Press Release

PAC puts Irish Sport Horse Project under scrutiny

Session: 2009/2010

Date: Wednesday, 09 December 2009

Reference: PAC 06/09/10

A final report into the Irish Sports Horse Project, which received £3.3 million of European Union funding, has today been published by the Northern Ireland Assembly Public Accounts Committee.

The Committee had twice examined the project in 2001, and this report completes its investigation into the scheme.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Paul Maskey MLA, Chairperson of the Committee, said: “The Committee has been looking at this project over a number of years — we held two meetings in 2001 and a subsequent one in the last session. While it is unusual for one project to be the subject of three evidence sessions, our most recent hearing reflected our concerns over the way issues had been dealt with following the earlier sessions.

“For example, in 2006, a departmental review found that delivering equine breeding and testing at two sites—the Department’s Enniskillen campus and Necarne— was costing more than necessary. Two years later, in 2008, the Department calculated that it could save over £165,000 a year by concentrating all equine provision at its Enniskillen campus.

“To our dismay, during our most recent evidence session, we found that public funds will continue to be wasted on the Necarne lease until at least 2012 when the Department hopes to agree the termination of the lease with the Council. In our view, the slow progress with which this matter has been pursued by the Department is unacceptable.

“The Committee was also disappointed to learn that an Equine Technology Centre, constructed in 2000 at a cost of £160,000, has never been used. Scarce resources have been wasted, and an opportunity to help the local equine industry has been missed.”


Notes to Editors:

1. The ‘Irish Sport Horse Genetic Testing Unit Ltd’ (Sport Horse) was set up in 1996 to establish a commercially-run elite horse-breeding project.
2. Two evidence sessions were held in January 2001 and September 2001.
3. Other concerns noted by the Committee included the sale of horses to the Irish Army. Taxpayer interests were poorly by contract procedures and the Department’s subsequent handling of a freedom of information request from a local journalist fell short of the standard required.
4. Standing Orders under Section 60(3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 have provided for the establishment of the Public Accounts Committee (the Committee). The main statutory function of the Committee is to consider accounts and the reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland (C&AG) laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly.
5. The C&AG is head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) and is empowered to investigate any area of expenditure and has a statutory right of access to all files and papers in Departments and public bodies.

The PAC Committee members are:-

Alliance Mr Trevor Lunn
Democratic Unionist Party Mr Jim Shannon 6
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr David Hilditch 7,10
Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson 3,4,5,9
Sinn Fein Mr Paul Maskey (Chairperson) 2
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin
Social Democratic and Labour Party Mr John Dallat
Mr Patsy McGlone 1,8
Ulster Unionist Party Mr Roy Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)
Progressive Unionist Party Ms Dawn Purvis

1 With effect from 04 March 2008 Mr Thomas Burns replaced Mr Patsy McGlone.
2 With effect from 20 May 2008 Mr Paul Maskey replaced Mr John O'Dowd.
3 With effect from 1 October 2007 Mr Mickey Brady replaced Mr Willie Clarke.
4 With effect from 21 January 2008 Mr Ian McCrea replaced Mr Mickey Brady.
5 With effect from Tuesday 27 May 08 Mr Jim Wells replaced Mr Ian McCrea.
6 With effect from Monday, 15 September 08 Mr Jim Shannon replaced Mr David Hilditch.
7 With effect from Monday, 15 September 08 Mr George Robinson replaced Mr Simon Hamilton.
8 With effect from 29 June 2009, Mr Patsy McGlone replaced Mr Thomas Burns.
9 with effect from 18 September 2009 Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson replaced Mr Jim Wells.
10 with effect from 18 September 2009 Mr David Hilditch replaced Mr George Robinson.

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