THE five racecourses who have called for an independent arbitrator to intervene in their media rights dispute with Horse Racing Ireland [HRI] will be told next week that arbitration is not an option – they either join the other 21 signatories or walk away.

Limerick, Kilbeggan, Roscommon, Sligo and Thurles claim that the proposed media rights deal favours bigger tracks and they say HRI is taking too big a share of the revenue for itself. Under the banner of United Irish Racecourses [UIR], they also claim that HRI shows bias towards racecourses it owns or part-owns when allocating capital grants.

Last week the matter was discussed for over two hours by the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee and it is due to come up for discussion with the Public Accounts Committee later this month.

The Irish Field understands that officials from UIR and HRI are set to meet next Wednesday to discuss their differences. Although the rift developed over the subject of media rights, more historic grievances were raised during the Agriculture Committee meeting.

Although UIR has claimed its members would be better off financially with a new media rights partner, it was reported that during the Committee’s private session a UIR spokesperson said they would consider taking less money from a rival bidder if it meant more exposure for their racecourses.

A Committee member told The Irish Field: “The general consensus was that UIR is a cover for other long-standing grievances held by two individuals. When [UIR chair] Pierce Molony spoke, you could see there were historical issues at play.

“I believed that these five racecourses were genuinely facing financial hardship, so it opened my eyes when Mr Molony said they would accept less money in return for more exposure.

“The Committee pleaded with HRI to carve out an agreement but HRI were quick to say there could be no arbitration. The deal is the deal. It has already been negotiated and you either accept it or you don’t.”

Following the meeting, UIR chair Pierce Molony said: “In order to respect the protocols surrounding the conduct of the Agriculture Committee’s business, UIR will not be commenting on the details discussed, save to say that we are hugely appreciative of the fulsome engagement by the members of the Committee who, like us, are committed to equity and accountability.

“We support their efforts in ensuring that taxpayers’ money is expended in a fair, equitable and appropriate manner and we remain at their disposal should they require any further clarity.”

The current media rights deal ends in December and, of the five UIR tracks, it is particularly important for Limerick and Thurles that a new deal is finalised soon as they race in the new year.

An industry insider with media rights knowledge said: “It’s not the same as switching electricity supplier. Moving to a new media rights partner involves infrastructural changes which take time to install.”

This week it emerged that an industry sponsor has ended race sponsorships with Limerick and Thurles as a direct consequence of the dispute.