Move to ban ‘sulky’ racing on Irish roads

Independent TD Mattie McGrath to introduce Bill on public safety and animal welfare grounds

Sulky rider Des Gallagher at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair in 2006. Galway Co Council has since banned sulky racing at the fairair because of “health and safety issues allied to insurance liability concerns, and the views of animal rights groups”. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh.

Sulky rider Des Gallagher at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair in 2006. Galway Co Council has since banned sulky racing at the fairair because of “health and safety issues allied to insurance liability concerns, and the views of animal rights groups”. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh.

 

Legislation proposing a ban on “sulky” racing on Irish public roads is due to be introduced in the Dáil this week by Independent TD Mattie McGrath.

The move follows a call earlier this month by a jury at an inquest into the death of a 12-year-old boy in a sulky accident in Dublin for the introduction of laws to regulate sulky use, specifically on public roads.

A sulky is an unprotected, lightweight cart, which is usually drawn by a horse. Unofficial sulky harness races on public roads are popular among the Travelling community.

Mr McGrath said he was making the proposal in response to evidence of an increasing number of collisions on Irish roads involving sulkies and associated injuries to members of the public; the number of horses being killed or having to be destroyed as a consequence, and related animal welfare issues.

The Bill would strengthen existing Garda and local authority powers, while those found in breach of the law could face a €5,000 fine or imprisonment.

“My main concern is public safety,” Mr McGrath said. “I’m inundated by calls from constituents who are concerned after meeting sulkies on the roads every day.”

The activity was particularly prevalent on the main Cork-Limerick road and on the “old N8” in Co Tipperary, he said, adding that he was aware of regular racing every fortnight with betting in his constituency.

Mr McGrath has written to the Turf Club calling on it to establish proper tracks for regulated racing.

He said he was mindful of the circumstances leading to the death in February 2016 in Clondalkin of Seán Doyle (12), who was thrown under a truck in a sulky accident. After the inquest, his family said they hoped new regulations could prevent further loss of life.

PSV inspector Garda David O’Brien described the sulky as a man-made cart on a tubular steel axle with no seatbelts or side-guards. “It’s not a vehicle that should be used on a public highway,” he said.

Mr McGrath acknowledged some people will claim he is being anti-Traveller in seeking a ban, but his motivation was from “a public safety and animal welfare point of view”.

Racing horses on hard surfaces was a form of cruelty, he said. While his Prohibition of Sulky Racing Bill 2017 was due before the Dáil, there was little indication of the extent of cross-party support for it.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals last year called for a ban on sulky racing on Irish roads. Two serious accidents occurred in Co Kilkenny last August where the horses had to be destroyed.

Members of the Traveller community last July began a drive to promote the mental health benefits of horse ownership and underlined its importance within their culture.

Martin Collins, a co-director with the Traveller rights group Pavee Point, said there was need for “greater regulation” in the area of sulky racing.

“The fundamental point I want to make here is that there is a gross inequity in terms of Government policy on what sports get funded,” he added. “I think it’s unfair that about €64 million per year is pumped into Horse Racing Ireland and a sport Travellers are interested in doesn’t get a look in.”