THE outcome of a weekend mass meeting of affiliates and associates of Horse Sport Ireland was to seek an urgent meeting with the new four-person Board of Directors.

A three-hour meeting of HSI affiliates held in Tullamore last Sunday afternoon saw a strong turnout of approximately two-thirds of its affiliates. The meeting was organised and chaired by president of the Irish Quarter Horse Association Kevin Croke who presented a multi-point agenda to the floor, ranging from HSI staffing, legal costs, HSI Constitution, Governance, Communications, High Performance, Insurance, Advisory Councils, Funding, and the recent controversial fees increase for HSI registration services.

At the outset, the chair pointed out that while The Irish Field was welcome at the meeting, this invite was extended - and duly accepted - on the basis of no representative of affiliates present being identified by name when expressing their views due to what was described as ‘a fear factor’.

“Sad to say it but that’s the case,” commented chairman Kevin Croke, opening the meeting.

Communication lacking

Many of the inputs from both the top table and the floor focussed on the need for Horse Sport Ireland to improve their communciation with their diverse affiliates and associates.

“This meeting came as a consequence of communications. You write to HSI and they don’t reply, it’s not acceptable. The Civil Service for example have a Customer Service Charter saying they will reply in five days. I would suggest any communications are with a name, phone number and email address to that person. Is it acceptable to get a letter from HSI that is just signed HSI or an email to the info address? It is forgotten that HSI is a service industry. They don’t have a penny of their own - they have taxpayers’ money to be re-distributed in the equine world,”said Croke.

An email was also read out from an affiliate that could not attend, outlining they are waiting for the last four years on progress from HSI on establishing a recommended committee. “A rather damning email,” commented Croke before the meeting moved on.

Issues such as the social licence and the need for industry education were described as being common to all affiliates by the floor.

“There is great commonality between HSI and the Department of Agriculture, the same with the Department of Sport. What is the structure? Is it the commonality? If so, needs a new structure with representation. Who is responsible at the moment? It is the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Sport. Reaching New Heights is Government policy and required the Indecon Report and we have seen how this works. Unless you do it yourself, you will not get a different answer.”

The floor pointed out that the corporate governance page on HSI’s website is currently blank, evoking some laughter.

High Performance concerns

“HSI must service the industry, they must recognise that they are there to look after and assist us, not dictate to us. We are not trying to throw them out the window but we need to design a new manual to service the industry and the sport,” said another.

All Olympic disciplines meeting were described from the floor as ‘suspended’ since December. “We have seven months to qualify a team for the Olympics and there is no plans at the moment. Paris 2024 is only around the corner. Time is slipping by. It is not fair on riders and owners,” commented one person.

Registration fees

The recent HSI fees hike on registration services was described as “a shock’’ with Croke commenting, “Passports were expensive and now more expensive. For the million pound horse it does not matter but for others, they are being harshly penalised. It’s a colossal difference now.”

Input from the floor was that the affected studbooks would suffer and that in one season, the resulting lost breeding data to cheaper options would set the ISH and ID studbooks back 20 years or more.

Meeting sought

At the conclusion of the meeting, it was decided to seek an urgent meeting with all four Directors of the Board of Horse Sport Ireland - Michael Dowling (interim chairman of HSI), Zoe Kavanagh, Professor Niamh Brennan and Dr Kevin Smyth.

The need to reactivate HSI Advisory Councils, and urgently elect, the new Advisory Council Directors to also sit on the Board of HSI was agreed by the floor and it was agreed that these requests would be sent by registered post to Mr Dowling.

With input from the floor cautioning that the request to meet the new HSI Directors, all appointed by Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD (FF), may not come to pass, it was further agreed that, in this instance, an urgent meeting be sought by the group with the Ministers of State at DAFM and the Department of Sport.