Oireachtas Committee meetings don’t have quite the same sense of drama when most of the participants are on a TV screen on the wall but yesterday’s opening session of a hearing into matters arising from Horse Racing regulation did provide a few moments of clarity, frustration and a detailed analysis on the rules of seniority prompted by former Minister of State for Sport Michael Ring, TD.
The main reason for the hearing taking place was Jim Bolger’s assertion from 2020, repeated in an interview with Paul Kimmage in the Sunday Independent that doping was a major problem in Irish racing and that it was coming towards a ‘Lance Armstrong moment’.
Whether that hyperbole was playing to a willing audience in Kimmage or based on fact is yet to be determined as no evidence has been put forward to support the claim and Bolger elected not to attend yesterday’s session on the basis of his own legal advice.
Kimmage hinted last weekend that there was a lot more to come, and included anonymous sources making further claims, that were subsequently dismissed by racing authorities in Ireland and Britain.
There has been more anonymous sharing of information with various members of the Committee as we heard yesterday morning with Paul Kehoe saying that he was ‘absolutely horrified and very concerned’ at what he was hearing from people getting in touch with him.
The first principle of justice though is that it is based on fact and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board were represented yesterday by CEO Denis Egan and Chief Veterinary Officer and Head of Anti Doping Dr Linn Hillyer to state a case that the system was rigorous.
Hillyer rejected the claims of Bolger and Kimmage saying they were ‘simply untrue.
“We have been quoted as having not analysed every sample, but that is simply untrue,” she said. “We’ve been said to have a rubbish lab – that is simply untrue. The frustration is from the reporting and the headlines, not from people coming forward and telling us information.”
Her defence was solid, at times letting her frustration show but never losing control.
She detailed the procedures involved and the process of investigating every complaint as well as the introduction of random testing five years ago.
As time ticked by and the 14 committee members were moving slowly through their lists of questions from the four corners of the country, she asked if they wanted her to repeat some of the points but there was no moment of revelation such as had been hinted at by Jim Bolger.
The highest that temperatures got was when Jackie Cahill called on Senator Ronan Mullen to ask his questions and Michael Ring took offence that he held a more senior position on the Committee and should have been asked first. Doubtless, the racing authorities, including Brian Kavanagh, CEO of Horse racing Ireland who was dialling in from the Curragh will have taken the time to have a sip of water and get ready for the next round.
After two hours though Cahill decided to let everyone switch off and convened the meeting until Tuesday week.
Whether there will be more allegations in the meantime, or whether any evidence is brought forward, remains to be seen but for now the reputation of the sport looks like it is cantering along at an easy pace, as would be the hope.
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