Operations suspended at equine abbatoir at centre of investigation into mistreatment of horses

Protesters gather outside Shannonside Foods facility in Straffan following RTÉ programme that showed footage of horses being mistreated and beaten on site

A protest organised by My Lovely Horse Rescue outside the Shannonside Foods facility at Robinwood, near Straffan, Co.Kildare, on Saturday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The Department of Agriculture has suspended operations at Shannonside Foods, the equine abbatoir at the centre of an investigation into the mistreatment of horses.

No animals slaughtered at the plant over the past three weeks have entered the food chain, according to the department. All horse carcasses presented at the plant within the last week have also been detained.

Undercover cameras used for an RTÉ Investigates programme broadcast last Wednesday captured one of the animal welfare officers on-site inserting false identification microchips into horses and using spray paint to change the colour markings on the animals.

The abuses detailed included the ill treatment of dying horses. Viewers saw horses being whipped and struck with long lengths of plastic piping.


The Department of Agriculture had commenced an investigation in recent weeks into the supply of equines for slaughter. In late May, the department issued a legal notice prohibiting the presence or entry of horses to the adjacent holding premises at Shannonside Foods, where much of the distressing footage was filmed.

RTÉ Investigates: Horrifying scenes of horse cruelty shows racing needs to actOpens in new window ]

“My department is actively investigating the absolutely abhorrent mistreatment of animals and suspected criminality we witnessed on the RTÉ Prime Time investigates programme that aired this week. This is being done with the full support of An Garda Síochána,” Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said in a statement.

“This is an active investigation, and while it is vitally important that I ensure that process continues without prejudice, I am stating categorically that the full rigour of the law will be applied where warranted, and no stone left unturned.”

Meanwhile, protesters gathered outside the Shannonside Foods premises in Straffan, Co Kildare, on Saturday morning.

Protesters at Shannonside Foods tie ribbons on the gates of the company. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Maddie Doyle, who has volunteered at the My Lovely Horse Rescue charity for more than a decade, said they encouraged attendees to tie ribbons on the gates of the facility in memory of horses who had been ill treated.

“It is callous. You would need a whole lot of words to describe what happened in Shannonside. It is horrific and unthinkable,” she said.

“There has been huge breaches of animal welfare. It is probably some of the worst that we have come across.

“We have had an extraordinary number of messages from members of the public who have seen the documentary. Others read about it but could not necessarily bring themselves to watch it.”

Ms Doyle was heartened at the turnout of hundreds of people for the protest.

Co-founder of My Lovely Horse Rescue Martina Kenny says it is time for the authorities to take decisive action.

“They need to move on it. Because the whole country is in uproar about this.”

The owners of the facility have been contacted by The Irish Times for comment. Shannonside Food Ltd is the only licensed equine abattoir in Ireland.

The Department of Agriculture and An Garda Siochana have launched investigations in to the practices at the site.

Aisling Rice from Donabate in Dublin hangs a horseshoe belonging to a horse she rescued, pictured during the protest organised by My Lovely Horse Rescue outside the Shannonside Foods plant near Straffan, Co Kildare, on Saturday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Horse Racing Ireland, the governing body of horse racing, said its board, management and staff were “deeply shocked and appalled” by the content of the RTÉ Investigates programme.

In a statement, it said the “behaviour depicted in the RTÉ documentary is disgusting and is 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”.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times