Wednesday, 19 April 2017

IGB: Our industry is at immediate risk

Statement From IGB

Our industry is at immediate risk unless racing is resumed and debt is reduced now

Recent mediation talks have stalled after the DGOBA rejected a comprehensive set of proposals to accommodate extra racing at Shelbourne Park made by the IGB. These proposals included: a racing support officer, Tuesday and Friday night graded races to reflect Harold’s Cross, increased Friday night prize money, private trials and a doubling in sponsorship money to €10,000 for the DGOBA Dublin Cup. The IGB are attempting to find common ground with the DGOBA, to see this dispute resolved immediately and Greyhound racing resume in Dublin again.

Greyhound owners have lost €200,000 in prize money. This is the equivalent of having Croke Park shut down. The disruption to racing at Shelbourne Park is costing the IGB €30,000 per week. Unless racing resumes immediately, jobs across our industry are in immediate jeopardy.

The recent plan presented by DGOBA to allow two years to keep Harold’s Cross open lacked sufficient detail but more importantly, it ignored the immediate, enormous and heavy debt burden which has to be addressed now. If we don’t sell Harold’s Cross now, the future trading position of the IGB will be in severe jeopardy with our other stadia and business on the line.

There is little value in revisiting history other than to recognise that the majority of the €20 million debt relating to our Limerick Stadium dates back to 2009. A new Board, CEO or new Executives will face the very same debt burden, with no easy options available. Renegotiating this unsustainable debt, as already suggested by many, is on-going at pace.

Indecon economic consultants produced an independent report recommending the sale of assets to reduce the debt. The Indecon report is not out of date as the debt is more serious now than ever before.

Harold’s Cross Stadium is two miles from Shelbourne Park and was profitable only on nights that Shelbourne was closed and vice versa. The enormous debt and interest costs have meant insufficient investment in the facilities at both stadia in recent years.  With greater investment, we will make Shelbourne Park, our national stadium, on a par with other sporting facilities in Dublin such as Croke Park or the Aviva Stadium.

The protests by the DGOBA at Shelbourne Park over the past eight weeks have done severe damage to our industry. The IGB fully understands and regrets the disruption to people’s lives caused by the closure of Harold’s Cross. Greyhound owners have lost €200,000 in prize money since the disruption has started.

For the wellbeing of our sport in Ireland, it is critical that Dublin greyhound people feel welcome and confident in racing their dogs in Shelbourne Park. Every day we are hearing from greyhound people whose common focus is on seeing racing resumed immediately at Shelbourne Park and that talks can continue separately to address other industry issues.

The IGB remains fully committed to mediation talks under Kieran Mulvey, the former Chairman of the Workplace Relations Commission who has 25 years’ experience in handling complex disputes.
The IGB would appeal directly to those protesting to remove the personalities from this dispute and consider the consequences whereby our capital city has no racing, owners are financially suffering and our customers have gone elsewhere. Our excellent staff have uncertain futures, with no end in sight.

Thankfully, the IGB have been able to increase prize money 20% in 2016. The IGB have a viable plan to secure greyhound racing in the years ahead, improve welfare and regulation concerns and do so whilst working with all stakeholders in our industry.  Greyhound racing in Ireland has a viable future but this is at risk unless racing is resumed in Shelbourne Park and the debt is reduced immediately.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

IGB Statement re. Vote Of No Confidence

Statement from the Irish Greyhound Board

The vote of “no confidence” in the Board of the Irish Greyhound Board passed at a GOBA organised meeting on Sunday last hardly came as a surprise to the directors themselves.

They understand better than anyone that the orchestrated narrative around the current issues within the greyhound industry can be stripped down to a fundamental article of faith by the critics. “Get rid of the Chairman, the Board and the Executive of IGB and everything will be fine”.

That thesis is as dishonest as it is simplistic. It is populist pap dispensed by those who should know better. More importantly, it reflects a very poor grasp of the reality of the challenges the industry faces and offers no credible pathway towards their resolution. Those challenges have been compounded by the deliberate disruption of racing at Shelbourne Park Stadium by those who appear to believe that they are entitled to be provided with their own “club” by a semi State body charged with the management of the industry nationally.

Their actions have already cost trainers and owners €200,000 in prize money. The losses to the Irish Greyhound Board as a result of the sabotage of racing (with a worrying undercurrent of intimidation) are considerable, unsustainable and threaten the continued employment of full time and part time staff at Shelbourne Park Stadium. The damage to racing, to IGB’s commercial operations and to the reputation of the industry, domestically and internationally, is enormous and is potentially fatal. If the disruption to Dublin racing continues, the stark truth is that the ability of IGB to continue trading will no longer exist.

It is worth reprising some of the issues the industry has to face. IGB is under pressure to manage a legacy debt now reduced to €20.3 million, which preceded the current chairman, board and executive of IGB. Although not caused by anyone now in the critics’ line of fire, the debt of €20.3 million cannot be wished away, written  off or “parked” as some would have it;  it has to be dealt with.

There is a huge irony in the fact that the most prominent critics of the Board are those who demanded an independent, comprehensive review of the industry. When the then Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney,  commissioned the report in 2014,  there was universal applause from the Board’s critics. The old adage warns “Be careful what you wish for”. When the report compiled by international consultants, Indecon, came up with conclusions not to their liking, there was an immediate rush to the ramparts to reject them. A key recommendation of the Report was the sale of Harolds Cross Stadium which Indecon rightly identified as a primary asset whose value needed to be realised if the industry was to pay down debt and have a future at all.

The Indecon Report’s recommendation to sell Harolds Cross has been accepted by Government, by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, by IGB and by our bankers who see it as a non negotiable element in the Board’s business case. The decision of the Board to accept the Indecon recommendation and to sell Harolds Cross will not be reversed and the property will be put on the market in the coming weeks.

There is nothing in the alternative business case being made by those demanding the heads of the Board to deflect IGB from the decision, to pay down debt and to generate funds to invest in the industry, not least on the development of a single, state of the art venue at Shelbourne Park.  Our ambition for Shelbourne Park Stadium is to have an outstanding venue for owners, trainers, patrons, sponsors, the corporate and tourist markets and our staff. That will require investment and the goodwill of all involved in the industry nationally but particularly in Dublin.

IGB’s capacity to increase prize money, to invest in track infrastructure , to grow ownership and the dog pool, depends on having capital to work with. The only viable way to achieve that is to pay down debt and to improve commercial performance.

Apart from the urban myths currently doing the rounds, one of the more disturbing features of the current debate is the application of faulty memory to the issues. It is difficult for those who know the full story to accept that the early 2000s was some kind of halcyon period. In fact, it was a time of serious concerns over corporate governance, spiralling Board and other expenses and the generation of enormous debt (€13.7 million in 2005) in great part through the expenditure of IGB funds on commercially owned tracks. It was a period of outrageous business decisions including the purchase of the landlocked Meelick site for €1.02 million (now valued at less than €100,000) with unrecoverable development costs of €600,000.

The net operating surplus at the height of the Celtic Tiger in 2005 was €3.2 million. The projected surplus for 2016 is €2.7 million. This follows a catastrophic recession, massive inherited debt and continuing reductions  in the contributions from the Horse and Greyhound Fund.

Like for like, there are 171 fewer employees in IGB in 2016 than in 2005. The average ordinary racing grant was €239.57 in 2005; in 2016 it was €291.45. The list goes on.

The current Board has
reduced IGB’s debt by €2.0 million
increased prize money by €1.2 million in 2016
concluded 4 separate SIS TV arrangements that will generate €1.0 million
enhanced laboratory facilities through an introduction of LCMS equipment at an investment of €0.4 million
strengthened IGB’s balance sheet by addressing back debt, underlying legal challenges and deficit in  the pension scheme
radically overhauled the regulation and welfare regime
It is important for the industry as a whole to understand that the Irish Greyhound Board is conscious of the attachment of a group of owners and trainers to Harolds Cross. To mitigate the effects of an eventual closure, IGB offered to keep the stadium open until the end of 2017 but this was rejected by DGOBA. IGB has put forward a series of initiatives to integrate Harolds Cross racing into the Shelbourne Park Stadium calendar and to retain a strong identity for those previously involved in Harolds Cross. These include:
Racing Support Officer
Assigning a dedicated racing officer in the Shelbourne Park racing office to manage the entries and or the Harolds Cross people. This person will have responsibility for receiving entries and compiling race cards for Tuesday & Friday night racing in Shelbourne Park.

Tuesday night racing in Shelbourne Park
Racing on Tuesday nights in Shelbourne Park will be confined to Harold’s Cross regulars for graded races within reason. A degree of flexibility is required for the Racing Support Officer to be capable of accommodating small & new owners which has always been the case with the Tuesday card when raced at Harold’s Cross. The intention is that both Tuesday & Friday night racing at Shelbourne Park would reflect the current cards at Harold’s Cross. The Friday card as per Harold’s Cross would accommodate regulars but would also be encouraging the best racing for people to compete in and watch.

GOBA Dublin Cup Sponsorship,
IGB have sponsored the DGOBA Dublin Cup for the last 3 years with a contribution €5,000. It is purposed that the sponsorship is increased to €10,000 for the next 3 years with a review after this period. This would make the DGOBA Dublin Cup one of the most attractive graded sweepstakes on the racing calendar.

Private trials @Shelbourne Park,
Private/unrecorded trials will be introduced in Shelbourne Park. It envisaged that this will be one day session per week.  
Additional Friday Night prizemoney,
It is purposed that the showcase races on a Friday nights card will receive a boost in prizemoney in line with the Saturday Night prize money. This will be decided by Racing Manager and will depend on the grade of race. The better the racing the bigger the prizemoney.

IGB has an important role in coordinating industry stakeholders and ensuring coherence in terms of the strategic direction of the industry. We wish to continue to work with stakeholders to establish a contemporary, fit for purpose model for the industry to prosper into the future. We would again appeal to DGOBA to again enter discussions with IGB, under the independent chairmanship of Kieran Mulvey, to resolve the issues dividing us, for the good of the Irish Greyhound industry as a whole.