SENIOR officials from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, Horse Racing Ireland and the Department of Agriculture faced tough questioning this week from TDs and senators over the perceived lack of progress in implementing recommendations for change in Irish racing published last November by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture.
It was in July of last year that the Oireachtas Committee held a series of public interviews with racing industry stakeholders following comments made in the media by trainer Jim Bolger claiming that the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs was the number one problem in the sport.
In November the Committee published a report which contained 11 recommendations, one of which called for an independent review of the IHRB’s drug-testing regime. The IHRB subsequently commissioned retired Australian racing official Dr Craig Suann to review its anti-doping procedures and his report, containing 18 recommendations, was published in April.
This week IHRB directors Cliodhna Guy, Dr Lynn Hillyer and Martin O’Donnell were joined by HRI director John Osborne and senior officials from the Department of Agriculture to give a progress report to the all-party Committee.
Fianna Fáil Senator Paul Daly and Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy were particularly critical of the efforts made to improve racing’s public image through implementing the various recommendations made in the two reports.
Senator Daly queried whether Dr Suann was the best person to audit the IHRB’s anti-doping systems, given that he had worked with Dr Hillyer previously and he had to carry out the exercise remotely.
Dr Hillyer said Dr Suann was one of only a handful of people worldwide who she considered sufficiently qualified and experienced to review the IHRB’s drug-testing practices, and to have chosen someone else who was based closer to Ireland would also have risked criticism.
Deputy Carthy said he was surprised the Department allowed the IHRB to commission the audit in the first place. “I don’t believe that was what we envisaged when we recommended the review be carried out by an outside body,” he said.
Carthy spoke bluntly after hearing explanations as to why the IHRB had not yet installed CCTV cameras in all stableyards, and had not yet appointed new directors, why the Department felt the IHRB should not become a semi-state body, and why it could be years before there was an equine database to match the bovine equivalent.
“The responses we are getting back are not up to the standard required to allow us to say with confidence that this sector is above reproach,” Carthy said. “This is the Committee where you will get the best hearing because we all have a keen interest in seeing this sector succeed.
“We have made a number of recommendations following consultation with all the players. We did this because there is a lot of unease and distrust that the systems in place are robust and independent.”
HRI chief executive Suzanne Eade is due to appear before the Committee on Wednesday, June 15th to discuss strategic issues.
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM THIS WEEK’S MEETING