'Equine farming is a realistic alternative to enhance farming income if supported'

There is a major shortage of young people entering the Irish horse breeding industry
There is a major shortage of young people entering the Irish horse breeding industry

John Tarrant

Corkman Jerry Sweetnam is heading a group from the county seeking government aid to help it generate €400 million a year to create thousands of jobs in the equestrian industry and provide an alternative to enhancing farm incomes.

The Sweetnam family are no stranger to horses with sons and grandchildren competing all over the world, with the eldest Shane representing Ireland at senior championship level.

"There was a recent economic report published by the economist Jim Power, whom the government themselves use for regular advise. Its conclusions were that the sport horse industry has enormous untapped potential that needs to be recognised and supported by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed," said Jerry Sweetnam.

The Cork group highlight that the 2018 statistics for Cork county show that there are 1,100 breeders, 2,500 riders of all disciplines from hunting, showjumping, eventing to pony clubs.

Additionally, there were 25,000 individual entries at Cork equestrian events, and the largest number of eventing entries are in Cork, at 11,603, while international events are hosted annually in Millstreet, Ballindenisk and Kilguilkey.

Nationally, there are concerns that large numbers of riders and talented workers from the industry are leaving the Republic because the sport horse sector cannot support jobs or create opportunities.

"At the moment the contribution from the government is €4m per annum and the funding request at the last budget was €12.5 million. The money would be spent to encourage better breeding practices, training, marketing, welfare, IT innovations, and a high performance pathway way for horses and riders", said Mr Sweetnam.

"Economist Jim Power is quoted as saying that with adequate funding the industry could increase its output by 50pc in five years. The return to the exchequer would be a multiple of the money invested," he said, pointing out that this increased spend would be spread throughout rural Ireland.

Mr Sweetnam argues that with focused government spending these activities could add a further €400 million to the economy and create 4,000 more jobs.

"Minister Creed, like his predecessors, has talked about funding the industry but has never really delivered on his public promises of funding to the sector. He has been told by numerous reports and experts that this is an area of rural Ireland that can achieve great returns for the country if properly supported. Equine farming is a real and realistic alternative to enhance farming income and should be supported," concluded Jerry Sweetnam.