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Drug problem haunting Irish greyhound industry
28 January 2015

The Irish greyhound industry is haunted by a drug problem and the British greyhound racing authority is warning English buyers not to purchase Irish greyhounds because they are drug-ridden.

In the Dail last month, Mick Wallace TD raised the issue of doping and lack of transparency in greyhound racing with Tom Hayes, Minister for State, Dept. of Agriculture (who is a greyhound racing fan and was recently pictured at a coursing meeting).

Mick Wallace wasn’t happy with the Minister’s response, saying he ignored his questions.

On his blog, Mick Wallace, stated: “This week, I got an opportunity to question the Ministry of Agriculture regarding some of the problems facing the greyhound industry. Regulation has generally been poor, particularly in the area of drug testing - failure to make public the results of all doping tests, positive or negative, inordinate delays from the testing centre in Limerick, and the failure to deal strongly with the dogs and trainers found guilty. The Minister for State, Deputy Tom Hayes, refused to answer two of my questions – 1. Why was a conflict of interest tolerated, whereby the Chairman of the Control Board had dogs in training with someone who has been found guilty of doping greyhounds? 2. Are greyhounds tested for the new drug, stanozolol, in Ireland? The Minister ignored my questions. I wonder why?"

During the exchange in the Dail, Mick Wallace said that because of Ireland’s reputation for doping racing greyhounds, English buyers were being warned by the British greyhound racing authority not to buy Irish dogs because of the drug problem, stating: “As the Minister of State is aware, in September the greyhound board in Britain made a statement warning English buyers against purchasing dogs in Ireland because they were drug ridden. How bad is this?”

The full text of the Dail exchange may be viewed below. Some significant extracts follow:

Transcript of Dail Eireann exchange - Mick Wallace / Tom Hayes

Mick Wallace: "We have a serious problem with greyhound racing in Ireland. As the Indecon report stated the IGB was unfit for purpose. I am aware some changes have been made recently and some new people have been put in place to deal with the drug problem which is haunting the sport. Unless we get seriously improved regulation it will be hard to restore the reputation of greyhound racing.

Deputy Tom Hayes: The control, administration and regulation of greyhound racing, are the responsibility of Bord na gCon under the Greyhound Industry Acts 1958 and 1993. Two statutory committees of Bord na gCon, namely the Control Committee and the Control Appeals Committee are central to the regulatory process. These committees operate independently of Bord na gCon. The Control Committee and the Control Appeals Committee of Bord na gCon were established under the Greyhound Industry (Control Committee and Control Appeal Committee) Regulations 2007 (SI 301 of 2007).

Under that legislation, full details of any laboratory findings can only be published at the conclusion of proceedings by the Control Committee and the Control Appeals Committee.

Article 8(6) of Greyhound Industry (Control Committee and Control Appeals Committee) Regulations 2007 (SI 301 of 2007) provides that the Control Committee shall publish its findings in all decisions in a manner it deems fit, and that such publication may be delayed subject to appeal procedures. The majority of samples obtained at licensed stadia are tested for prohibited substances in the National Greyhound Laboratory at Bord na gCon headquarters in Limerick and some samples are tested in an appropriate laboratory the UK.

When a sample returns a positive result, owners-trainers are afforded due process including a hearing at the Control Committee and an appeal to the Control Appeal Committee. This can lead to a significant time lag from the initial notification of the positive sample to subsequent publication of the results of the positive samples. Consequently, the number of cases published in a particular year can span more than one calendar year.

Bord na gCon has confirmed to me that it is currently involved in a public consultation process with stakeholders with a view to putting in place legislation which will enable the publication of details of all adverse findings after positive results have been returned by the laboratory and prior to consideration of such cases by the Control Committee. It is envisaged that the information to be published will include the identity of the greyhounds involved and the owners and trainers.

I am informed that Bord na gCon has recently, in a move towards greater transparency, confirmed a finding of positive results after the analytical phase and prior to the hearing at the Control Committee. The complete details in relation to the owners and the greyhounds will be available when the Control Committee, and the Appeals Committee if appropriate, has concluded its deliberations in relation to findings which are upheld.

Bord na gCon has recently appointed a Director of Racing, Governance and Compliance. Furthermore, I have appointed a person to the board who has particular expertise in veterinary and related matters.

We are also changing the legislation. Officials from my Department are currently working on greyhound legislation to identify any legislative changes that need to be updated. That will be brought before the House as soon as we possibly can.

Mick Wallace: I thank the Minister of State. Given the way the matter is being dealt with, I am glad to hear a review is about to take place because stakeholders, small owners, who are concerned about how things have gone on up to now have approached me. There is little doubt that there have been people involved in controlling how things are regulated in the greyhound industry who should not be involved in it. There are some serious conflict of interests, where the chairman of the control board has dogs in training with a guy who has been found to be guilty of doping dogs. How in God's name can this be allowed happen? There has to be a serious look at who has been involved. As the Minister of State is aware, in September the greyhound board in Britain made a statement warning English buyers against purchasing dogs in Ireland because they were drug ridden. How bad is this?

Deputy Tom Hayes: We need to be very careful in terms of drawing a line and saying this industry is full of people who are breaking the law.

That is what is being said and that is the perception. I attend many tracks up and down the country and several functions and I hear this all the time. I want to be quite clear, the Indecon report which we published has several recommendations on regulation. We will implement them. There is no room in this industry for anybody who is breaking the law. We are quite clear on that and we will move as fast as we possibly can. I want to assure the Deputy and everybody in the industry that no stone will remain unturned on this issue. We will do everything possible and if anybody is involved in drugs they will be dealt with as they have no place in the industry. We want a clean sport. This industry is subsidised by taxpayers in a major way. As the Minister responsible I sent out a clear signal that we want this area regulated 100%.

Mick Wallace: I am not saying all dogs in Ireland are drugged, they are not. In actual fact, the view on the street is that it is the bigger trainers and owners who are the most guilty in this area and not the small guys.

Why have we allowed a system to prevail where it takes three weeks to get a result back from Limerick whereas in Britain results can be back in 48 hours? Surely that does not make for great transparency. The fines have been larger in Britain. The suspensions have been much clearer and enforced to a greater extent. We have been very lax in how we have done things here. The small trainers feel that the playing field is not level.

The big boys are getting away with murder and being shown favouritism at the expense of the industry in general and the small guy. Does the Minister of State know if there are tests for stanozolol, a new drug on the market, in greyhounds?

Deputy Tom Hayes: If I go to a greyhound track, the first person I meet will tell me one thing about it, while someone else further on will tell me the opposite and not to listen to others. That is the view on the street, but the facts are totally different. A full assessment of the greyhound board was carried out by Indecon which contained 27 recommendations, a large number of which related to testing and doping, all of which are being dealt with, even though we only received them several months ago. A new regulatory committee will be put in place and will be appointed by me. It will be independent of Bord na gCon, as well as small and big trainers. We want a level playing field for everyone involved.

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