TRAINERS, breeze-up specialists and stud farm owners are in desperate need of staff and are hoping Horse Racing Ireland [HRI] can secure a fresh batch of non-EU work visas from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE).

In October 2021 the equine industry was granted 100 non-EU visas and the last of these were filled two weeks ago. Now a new application has been made by HRI on behalf of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association [IRTA] and the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association [ITBA].

Elaine Burke of HRI’s equuip department said: “We had to wait until the 100 visas were exhausted before we could apply again. The Department don’t automatically renew the number every year. The previous batch were for work riders only but now we are also asking for groundstaff visas.

“I’m being contacted all the time by big yards and small stables - they cannot fill the vacancies locally. There is a lot of paperwork involved in securing non-EU visas and HRI has been helping trainers and stud owners with their applications.”

Ryan McElligott, CEO of the IRTA, said: “The latest unemployment figures confirm that Ireland’s labour market remains effectively at capacity. At times like these, racing struggles to attract workers so I don’t think these vacancies can be filled indigenously.

“I am getting calls every week from trainers asking if we are getting any more work permits. We are working with the ITBA and HRI on getting more visas from the Department but it is tough going. And even if you are granted visas, there is a considerable time lapse between making the application and the worker arriving in your yard.”

Co Kildare trainer Ross O’Sullivan contacted The Irish Field this week to express his frustration with the situation and a prominent breeze-up consignor echoed those sentiments, saying he would be buying fewer yearlings this autumn as he did not have enough work riders to handle them.

The consignor, who asked not to be named, said: “We had two Indians lined up to come and ride for us in November. The paperwork was done and then last week, out of the blue, our agent called to say the Department had pulled the plug on the scheme. No reason was given.

“Riding and breaking in thoroughbreds is a highly skilled job. This is a huge problem and it needs to be sorted out.”

ITBA chairperson Cathy Grassick commented: “We are very aware of the difficulty in obtaining visas of this nature and we are working very hard on it, in association with HRI and the IRTA, as well as lobbying politicians to provide a solution to these staffing issues.

“We are also committed to continuous education and other areas in which we can train and introduce new staff to the workforce.”

Equuip will be at the National Ploughing Championships later this month in an effort to publicise the opportunities available in the equine industry among the agricultural sector.

Fine Gael TD and Minister Peter Burke said: “I know the quota for work rider permits was reached in mid-August and I know the Department is reviewing the situation and hopes to make a determination by November in relation to additional visas.”

Elaine Burke of equuip added: “Horse Racing Ireland sees this as a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Equuip is trying all the time to encourage more of our domestic population to consider a career working with horses. We are constantly working on providing a sustainable workforce for the industry.”