Zero tolerance the only way as Meade demands harsher penalties for drug offences
Noel Meade, who until recently employed two of the riders suspended for drug offences on Thursday night, has made an impassioned plea for a zero-tolerance approach to the use of illegal substances in racing and beyond.
Ger Fox and Danny Benson had both finished working for the former champion trainer by the time the news broke that they, along with Roger Quinlan, had tested positive for metabolites of cocaine at Galway on October 10.
Shane Kelly, Kevin Sexton and Danny Grant have all also received bans after testing positive for metabolites of cocaine at Irish racecourses over the past couple of years.
In response to three riders returning positive tests for cocaine at a meeting at which only eight individual samples were taken, the referrals committee that convened on Thursday night recommended the Turf Club doubles suspensions from the recommended two years.
“We can't have another night like tonight where we had to deal with the referral of three riders, out of the eight riders that were randomly tested," the report read.
"This represents in the region of 10 per cent of the number of jockeys who rode at the meeting in question. This is unacceptable for racing.
"To date, we have tried to impose punishments with an encouragement to undertake rehabilitation. This has worked in individual cases but it is clear the deterrent effect of the penalties imposed to date is not enough."
"There will be no coming back in six months except in very exceptional circumstances," the statement added, noting that the Turf Club's chief medical officer Dr Adrian McGoldrick could be contacted in the strictest of confidence by any rider seeking help for drug use.
Meade welcomed the news that the regulator is taking the issue seriously, but insisted even more stringent measures are necessary to eradicate the growing use of recreational drugs.
"I'm pleased the Turf Club has indicated that they are going to look at beefing up the deterrents, but I hope they look at it seriously enough. There should be no tolerance for drugs in racing," Meade told the Racing Post.
"Four years won't be enough, in my opinion. As far as I'm concerned, there is no room in this game – or anywhere – for anybody taking drugs."
Studies indicate fewer than two in ten adults used illicit drugs in Ireland up to 2003, but that rose to three in ten in 2015 and continues to increase. A report published in June indicated three per cent of adults aged 15-34 had taken cocaine in the previous 12 months.
The following month, senior state scientist John Power observed in the Irish Times that a thriving economy equates to increased cocaine usage, and that "Ireland has one the highest rates of cocaine use among young people in Europe. We’re on the up. The boom is back.”
Meade, who lamented that an opportunity was lost to clamp down harder on the issue within racing when high-profile riders Frankie Dettori and Kieren Fallon tested positive for cocaine, is adamant a stronger line needs to be taken on the issue across society.
"If I had my way, I would have a total ban on anybody caught doing this kind of thing," he said.
"Now you can't just come along and do that, there has to be a process along the way, but surely it is time now to stand up and be counted on this, and for everybody to say, on the first of January 2019 or 2020 or whenever, that anybody convicted of taking drugs loses their licence, whether you are a trainer or a doctor.
"That's the only way forward on this, it isn't going to go away otherwise, and it will get worse and worse and worse. Either that or make them legal – that's basically where you're at.
"I can't understand how it has got to such a state of it being so accepted in society that people can come along and go on television or wherever, and actually say they did drugs. There is no stigma attached to it.
"To me, there is never a chance of stopping people selling drugs once people are buying them, so the only way to stop people buying them is to make the penalties severe enough.
"People have to realise that every time they buy a drug they are supporting crime. That's what it is."
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