This week, 35 years ago, just before midnight on February 9th the Dáil sat to hear a special Private Notice Question from Deputy Paddy Power on the issue of “Larceny of Racehorse”.
The one and only Shergar had been stolen from his box in Ballymany Stud. Raising the issue with Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, my grandfather was met with cynical jeers from TDs across the aisle to which he responded:
The loud laughter bespeaks the vacant minds on the opposite benches. This assures me that there is a great lack of knowledge of the seriousness of this case on their part…I am not in a position to make the Deputies opposite take the matter seriously, but I hope that they will, because I do.
The full debate from the Dáil records is chronicled below…
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Power has been given permission to raise on the Adjournment the larceny of “Shergar”.
Mr. Power: My Private Notice Question today was to ask the Minister for Justice to make a statement regarding the stealing of “Shergar” in order to allay the fears of the bloodstock owners and to prevent irreparable damage being done to the national industry. I wish to thank the Ceann Comhairle, despite the lateness of the hour, for giving me an opportunity to raise this matter. I am fully confident that he does so in his own love of racing and his eye for a horse.
I apologise for bringing the Minister for Justice back for this Adjournment debate but I rarely do this without very good reason. During my time as a Member I have done it on three or four occasions only and this is the first time that I have put down a Private Notice Question. I congratulate the Minister on his Ministry and wish him well in it.
Last night in Ballymany stud in County Kildare, two armed men held up the stud groom, Jack Fitzgerald, and his family at gunpoint and stole “Shergar”. Thankfully, Mr. Fitzgerald was returned unharmed. A ransom figure of £2 million has been mentioned but this horse has been valued at much more than that and I hope that this is not a lack of knowledge on the part of the people involved as to the value of the horse. I know that the Garda——
Mr. Power: The loud laughter bespeaks the vacant minds on the opposite benches. This assures me that there is a great lack of knowledge of the seriousness of this case on their part. I know that the Garda are working on the case and I have the utmost confidence in them. I know many of them personally.
Mr. Power: I hope that the Minister, while he normally would not make a statement on a case which is the subject of a Garda investigation, can make an exception in this case. The eyes of the worldwide thoroughbred industry are on us at this time. Bloodstock breeders throughout the world have looked on this country as the cradle of racing and the nursery of champions. Until now, even in the most troubled times, it has always been felt that the traditional Irish love of the horse would ensure its safety here, whether as stallions standing here, or visiting mares during the breeding and foaling season. It was felt that, no matter what the nationality of the owners, Ireland was an equine sanctuary. However, last night’s dastardly act has changed this fine image. Would the Minister please outline the steps being taken to ensure the safe and immediate return of this great horse?
I cannot believe that the horse will be wilfully harmed but the danger of his being inadvertently injured, or picking up some disease in a strange and new environment is always there. He has been fully booked for the season and his return to fulfil these obligations should not be delayed.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputies should take this matter seriously, because it is serious.
Mr. Power: I am not in a position to make the Deputies opposite take the matter seriously, but I hope that they will, because I do. The realisation of the enormity of this crime and our determination to ensure the safe return of “Shergar” must be clearly shown. We have a very important indigenous industry to protect, which gives great employment despite no State grants. It has proved its worth in the greatest shop window of all — success on the racecourse. “Shergar” by his winnings, which include Derbys in Epsom and on the Curragh, has done his share to prove the merit of the Irish horse.
His owner, the Aga Khan, turned down fabulous offers for this horse to stand elsewhere and made a great personal financial sacrifice in deciding that the sire should return to stand in the county in which he was born. This sacrifice is well realised in Kildare, because when the horse returned he was given a civic welcome in Newbridge. His first foal was born during the week. So that the great Irish bloodstock industry will not be undermined in the eyes of the world and our good name tarnished — and as an appreciation of the sporting owner whose father and grandfather poured millions into our bloodstock industry — would the Minister tell the House that everything possible is being done and that no effort will be spared to see a sound “Shergar” safely back in his stable?
Deputies: Hear, hear.
Minister for Justice (Mr. Noonan): Ba mhaith liom cúpla focail a rá faoi seo.
An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please.
Mr. N. Andrews: Is the Minister sure that his colleague phoned him last night? Is that true? On a free phone?
A Deputy: It was not bugged.
Mr. Noonan: I do not wish to appear discourteous to the Deputy.
Mr. N. Andrews: He should either deny it or confirm it.
An Ceann Comhairle: Might I remind Deputies that a series of interruptions in the record of this debate will not read well. The Minister is replying.
Mr. N. Andrews: His colleague did not phone him last night. I am quite convinced of that.
A Deputy: Were you in the bedroom?
Mr. Noonan: The Minister phoned me last night. Deputy Andrews.
Mr. Dukes: At 5 o’clock this morning.
Mr. Noonan: Early this morning.
Mr. Lenihan: Let the Minister get on with it.
Mr. Noonan: Thank you, Deputy Lenihan. I do not wish to appear discourteous to Deputy Power, but he must know that the only reply which I can make is that, as he is already aware, the matter is being investigated by the Garda Síochána. It would not be possible for me, for obvious reasons, to disclose any details regarding those investigations.
The Dáil adjourned at 12.10 a.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 10 February 1983.
…and Shergar hasn’t come home yet.