Doherty leads condemnation of horse abuse following TV documentary

By Cate McCurry, PA

There has been widespread condemnation of the “sickening” and “abhorrent” abuse of horses, which has promoted calls for immediate action and accountability.

Government ministers and opposition TDs criticised the “appalling” footage which was shown in a TV documentary investigating the mistreatment of horses in Co Kildare.

Serious animal welfare abuses were uncovered in the RTÉ Investigates documentary which aired on Wednesday night.

It also revealed that illegal methods were used to launder the identities of horses at the site in Ireland’s only equine abattoir.

The welfare abuse was filmed in a building used by Shannonside Foods Ltd in Straffan.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said the Irish public were left “distressed and appalled” by the footage.

“This country has a great love for horses. I know those with special needs and autism and the comfort and support they get from horses. Many people refer to them as angels with hooves, and they demand respect and care,” Mr Doherty told the Dáil.

“What was reported last night demands immediate action and it demands accountability, minister.”


Mr Doherty questioned how officials from the Department of Agriculture, who work on the site on days that horses are slaughtered, were not aware of the mistreatment.

“It has been uncovered that approximately 2,000 horses were slaughtered at Shannonside Foods Ltd in Kildare last year alone, with two thirds of them bred for the horse racing industry,” he added.

“The Department of Agriculture have said that they have staff on the premises during which those horses are slaughtered at the site. They also tell us that there were no welfare issues noted on the days when this mistreatment took place.

“A question that so many people are asking this morning is how this mistreatment happened under the very nose of the Department of Agriculture. What is clear is that the law has been broken.


“The question must be asked whether the supervision of this site was adequate when the cruelty and the abuse taking place literally a yard’s throw away from the slaughterhouse in which the department official was sitting in and supervising.”

Minister for Finance Michael McGrath said that he was also “sickened and appalled” the mistreatment of the “beautiful animals”.

“I think it’s important to say that there’s no question that the treatment that we witnessed last night is not representative of the wider equine industry and is not representative of the love and care that owners of horses display every single day for their animals around this country,” the Cork TD added.

“The Government unreservedly condemns the scenes that we witnessed and the full force of the law will be applied where breaches are proven in the court of law.

“There were a number of wider issues that came to the fore in the programme, in the context of traceability, the misuse of microchips, and indeed, fake passporting in respect of horses.

“That does raise concerns about public health, as well as animal welfare. If animals ended up in the European Union food chain that shouldn’t have because of chemicals that had been injected into them previously, that is a cause of real concern.

“It was evident last night that the European Commission are very actively working on this issue.”

Labour TD Duncan Smith told the Dáil that the current system is “broken” and being abused.


“This is a sector that receives gigantic levels of funding from the exchequer through a ring-fenced statutory fund. But we now have a clearer sense of the murky and illegal practices that are going on,” Mr Smith added.

“The system is clearly broken and being abused and all under the nose of the Department of Agriculture.

“The safety of human food chain is not being taken seriously. The only conclusion to be drawn from using false microchips and spray paint to change the hair colour is that these animals wouldn’t pass otherwise. Human health is being put at risk and horses are being abused.

“What emerged last night raises serious questions for the Department of Agriculture and for Horse Racing Ireland who appear to be asleep at the wheel.”

Earlier, the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue, said those responsible will face the “full rigours of the law”.

Horse Racing Ireland said it will “actively support” the Department of Agriculture and Garda investigations, and urged anyone with information about mistreatment of horses to report it to gardaí.

Mr McConalogue said an investigation has been launched into the incidents alongside the gardaí.

“The scenes we saw last night and the treatment of those horses was abhorrent and distressing. Horses are beautiful, sensitive animals and that was absolutely unacceptable,” Mr McConalogue said.

“It’s certainly not representative of the way that people across this country and those in the industry treat and care for their horses. We already have commenced an investigation in the Department of Agriculture.

“We’ve also requested all of the footage that RTÉ has, and any other evidence as well to make it available to the investigation team.

“Obviously, I would avoid saying anything that might be prejudicial to the conduct of that investigation. But I can assure you and I can assure the public that this will be fully investigated, and that the full rigour of the law will be applied here.

“The law is adequate but what we saw last night was not lawful, and it was breaches of the law.”

The Fianna Fáil minister said there are strict laws in place around the management of what enters the human food chain.

He said that no stone will be left unturned in the investigation.