The truth about Greyhound Racing in Ireland

Tales of corruption and abuse come to light

On Thursday 14 July 2022, Dáil debates turned to the topic of greyhound racing. People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy raised questions surrounding the ethics and financial side of racing, asking his colleagues: “Why should we continue to give tens of millions of euros every single year to the greyhound racing industry? For me, the key issue is animal cruelty.” Fianna Fáil TD Charlie McConalogue, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, took the opposing view in answering Murphy’s questions, promising that the industry was committed to improving the greyhounds’ welfare. He assured Murphy that “there is a strong commitment to improved animal welfare in this sector in the programme for Government.” 

In response, Deputy Murphy probed McConalogue as to why the industry continues to receive so much Government funding. Since 2001, the Government has pooled €310m into the industry. In the budget for 2022, €88m was allocated to the Horse and Greyhound Racing fund. RCÉ (Rásaíocht Con Éireann), the regulatory semi-state body, received 20% of this sum, amounting to €17.6m. The industry is significantly dependent on this funding to survive. Despite concerns about the administration of funding, McConalogue stated: “I have no current plans to introduce legislation to provide a separate exchequer funding mechanism for HRI and RCÉ and the industries they support.”

In Murphy’s counter-argument, his first point concerned the dogs’ welfare. Secondly, he made the point that a large portion of Government funding is lost, due to the low-cost sale of dogs to UK buyers. The Ministers reasoned that the industry provides employment for over 4,000 people and that around 10,000 people benefit economically from the industry. RCÉthe statutory body which operates and regulates the greyhound racing industrysets aside a small amount of money dedicated to welfare. He used the cultural aspect of the industry as an argument, saying that the racing industry is part of the “social fabric” of our country. 

“He raised the point that, in effect, the taxpayer is indirectly funding the British greyhound racing industry.”

Deputy Murphy went on to question whether funding the industry actually derives much economic benefit. He raised the point that, in effect, the taxpayer is indirectly funding the British greyhound racing industry. Each year, around 6,300 greyhounds are sold to the UK at a loss of almost €5,000 each. In addition, a recent report published in the Sunday Times revealed that almost half of those attending the races were people from the industry who received complimentary tickets. In truth, there is little public interest in attending the races. The Minister suggested that RCÉ would be working to increase public attendance at the races.

Murphy indicated that he would be glad to see the dissolution of the industry, but agreed that, in this event, jobs should not be lost. A secure transition would need to be made, guaranteeing equivalent employment for all those involved. Murphy pushed McConalogue to comment on the report from the Sunday Times. The Minister continued to emphasise the importance of the industry in providing employment.

In defence of the industry, the Minister referenced the Greyhound Racing Act 2019. It was drafted with the intention of regulating the operation of the industry, with section 29 concerning the welfare of racing greyhounds. Under this section, the power to make regulations regarding welfare is delegated to “the Board”, namely the RCÉ. 

This shady side of the industry has come to light in recent years, but it has always been an issue. In 2019, RTÉ aired a documentaryRTÉ Investigates: Greyhounds Running for their Livesdetailing the abusive practices that have been kept a well-hidden secret. On average, the industry is breeding up to 1000% more puppies than it needs, leading to the culling of 6,000 dogs per year, simply because they are not fast enough. RTÉ went undercover and investigated knackeries around the country (a slaughterhouse for animals not intended for human consumption), which reportedly euthanised greyhounds for as little as €10. This prompted a review of the issuing of licences to knackeries to be conducted. These heinous statistics do not even include the 575 deaths at racetracks since 2014.

A report conducted in 2017 on behalf of the IGB (Irish Greyhound Board) was kept from the Dáil and RTÉ journalists under the Freedom of Information Act. The report acknowledged that the rate of breeding in the industry is wasteful, not to mention the cruelty it entails. Investing in the production of so many pups, only to get very little in return, seems futile.

“Growth hormones, adrenaline, and even cocaine are among the drugs used on these animals.”

The documentary revealed that there is a significant drug abuse problem within the industry. The IGB has stated that they have invested in laboratory equipment and education of trainers in order to address the doping issue. Despite several trainers being charged with possession of illegal animal remedies, there has only been one case of a trainer having their licence revoked by the IGB, which happened in 2015. The regulation and management of this issue is clearly falling short. Growth hormones, adrenaline, and even cocaine are among the drugs used on these animals. Veterinarian surgeon Finbarr Heslin commented on the long-term effects of these drugs on the animals, saying that their blood can become “like treacle.”

In 2014, the bodies of 11 dead greyhounds were found in a vehicle on board an Irish ferry travelling from Rosslare to France. Irish Ferries stated that regretfully, they had not been notified of the greyhounds’ presence on board. The vet that examined the bodies concluded that they had smothered to death. Concealing this information from Irish Ferries suggests that the people responsible had something to hide. The conditions the dogs were left in were clearly unsafe and the lack of concern is very telling of the attitude towards animal welfare within the industry.

Another unsavoury association of the greyhound racing industry is with gambling. Matchbook Betting Exchange was the leading sponsor of the 2021 Irish St Leger and they are continuing their support into 2022. A matchbook spokesperson commented, “Our Greyhound betting markets continue to be industry-leading, and we now also offer competitive prices on races from Limerick, Tralee, Cork, Mullingar, Youghal and Waterford, which many other operators largely ignore. We urge anyone searching for value on their bets to check out now.” The primary concern of those involved is of how much profit can be derived from their actions. This partnership demonstrates the loyalty of the relationship between the two industries.

On 9 February 2022, the Health Research Board published a report on gambling in Ireland. The study found that there are approximately 35,000 moderate-risk gamblers and 12,000 problem gamblers in the country. There is a strong correlation between problem gambling and substance abuse. Problem gambling entails severe emotional and financial consequences. The survey indicated a correlation between unemployment and problem gambling. The bond between the two industries is symbiotic, they keep each other afloat.

In light of this information that has surfaced, a growing public concern about the industry has developed. With an increasing interest in animal welfare, it is not surprising that people are less than pleased at the idea that their taxes are funding this industry. The Dáil debate this year on July 14 may give rise to more discussion and a decline in support of the industry. The Government remains financially supportive of the world of greyhound racing. However, in November 2021, government officials raised concerns about the transparency and method of administration of funding. This disquiet may pose a threat to the future of the industry, but for now, it seems safe and secure.