencies have been abolished, such as the Health Education Bureau. The role of the National Social Service Board has been greatly diminished and the State has sold its shareholdings in a number of oil exploration companies. The State's shares in Tara Mines will be sold as soon as a bidder can be found. The Joint Hospital Services Board has been sold to the private sector; Fóir Teoranta is to be abolished as is Bord na gCapall. There appears to have been no real thought given to these decisions, no analysis as to whether they are in the public interest. The only interest of this Government appears to be their ability to impress bankers, stockbrokers and international moneylenders by being able to say to them: look, we have cut another £1 million here and another £0.50 million there in State expenditure.
Given the potential of the half-bred horse industry for our economy in general and for agriculture in particular, there was a strong case for the retention and  reorganisation of Bord na gCapall. There is no doubt that there were many problems encountered with Bord na gCapall, that they did not achieve the success they should but the objective of any Government concerned with the development of this sector of agriculture should have been the reorganisation of the board. For example, significant State effort goes into the marketing of livestock through CBF. We are to have a statutory board for the development of the horticultural sector. Why then should the horse industry not have its development board? While I have every respect for civil servants in the Department of Agriculture and Food — and the Minister mentioned the establishment of an advisory committee — I am not sure they are best suited to performing the task previously undertaken by Bord na gCapall.
Everybody acknowledges that the non-thoroughbred horse industry has tremendous potential which has not been realised. There are approximately 5,000 people involved in non-thoroughbred horse breeding. Despite considerable sums invested the results have been most disappointing. For example, the half-bred mare herd now produces approximately 2,500 foals only per annum, not all of which are of the required quality. Exports of horses, which once were at a leval of approximately 10,000 per annum, are down considerably. The Minister informed Deputy Mac Giolla, in reply to a parliamentary question on 17 November last, that the number of registered Irish draught horses had declined each year between 1985 and 1988, informing him that while there had been 92 in 1985 that figure was down to 63 by 1988.
There is no evidence of any sense of commitment or urgency on the part of the Minister or his Department to providing breeders with the necessary assistance and encouragement. For instance, owners of Connemara registered mares in disadvantaged areas can benefit under an extension of the EC headage payments. Headage payments can be received for up to eight mares per holding — if the units have not been fully utilised in respect of cattle — but the Department  have refused absolutely to extend that incentive to half-bred mares, apparently because they would have to pay up to 50 per cent of the cost of headage payments.
The difficulties experienced in forming an equestrian team for last year's Olympic Games and the lack of success of that team is an indication of the wider problems facing the non-thoroughbred industry. That is why we should think twice before agreeing the provisions of this Bill.
Mr. Sherlock: We should examine some of the functions of Bord na gCapall laid down by the Oireachtas when the board was first established in 1970. Indeed, one might well pose the question: who will now perform these functions, some of which included:
(b) to co-ordinate (with the consent of the organisations or groups affected) the work of organisations or groups wholly or mainly concerned with the breeding of horses or equitation or matters connected with the matters aforesaid;
(d) to consult with the relevant equestrian organisations (if requested by them) about the choice of international equestrian competitions in which to enter Irish national teams or members thereof and, where such teams or members and the competitions for which they are entered are approved of by the Board, to assist  the teams, or members, as the case may be in either or both of the following ways, that is to say, the provision of money to meet, in whole or in part, the costs of entering and taking part in the competitions or the provision of horses for use by the teams or members, as the case may be, in the competitions;
|Last Updated: 24/05/2011 02:29:47||Page of 152|