O’Neill meets with Equine Council to discuss ‘Status of the Horse’

MINISTER for Agriculture and Rural Development Michelle O’Neill has met with representatives from the Equine Council for NI (ECNI) to discuss their report on the Status of the Horse in Northern Ireland.

The delegation, led by ECNI chairman, Tony McCusker, presented the Minister with a copy of ECNI’s report.

Speaking after the meeting Minister O’Neill said: “This was a good opportunity to discuss ECNI’s report following public consultation. It is interesting to note that ECNI is not recommending a change in the status of the horse but rather that more emphasis be placed on the horse, contributing to farming life through farm diversification, and by consideration of greater support opportunities for the equine sector in the new Rural Development Programme. I will consider ECNI’s recommendations in more detail in due course.”

The minister added: “I would take this opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to ECNI as the representative body for the equine sector here and look forward to it continuing to deliver on the actions in the equine strategy. My officials will continue to work closely with ECNI in taking forward its important work.”

ECNI chairman, Tony McCusker added: “It is important that the horse and associated equine businesses are recognised as a vital part of the rural economy in Northern Ireland. The industry contributes a great deal to rural life and land stewardship and it is important that it is allowed to reach its potential in all aspects including as an exporting industry, tourism product and a valuable sporting and leisure pursuit with proven health benefits. We welcome this engagement with the Minister and look forward to ensuring that the equine sector can develop and continue to contribute to the Northern Ireland economy.”

Mr McCusker was accompanied by ECNI board members John Kidd, Dr Ernest Logan, Helen Troughton and development officer Debbie Black.

ECNI has made a number of recommendations to government in the report which followed a full public consultation on the issue in 2012. They are not persuaded that a statutory position on the status of the horse is necessary or desirable. It needs to be recognised however that the horse and equine businesses are an important part of rural communities and that the horse as a grazing animal is a part of the overall agriculture system in terms of its contribution to rural life, land stewardship and to the many farming families involved. It is vital that the sector receives support from government at this critical time to ensure that it cannot only survive but continue to contribute to society in economic, sporting and social terms.

ECNI therefore made the following recommendations to DARD:

l The 1949 Act should not be amended to designate the horse as an agricultural animal

l DARD should be responsible for the health and welfare of equines but should not apply movement restrictions similar to other farm animals, except in relevant disease outbreak situations

l DARD should commission a review of the horse passport system

l DARD should recognise the horse as part of rural life contributing to farming life through grazing and as part of farm diversification

l DARD should make a case to DFP for rates relief for breeding establishments similar to England and ROI. In addition, a review of the overall rates situation for the equine sector needs to be undertaken. The physical and mental health benefits associated with riding, along with the educational role played by riding establishments should be highlighted as part of this

l In the 2014-2021 Rural Development Plan, DARD should specifically look to measures which can enhance the potential of the equine industry for rural areas

It should be noted that the recommendation in relation to a review of the passport system has taken on increased relevance following the recent articles in the press regarding equine health and welfare and is an issue which ECNI will continue to emphasise particularly in light of the discontinuation of the National Equine Database in September 2012.

The full report on the Status of the Horse including the original public consultation files is available to view and download from ECNI’s website: http://www.equinecouncilni.com/status-of-the-horse.