THE Minister for Finance, Michael McGrath, says the Government will stand “foursquare” behind the racing sector despite recent criticism over the level of funding the industry receives.

Minister McGrath made the comment at a Co Kildare Chamber of Commerce event on Wednesday, a day before Horse Racing Ireland [HRI] published a report which outlined racing’s contribution to the economy.

Last month the Football Association of Ireland questioned the Government’s financial support for racing and the matter was raised in the Dáil, where the Taoiseach rejected calls for a review of the sport’s funding.

This week the Minister for Finance said: “I want to acknowledge the contribution of horse racing and the equestrian sector. I want to reassure you that, despite noise elsewhere in the system, the Government will continue to stand foursquare behind this sector, which makes a very significant contribution to our country. I want to put that on record.”

The HRI report, compiled by Deloitte, reckons that the racing and breeding sector generates almost €2.5 billion in economic activity, an increase of 34% since 2016. The sector supports a total of 30,350 jobs, the report claims, up 1,450 on the figure from seven years ago.

Over 20 TDs and senators representing parties on all sides attended a briefing on the report in Leinster House on Thursday. The event was organised, or sponsored, by Fianna Fáil’s Jackie Cahill. Representing HRI at the event were Suzanne Eade, Jason Morris, Carol Nolan and Jonathan Mullin.

Commenting on the report, ITBA chairman Cathy Grassick said: “’We would like to commend Suzanne Eade, Horse Racing Ireland and Deloitte on a thorough report on the social and economic impact of the thoroughbred breeding and racing sector.

“The report confirms that Irish breeding and racing remains an important source of employment and investment, particularly in rural areas. This is highlighted with the fact that there are breeders operating in all 32 counties on the island of Ireland, totalling 6,593 registered breeders. It is wonderful to see the contribution of Irish breeders recognised in this report with the breeding sector generating revenues of €819 million.

“ITBA will continue to support breeders in their growth and success on a global stage. Ireland can be proud of the international reputation of both breeding and racing and their contribution to the Irish economy. The ongoing support of Government and the Department of Agriculture is greatly appreciated by the thoroughbred breeders of Ireland.”

On behalf of the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners, Regina Byrne said: “The report highlights the massive investments that owners are making annually, supporting not only the rural economy in Ireland but also HRI through their 25% contribution (largest owners’ contribution in any racing jurisdiction) to the prize money pot.

“The most worrying aspect of the report, from an owners’ perspective, is the notable increase in the cost of having a horse in training versus the lack of any significant increases in prize money, especially for those owners with horses competing in the middle sectors of each code who have not seen any increases since 2008.

“Increased prize money especially in the sectors referenced above are key to the retention of current owners and key to attracting new people to invest in our great industry at all levels.”

Report main points >>4

Suzanne Eade interview >>12-13