Dubai ruler’s Kildare stud receives €225,000 in state grants

John Mooney, The Times

A stud farm in Kildare owned by Dubai’s billionaire ruler received more than €225,000 in state grants last year.

Godolphin Ireland, owned by the Al Maktoum family, received the third largest agricultural subsidy of 2020, according to data published by the Department of Agriculture.

It received €222,277 in direct farm payments under the common agriculture policy (CAP), which is administered by the department. It also received €3,759 under grants awarded to farmers working on unproductive land.

Brendan Kelleher, from Co Cork, received €301,719 and O’Shea Farms in Co Kilkenny €222,646 in subsidy payments.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is the prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has invested significant sums into turning Godolphin into one of the world’s premier racing stables. Godolphin is headquartered in Dubai but it owns stud farms and stables in various countries around the world.

Sheikh Mohammed, who has six wives and more than 20 children, bought Kildangan stud in 1986 as part of an expansion of his racehorse breeding operations. The stud farm now covers 1,500 acres and employs a team of 250 staff who care for 400 horses.

Godolphin Ireland now controls five of farms in total: one in Kildare, one in Meath and two in Tipperary. The horseracing operation is now home to some of the family’s top horses, including Profitable, retired to stand at Kildangan. It is also used as a breaking and training centre for the majority of Godolphin yearlings in Ireland. About 20 yearlings are also raised at Kildangan.

Kildangan is used as a breaking and training centre for the majority of Godolphin yearlings

The operation has been beset with financial difficulties in recent years. It recorded a loss of €8.3 million last year according to accounts files at the Companies Office. Files show it had a turnover in excess of €28 million in 2020.

CAP and other agricultural subsidies are provided to farmers and landowners to help support agricultural enterprises, food production and more recently to protect the environment. Both small and large farmers avail of the subsidies each year.

The administration of the scheme has been criticised by farming and environmental groups as it provides monies to large landowners and businesses, often owned by multimillionaires and powerful businessmen.

“Godolphin is one of the biggest landowners in Kildare. It might seem a little unusual to see a racehorse breeding operation owned by a billionaire Sheikh receiving hundreds of thousands in grant aid but that’s the way the system works,” one source familiar with the CAP said.

Godolphin yesterday confirmed it had received the payment but declined to comment further. “We don’t wish to discuss the specifics of the grant,” a spokesman said.

Sheikh Mohammed made headlines in Ireland in 2018 after Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, his then 33-year-old daughter, tried to flee Dubai after claiming that she had suffered years of abuse at the hands of her father. The UAE and Sheikh Mohammed have consistently denied these allegations.

Human rights groups had raised concerns about her safety because she had not been seen in public or heard from after her escape attempt. In a video, which she said she had recorded before the escape in case it failed, the princess said her father had been holding her against her will.

Photos were released later that year by her family showing the princess with Mary Robinson, the former president and UN human rights chief, to rebut what they described as “false allegations” that she was taken home against her will. Robinson later described her role in the controversy as the biggest mistake she has made and said she had been naive. Last month photos of Princess Latifa at a mall in Dubai were shared online.