Minister Creed keen to minimise reputational damage in wake HRI controversy

Aidan O’Brien-trained Minding was crowned Horse of the Year for 2016

Minister for Agriculture, Food and The Marine Michael Creed maintains minimising any potential reputational damage to what he described as "Ireland Inc" has underlined his approach to the controversy surrounding Brian Kavanagh's reappointment for a third term as Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive.

Speaking at Monday's HRI award ceremony in Leopardstown – where the Aidan O'Brien-trained Minding was crowned Horse of the Year for 2016 – the Minister also expressed his confidence in both Kavanagh and Joe Keeling, chairman of racing's ruling body.

Keeling has been heavily criticised for his role in Kavanagh’s reappointment earlier this year despite government guidelines limiting cheif executive’s semi-state bodies to a single seven-year term. Kavanagh has been chief executive since HRI’s formation in 2001.

On Monday he confirmed his intention to step down at the end of his new five-year term in the job.


However the process surrounding his reappointment has been heavily criticised after it emerged that Keeling sought a third term for Kavanagh despite the role not being advertised and the HRI board not having formally approved such a step.

At an Oireachtas joint-committee hearing in October Keeling apologised and conceded the reappointment process could have been handled better.


At that Oireachtas hearing the process was described as a “debacle” and Keeling was accused of arrogance. There have been calls for the HRI chairman to resign in the wake of a controversy which has highlighted divisions among the board of racing’s ruling body which will receive almost €64 million in government subsidy in 2017. That’s an increase of €4.8 million on this year.

Asked on Monday if the matter had damaged the reputation of Irish racing, Minister Creed said: “There are differing views on that. I think it was an unfortunate incident that caused the fall-out that it did but I would hope the industry, given the scale of it, and the stakes that are at play, can put the issue behind it and move on.

"I would hope there is no reputational damage done to Ireland Inc. That is really what was informing my approach to this all the time, to try and keep the industry focussed on its reputation internationally and to not be excessively focussed on personality issues within the industry."

He said he had not seen any evidence of reputational damage so far but added: “That’s something that will become clearer over a period of time.” The Minister added: “We are global leaders but this is a mobile industry which could relocate very quickly in terms of the cream of the crop. So we need to be vigilant.”

The Minister, who recently made two new appointments to the HRI board, Elizabeth Headon and Peter Nolan, said he has confidence in both Keeling and Kavanagh.

“The board asked for the appointment of the chief executive and if we had any issues around that we wouldn’t have acted as we did. When the industry speaks as it did, as a board, for the reappointment, we didn’t see any reason to go against it,” Creed said.

“Both new appointments to the board bring certain skill sets in terms of corporate experience, knowledge of the industry, gender balance: the nominations came through the public appointments service and I’ve no doubt they will do very well,” he added.

Joe Keeling, who despite apologising to the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee also told them in October that he wouldn't have acted differently, gave a brief address at the awards ceremony, the 14th year of their existence, and acknowledged errors had been made.

“It was once said that admitting your mistakes makes you humble – not repeating them makes you better,” he said. “I have acknowledged mistakes were made. As a board we have faced issues and I am confident we will not be repeating them.”

Minding was crowned Horse of the Year, just the third Aidan O'Brien trained horse to receive the award after Dylan Thomas (2006) and Camelot in 2012. The three year old daughter of Galileo won five of the seven Group 1 races she contested in 2016, winning at the top-level from a mile to a mile and a half.

O'Brien himself won HRI's flat award for just the second time in his illustrious career after a season which has seen him win 22 Group 1 races on the flat. That tally could increase if Highland Reel successfully defends his Hong Kong Vase title on Sunday morning.

Willie Mullins continued his domination of the National Hunt Award, winning for the seventh time in the last eight years. His mother, Maureen, received a 'Contribution to the Industry' Award. 'Mouse Morris' won the 'Outstanding Achievement Award.' He became the first trainer in almost 150 years to win both the English and Irish Grand Nationals in one season. HRI Award Winners: Racecourse of the Year – Galway Flat Award – Aidan O'Brien National Hunt Award – Willie Mullins Point to Point – Jamie Codd Outstanding Achievement – Mouse Morris Contribution to Industry – Mrs Maureen Mullins Horse of the Year – Minding.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column