Sinn Féin Senator calls for inquiry into Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board

Paul Gavan says recent press coverage raises serious questions for Irish racing regulator

A full independent inquiry into the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) has been called for in the Seanad.

Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan said there are serious questions about racing's regulator on the back of two recent newspaper reports relating to doping and the IHRB's treatment of former trainer Stephen Mahon.

The Sunday Independent has suggested links between Mahon supplying the IHRB's head of anti-doping, Dr Lynn Hillyer, with details of an unnamed trainer using drugs on horses in 2020 and an inspection of his Co Galway yard a year later.

Mahon subsequently saw his licence suspended for breaches of animal welfare rules. That ban – the longest ever given out in Ireland – was subsequently reduced by six months on appeal.

The Sunday Independent previously pointed to Mahon as the source of information that prompted Jim Bolger’s claims about drugs being Irish racing’s number one problem.

Bolger, a long time critic of the IHRB, including when known as the Turf Club, has said he has no faith in its drug testing procedures.

On Tuesday, Gavan said he wanted “a full independent inquiry into all affairs, activities, practices and appointments” within the IHRB.

“There has certainly been plenty of rumour and innuendo and speculation prior to these articles being published about the possible use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in Irish racing.

"The man who has led the way in this regard is one of our most celebrated horse trainers, a man of impeccable reputation, Jim Bolger. He's been castigated for doing so in many quarters since, from his own training colleagues, to the racing press in the country, to the man in the street," Gavan said.

He added that the “key suggestion” from the Sunday Independent articles is that the “IHRB sought to discredit trainer Stephen Mahon because of his prior claims as a whistle blower regarding the use of performance enhancing drugs in horse racing.”

Gavan said: “If any of this is proven to have some truth there are serious questions about the treatment of Stephen Mahon and his family. And I have to ask the question, who is going to regulate the regulator?”

Describing the IHRB as a “closed shop, one that is funded by everyone of us that pays tax in this country,” the Senator also pointed to €10 million of annual funding “with little or no accountability”.

A joint Oireachtas Agriculture Committee held hearings into Bolger’s claims last summer, although the trainer declined to give evidence to it.

It published a report in November recommending various changes in the IHRB, including greater transparency and diversity on its board.

However, it gave a vote of confidence to the IHRB’s drug testing systems, describing them as of the highest possible international standards.

An audit of Irish racing's drug testing systems is currently being carried out by Dr Craig Suann, who stepped down as the chief veterinary officer for Racing New South Wales in 2018.

He is expected to issue a report in the summer.

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