Ireland's Agriculture Minister Addresses “Distressing” Scenes In RTE Documentary

The documentary dealt mainly with non-thoroughbreds | Coady Photography

Horse Racing Ireland said it is “deeply shocked and appalled” by the footage of animal abuse shown in an RTE Investigates programme that was broadcast on Wednesday evening while Ireland's Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said those responsible for the alleged mistreatment of horses will face the “full rigour of the law”.

While racehorses did feature in the one-hour programme, it dealt mainly with non-thoroughbreds being exported to continental Europe. 

Most shockingly, it revealed instances where some horses were having their identities changed before either being exported for sale or slaughtered to enter the food chain. 

There were also horrific scenes filmed inside the Shannonside Foods abattoir in Straffan, County Kildare. Footage of horses being mistreated and repeatedly struck with a pipe was shown.

It also appeared that some horses were having new microchips being implanted just moments before being presented for slaughter, presumably so they could be cleared by the Department officials to enter the food chain.

“The scenes we saw last night and the treatment of those horses was abhorrent and distressing. Horses are beautiful, sensitive animals and that was absolutely unacceptable,” Minister McConalogue said.

“It's certainly not representative of the way that people across this country and those in the industry treat and care for their horses. We already have commenced an investigation in the Department of Agriculture.”

He added, “Obviously, I would avoid saying anything that might be prejudicial to the conduct of that investigation. But I can assure you and I can assure the public that this will be fully investigated, and that the full rigour of the law will be applied here. The law is adequate but what we saw last night was not lawful, and it was breaches of the law.”

Whilst defending overall standards of equine welfare within the industry, HRI insisted it “has zero tolerance for mistreatment of horses in any circumstance”.

A full statement read, “The Board, management and staff of HRI are deeply shocked and appalled by the content of the RTE Investigates documentary broadcast on RTE 1 tonight.

“The criminal behaviour depicted in the RTE documentary is disgusting and is not the experience of the vast majority of the 30,000 people who make their livelihood in the horse racing and breeding industry in Ireland.

“HRI has zero tolerance for mistreatment of horses in any circumstance and criminal and regulatory sanction must be imposed on anyone found to have behaved in an illegal way towards horses.

“Equine safety and care is HRI's top priority, and this year HRI will invest €16.1 million in welfare and integrity services. The thoroughbred horse is enshrined in Irish and EU law. Significant legal and regulatory checks and balances are in place for thoroughbred horses from birth through their racing career and life cycle.

“HRI will review the issues raised in the RTE documentary and will actively support any Department of Agriculture or Garda investigation, and urge anyone with information about mistreatment of horses to report it to An Garda Siochana.”

The programme was described by RTE as a major new investigation examining the Irish and European horse industries.

It said, “The team went inside the equine industry to show how some of these horses are slaughtered in Ireland, while others are given new identities and traded in deals across Europe.”

Issuing its own response, the British Horseracing Authority said “urgent steps” must be taken.

A statement read, “We share in the shock and dismay regarding the images of abhorrent abuse and malpractice from an abattoir in Ireland which was broadcast on RTE last night.

“Urgent steps must be taken by the appropriate bodies to improve standards for all horses sent to this facility, and sanctions imposed on anyone found to have committed illegal acts or broken regulatory requirements.

“We are aware of the illegal tampering of horse passports and believe the introduction of a digital-only system for equine ID is essential to stop this practice. British racing, alongside other equestrian sports and welfare bodies, has repeatedly lobbied Government to introduce digital ID. We will continue to make it a core ask of the new administration.

“British racing's goal, as set out in the independently-chaired Horse Welfare Board's strategy 'A Life Well Lived', is to achieve 100 per cent traceability of racehorses when they retire and take their first move from the sport.

“For horses for whom euthanasia is required – which in some circumstances is the most humane outcome – we are here to help those responsible make difficult but timely decisions. Our code of practice for euthanasia emphasises that horses must be allowed to retain their dignity to the end of their lives and if euthanasia is the only option, it should be performed at home or in suitable surroundings.

“In 2022 we imposed a rule that all racehorses which run in Great Britain must be signed out of the human and animal food chain. It was introduced to prevent any horse from racing in Britain and then legally being sold for slaughter to abattoirs, either domestically or internationally.

“British racing is open and transparent about the horses involved in our sport. Facts and information about the horses who are bred for racing, the lives they lead, and what happens when they leave the sport, including how they are supported by the sport's dedicated aftercare charity Retraining of Racehorses (RoR), can be found on www.horsepwr.co.uk.”

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