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.