Protecting the Integrity & Reputation of Irish Horseracing

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IHRB Opening Statement Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Chairman, Members of the Committee, on behalf of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, I want to thank the Chair and Members of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine for the invitation to appear before the Committee today.  My name is Darragh O’Loughlin, Chief Executive Officer of the IHRB since June 2022. I am joined by my colleagues Dr Lynn Hillyer, Chief Veterinary Officer, and 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. Under the Act, the IHRB is solely and independently responsible for the making and enforcing of the Rules of Racing, licensing participants, andregulating horseracing, including equine anti-doping control. The IHRB 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.


Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) is responsible for funding the IHRB to carry out its functions through an Integrity Services Budget which is agreed annually. The IHRB operates under a service level agreement with HRI for the provision of horseracing integrity services. This agreement has recently been reviewed and modernised in order to ensure adequate and robust governance of the horseracing integrity services budget.



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.  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 currently engaged in an ambitious programme of change and modernisation. It has made significant advances in its governance and continues to improve. In 2020, the Board commissioned 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. This included the Chief Executive Officer, who took early retirement, allowing for the subsequent appointment of a new CEO in 2022.


The IHRB is governed by a board of eight directors, three each nominated by the Turf Club and the INHSC, who serve without remuneration, and, as of this year, two highly skilled independent directors who were appointed to enhance Board diversity and independence following an extensive recruitment process in 2022. The IHRB Board gender ratio is now 5:3 male to female. In addition, the IHRB has appointed an independent chairperson to its Audit and Risk Committee and that committee is overseeing an extensive ongoing programme of internal audit on behalf of the Board.


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.  As part of the development of a renewed strategy for the coming years, extensive internal and external consultations are underway with stakeholders across and outside the industry. Meanwhile, 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 Committee is aware that on Tuesday 27 June an issue emerged which had occurred in early 2022. The issue related to financial governance within the organisation and, when discovered, gave rise to grave concern. As such, it was therefore the subject of a disclosure to the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) on Thursday 29 June.


Immediately the issue came to light, it was brought to the attention of the Chair of the IHRB’s Audit and Risk Committee, the IHRB Chairman and the Board of the IHRB, who met on Wednesday 28 June to consider the matter. Additionally, the preliminary facts as they are known were immediately disclosed to relevant bodies, including the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Horse Racing Ireland, and were brought to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and senior officials within the Department, as was confirmed at the PAC. While the matter relates to financial governance, there does not appear to be any question of misappropriation or personal gain.


The Board of the IHRB has commissioned a full review to be conducted by an independent firm. On the recommendation of Horse Racing Ireland, the IHRB has engaged with Mazars who have agreed to carry out the independent review. The board of the IHRB is determined that the review will be fully independent and carried out as expeditiously as possible. The terms of reference are currently being refined by solicitors and, pending agreement from HRI on the final terms, the review will commence as a matter of urgency. Once it has concluded, the findings will be published and any recommendations will be acted upon.


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. 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. As important as it is to take enough samples, it is also crucial to take the right sample, from the right horse, in the right place, 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.


The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine previously recommended that international expert be commissioned to carry out an independent review of the IHRB Equine Anti-Doping Programme. A review was carried out in 2022 by Dr Craig Suann, which 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”.


The recommendations that can 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.




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.


The last couple of years have presented unprecedented challenges in the administration and regulation of horseracing. IHRB staff and volunteers have risen to these challenges. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all 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.




Statement read out by Jackie Cahill, Chairman of Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine at the meeting on Thursday, 13th July 2023 


At 5.16 p.m., legal advice was provided to the committee and was brought to my attention when the meeting had commenced. Arising from this advice, the committee is to seek further clarification on this advice before proceeding with this evening's meeting with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board. With this, the committee has decided to suspend the meeting and will revisit the issues at a later date. The meeting now stands adjourned.

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