Aintree Grand National could be first casualty of no-deal Brexit

30,000 sport horses, excluding thoroughbreds, move across Irish Sea every year

The Aintree Grand National festival could be the first casualty of a no-deal Brexit on March 29th because free movement of horses would no longer be allowed between Ireland and the UK.

A tripartite agreement which currently exists under EU law allows for the movement of and trade in horses between Ireland, Britain and France without veterinary inspections or health certificates.

However, Fine Gael chairman Martin Heydon has warned this could be "greatly challenged" if there is no deal on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU.

He said the impact on Ireland’s €1 billion equine industry could be similar to the impact on the beef sector “because the Irish and UK markets for the breeding and racing of horses are so interlinked”.

Mr Haydon, in whose Kildare South constituency the Curragh and a significant slice of the horse breeding industry is based, said the equine industry could be the first affected by no deal by the deadline.

“If there was no deal at the end of March, it would be far more difficult for Irish horses to travel to Aintree the following week for the Grand National festival” which takes place between April 4th and 6th, he said.

And it would get worse, he warned. “Later that month, we want the best of the English horses which have been successful in Cheltenham to come and contest in Punchestown.

“A couple of weeks later we are in the height of the breeding season. Some of the top stallions in the world are found in this country and mares will be travelling to and from this country.”

State aid

Mr Heydon, in a Dáil parliamentary question, asked Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed if a relaxation of State aid rules would be considered to support the industry.

He also called on Mr Creed to work through Horse Racing Ireland, the national authority for thoroughbred racing, with all those potentially affected both in the short and long term, including the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association and racehorse trainers.

Mr Creed said sectors other than the thoroughbred sector would be affected, “because the horse sport sector also sees considerable volume”.

Recent figures suggested that anything up to 30,000 sport horses outside the thoroughbred sector move east to west every year.

Mr Creed said the issue was further complicated by the all-island administration of racing through the Irish Resurfacing Regulatory Board. “There is an all-island stud book for the thoroughbred sector. It is complex,” he said.

He acknowledged that the UK could not be part of the tripartite agreement once it becomes a “third country”.

But he said there was extensive engagement on the issue which would “involve change to the current arrangements but we are endeavouring to make those as user-friendly and efficient as possible”.