A MYRIAD of tough questions from across the political spectrum were levelled at Horse Sport Ireland which appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.

Issues ranging from board representation independence, HR cases, legal costs, financial stability, and Horse Sport Ireland’s accountability to the industry were repeated raised.

The 100-minute meeting was chaired by Senator Paul Daly (FF), standing in for committee chairman Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill (FF). Representing Horse Sport Ireland were CEO Denis Duggan, Head of Sport and Legal Avalon Everett, Dr Sonja Egan, head of Breeding and Innovation, Board chairman Michael Dowling and Dr Kevin Smyth.

Roscommon-Galway TD Claire Kerrane (SF) said: “There was multiple crisis in the industry and board last November. What is being done to build back trust with the affiliates, the funders and the staff?”

HSI Board chairman Michael Dowling replied: “I cannot comment on what went on before as I was not there. We are meeting every affiliate organisation, there is 30 odd of them, so it is taking time but I am working my way through it. There is no issues regarding staff now. The organisation and staff are working well. It’s busy and I don’t see any conflicts in regard to the current team working for us. The Board have considerable confidence in the team that is there now.”

As opening speaker, Denis Duggan outlined their future strategy for the Irish Sport Horse sector, detailing HSI’s main five pillars - leading the sector; developing sustainable funding model; competing on the world stage, building organisational capability, engaging with the equestrian community and its stakeholders.


Longford-Westmeath TD Joe Flaherty (FF) said: “This has been a turbulent time for Horse Sport Ireland, the organisation mired in crisis with a new board now in place. Your appearance before us today has generated huge interest. We have all been beseiged with emails and correspondence from the industry to highlight many grievances to say the least. We received joint correspondence from Showjumping Ireland, Dressage Ireland and Para Dressage expressing extreme concern...a fairly hard hitting statement. Is there disquiet across the equestrian community?”

Denis Duggan replied they had not seen this correspondence, citing the “overwhelming feedback from the industry as positive”, repeatedly mentioning industry engagement via HSI’s four-date Roadshow which concluded in Kildare on Thursday evening.

Deputy Flaherty raised issues highlighted by ECVOA (Equestrian Competition Venue Owners Association). “These people are the bedrock of the equestrian industry, they have to feel they are listened to. You have not met them in the last three years?”

Declining to answer HR-related questions, Denis Duggan said he had reached out to ECVOA to meet last year but was still awaiting a reply. “We work closely with members of ECVOA, most of the 18 are recipients of significant funding from us,” said the CEO.

Deputy Michael Ring (FG) queried if any HR cases were before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), eliciting from the CEO that he was aware of one such case.

Deputy Claire Kerrane asked what was the total income for HSI in 2022 and whether HSI was audited by the PAC Committee (Public Accounts).

Figures of €5 million from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and some €2 million from Sport Ireland were outlined by Duggan who said HSI was not audited by PAC. “We outsourced the internal audit function of the organisation, we were audited by COSI who gave us a five-star clean bill of health,” said the HSI CEO.

Deputy Kerrane also questioned how efficient was HSI’s passporting system and was told by the CEO that 20,000 documents were handled last year. Of these, 12,000 were new registrations, older horses, changes of ownership etc. Duggan cited the pandemic as having an adverse effect on the processing of DNA testing which resulted in a turnaround time of between four to six weeks.

Dr Sonja Egan outlined HSI’s digital services and the rollout to the more advanced SNPS technology which can process up to 20,000 samples a week, as opposed to the current 2,500 DNA samples per week.

Senator Lynn Boylan (SF) queried how much was spent on legal cases and the rate of staff turnover. In reply, the CEO said: “Estimate of €2 million in legal costs is the figure that is out there for the last number of years”, citing an inability to compete with the private sector to retain HSI graduate ‘first job’ staff.

Deputy Flaherty demanded “absolute transparency’’ for the industry and asked for the 2021 and 2022 internal department accounts. “Can you share them with this Committee”? he asked Horse Sport Ireland. In reply, Duggan said: “I don’t think we can to be honest”.