A racehorse owner has claimed he was dismissed as a steward of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) after he raised questions about governance and funding of the sector.
rian Polly, a former chairman of the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners, said he was informed in writing and without warning in January that his appointment as race-day steward was “revoked” with immediate effect.
Mr Polly said his dismissal from the voluntary role in racing coincided with his attempts to raise questions about the sector. He said he was now consulting his solicitor.
Mr Polly has circulated numerous emails to Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue that were critical of the horseracing sector and raised questions about the IHRB.
He did so during a period when the horseracing sector had come under scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee in recent years, including the shareholdings in the redeveloped Curragh racecourse and the installation of cameras in racecourse stableyards.
“I have always prided myself in being a person of the greatest integrity — my appointment as an IHRB steward hopefully reflected this,” Mr Polly said in a statement.
He said that “regrettably”, he and other members had concerns about the IHRB and he posed questions during his time as a steward. “I, on my behalf and on the behalf of smaller owners and trainers, posed many questions about the concerns we had,” he said.
He added that the questions were wide-ranging and “simply sought to bring some transparency” to the organisation.
He stood down as chairman of the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners following a dispute.
A High Court action he instigated against the association was discontinued last July, according to court records.
The voluntary positions are appointed by the IHRB to make sure the rules of racing are upheld on race days, “ensuring all horses are ridden on their merits, and penalising those found to be in breach of the rules”.
They are appointed or dismissed by a decision of the board of the IHRB. Race-day stewards include judges Mr Justice Raymond Groarke and Mr Justice Tony Hunt.
The IHRB said it does not comment on “current or former race-day stewards”.
The regulatory body said the race-day stewards were appointed by the board of the IHRB and must be approved by the majority of directors.
The directors may revoke the appointment “at any time”, the statement said.
Race-day stewards are not employees of the IHRB. “It is an entirely unremunerated position and confers no material benefits,” it added.
The IHRB is a company limited by guarantee, formerly an amalgamation of the Turf Club and the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee, in 2018.
Its first set of accounts, published earlier this month, revealed the previous chief executive of the IHRB, Denis Egan, received a termination payment of €384,870 when he took early retirement in 2021.
The Comptroller and Auditor General noted Mr Egan had announced the early retirement and voluntary redundancy scheme in 2021. He applied for it a month later.
Mr Egan was paid €141,880 more than he was entitled to under the strict terms of the scheme, the Comptroller and Auditor General noted.
The IHRB said no public funds were used to fund the additional payment.