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Strike threat to Leopardstown

Irish racing could be dealt a further blow at the end of the month as the Irish Turf Club Officials Association (TCOA) have issued strike notice through Mandate Trade Union.

The strike is scheduled for Sunday February 28 when meetings are due to take place at Clonmel and Leopardstown, the latter popular for after-race gallops ahead of Cheltenham.

The 32 members of the TCOA, which includes officials who carry out stewarding duties and are the sole regulators and enforcers of the rules of horseracing in Ireland, are striking over issues relating to pay and the slashing of the integrity budget.

The integrity budget cuts will mean reductions in incomes for the 32 officials employed there as well as serious deterioration of the performance of their duties.

Mandate Trade Union, which represents the workers of the Turf Club, said the vast majority of officials will see an approximate cut of 36.5pc in income if current plans go ahead -- this is despite the fact that funding of the organisation has only been reduced by 22 pc.

The Turf Club receives funding from Horse Racing Ireland, which in turn is funded by the Government. Funding has been cut from €61m in 2008 to €47m in 2010 and, of that sum, €6.4 m is allocated to the integrity budget, which has sole responsibility for enforcing the rules and preserving the reputation of horseracing in Ireland.

Turf Club official Michael O'Donoghue said: "We are very alarmed about what implications these cuts may have on the reputation of Irish racing. For example, the failure of the Turf Club to replace two full-time officials has resulted in the amount of microchip identifications of all racehorses on a race day being reduced from 313 days to 63 days, which means that the Turf Club cannot guarantee that the correct horse is running in a race 80pc of the time.

"Other areas where cutbacks may affect standards is the routine sample analysis, which will impact on policing an industry which must be run in accordance with drug-free guidelines."

Mandate are hopeful of a resolution prior to the scheduled strike day, which may or may not have a bearing on the day's racing, depending on whether the Turf Club can employ part-time staff, although that prospect would seem unlikely with a double meeting taking place. This would appear a factor in the selection of this date for the action, rather than the original expected date of February 17 when just Punchestown was due to be the scheduled meeting.

Mandy Kane, divisional organiser for Mandate Trade Union said: "The strike may affect several events on the Irish horseracing calendar, but we want to be quite clear in stating that the officials do not want to go on strike and would much prefer to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible.

"We have already requested that the Turf Club join us in our endeavour to resolve the dispute by attending the Labour Court in the interest of their employees and the horseracing public before any unnecessary damage is done to Irish horseracing's credibility. Yet despite receiving funds from Irish taxpayers, the Turf Club is refusing to use the state machinery for resolving industrial relations disputes."


Ms Kane continued to hit out at the Turf Club stating: "You simply cannot go about business the way that the Turf Club have. They have already unilaterally imposed income cuts on our members and are now attempting to impose further cuts which will have a devastating effect, not only on our members and their families standards of living, but also on the integrity of the horseracing industry in Ireland.

"We have stated previously that, while we accept that cost-cutting measures may be necessary, we are opposed to the manner in which the Turf Club has gone about this. They haven't engaged meaningfully in negotiations and have attempted, over several years, to deteriorate the terms and conditions of their employees without agreement with the officials of their union."

Champion trainer Willie Mullins is naturally hopeful that the dispute can be resolved as quickly as possible and he said over the weekend that it was "sad" to hear of the dispute, and in praising the Turf Club officials he was hopeful a return to part-time staff could be avoided.

"It was sad to see the Turf Club and its employees in the Labour Court this week. I have to say, the team of people on the ground involved in the day to day running of Irish racing -- the starters, and clerks of the courses and so on -- is the best team we've ever had.

"They are extremely efficient and give me great confidence in the integrity of Irish racing," Mullins said.