Protecting the Integrity & Reputation of Irish Horseracing

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IHRB Opening Statement Public Accounts Committee

Examination of Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board Financial Statements 2021



Chairman, Members of the Committee, on behalf of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, I want to thank the Chair and Members of the Committee of Public Accounts for their invitation to appear before the Committee.  My name is Darragh O’Loughlin, and I was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the IHRB in June 2022. I am joined by my colleague Niall Cronin, Head of Communications and Strategy.



The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board CLG (IHRB) was established in 2018 by the Turf Club and Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee (INHSC) to carry out the regulatory and licensing functions assigned to the Racing Regulatory Body under the Horse Racing Ireland Act 2016. The mission of the IHRB is to ensure that the reputation of Irish Horse Racing and confidence in the sport are protected by robust and transparent regulatory practices, implemented with integrity, by a professional and progressive team. 

Under the legislation, the IHRB is solely and independently responsible for the making and enforcing of the Rules of Racing and operates under a service level agreement with Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) in relation to the provision of horseracing integrity services. The Horse Racing Ireland Act 2016 provides that HRI is responsible for guaranteeing funding to the IHRB to carry out its functions through an Integrity Services Budget which is agreed annually.

The IHRB is the internationally recognised racing body for Ireland in respect of its functions. It is a member of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities and is signatory to the International Agreement on Racing and Breeding which provides the basis for international racing.



Although not a statutory body, the IHRB abides by the underlying principles of good governance – accountability, transparency, probity and a focus on the sustainable success of the organisation over the longer term – and aligns to the requirements of a Non-Commercial State Body as set out in the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies.

The IHRB is governed by a board of eight directors, three each nominated by the Turf Club and the INHSC, all of whom serve without remuneration and, as of this year, two independent directors. The IHRB Board gender ratio is 5:3 male to female. In addition, the IHRB has appointed an independent chairperson to its Audit and Risk Committee. Responsibility for day-to-day operational matters is vested in the senior management team led by the Chief Executive Officer.

As we approach the end of the current Strategic Plan 2019-2023, the Directors and management of the IHRB are currently engaged in extensive internal and external consultations with stakeholders across and outside the industry as part of the development of a renewed strategy for the coming years.

Within the past 48 hours, in the course of preparing for this meeting, I became aware of a hitherto unknown issue that occurred in early 2022, which caused grave concern. It was immediately brought to the attention of the chair of the Audit and Risk Committee and the Board of the IHRB. The Board has commissioned a full review of the matter to be conducted by an independent firm. Additionally, the preliminary facts as they are known have been disclosed to the relevant bodies, including the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, Horse Racing Ireland, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The Committee will appreciate that I am not in a position to give any further details on the matter at this time, pending the outcome of the independent review.


Racing Regulatory Body Functions

The IHRB is responsible for regulating Irish horseracing, including equine anti-doping control. Our key functions include making and enforcing the Rules of Racing; providing integrity services for horse racing; ensuring the provision of on course integrity services by employing, monitoring and controlling the activities of horseracing officials; licensing all participants in horseracing in Ireland; making all decisions relating to doping control, forensic testing and handicapping; being responsible for the representation of Irish horseracing internationally in respect of our functions; and providing governance for point-to-point steeplechase and enforcing the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Regulations.

As a 32-county all-Ireland body, the IHRB carries out its functions through a team of 25 experienced administrative staff working from our offices in the Curragh and over 100 highly trained, professional racing officials at race meetings across the island who ensure that the rules are properly observed, and that the integrity of the sport is maintained. The IHRB also relies on a network of over 140 volunteer Raceday Stewards and committee members who lend their professional expertise to ensure Irish horseracing adheres to the rules and is properly governed at all levels. In 2021, the IHRB presided over 395 race meetings and 54 point to point events, up from 332 race meetings and 68 point to points in 2020. We held 949 Stewards Enquiries and 93 regulatory hearings, consisting of 56 Referrals and 37 Appeals.

In 2021 the IHRB issued licences to 654 riders, 366 trainers and 217 restricted trainers, which were increases on the previous year, when the equivalent licence numbers were 557 riders, 348 trainers and 192 restricted trainers. However, point to point handler permits declined to 566 from 574 in 2020. We also registered 3,614 stable staff in 2021, of whom 1,726 were full-time and 1,888 were part-time, an increase on the 3,444 registered in 2020.

Licence fees paid by racing participants amounted to €1,032,366 in 2021, representing 9% of IHRB revenue. Fees charged by the IHRB are reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure they reflect the value of the licence without posing an unreasonable barrier to participation in the sport.


Equine Anti-Doping

Equine anti-doping is a top priority for the organisation, as it is for the sport, and the IHRB has no tolerance for any rule breaches in this regard. The IHRB’s Equine Anti-Doping strategy has evolved in recent years to operate on a sophisticated risk and intelligence basis backed by rigorous processes of investigation and follow-through in the event of an adverse analytical finding. As important as it is to take enough samples, it is also crucial to take the right sample, from the right horse, at the right time to maximise the likelihood of detecting prohibited substances if they are there, to deter those who might be tempted to cheat through doping, and to disrupt inappropriate activities.

Our systems for tackling doping concerns continue to be strengthened, and the appointment by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine of 12 Authorised Officers was another welcome development. This allows IHRB veterinary officials to gain access to any Thoroughbred in any location at any time. Inspections allow us to scrutinise every aspect of a training yard, including the premises and facilities, the horses, and all relevant records, and to take samples as appropriate.

In addition to taking 4,284 samples at every race day and point to point event during 2021, IHRB teams carried out over 140 stable inspections during the year and took 1,668 out-of-competition samples, making almost six thousand (5,952) tests in total – the highest number yet – with more out-of-competition tests than ever before. Of these, a total of 35 returned an Adverse Analytical Finding, each of which was investigated and referred to disciplinary hearings as appropriate. As an essential component of our integrity activities and a key area of focus for the industry, the Equine Forensics Unit is the largest non-payroll area of investment for the IHRB, with expenditure of €1,576,810 representing approximately 14% percent of our annual budget.

An independent review of the IHRB Equine Anti-Doping Programme carried out in 2022 by Dr Craig Suann concluded that the IHRB programme does “at least match international best practice in most respects and has made significant advances in recent years”. Dr Suann made a number of recommendations, 18 in total, that he said were “capable of enhancing the robustness of the programme’s processes, capabilities and capacities”. The review noted that “the implementation of some or all of these recommendations will require the provision of more funding and resources devoted to the EADP, mainly in the form of extra staff”. Recommendations that could be implemented without significant budgetary implications have been or are being implemented. However, as Dr Suann identified, there are a small number of high priority recommendations which represent significant financial challenge and will require additional funding. An application for this funding was submitted in 2022 and plans are in place to implement these remaining recommendations when resources allow.



The recent installation of CCTV systems across Ireland’s network of 25 racecourses, following a full public procurement process, represents another part of our integrity armoury. This was a significant undertaking, with over 500 cameras plus 25,500 meters of cable and 25 network video recorders now installed in racecourse stable yards and in sampling units at tracks all around the country. Now that CCTV is operational, it should act as a deterrent for prohibited or inappropriate activities and will assist in any investigation should an incident occur.



To safeguard the global reputation of horseracing in Ireland, in particular its integrity, it is the ambition of the Board and management to position the IHRB as a world class regulator for horseracing with an ongoing focus on excellence in the delivery of our core functions. To that end, the IHRB is currently engaged in an ambitious programme of change and modernisation.

This commenced in 2020 following a detailed review of the organisation’s structures, which recommended fundamental changes. The first phase required, among other things, the implementation of a voluntary redundancy and early retirement scheme which saw a number of people leave the organisation in 2021, including the Chief Executive Officer, who took early retirement, allowing for the subsequent appointment of a new CEO in 2022. Additionally, to improve Board diversity and independence, the IHRB recently added two new independent directors. We continue to work with our partners in Horse Racing Ireland to identify operational and administrative efficiencies and to act on opportunities for improvement, especially in areas such as IT, HR and Finance.



The last couple of years have presented unprecedented challenges in the administration and regulation of horseracing. IHRB staff have risen to these challenges. I would like to take this opportunity to thank IHRB staff for their resilience, commitment and professionalism. Their engagement and dedication enable us to be an adaptable, responsive and high performing organisation, serving the €2.5 billion Thoroughbred industry which supports over 30,000 jobs nationwide and, most importantly, the horseracing community and its participants.

Thank you for your attention. I and my colleagues are now happy to answer any questions the Committee may have. 

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