Trainers in Northern Ireland plan their own break-away body
Discrepancy in pension payments to stable staff based in the North proves a thorny issue
Because the North is in a different jurisdiction, stable staff there haven’t benefitted from industry pension arrangements in the past. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
The move puts a crack in Irish racing’s All-Ireland representation of itself and is related to long-running issues over stable staff pension arrangements that mean employees in the North don’t receive the same benefits as those in the Republic of Ireland.
Racing throughout the island is overseen and regulated by Horse Racing Ireland and the Turf Club. But because the North is in a different jurisdiction, stable staff there haven’t benefitted from industry pension arrangements in the past.
Deductions from the percentage of a trainer’s prizemoney is used to fund pensions for full-time stable staff.
A new scheme to replace an old Turf Club-run stable-staff fund wound up in 2010 is almost finalised and will be overseen by a management committee comprising representatives from HRI, the Turf Club, the trainers association and the stable staff association.
However the impact on trainers in the North of operating under rules of racing while being based in a different political jurisdiction means benefits for employees there are not the same.
Omagh-based trainer Mervyn Torrens said on Tuesday the apparent discrepancy has caused anger among many of his colleagues in the North for some time with widespread unhappiness at how their concerns have been addressed by the IRTA.
“Every time we asked them a question about this they’ve just said ‘you’re in a different jurisdiction’. What does that mean? We’re either part of the southern trainers or we’re not. But at the minute we seem to be part of nowhere,” Torrens added.
He confirmed a meeting of a new body is planned to take place in Lisburn on Monday. Torrens has been nominated as spokesman and said the move is a reflection of widespread disenchantment with the IRTA.
“It’s been very poor. The last day we were at a meeting they were more or less laughing at you if you said anything. Alright there are no real big-time trainers in Northern Ireland. But there are lots of small trainers everywhere,” Torrens added.
Any split will be a blow to the Trainers Association which was set up in 1950 and represents more than 400 members on the island. It would also take place in a context in which HRI has stressed the All-Ireland nature of racing here and the potential repercussions of ‘Brexit’ on the industry.
Torrens said he believes the discrepancy over pension benefits amounts to discrimination and questioned why trainers in the North should pay into a scheme that doesn’t benefit employees there to the same extent as it does in the Republic.
“What’s the point in paying into something if you’re not going to get something out of it?” he said.
“If we’re supposed to be governed by southern Ireland under the rules of racing, but we’re in a different jurisdiction, where does that leave the whole thing? Are we British trainers, Irish trainers, what are we?” Torrens added.
The Co Tyrone trainer said most training operations are family operations but estimated up to 20 full-time stable staff are employed in the North.
Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said racing’s new pension scheme will apply to the small number of full time stable staff in the North although not exactly as it will to those in the South. He said employer pension arrangements generally in the North are different.
Kavanagh described the situation as an anomaly but stressed it is an anomaly the new pension scheme will try to address. He also pointed out that when Irish trainers win races in Britain, deductions are taken from their winnings to benefit welfare funds there.
Michael Grassick, chief executive of the IRTA, insisted he has repeatedly written to trainers in the North and said on Tuesday: “But because they didn’t want to hear what they were told, that’s where we get the negative response.”
He also said meetings with northern trainers had been poorly attended.
Torrens warned the jurisdiction issue could have other repercussions.
“The Turf Club has the power to go into any yard at any given time and carry out inspections. If they walk into mine all I could say is ‘I’m in a different jurisdiction – get out’. They’re going to have to do one thing or the other: either kick us out or take us in properly,” he said.