I feel like I’ve read a million screaming responses to last week’s RTÉ Investigates documentary Horses – Making a Killing. I’ve seen abuse hurled towards individuals and organisations and even the equestrian press has had it in the neck – people want answers. I’ve read many press releases from this country and others, safe to say the abhorrence exposed by some excellent journalism has caused deep pain and raw anger across the board within and outwith the equine sector.

Traceability system

It’s good to see this mass expression of anger. It’s good to see sport horse and racing professionals offering robust reactions. It’s disappointing to see DAFM’s weak response on paper, an insipid read. I’m praying for some bold action. On Friday, the Department confirmed no horses have entered the food chain from the Shannonside Foods Ltd, the slaughter plant at the centre of the investigation. The plant is apparently subject to a legal notice detaining all carcasses presented for slaughter until the Department is “satisfied regarding traceability.” Really? The dogs on the street knew this documentary was coming, so I’m sure the criminal micro-chippers did too. There is no satisfactory traceability system in Ireland!

We must channel our collective anger in the right fight. The men who abused those horses and who run that plant need to face the law, undoubtedly, and, if found guilty, may they never go near an animal again. However, I believe the buck stops with DAFM and the failure of their officials to inspect the lairage at the plant. I believe responsibility also lies with the full-time DAFM vets whose job it was to oversee compliance to standards on site. I find it almost impossible to believe they didn’t know what was going on and even if they didn’t, why didn’t they know, how didn’t they know?

Monitoring and auditing

Ireland didn’t need this, and the Irish horse sector certainly didn’t deserve this. There are bad people everywhere, if there are loopholes for criminality – criminals will take advantage of that. We need immediate revision of the legislation governing equine slaughter. Lairage standards, training for slaughterhouse workers, customs officers and inspectors must all be reviewed immediately. Monitoring and auditing need to be rigorous to protect the animals at their most vulnerable point.

I’m unshakeable in my belief that most horse owners whether in leisure or sport only want the best for their horses at any stage of their lives. If we choose to fight as a community – where do we go for resolution? It can only be DAFM. We all know it’s a hard ask but we have one of the most robust cattle traceability systems in the world here in Ireland. We cannot wait a moment longer for a working, collaborative, equine traceability system. To the Department I say, put the money in and get it done.