Shane Ross has defended his request to tourism bodies to review policy in relation to the greyhound industry, shortly before Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland decided to suspend promotion of the sector.
The Minister for Tourism blamed the State-funded Irish Greyhound Board because it failed to publish a report on the industry until just before RTÉ broadcast Running For Their Lives, a documentary about the sector.
Mr Ross said €16 million of Government money went to the board which commissioned the report. Its findings included the culling of 6,000 dogs every year “simply because they could not race fast enough”, he said. “There was a culture of doing that sort of thing in the industry which was obviously accepted.”
But the board did not publish the report which detailed “utterly unacceptable incidents” and “disgusting behaviour”.
He added: “It seems to me there was absolutely no anxiety on the board of directors to make public information which is now found to be utterly unacceptable.”
Mr Ross said it had “cast a dark cloud over the entire industry” which was created by “those people who decided not to publish the report, because of the utterly revolting activities that were going on”.
The Minister told Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris that "I did what I feel was right. We should not use any promotion of activities which would be seen to condone in any way this disgusting behaviour."
There has been widespread criticism within the industry, by greyhound owners and rural TDs of the decision to suspend promotion of the industry.
Mr Ferris said he would condemn any cruelty towards animals, which should be fully investigated and prosecuted.
He said the Minister’s decision to criminalise an entire sector based on the actions of a few individuals was scandalous.
The Kerry TD said “many people would feel that the small boys and the small girls of the industry are being victimised” and he warned of the economic consequences for a sector that he claimed offered direct and indirect employment to 30,000 people and brought some €171 million into rural Ireland.
Mr Ferris added that greyhound racing contributed to charities by facilitating fundraising events where the Government has failed to deliver.
He added that the same criteria could be applied to show jumping, horseracing or any other sector where animals are used for sporting entertainment, where a small minority could be unscrupulous in their behaviour.
The Minister said he accepted Mr Ferris’s concerns but said it would be wrong to condone behaviour and promote an industry in the wake of the revelations that could damage Ireland’s reputation internationally.
Mr Ross added that hard work was being done to “address the issues identified, take enforcement actions against offences and the industry back on a positive track”.
But while they were working to rehabilitate the industry and its reputation “we must be careful not to allow current negative publicity damage our tourism promotions”.