HORSE Sport Ireland (HSI) has announced changes to how its Board of Directors will be chosen, with a route loosely based on the former advisory council system, but with the added tier of an independent selection panel.

The chairpersons of all affiliates were invited to a briefing on ‘finalised governance changes’ on Tuesday of this week, however Showjumping Ireland, Eventing Ireland, Para Equestrian Ireland, the Army Equitation School, the Irish Horse Board, Dressage Ireland, ECVOA and the RDS were unable to attend given the invitation only went out the Thursday prior.

The changes those in attendance were told of are the result of a review into governance failings within HSI, instigated after the resignation of the previous board in November 2022.

The review included a public consultation process and meetings with affiliates. The public consultation included a proposal to have an open call by which any member of an affiliate would have been eligible to put themselves forward for consideration to an independent panel for appointment as a director. Of the 11 submissions received, eight objected strongly to the open call process, with many wishing to return to the status quo. These eight submissions can be viewed on the HSI website.

HSI met seven of the eight organisations and decided to proceed with governance reform noting that ‘no reform model will satisfy the competing interests of the wide range of stakeholders, nor will the suggested or requested changes/reversal to status quo comply with either corporate governance standards or government policy on gender balance’.

Steps to reform

The route to reform will include:

  • The establishment of four new ‘Advisory Forums’ to replace the previous Advisory Councils (Breeding and Production Advisory Forum, Coaching and Education Advisory Forum, High Performance Sport Advisory Forum, Equestrian Sport and Recreation Advisory Forum). Every affiliate body will have representation on at least one of the forums with some having representation on more than one, depending on their relevance and the size of the affiliate’s membership. The significant change is that the Councils elected their own chair, who then automatically became a director. That has to be removed in favour of the system outlined below.
  • To ensure compliance with Government policy, requiring a minimum gender balance of 40% female participation, each forum will nominate two possible candidates, not necessarily a member of the forum, at least one being female. An independent selection panel will then select four of those eight nominees to recommend to the Board for appointment as directors. One director will be selected from each Forum’s two nominees. It is a Sport Ireland requirement to have 40% female participation to avoid losing funding.
  • The independent selection panel is Chaired by the Chairman of the Public Appointments Service, Tom Moran, and includes the CEO of Sport Ireland, Dr Una May; Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer for DAERA in Northern Ireland, Gemma Daly; Institute of Directors Board Member, Fiona Tierney; and former Eventing Ireland Board member and Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) Audit Committee member, Mr Brian Mangan.
  • The Minister for Agriculture will have the right to appoint a fifth director to the Board in addition to the four he already appoints. The requirement to have the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland has been replaced by consent with DAERA. From now, a director selection process will be supported by the NI Sports Forum, who will undertake their standard process and make a recommendation for that fifth director appointment.
  • Next steps

    A revised HSI constitution reflecting the changes has been posted on the HSI website. Formal letters will also be sent to the Chair of each affiliate organisation, inviting nominees for the Advisory Forums.

    The first Advisory Forum meetings will be scheduled soon after that, where each one will first elect its own chairperson and then select two nominees for consideration for appointment to the Board. It is hoped the new directors will have their first Board meeting in April or May.

    A statement from the aforementioned affiliates who could not attend the briefing reads: “It has been agreed by a significant number of Affiliates that they will now need to review fully the newly Lodged Memorandum & Articles of Association of Horse Sport Ireland, as adopted by the HSI Board on January 25th 2024 and lodged with CRO on Feb 7th 2024.

    “These Memorandum & Articles were not provided to any affiliate for comment prior to their adoption and have been obtained directly from Companies Registration Office. The affiliates concerned have agreed to reserve their position in relation to this matter, as any changes may have significant implications for the Affiliate bodies.

    “They will now seek independent advice and refer to their respective Boards and relevant Committees, as to how the changes within the Memorandam & Articles may impact on the interactions between the Bodies and the input ability of the affiliates and stakeholders to implement policy for the sector.”

    Chairperson of Horse Sport Ireland, Michael Dowling said: “Over the course of this week, HSI has engaged with nearly three-quarters of all of the HSI Affiliates to address any queries that arise.

    “Of over 20 affiliate representatives engaged so far, no significant concerns were raised with the new methodology. The current Board members are crucially aware of the need to have equestrian input at Board level, and are aiming to have new directors in place as early as April/May this year.”