Horse Racing Ireland criticised over transparency issues by Dáil committee

Report to draw attention to slow installation of CCTV at racecourses, deemed necessary to protect sport’s integrity

Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), the State-supported national body for the promotion of horse racing, is being urged by a Dáil committee to be more transparent about the trainers who are winning prize money, the bulk of which comes from the State.

A pending report from the Public Accounts Committee following a number of hearings focused on HRI is critical of the body in relation to a number of matters including its track record in relation to land deals and the installation of CCTV a racecourses.

Exchequer funding for HRI in both 2019 and 2020 was €67.2 million, and up to 80 per cent of this money can be used to fund prizes, the committee notes in a draft report being considered for publication by the politicians.

A “significant proportion” of the prize money is won by horses trained by the top 20 horse trainers in both national and flat racing, according to the draft report, which has been seen by The Irish Times.


The top six trainers in terms of prize money won by their horses shared €13 million of all prize money in the 2019-2020 national hunt season and €12.5 million of the total in the 2020 flat racing season, according to the report.

“Data supplied by HRI to the committee shows that in 2019, horse breeders got 0.5 per cent of the total prize money pool, the committee notes. Currently there is no detailed breakdown of where prize money ends up in any HRI publication ... The committee recommends that HRI includes a detailed breakdown in its annual report of the distribution of the total prize money pool each year, commencing from its 2022 annual report.”

Although funding for the installation of CCTV cameras at racecourses was first allocated in the budget of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) in 2018, the work has yet to be completed, with allocations in 2018 and 2019 being, respectively, returned to the exchequer and used for a different purpose, according to the draft report.

A tender invitation was published in May and CCTV has now been installed in at least two of 22 tracks nationwide, according to the draft report. The committee is “concerned at the delays, which indicate a lock of focus on completing the project”, according to the report.

It also questions the “level of oversight” by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure that the installations, “which are crucial to the integrity of horse racing”, are completed in a timely manner.

The report also focuses on HRI’s dealings with Curragh Racecourse Ltd (CRL) which, as of September 2022, had drawn down €7.6 million of an agreed convertible loan of €9 million with a maturity date of end January 2024. Any liability to HRI at the maturity date will be converted into shares in the racecourse company, which had already received funding of more than €36 million up to the end of 2019 from HRI. The financial accounts of CRL at the end of 2020 indicated a cumulative loss on HRI’s investment of €6.4 million as of that time.

The committee expresses concern in the draft report that CRL’s accounts are not audited by the Comptroller & Auditor General and that CRL is not therefore subject to public accounting scrutiny.

The committee “heard further evidence in its engagement with HRI in September 2022 that several investments in recent years made by HRI in racecourses and associated land have not provided value for money”, the draft report notes.

“The committee recommends that HRI reviews its investment strategies with a view to achieving better outcomes for the exchequer,” the report says, and calls for detailed updated reports from HRI on its dealings with CRL and Tipperary Races to be supplied by April 2023.

It also recommends that the committee be kept updated on the progress made by An Garda Síochána in its investigation into the liquidation of Senaca, an entity that provided cash in transit services to HRI. The collapse of Senaca in 2019 led to a cash loss of €389,000 for HRI. The draft report urges that HRI incorporate “learning” into its procurement processes as a result of the “significant loss of money”.

The State support for HRI comes from the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, with the two sports usually sharing the money on an 80-20 basis annually. Sinn Féin deputy Matt Carthy, who is a member of the committee, has been arguing that the rigid nature of the splitting of the fund needs to be examined to establish if this is the optimal way of dividing the support.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent