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Public Accounts Committee

Director of Kildare abattoir had previous conviction for 'cruelty to horses', committee told

Revelations about a Kildare abattoir and financial transactions involving an injured jockeys charity have come in for scrutiny today.

LAST UPDATE | 20 Jun

A DÁIL COMMITTEE has heard that a director of Shannonside Foods was previously convicted of “cruelty to two horses” in 2012.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy asked Department of Agriculture officials whether that would have raised a “red flag” when it came to granting a license to allow the company operate Ireland’s only horse abattoir.

However, deputy chief veterinary officer Michael Sheahan said it “wouldn’t legally prevent” someone from being a director of a company, explaining that someone needed to not have any had any prosecution against them in the prior three years to hold a license.

The department also declined to comment on whether the animals at the abattoir, which was shut last weekend following revelations broadcast by RTÉ, had been moved without their authorisation to lands in Limerick in recent days.

TDs were also told by the chief executive of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) Darragh O’Loughlin that the transfer of €350,000 from a charitable fund for injured jockeys to an IHRB bank account “should not have happened”, although TDs were left none the wiser as to why the transaction was made.

Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), the IHRB and senior Department of Agriculture officials have gone before TDs as the industry finds itself in the media spotlight.

Revelations about the Co Kildare plant and those financial transactions involving an injured jockeys charity came in for scrutiny at the Public Accounts Committee this morning.

An RTÉ Investigates programme used hidden cameras at the site of the abattoir for horses in Straffan, Co Kildare and uncovered animal welfare concerns for horses.

Murphy, a TD for Kildare North, told the committee that the conviction dates back to Gort, Co Galway in 2012. She did not name the offender.

“Given that there had bene a previous conviction for animal welfare, what measures were put in place by the department to monitor,” she said, “It wasn’t as if you had one in every county, there was one.”

Horses moved

Committee chair Brian Stanley said the controversy had taken place “in the heart of horse country” in Kildare.

He asked Sheahan whether horses at the Shannonside Foods site had been moved in recent days to “lands owned by the individual with the conviction” in Co Limerick.

In response, the department official said that while he does “know the answer to that question”, he said he would “prefer not to answer” because of the investigation launched by gardaí into Shannonside Foods.

Sheahan also told TDs that he understood the penalty in the 2012 court case was a fine for the individual involved. He noted that it was a case brought by gardaí and not a department prosecution.

He rejected criticism by Cork East TD James O’Connor who said it would be an “embarrassment” if the department was aware of the 2012 conviction.

Sheahan said he was “not 100 percent sure” if the department knew of the conviction, adding that the courts decided the penalty in the earlier case and must have ruled out a lengthy ban on the individual involved.

Bank transfer

Another key issue for the PAC has been the circumstances that led to the IHRB receiving a transfer of €350,000 from a charitable fund for injured jockeys, before then repaying the charity the money only months later.

In an extraordinary appearance last summer, the IHRB’s chief executive told TDs an issue of “grave concern” had arisen only hours before he entered the PAC’s committee room in Leinster House.

Its senior financial officer had gone on leave after discovering an issue of “grave concern”, which the committee heard is linked to the €350,000 transaction.

Last week, IHRB published its annual report which includes a note provided by Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy, stating that “concerns arose” in June 2023 about the “financial governance of those transactions”, leading to the external review.

The accounts outline how, in January 2022, the transfer of €350,000 was made from the Jockeys Emergency Fund to the IHRB, but was “subsequently reversed” three months later in April 2022.

IHRB’s chief exectutive Darragh O’Loughlin told TDs today that the €350,000 transfer was an “isolated incident”, adding that a “detailed scrutiny” of transactions over the past six years has taken place and that all recommendations of a forthcoming independent review will be taken on board.

IMG_3037 Darragh O’Loughlin of the IHRB.

Consultants Mazars has been tasked to carry out an independent external review of the financial governance issue and other matters.

The review is ongoing, though O’Loughlin said that he thought it would have been completed “long before” today’s meeting.

He added that as part of new controls, the IHRB now requires that the chief executive needs to sign off on any transactions higher than €100,000.

O’Loughlin declined to answer questions from Stanley and O’Connor as to why the transaction was made in the first place, saying he wanted to wait for the final Mazars report.

“Why was it necessary to [make that transfer],” O’Connor asked.

The Fianna Fáil TD blasted the transaction, saying that the charitable fund is for people “injured in their line of works” and for their families who “go through hell” due to serious injuries often seen in the sport.

“Somebody says to themselves that there’s a pot of money there and we’re going to transfer that to an IHRB account,” O’Connor added.

In response, O’Loughlin said that if he answered the question then that could have “implications to the IHRB’s own disciplinary processes”. He apologised to the committee that he could not be forthcoming on the reasons behind the transfer.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” he said before adding: “It’s a matter of judgment whether it was necessary.”

When complete the Mazars report will “paint a fuller picture” of what happened, O’Loughlin told the hearing.

“I can’t say anything or answer any questions that could in any way [interfere with] proceedings that may be underway or may get underway at some point in the future,” he continued.

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