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Image recorded in the abattoir in Straffan, Co Kildare RTÉ Investigates
Shannonside Foods Ltd

Horse Racing Ireland 'shocked and appalled' at abuses exposed in Ireland's only horse abattoir

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said ‘no stone will be left unturned in making sure the full rigours of the law are applied’.

LAST UPDATE | 13 Jun

HORSE RACING IRELAND has said it’s “deeply shocked and appalled” by an RTÉ Investigates programme on welfare abuses at an equine abattoir.

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue meanwhile described the scenes in the programme as “abhorrent, distressing, and absolutely unacceptable”. 

McConalogue noted that an investigation is already underway alongside gardaí, and that the investigation commenced after the Department received evidence of the abuses by RTÉ.

“No stone will be left unturned in making sure the full rigours of the law are applied here,” said McConalogue.

“You can have instances where people mistreat and break that law, and certainly the incidents we seen last night speaks to that, and the full rigours of the law will be brought to bear in relation to the evidence that has been brought to us.”

‘RTÉ Investigates: Horses – Making a Killing’ is the first of a two-part series on Shannonside Foods Ltd in Straffan, Co Kildare, which is Ireland’s only active abattoir for horses.

An additional report will be aired on tonight’s Prime Time.

RTÉ Investigates used hidden cameras at the site and uncovered animal welfare abuses and cruelty in the treatment of horses being sent for slaughter.

The behaviour was filmed as in a building where Shannonside Foods keeps horses before they are brought to the kill room.

RTÉ noted that official Department of Agriculture inspectors do not have a remit to regulate or inspect the building where the abuses were recorded.

Some dying horses were filmed being hit with long lengths of plastic piping.

In another incident, a horse was filmed over several hours while struggling to get back to its feet after it fell.

The only attention it received was the illegal use of a pitchfork in its side in an attempt to force it up.

The horse then died after hours of struggling.

In addition to this, RTÉ Investigates said it was able to analyse data which allowed it to profile the background of horses being sent for slaughter.

Its analysis found that two-thirds of horses sent to the abattoir were thoroughbred racers.

In a statement to RTÉ Investigates, Shannonside Foods Ltd said any allegation of an equine being mistreated “will be fully investigated by the Company”.

In a statement late last night, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) said it was “deeply shocked and appalled” at the scenes in the programme.

It described the recordings as “criminal behaviour” but added that the “disgusting” images are not the “experience of the vast majority of the 30,000 people who make their livelihood in the horse racing and breeding industry in Ireland”.

HRI added that it has “zero tolerance for mistreatment of horses” and called for “criminal and regulatory sanction” for “anyone found to have behaved in an illegal way”.

It also remarked that “thoroughbred horse is enshrined in Irish and EU law”.

“Significant legal and regulatory checks and balances are in place for thoroughbred horses from birth through their racing career and life cycle,” added HRI, which said it would review the issues raised and “actively support any Department of Agriculture or Garda investigation”.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture added that it has “noted” the programme.

A spokesperson added that the “welfare of horses is protected by legislation, placing responsibility on owners and those who have animals in their possession or under their control”.

The spokesperson also remarked that this legislation also ensures that appropriate enforcement action is taken by the relevant authority where breaches or shortcomings are identified.

“Any reports of welfare or traceability issues received by the Department, are acted upon and investigated as appropriate,” said the Department spokesperson. 

Dáil Éireann

The issue was raised today during Leaders’ Questions by both Sinn Féin and the Labour Party. 

Speaking on behalf of the Government, Finance Minister Michael McGrath said he watched the RTÉ Investigates programme and was “sickened” by what he saw, the “mistreatment of beautiful animals”. 

“It’s important to say that there’s no question that the treatment that we witnessed last night is not representative of the wider equine industry and is not representative of the love and the care that owners of horses display every single day for their animals around this country,” McGrath said.

He added: “The Government unreservedly condemns the scenes that we witnessed and the full force of the law will be applied, where breaches are proven in a court of law. We need to allow that process now to take its course and not to say anything that would be prejudicial to those investigations.”

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