Day At The Track

Move to ban 'sulky' racing on Irish roads

12:10 AM 31 Jan 2018 NZDT
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Des Gallagher
Sulky rider Des Gallagher at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair in 2006. Galway Co Council has since banned sulky racing at the fair because of health and safety issues allied to insurance liability concerns, and the views of animal rights groups.
Matt Kavanagh Photo

Legislation proposing a ban on “sulky” racing on Irish public roads, and tighter regulation on use of horses where races are regulated is due to be introduced in the Dáil this week by Independent TD Mattie McGrath.

A sulky is an unprotected, lightweight cart, which is usually drawn by a horse. Unofficial sulky harness races on public roads are popular among the Travelling community.

Mr McGrath said he move was in response to evidence of increasing number of collisions on Irish roads involving sulkies and associated injuries to members of the public; the number of horses being killed or having to be destroyed as a consequence, and related animal welfare issues.

The Bill would strengthen existing Garda and local authority powers, while those found in breach of the law could face a €5,000 fine or imprisonment.

“My main concern is public safety,” Mr McGrath told The Irish Times. “I’m inundated by calls from constituents who are concerned after meeting sulkies on the roads every day.”

There were particularly prevalent on the main Cork-Limerick road and on the “old N8” in Co Tipperary which was quieter because of traffic using the motorway network, he said, while he was aware of regular racing every fortnight with betting in his constituency.

He has written to the Turf Club calling on it to establish proper tracks for regulated racing.

In October, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten agreed there was a need for tighter control of illegal sulky racing on public roads. He favoured the introduction of new bye-laws.

Mr McGrath said he was mindful of the circumstances leading to the death of 12-year-old boy who was killed in February 2016 when thrown under a truck in a sulky accident.

At an inquest into the boy’s death this month a jury recommended the introduction of laws to regulate sulky use, specifically their use on public roads. The family of Sean Doyle, who was killed in Clondalkin, Co Dublin, said they hoped new regulations could prevent further loss of life.

At the inquest, PSV inspector Garda David O’Brien described the sulky as a man-made cart on a tubular steel axle with no seatbelts or side-guards. “It’s not a vehicle that should be used on a public highway,” he said.

Mr McGrath acknowledged some people will claim he is being anti-Traveller in seeking a ban, but his motivation was from “a public safety and animal welfare point of view”.

Racing horses on hard surfaces was a form of cruelty, he said. While his Prohibition of Sulky Racing Bill 2017 was due before the Dáil, there was little indication of the extent of cross-party support for it, he added.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals last year called for a ban on sulky racing on Irish roads. It acknowledged races in some cases were being staged at official tracks.

“However, many illegal races take place on public roads. Sulky racing is regulated in other countries and carried out on safe off-road tracks, which does happen in Dundalk occasionally. We would like to see sulky racing banned from the roads, and the gardaí have sufficient powers to do that under road traffic legislation,” an ISPCA spokesman said.

“Another element we want to see is ‘licence and registration’ taken more seriously. If sulkies are going to be on the roads then a way must be found to have some registration,” he added.

“In other countries sulky racing can be carried out in a more controlled environment. It only seems to be here in Ireland that we have this problem. Our main concern with sulky racing is the training of the younger horses, they are training them far too young and the horse’s muscles and joints have not fully developed,” he said.

Two serious accidents occurred in Co Kilkenny last August where the horses had to be destroyed.

Members of the Traveller community in July 2017 began a drive to promote the mental health benefits of horse ownership and underlined its importance within their culture. Up to 20 sulkies assembled on Cahir bypass in Co Tipperary for the “Drive for Hope and Change”, which was also organised to highlight the problem of suicide among Travellers.

Martin Collins, a co-director with the Traveller rights group Pavee Point, said there was need for “greater regulation” in the area of sulky racing. “Many Travelling organisations at a local level have been endeavouring for this for years,” he said.

“The fundamental point I want to make here is that there is a gross inequity in terms of Government policy on what sports get funded,” he added. “I think it’s unfair that about €64 million per year is pumped into Horse Racing Irelandand a sport Travellers are interested in doesn’t get a look in.”

Galway Co Council has banned sulky racing at Ballinalsloe October Fair because of “health and safety issues allied to insurance liability concerns, and the views of animal rights groups”.

By Kevin O'Sullivan

Reprinted with permission of The Irish Times

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