The chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland, Brian Kavanagh, has defended the decision to proceed with racing in this country during the coronavirus outbreak.

Attendance at races will be limited to key personnel such as stable staff, jockeys and trainers. Owners will not be allowed to attend, overseas runners have been prohibited and there will be 30-minute interval between races to assist social distancing. There will be one meeting a day and no evening meetings.

Kavanagh stressed the meetings will take place "in complete adherence with the protocols that are issued by the Department of Health".

He said that livelihoods depend on racing continuing, insisting the HRI have followed all safety protocols "to keep the wheels moving".

"We're trying to find a way to keep horse racing going in some shape or form because a lot of livelihoods depend on it," Kavanagh told RTÉ Sport's Damien O'Meara on Morning Ireland.

"I think the key thing is, we've found a way which is safe to do so. These are not race meetings like we traditionally know them.

"There's less than 200 people in attendance over a six-hour period. We've stripped back completely the number of people who are on the premises. Race courses are very suited to social distancing - they're big, open spaces.

"With no public and no customers there you're able to give the professionals that are working the run of the place and loads of space. As I said, a lot of livelihoods depend on it. It's a minimal approach to keep the show on the road as long as we can."

Kavanagh said he understood the backlash to the Cheltenham Festival going ahead in England last week but added: "We can only control the things that we're responsible for. All the way through this the board of Horse Racing Ireland have taken a responsible approach to create a safe environment and to keep the wheels moving.

"We're keeping it under daily review, the board will meet at least once a week to review the situation.

"There's significant jobs depending on this sector. Training horses, racing horses, it's not like they can tell staff, 'stay at home today, don't come into work'. The horses need to be looked after.

"The prime thing was to ensure we're in complete adherence with the protocols that are issued by the Department of Health.

"We can only control the things that we're responsible for. All the way through this the board of Horse Racing Ireland have taken a responsible approach to create a safe environment and to keep the wheels moving."