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Holly Cairns: The greyhound industry is inherently cruel – so why should the taxpayer fund it?

The Social Democrats TD says it defies logic that the greyhound industry should receive an increase of €2.4m on top of its already high funding.

Holly Cairns

IN THE SPACE of two days last week, the Government took a somewhat contradictory approach to animal welfare in this country.

On one hand, the Taoiseach pledged State support for Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park, both of which are facing an urgent financial crisis due to Covid-19 restrictions.

At the same time, the Government was pushing through a motion, without debate, to increase funding for an industry where serious animal welfare issues have been exposed and continue to cause concern.

In 2021, greyhound racing in Ireland will benefit to the tune of €19.2m from the public purse – an increase of €2.4m. This is despite a significant drop in the numbers attending race meetings and declining advertising revenues. 

Phenomenal financial support

The industry has received approximately €280m in taxpayer funding since 2000. As turnover from racing activities has steadily declined over the last decade (€32.9m in 2010 to €22.7m in 2017), State funding has increased from €11.9m in 2010 to €16.8m in 2020.

To put it bluntly, the greyhound industry has become a financial basket case and is being kept alive by generous State subventions each year. The Irish Greyhound Board/Greyhound Racing Ireland has not delivered a dividend to the taxpayer in the past 25 years – and is unlikely to do so in the future.

Attendance at greyhound racing meetings fell by 55 per cent between 2008 and 2018 and the combined loss for tracks between 2019 and 2022 is predicted to be €30 million. A 2019 Red C poll found that only 16 per cent of the Irish population agree that the Government should continue to fund the industry.

This is hardly surprising. In the same year, a harrowing ‘RTÉ Investigates’ programme laid bare the horrific treatment of greyhounds by some of those involved in the sport. This is an industry where 16,000 greyhounds are bred each year – 1,000 per cent more than are needed.

Of these, 6,000 are culled for spurious reasons, ranging from a decline in performance to not being fast enough to compete on the track.

While it must be acknowledged that many breeders treat their dogs well, some of those of operating in the shadowy fringes of the industry have carried out acts of unspeakable cruelty to animals.

There have been cases where dogs had their ears cut off to avoid their registered owners being traced; of exported greyhounds enduring 15-hour journeys to the UK in the most appalling conditions; and blatant breaches of regulations by some unscrupulous operators of knackeries, with healthy dogs shot in the head and disposed of for as little as €20.

The overarching appalling standards of care make it difficult to understand the justification for continued State funding. In contributing millions of euros of public money to greyhound racing every year, the Government is propping up an inherently cruel sport which the Irish public has been increasingly rejecting. It is unconscionable and cannot be allowed to continue.

An unwelcome industry in 2020

It is true that improvements have been made in funding for animal care relating to the greyhound industry. However, this was only committed to after significant public pressure in the wake of the 2019 RTÉ investigation. 

Tomorrow, the Social Democrats will bring a Private Members’ Motion on this issue before the Dáil. We are calling on the Government to waive the increased funding of €2.4m due to be given to the greyhound industry.

Instead, it should incrementally refocus greyhound racing funding to the welfare of dogs impacted by the industry. There are many cash-strapped animal welfare organisations dedicated to the care and rehoming of greyhounds that could benefit instead.

We also believe that the Government should work towards the gradual phasing out of State support for Irish greyhound racing by 2025. This would allow for a reasonable transition period for a sunset industry that no longer enjoys significant public support.

In the middle of a pandemic, when there isn’t money available for things like domestic violence refuge spaces or disability support services, the Government not only continues to fund greyhound racing but increases the level of funding for the sector.

Our motion seeks to demonstrate our clear commitment to animal welfare. The taxpayer should not be complicit in the Government’s efforts to paper over the cracks of a failing industry where greyhounds are treated as livestock and cruelty is endemic. 

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Holly Cairns is a Social Democrats TD for Cork South-West. She is the party’s spokesperson for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

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