AFTER a turbulent week at Horse Sport Ireland where seven of its eight directors resigned, a powerful new board of four ministerial appointees has been rolled into place at the troubled organisation.

The four – drawn from the top ranks of the corporate world, academia and the civil service – will remain in place at HSI until after the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD (FF) appointed Michael Dowling, Prof. Niamh Brennan, Zoe Kavanagh, and Dr Kevin Smyth to the board of HSI on Thursday.

“This is a strong team and I am grateful that they have agreed to serve in order to bring stability to the organisation. I know that they will work closely with the sector and cast an objective eye at the running of the organisation, the development of the sector and the stewardship of almost €7 million in public funds annually,” said Minister McConalogue.

Former chairman Joe Reynolds resigned his position on Thursday and Dowling now takes over as interim chairman. CEO Denis Duggan remains in his position at Horse Sport Ireland.

Minister McConalogue thanked Joe Reynolds and all the resigned directors for their service, underlining the importance of the sport horse sector to Ireland.

“What is important now is that we have a period of stability for the organisation and its staff in the period running up to the next Olympics,” said Minister McConalogue.

The existing HSI structure can also appoint its four directors to the board in time, restoring it to eight.

Chaotic week

Chaos ensued at Horse Sport Ireland in the last two weeks in the fallout of a vote to dismiss CEO Denis Duggan. The vote, carried four to two in favour of removing him, firstly lead to UCD Prof. Mary Lampkin Coyle and solicitor David O’Meara resigning with Prof. Lampkin Coyle citing corporate governance concerns.

The following week four more resigned from the board - Tom Freyne, Lucinda Creighton, Clare Hughes and Paul Duffy - leaving only board members Edward Doyle and Joe Reynolds in place. Doyle subsequently resigned on Wednesday and Reynolds resigned on Thursday evening, dovetailing in with Minister McConalogue’s appointees announcement.

An early meeting with the new directors is being sought by the ECVOA group which represents the owners of equestrian centre competition venues.

The new HSI board are:

Michael Dowling: a former Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the author of The Dowling Report which saw the creation of Horse Sport Ireland. He is a former chairman of the Kerry Group PLC and a board member of the Agricultural Trust (publishers of The Irish Field and the Irish Farmers Journal).

Professor Niamh Brennan: is the Michael MacCormac Professor of Management at University College Dublin and the Founder and Academic Director of the UCD Centre for Corporate Governance since 2002. She is the former chairperson of the National College of Art and Design and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

She has also served as a director for Children’s Health Ireland, the Health Service Executive (HSE), Ulster Bank, Co-operation Ireland, Coillte and a number of private companies. She is chairperson of the audit and risk committee of the Garda Síochána.

In 2020, Niamh was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy, Ireland’s highest academic honour. She sits on the board of the Irish Agricultural Trust.

Zoe Kavanagh: is Chief Executive Officer of the National Dairy Council since 2011. She occupies a variety of board positions including chair of International Milk Promotion Group, vice chair of European Milk Forum and governance board member of Vista Milk. She has a keen interest in horses and has competed in eventing.

Dr Kevin Smyth: is a former Chief Financial Officer at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine having retired earlier this year.

Timeline of key events

November 4th

A vote to dismiss CEO Denis Duggan from his position is taken by the board of Horse Sport Ireland. The vote is carried four to two, while two directors did not vote. UCD Professor Mary Lampkin Coyle and solicitor David O’Meara subsequently resign from the board.

November 11th

Professor Lampkin Coyle, a corporate governance expert, and Mallow-based David O’Meara confirm their resignations to The Irish Field.

Later that evening, four more board members resign - Tom Freyne, Lucinda Creighton, Clare Hughes, Paul Duffy, leaving only Edward Doyle and Joe Reynolds (chair) in place.

November 14th

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue’s office starts the work of compiling four new appointees to the board of HSI.

November 15th

CEO of HSI, Denis Duggan returns to Ireland after attending the FEI General Assembly in South Africa, along with Avalon Everett.

November 16th

Edward Doyle resigns, leaving Joe Reynolds as the last man standing. A staff meeting is held at HSI offices, primarily to reassure staff their jobs are safe.

November 17th

Minister McConalogue announces Michael Dowling, Prof Niamh Brennan, Zoe Kavanagh of the National Dairy Council and Dr Kevin Smyth as his appointees to HSI.

They will remain in-situ until after the 2024 Paris Olympics. Joe Reynolds stepped down as chair and Michael Dowling was announced as the chairman of HSI.


On Friday night, Senator Victor Boyhan (Ind) welcomed the appointment of Mr. Michael Dowling, former chair of Kerry Group PLC, Professor Niamh Brennan, Professor of Management and Corporate Governance at UCD, Ms. Zoe Kavanagh, CEO of the National Dairy Council, and Dr. Kevin Smyth, former Chief Financial Officer at the Department of Agriculture to the board of Horse Sports Ireland.

Commenting on the new appointments by the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to the board of HSI, Senator Boyhan a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, said the Minister moved fast to fill vacancies on the board that came as a result of a number of high profile resignations in the past week.

“The Minister has selected a strong team that will build a robust corporate governance framework, ensuring transparency, data disclosure, fairness and accountability; observing these principles of corporate governance will ensure a progressive and strategic management structure for Horse Sports Ireland into the future. I wish the new board of Horse Sport Ireland well as it prepares for Paris Olympics and the renewal of its structures.”