Government to make move on breeding farm drug testing ‘shortly’

Provision of a Service Level Agreement with horseracing industry has been stalled for two years

 

The Government has said it hopes to have a new Memorandum of Understating in place “shortly” with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) in relation to drug testing on thoroughbred breeding farms.

Provision of a Service Level Agreement (SLA) that would allow IHRB personnel carry out inspections on premises not licensed by racing’s regulatory body has been stalled for two years.

The SLA system was regarded as having solved the jurisdictional impasse holding up implementation of a revamped anti-doping system for Irish racing that would crucially include traceability of thoroughbreds throughout their lives.

However the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine, whose inspectors carried out raids that discovered unauthorised animal medicines, including anabolic steroids, at the yards of trainers Philip Fenton and Pat Hughes in 2012, still has not signed off on such a SLA.

During the recent defamation case taken against the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association (IRTA) by the IHRB’s head of security, Chris Gordon, it emerged that the department had withdrawn its assistance with random stable inspections.

In evidence Gordon said the department had expressed its disappointment over the relationship between him and the IRTA. Last month a jury unanimously awarded Gordon €300,000 in damages.

The IHRB declined to comment after being asked on Friday about when was the last time its own personnel had been assisted by department officials on random inspections carried out either on licensed or unlicensed premises. The department also didn’t comment on such dates.

Responding to questions about when a SLA might be granted, a department statement said: “DAFM and the IHRB are working to introduce a new MoU in relation to thoroughbred breeders and their horses.

“Unfortunately due to the reprioritisation of vital resources within DAFM to deal with the national Covid-19 public health emergency, this updated MoU has been delayed but it is hoped to have it finalised shortly.”

It is unclear whether such a memorandum of understanding will include a SLA.

The statement also said an agreement between the department and racing’s regulatory organisation already provides for the appointment of authorised officers to regulate welfare issues under the IHRB’s remit such as race meetings, point-to-points and on licensed premises.

“The IHRB carry out post-licensing inspections across the sector and are provided with support from the relevant department authorities when necessary. In 2019, 136 premises were inspected by the IHRB , with 161 in 2018 and 185 in 2017.

“DAFM and IHRB collaborated in investigations around a number of these inspections with the partnership allowing detailed examination of records and other functions which were integral to the subsequent disciplinary proceedings.

“The IHRB request DAFM support where it is deemed relevant to the inspection otherwise it is a matter for the IHRB to carry out their inspections in accordance with their rules and procedures,” the statement said.

Previously racing officials have responded to criticism of repeated delays in processing any SLA by stressing the need to get it done correctly rather than done quickly.

Last summer the delay in formulating such an arrangement between the State the IHRB was blamed on the department coming under pressure to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

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