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We all win if racing is given leg-up in Northern Ireland

By James Nicholson

Published 23/10/2015

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill

For too long the horse racing sector has been an undervalued and underused driver for employment and growth in Northern Ireland.

The sport is at the heart of rural development, producing talent with world-class pedigree, drawing communities together and helping sustain thousands of jobs.

Yet we are still only realising a fraction of what the sector is capable of and, without adequate support, we risk losing the chance to convert our advantageous skills and environment into long-term economic gain.

In its budget last week the Irish Government confirmed plans to secure an additional €4.8m (£3.5m) that will take Horse Racing Ireland's annual budget up to €59.2m (£42.9m).

It is the latest phase of a forward-looking strategy that has carefully translated the raw potential of Irish racing into lucrative foreign investment and more than 17,000 jobs across a range of industries.

The calibre of Irish racing is undeniable, but the skills, talents and conditions which have underpinned their success do not stop at the border and there are manifold dividends within our grasp.

As social enterprises on tight budgets, Down Royal and Downpatrick racecourses have worked hard to develop the local racing product and encourage more people into the sport.

Neither track receives Government funding and every penny of profit is invested back into the industry. Both courses are ready, willing and capable of doing much if given the chance.

In recent weeks the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Dard) has been reviewing how much the betting industry should contribute to support the development of the sport.

It is only right that those who profit on the back of our industry's hard labour pay their way.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill deserves credit for initiating the review and I urge her to be ambitious in her decision-making.

An appropriate level of funding represents an opportunity to establish a thriving racing sector and boost rural development.

If we are serious about rebuilding and rebalancing the economy, then it makes sense to support the industries that have the potential and proven ability to deliver.

James Nicholson is chairman of Down Royal Racecourse

Belfast Telegraph

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