The Irish greyhound industry must refocus its priorities away from breeding and on to animal welfare if it is to continue receiving Government funding, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has warned.
Mr Creed said last week's RTÉ documentary on the industry - entitled Greyhounds: Running for Their Lives - was "a wake-up call" and raised animal welfare issues that must be addressed by the industry if it wants to survive.
The programme said the Irish greyhound industry was breeding up to 10 times the number of dogs it needs annually and some 6,000 greyhounds were culled each year as they are deemed to not be fast enough.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Creed said the documentary made for disturbing viewing. However, he expressed confidence that new legislation would allow the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB) to police the industry more effectively.
"I don't want to say it is all legacy issues because I'm not that naïve but we've just passed new greyhound legislation, signed into law by President Higgins, which gives the greyhound board the tools to deal with the traceability of greyhounds," he said.
“That’s one of the big weakness in the industry in that we don’t know where greyhounds go, what happens to them before, during and after their racing career but the legislation gives the IGB a full range of tools to deal comprehensively with this.
“It is abundantly clear also that in terms of the State funding that’s available to the industry - some €16 million - there needs to be a significant reorientation of that funding away from breeding towards greyhound welfare.
“Undoubtedly in terms of the future engagement between my department and the industry and the IGB, there has to be a very significant gearshift from the greyhound board now in terms of dealing with welfare issues.”
A 2017 report by economist Jim Power found that the Irish greyhound industry supported 5,058 full-time and part-time jobs in 2016 and that there were some 7,313 active greyhound owners. He calculated that the net income generated by the sector totalled €113.8 million.
Mr Power also highlighted the challenge facing an industry clearly in decline with the number of race meetings dropping from 2,208 in 2005 to 1,675 in 2016 while attendances over the same period fell from 1.39 million to 641,622.
Mr Creed said he believed the issue of falling attendances was inextricably linked with the public perception of the sport and that the IGB needed to urgently address welfare issues.
"The industry is at a crossroads. They need to step up to the plate to make sure that they industry is run with welfare is at its heart, as its primary focus .Without that the industry and the support of middle Ireland would fade away," he said.
“The IGB have the legislation now and they have to follow that through with the necessary funding commitments to it and using the legislation to deliver the changes required if the industry is to have a future in Ireland.”