MINISTER of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Martin Heydon, TD, pledged his support to the sport horse industry while speaking at the 50th annual Irish Horse WorldAwards at The K Club on Tuesday afternoon, saying the industry is viewed as a key agricultural activity and enterprise.

The Minister said he believes the sector has the potential to deliver a greater economic contribution into the future by joint collaboration. “The contribution to the economy generates an estimate value of €815 million, heading towards €1 billion per annum, and I really believe the potential is there to deliver even more into the future by working together.

“To our rural communities, there are 15,000 sport horse breeders throughout Ireland. The sector has a footprint in all 32 counties, but also the rich contribution it makes to Irish culture and heritage. Being from Kildare, I’ve always had a really strong awareness of the integral role the equine industry plays in so many people’s lives.

“For people who aren’t as familiar, particularly my colleagues in Leinster House, it is really important that we continues to spread that message of, not just direct employment and direct economic activity, but how that feeds down into all of our rural communities and rural economy, where there isn’t the same other level of other employment and opportunities as there is in urban areas.”

Speaking about the recent DAFM announcement that equine investments would be included in TAMS III, Minister Heydon commented: “I want to recognise the positive reaction from the sector to the inclusion of equine investments in TAMS. It is something I felt strongly we should do, and I know that view is shared strongly by everyone in this room, indeed many of you would have met with me and my officials, and it is something I have long supported, and it’s great to finally get it over the line.

“Many breeders are running small operations alongside other agricultural enterprise, and the inclusion in this scheme will allow them to invest in their businesses and make them more suitable and safer. It is great to be able to include such a broad list of investment items to open up the possibilities for people whether it’s through horse housing, better training facilities, fencing or handling of horses, and being able to do it safer.

“I know the financial element is so important, particularity for small breeders and those who own just a few horses, but it is also really important that the recognition is there as a key agricultural activity and enterprise, which is what this sector is.”

Minister Heydon further paid tribute to the Dublin Horse Show, saying the sector is “fortunate” to have such a showcase. “It has such a broad appeal, and in addition to the significant economic value it generates, it also provides a captive audience of people who may only having a passive interest in horses. So that is an opportunity for us, to use a showcase like that to tell that story to a broader public and to show why Government supports this sector.”

The Minister congratulated the award winners on the day, commenting: “The diversity of the sector is what makes it so strong, it offers something for everyone and it doesn’t hurt that in the last 12 months we have seen enormous success with underage teams taking home gold, silver and bronze from European Championships, and the senior show jumping team, under chef d’équipe Michael Blake, winning the Aga Khan Trophy at the Dublin Horse Show.

“I want to recognise all the award winners today – you represent the very best the sector has to offer, ye are a terrific bunch of ambassadors and I want to congratulate each and every one of you on your success.”