GROWTH of 34% in a six-year timeframe would be most welcome in any business or activity. It points to a healthy product or service.

When that sector is among the best in the world, not just subjectively, but based on actual, verifiable numbers, one can be very proud. The Irish thoroughbred breeding and racing product can boast of such a position, showing categorically that it is worthy, and deserving, of the support of successive Governments. Yet, time and again, it seems that we have to keep making our case.

In the last couple of days, the updated Deloitte report for Horse Racing Ireland points to a strong performance from the sector, and this is even more meritorious when you consider the restrictions placed on racing during the pandemic. Deloitte Ireland LLP carried out the work on this report, and they have presented comprehensive coverage.

They have looked at all the obvious areas; funding, breeding, owners, trainers, racecourses, attendances, media, betting and point-to-points. They have also considered the rural impact of the sector, along with innovation, research and development.

Four numbers stand out, and are worth committing to memory when the necessity to argue the merits of racing and breeding in Ireland. The estimated direct and stimulated expenditure of the sector last year was €2.46 billion, supporting more than 30,000 full-time equivalent individuals in employment.

Some 1.2 million attendees went through the turnstiles of Ireland’s 26 racecourses last year, while Irish vendors sold some €538 million worth of horseflesh globally at public auction.

With such a valuable industry, and such an exalted position in the world, there comes responsibility. In 2021, only the USA and Australia produced more foals than Ireland, and we produced almost as many as France and Britain did combined. This is a clear message to Government that we are even more important economically than some farming sectors.

These messages are vital at a time when popular perception will immediately couple the mention of racing with betting, rather than see the real story; foreign investment and local reinvestment, employment, sustainability, the rural reach, and more.

To this end, we can never let the guard down when it comes to issues such as welfare, and we can be leaders by example when it comes to environmental matters.

Our reputation has been hard earned, and maintaining it has to be our number one priority now and in the future.