Seanad debates

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Greyhound Racing Industry: Statements

 

3:35 am

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, to the House.

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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I welcome this opportunity to have a discussion with Senators on Bord na gCon. As Members will be aware, Bord na gCon is a commercial State body established under the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 and is responsible for the control and development of the greyhound industry in Ireland. The most recent estimates available suggest that the greyhound industry underpins in excess of 10,000 jobs and stimulates €500 million in economic output, particularly in rural areas.

The greyhound racing industry receives financial support from the State through the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund under section 12 of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. Payments are made from the fund to Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The amount allocated for this purpose is published in the budget and approved by way of resolution made by both Houses of the Oireachtas each year. State funding provided from the fund is pivotal to the survival and continued development of the horse and greyhound racing industry.

The 2014 budget provides for an allocation of €54.22 million for the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund. In accordance with section 12 of the Act, this will be distributed as follows: 80% for Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, which in effect equates to €43.37 million, and 20% to Bord na gCon, which equates to €10.84 million. The funding provided to Bord na gCon supports what is a very important indigenous industry and helps to sustain the role of greyhound breeding, training and racing enterprises in the development of our rural economy. The industry has down through the years produced a very good return for the State's investment and is a significant contributor to the Exchequer.

Bord na gCon reports that since 2002, more than ten million people, including Irish people and tourists, have attended greyhound racing meetings throughout Ireland. Greyhound racing is a tourist attraction which provides foreign visitors to Ireland with an opportunity to enjoy a good night out in nice surroundings. The funding being provided to the greyhound racing sector helps to sustain a long-standing tradition as the industry is part of the social fabric of our country. This funding underpins the economic activity in what are in many instances less affluent regions of the country. It has also contributed significantly to the improved facilities now available at 17 greyhound tracks throughout Ireland.

Bord na gCon is a corporate body with a legal personality separate from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is the responsibility of the board of Bord na gCon to lead and direct the activities of the organisation. I am conscious of the onerous responsibilities that individuals take on when appointed to the board of a State body. It is important that people on the board of Bord na gCon have the appropriate mix of skills to enable them to direct such an important industry. In common with other State bodies, Bord na gCon must adhere to the requirements set out in the code of practice for governance of State bodies and any other policy directives issued by Government, together with any demands in legislation. My Department monitors compliance of Bord na gCon in this regard.

The annual report and accounts of Bord na gCon are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and are laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas, having been noted by Government. The CEO of Bord na gCon is accountable to the Oireachtas in respect of these accounts through the Committee of Public Accounts. The chairman, chief executive and chief financial officer of Bord na gCon appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts in November last year in connection with the committee's consideration of the 2011 annual report and accounts of Bord na gCon. Subsequent to this meeting, Bord na gCon provided additional material by way of written responses to issues raised by the committee. The Comptroller and Auditor General is currently undertaking an examination of the Limerick stadium project, the results of which will be known later this year.

The overall objective of the Government is to ensure the greyhound racing industry achieves its maximum potential and in so doing contributes to the economic and social fabric of the country. Successive Governments have recognised the importance of these industries for our country and have supported them through legislation and policy initiatives. The support provided by public funds to investment in these industries through the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund has enabled Ireland to develop into a world centre of excellence for horse racing, greyhound racing and breeding. As part of its overall commitment to the industry, the Government is addressing, through legislation, the anomaly whereby remote and online betting operators are outside the tax net. The Minister for Finance has published the Betting (Amendment) Bill 2013, which when enacted, will extend betting duty to online and remote operators. As Members will be aware, that legislation is currently going through the Dáil. When in this House some time ago I was asked to urge Government to bring forth that legislation as soon as possible. I am glad to report it is making its way through the process.

On the review of certain matters in relation to Bord na gCon, the Government wishes to ensure appropriate arrangements are in place to facilitate the growth and development of the greyhound racing industry into the future.

Following the completion of an open public procurement process I commissioned a very comprehensive independent review of certain matters relating to Bord na gCon in December 2013. The review encompasses the policy, governance and regulatory framework and the financial situation of Bord na gCon. The report documenting the findings of the review will assess the current situation with regard to Bord na gCon and will make recommendations as to any changes required to best place the industry to meet the challenges that lie ahead in a very dynamic and challenging environment. I expect to receive the final report within months.

All stakeholders want the greyhound industry to be put on a sound footing and to prosper into the future. I am hopeful that when the review is completed it will be a landmark to steer the greyhound industry and Bord na gCon into the future. The industry forms a very important part of rural life. Some 10,000 people, mostly based in rural areas, are involved in the greyhound business. When the report is handed to me it will give us the opportunity to steer a path forward. We want co-operation in this industry.

This is an industry that has got some negative publicity, but I believe it is important we are all singing off the same hymn sheet in this regard. There is great potential for the industry and as Ireland comes out of the economic difficulties of recent years, the greyhound racing industry will play a huge part in the recovery, particularly in rural areas. Some years ago the greyhound industry formed part of practically every household in rural areas, but that is no longer the case. I believe there is a potential for this industry and we should support it. I look forward to the Senators' contributions.

3:45 am

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House for this discussion on Bord na gCon, the Irish Greyhound Board. I wish to ask a number of questions that have been sent to me by the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation in particular. Of the funding of €10.84 million for IGB, approximately 50% comes from the 1% tax on betting and the other half comes from Exchequer funding. Funding for the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund is approximately on a 50:50 basis following the approval of the SI. Therefore we must ask whether the taxpayer is getting value for money.

Let us consider the IGB figures for the years from 2007 to 2012. In 2007 in a strategic plan presented to the Minister, the tote turnover projected by the CEO, Mr. Nealon, was expected to increase from €48 million that year to €75 million by 2012 and the CEO was confident of achieving this. However, the reality is completely different. Tote turnover in 2007 was €48 million, in 2008 it was €44 million, in 2009 it was €32 million, in 2010 it was €24 million, in 2011 it was €24 million, and 2012 it was €19 million. This represents a reduction of 60.4%. How can anyone have confidence in an organisation that is getting €10.8 million, half of which is coming from the taxpayers this year, and it is not even able to implement its own strategic plan?

The 2012 IGB audited accounts were presented to the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on 12 December 2013. When will they be published? I understand they are due to go before Cabinet. Why is there a delay in publishing the 2012 accounts, given that we are now approaching the end of the second months of 2014?

A number of alarming questions about the stadia in Limerick and Dundalk have been raised with the Minister of State. While I do not have time to go into the queries, I ask him to expand on the issue of the running of a so-called ringer in Dundalk, the audit that was carried out there, and the manner in which the auditor's findings were not published by the board. In fact the IGB published its own findings. I also ask the Minister of State to expand on the issue of the problem with the bend in the track in Limerick. Why does Limerick Greyhound Stadium, one of the best in the country, continue to lose substantial sums of money?

Does the Minister of State have complete faith in the board members of the IGB? Obviously Mr. Nealon, the former CEO, has gone. We need a full investigation into the destruction carried out in recent years. We are talking about taxpayers' money. Who will appoint the new CEO? Will it be the board, as has been the case heretofore, or will the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine step in to appoint a new CEO? If it is the latter, it indicates that the Minister of State does not have confidence in the board. If that is the case, would he go so far as to call for the board to resign and a new board to be appointed?

One of the genuine IGB board members, Mr. Brendan Moore, wrote to the Minister of State on 19 July 2013, outlining his major concerns. He raised a number of extremely pertinent questions. He stated:

At the present moment Bord na gCon is heavily indebted to a commercial bank. As the debt is not "State guaranteed" the tracks are taken as security. The failure of Bord na gCon to identify and deal with a doomed business model for the last five years has placed the Industry on the cusp of disaster. Confidence in the Industry is at an all time low ... The Board and Executive have not dealt with these issues in a transparent and competent manner leading to massive reputational damage at home and abroad.
The indebtedness is approximately €30 million. I do not have the answers to these questions and I am not sure if the Minister of State has the answers. If those answers are not available, it is time for a full independent investigation. While an independent audit is one thing, given the nature of the moneys involved a full and transparent public independent investigation of the operations of IGB is now overdue. I call on the Minister of State to instigate such an investigation. This is an issue that will not go away. Millions of euro of taxpayers' money is called into question here.

The performance of the IGB since 2007 leaves much to be desired. Why is the IGB refusing to meet the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation? If the greyhound racing industry is to survive, all the parties must pull together. However, a unified approach would appear to be unlikely, given that the board, the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, continue to exclude the owners.

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. We must be positive about these industries and promote them in whatever way we can.

As previously stated by many contributors to the debate on the greyhound industry, it is an important sector which contributes greatly to the sporting and economic life of the country. As has already been acknowledged, over 10,300 people are employed in the greyhound industry, which, in economic terms, generated €500 million this year. Budget 2014 included a provision for the allocation of somewhat over €54 million in an 80:20 split to the horse and greyhound industries. This substantial allocation of funds reflects the prominence of the greyhound industry in the country.

Greyhound breeding, rearing and racing is an integral part of rural life in Ireland. While it is a relatively small part of the Irish agriculture sector as a whole, it is an important element in the country's livestock sector. Successive Governments have recognised the importance of the greyhound racing industry and have supported it through legislation and policy initiatives, most notably the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 which established Bord na gCon, now the Irish Greyhound Board, the governing body of Irish greyhound racing. The support provided by public funds invested in the industry through the horse and greyhound racing fund, as provided for in the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001, has led to Ireland been renowned worldwide as a centre of excellence for greyhound racing and breeding. The funding which has been allocated to this sector over the years has come back to the Exchequer tenfold and the greyhound industry has produced large spin-offs for the many farmers and service providers linked directly and indirectly to the sector's activities. Funding allocated to the industry over the years has been used to invest in the local economy. It has helped to maintain a long-standing tradition of the industry as one of the most integral social fabrics of the country. It has brought employment and capital and social entrepreneurship to what are, in some cases, less affluent sections of our country. Funds have been used to put in place infrastructure to allow the sector to maintain its presence in rural Ireland. The horse and greyhound racing fund has directly contributed to the improvement of 17 greyhound tracks, including the complete refurbishment of Clonmel Greyhound Stadium and the Shelbourne Park Greyhound Stadium.

The greyhound racing industry attracts considerable amounts of employment and foreign direct investment. It is the type of export-oriented industry we need. It has enhanced our international reputation and attracted significant numbers of tourists to Ireland. Each year, the Irish Greyhound Board welcomes 40,000 international tourists to Ireland's greyhound stadiums throughout the country. France, Germany and the United Kingdom are the organisation's top three international sources for tourists.

The greyhound racing industry is worth in excess of €300 million annually to the economy. The sector continues to maintain exceptional growth. On average, over 26,500 people go greyhound racing every week. The Irish Greyhound Board, in conjunction with the British, American and Australian greyhound boards, is conducting the highest once-off greyhound race in the world, the €1 million world greyhound championship, which will further develop the industry.

Approximately 20,000 greyhound puppies are registered each year in Ireland. The introduction of funds is helping to bring about improvements in many facets of the industry. This can maximise returns to breeders following their investment. The support of the State has been essential to the survival and revival of the greyhound industry in the country. My colleague, Deputy Ray Butler, has attempted to demonstrate this in recent weeks by travelling to London to support a bid by the British shareholders, breeders and racegoers to save the greyhound track at Wimbledon. He presented the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, with a letter from the Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, in support of Mr. Johnson and his campaign to keep greyhound racing at Wimbledon.

The greyhound industry in Ireland has contributed so much to the economic and social well-being of the country and its people and it is only proper that the State should continue to assist this valuable and growing industry, put in place infrastructure for the future and support and maintain the greyhound business in Ireland. As I stated at the beginning, it is important for us to be positive about the whole industry.

3:55 am

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá an-áthas orm bheith in ann labhairt ar an díospóireacht seo maidir le tionscail na gcon. Tacaím le cuid mhaith den mhéid a bhí le rá ag mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill, agus ba mhaith liom cur leis. As we know, the greyhound industry is a substantial employer. It is not yet on a par with the horseracing industry in terms of funding or employment but it is nevertheless substantial. It is concerning, however, to see that breeding is down 14% and that there is a shortage of dogs for races at the moment.

The latest estimates claim that almost 10,500 jobs depend on the industry and that these yield over €21 million in taxes to the Exchequer. The greyhound industry is funded through the horse and greyhound fund at a ratio of 80:20. That is to say the horses get 80% and the dogs only 20%. We hope that the greyhound ratio will increase. It will be contributing more to the Exchequer when the Betting (Amendment) Bill is enacted.

The potential of the industry is considerable. It is estimated that 40,000 tourists attended greyhound races last year. However, there is a serious issue around the perception of the industry at the moment as well as serious questions around governance which must be raised. The industry has modernised and made its image more sophisticated. While attracting corporate clients and tourists, the greyhound industry must also be supported to continue to provide the facilities and recreation it always has to its usual punters at small tracks throughout the country. It is a rather Irish sport and we are unique in this regard. For this reason the regulation and funding of the industry must be according to best practice. Therefore, the Minister must look to the debts that the Irish Greyhound Board has run up during the building of its new track in Limerick.

I have been in contact with the North East Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association and the Dublin Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association, whose representatives are welcome to the Visitors Gallery today. I have talked to several people in the industry who have raised serious concerns. Representatives of the industry have been looking for meetings with the Minister and the Irish Greyhound Board but they have informed me that these have not been forthcoming. I hope the Minister of State will be able to put the matter to bed today and inform us that he will meet them as soon as possible.

There are serious issues relating to the debt of the IGB. There have been resignations from the organisation in recent years and many related questions. There are serious questions about the rebuilding of the stadium in Limerick, for example, and the re-design of the first bend in particular. Some of the associated legal issues relate to injuries to animals, etc. I have also heard reference to a significant amount of cronyism on the boards of the greyhound tracks and suggestions that the boards are being filled with political cronies, which is not necessarily the best way to go. These people do not necessarily have the relevant expertise. I hope the Minister of State will discuss the matter.

One of the biggest issues I have heard raised is the doping of dogs and the numbers using drugs to enhance their performance. This is dealing a death blow to the whole industry. I understand that in 2012, some 6,000 samples were taken from dogs. As of January this year, only 17 results from those tests have been published. There is a need for more independence for the control committee, which should be independent of the IGB. People should be absolutely clear that any regime of doping will not be tolerated in the Irish greyhound industry. I call for the transparent publication of all the tests that have been done forthwith.

Recently greyhound matters have been raised at meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts. The Minister of State mentioned this in his speech but he did not go into the detail. I imagine there will be follow-up to the committee hearings. I will be following up with my colleague, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, on the issue to ensure full transparency around the financial issues relating to the IGB.

I am led to believe that the tote figures, for example, are kept separate from the track accounts. I understand that in recent years the tote has been the money generating operation and that the associated money goes directly into the IGB, while those responsible for the tracks are finding it difficult to maintain day-to-day existence because of the costs. It has been noted in correspondence and it has been said to me that there is major difference between the tote receipts that had been projected and the tote receipts that have been seen, even taking into consideration the economic downturn. Let us compare the tote figures for the horseracing industry and the greyhound industry. In 2012, there was a 60.4% change in the tote compared with the horseracing industry change of 14.8%. Something very strange seems to be going on. I wish to emphasise that there is low morale among many ordinary punters involved in the industry. Can the Minister of State reassure us that the Department is aware of the financial situation at Bord na gCon and whether there is cause for concern?

Will he also indicate when he intends to ask that the 2012 accounts for Bord na gCon be produced? Two reports relating to investigations into the sport that were commissioned by Bord na gCon and these have not yet been published. The Minister of State is aware of the contents of those reports. Is he in a position to reassure the House that the regulations relating to the breeding and racing of greyhounds are enforced and that compliance is the norm? Will he publish the reports to which I refer? What is the current status of the review of Bord na gCon, a report in respect of which is due at the end of the month? What is his opinion on the industry and does he have a view on the direction in which it is going?

4:05 am

Photo of Denis LandyDenis Landy (Labour)
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I welcome my constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes. He and I come from Tipperary, which is classed as the home of greyhounds. In the past I was unfortunate enough to co-own and to be a member of syndicates which owned some seriously bad dogs. I had the luxury of collecting winnings on perhaps only four occasions.

Dog owning and breeding are traditions which date back centuries. As a person who hails from Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, I grew up in that tradition and I have a great interest in this matter. While I was unfortunate enough to own some bad dogs, my father bred a number of very bad animals. I wish to inform those in the Gallery that I share many of their concerns. The Minister of State's predecessor, the late Shane McEntee, had a great interest in the greyhound industry and brought forward legislation which improved the position with regard to the welfare of dogs. The Government has been in office since 2011. A great deal of what has already been said in this debate related to 2007. In one of his first actions since coming to office, the current Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, launched an investigation into a number of issues of concern. I am deputising for Senator O'Keeffe, to whom the various items of correspondence to which previous speakers referred were also sent. I read all of that correspondence last night. We are all concerned with regard to the matters to which the correspondence refers and that is why the investigation is taking place. The investigation will have to be thorough and it must deal with all of the allegations that have been made and all of the concerns that have been expressed.

We would be living in a fools paradise if we did not accept, as Senator Ó Clochartaigh rightly pointed out, that fewer people are visiting greyhound tracks such as those in Waterford, Clonmel and elsewhere is because the economy is on its knees. People who used to keep dogs at home or who bred animals from a couple of bitches no longer have the money to do so. In addition, others do not have the money to buy pups. In the context of the export market to England, a friend of mine used to make full-time living from whelping litters of pups from a number of bitches. Some 90% of his dogs came from England. The English economy is on its knees and a previous speaker referred to the efforts being made to keep the greyhound track at Wimbledon open.

The problems relating to the industry are not specific to it. They also relate to the economy which the Government inherited in 2011 and which was on its knees at that time. The economy is slowly picking up and I am sure the greyhound industry will do likewise. There will always be greyhounds and greyhound racing in Ireland. However, we must place this matter in the context of the position in which the nation finds itself at present. With respect, there are issues which must be investigated. What happened in respect of the track in Limerick must be clearly spelled out. There is no doubt that the tote is down. I am very good friends with a bookie from Limerick whom I will not name but who specialises in horse racing. He informs me that those who previously bet €100 now only bet €20 and that those who used to bet €20 now only bet €5. That is why the tote is down. It is unfair to try to make it appear as if there is a conspiracy afoot here.

The Minister of State has been charged with investigating the industry, Bord na gCon and the various allegations and assertions that have been made. We want there to be a thorough investigation of the industry and we want the 30 or so issues raised by the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation to be examined individually. I put my trust in the Minister of State to see to it that such an investigation takes place as soon as possible. I ask him to comment on the current position in respect of this matter when replying to the debate.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State. Many of the issues to which I wish to refer have already been raised. Even the most cursory reading of the correspondence circulated to Members - I am not sure if it was circulated to those on all sides - gives rise to very serious questions regarding the status and ongoing governance of the various boards with responsibility in this area. One of the reasons we received this correspondence is that the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, have refused to engage with the greyhound owners. A letter sent by the Department states that the Minister is satisfied that the board continues to discharge its statutory and other functions and obligations on an ongoing basis and that, for its part, the Department continues to discharge all its monitoring responsibilities with regard to Bord na gCon in accordance with legislation and Government policy in respect of commercial State bodies. In a letter sent to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, one of those involved in this affair indicated that, unfortunately, his experience was contrary to the views of the Minister of State and that regrettably he had left the board. I do not know if I can name the individual concerned but I am sure the Minister of State is aware of his identity.

The individual to whom I refer some very serious allegations, as did another involved in the industry in correspondence sent to the Minister of State in July last year. The latter referred to political influence on the industry ensuring that people are not appointed on merit, that poor and suspect decisions have been made and that there must be accountability for the position in which the industry now finds itself. I agree with that person's assertion to the effect that there are many positives relating to the Irish greyhound industry and that it has a core of highly skilled suppliers of greyhound stock who deserve their industry to be run fairly and its continuing viability to be ensured. The individual in question further stated that Irish greyhound stock is renowned across the globe and that Ireland is accepted as the cradle of the best gene pools in the world. He alleged that this reputation is at risk with the manner in which breeding and racing are regulated at present and proceeded to state that the problems of the greyhound industry are not new, that they are complex and that we are running out of time in the context of saving it from collapse. He observed:

The culture of the Industry needs to be changed and changed immediately. I would ask that you carry out an in-depth review of the Industry by an external expert group ... The Industry can not be changed from within ... The political nature of the Industry must be removed. Integrity must be restored as at present it is simply a buzz word. The Industry at present is a charade due to failures to implement and failures to identify the requirements for a fair and viable Industry. The corporate governance and compliance duties ... have also failed. The morale of the staff and the confidence of the Industry stakeholders have been lost.
These are, as already stated, these are extremely serious allegations, particularly in the context of what is a prime industry. I am sure the Minister of State will be able to respond to them. As stated at the outset, he does not appear to have been engaging with those to whom I refer or the greyhound industry itself. He will have an opportunity to either refute these allegations or clarify the position relating to them when he replies.

In the context of the investigation of so-called ringers running at Dundalk stadium, a matter to which my colleague referred, another item of correspondence states "The Internal Auditor has since been paid off and has left the IGB". The writer of this letter asks, "How can a semi-state be allowed to spend tax payers money to remove a person doing their job correctly while continuing to employ the people that are in breach of rules[?]". Again, these are serious allegations. The individual who wrote this letter also states "the treatment of the Internal Auditor and the Head of Compliance should be investigated". There is much more involved but I will only make one final point. It relates to the fact, as the correspondent in question indicates, that:

The 1958 Greyhound Industry Act state that Minutes must be kept of all meetings of the Board. The recording of Board meetings is a standard governance issue. The minutes of the January 2013 Board meeting omitted reference to important information. The February 2013 minutes acknowledge this fact. The May 2nd 2013 Board meeting minutes have been changed to remove large sections of the record in relation to the Dundalk inquiry and the Board members reaction to a letter I sent to the Company Solicitors.
It does not give me any great pleasure to place these allegations and charges on the record.

If those involved, including a former board member, have taken the time and effort to write extensive letters of several pages both to the Minister and Minister of State the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine then at the very least it raises questions that need to be answered.

4:15 am

Photo of Mary Ann O'BrienMary Ann O'Brien (Independent)
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I found the speech by the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, of comfort but none is in the mood for such comfort because we all know the allegations against Bord na gCon are very serious. Matters such as the Limerick scandal and the misuse of taxpayer's money was consider by the Committee of Public Accounts. One of the reason I wish to address this matter is that Dr. Patrick Wall, who is chairman of Horse Sport Ireland - this has no place in today's debate - is getting €3 million from the taxpayer, when a vast number of children and adults are competing at European level.

Bord na gCon gets funding of €10.8 million. We all want to support the greyhound racing industry but not the way it is run at present. I want the Minister to get tough and adopt a belt and braces approach to Bord na gCon. Senator Ó Domhnaill is correct that the board and executive committee needs to be cleansed. The Minister of State knows that it does not sound good, and if it was our company, we would have our sleeves rolled up.

I have a small company with a turnover of €20 million and the accounts have many intricacies and are not that easy to do yet we signed off on our accounts for 2013 yesterday, the 18 February, however Bord na gCon has not been signed off on its 2012 accounts. How can we, a private sector company, do it so quickly when it take Bord na gCon an extra year to sign off on its accounts?

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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We must await further information.

Photo of Mary Ann O'BrienMary Ann O'Brien (Independent)
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That is not good enough. Has an internal audit committee, such as those that are in place in the county councils, been put in place? The Minister of State has indicated that there is an internal audit committee. Why was that committee not waving a flag at the Minister to highlight that there was a debt of up to €30 million? If Bord na gCon was a registered charity, similar to Rehab or CRC, this would be all over the front pages all of the time.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I call Senator Bradford. There are seven minutes remaining. Will Senators Heffernan and Bradford share their time equally?

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes. I take issue with Senator Landy on the home of dog racing. The area I come from is steeped in the dog industry. My uncle kept dogs for many years.

Photo of Denis LandyDenis Landy (Labour)
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We will take the hurling and Senator Heffernan 's area can be the home of the dogs.

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour)
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Neighbours and friends have a stake in the dog. Indeed the dog syndicate that my sister is involved with had a good win lately. I take this opportunity to congratulate the O'Brien family of Cush and Kilfinane who had a tremendous success in the race at Clonmel with their dog, Vale View Flyer. I am assured by all that the craic was a terror both on the way down and back. I spent many a good night at various fund-raising and other events in the refurbished dog track in Limerick. The dog track in Limerick lost €368,000 last year. Haemorrhaging money at that rate cannot continue.

In the course of his speech the Minister acknowledged that he is conscious of the onerous responsibility that individuals take on when they are appointed to a board of a State body. It is important that members of the board have the appropriate mix of skills to enable them to direct such an important industry. I am not sure if the board members on Bord na gCon have the necessary skills to deal with the financial crisis facing the industry. The model of fantastic dog tracks was fine when the economy was booming and everybody had plenty of money, but times have changed. The crux of the matter is political appointments to State boards. My gripe is that when a new Government takes office, it clears out the existing State boards, and party loyalists or those who have done favours get a cushy number on a State board. That does not mean the person appointed has the necessary skills to be on a board. I do not think it is the way to appoint any member. In fact a member of Bord na gCon who canvassed for his position on the board and was duly appointed, a man of the utmost integrity who is a neighbour of mine, has made his concerns known about other members of this politically appointed board. People are not appointed on merit and this policy has served Bord na gCon very badly. He admitted that he does not the skills to tackle this indebtedness. I put it to the Minister of State that members of the board are out of their depth and they do not know how to deal with the issue. This man became so frustrated with what was happening - the Minister of State knows the man and was made aware of the fact by the man I am talking about - that his only recourse was to resign. I know that many of those on State boards would hang on with their fingernails for the perks attached to going to meetings.

What went on in Bord na gCon with the internal auditor is bizarre. The internal auditor was involved in the investigation of running so-called ringers in Dundalk which was brought to the attention of the board, but then the two who were in charge of the investigation were shoved aside. One of them is now back to work as the CEO has left, but the internal auditor has been paid off and sent out to grass. I certainly smell a rat. I am sure I am not the only one in the Chamber who smells the rat. I wish to put a simple question which requires only a yes or no answer and I hope I get a response from the Minister of State today. Is the Minister of State satisfied with the way Bord na gCon is being run and does he have full confidence in the board members?

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Heffernan for sharing time and I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Normally we have rather sedate debates in this House but there has been a disturbing vein of thought throughout this debate because people are concerned.

There are positive and good aspects of the industry. The number of owners are still very strong and we have fine internationally renowned trainers. We have new facilities, new tracks and the numbers going greyhound racing are such that the horseracing industry would like to have similar numbers attend horseracing meetings. To put things in perspective, that element is very solid.

The business structure is the focus of our concern. Members are asking questions on what the Minister of State is doing. Let me remind my colleagues that Deputy Hayes was appointed in 2013 and he is not yet 12 months in the job. I am more concerned about what action will finally be taken to address the issue. The Minister of State should be allowed the time he needs to do the job. He has commissioned a report which he expects to receive in the next two months or thereabouts. We must be fair and wait to see what is in that report. My colleagues have put their concerns on record and we all have received e-mail correspondence in the past days outlining deep concerns.

There is no need for me to repeat them as they have been said already. However, I am interested in the Minister of State's response.

The previous contributor spoke about the board and raised pertinent points, not just about Bord na gCon but also about the way we appoint members to every board in the country. I am not referring to this Government or the previous one but to every government when i say that the message that must leave the House is a call to ensure that anybody appointed to a State board, whether political or non-political, and there is no sense in being political, must be qualified, able and have a deep and profound knowledge of and interest in the activities of the board to which they are to be appointed.

I look forward to the Minister of State's reply. More important, I look forward to the results of the report that has been commissioned. We must ensure taxpayers' money is well spent and is used to the advantage of the industry, those employed by it and the people whom it will employ in the years to come. We have read the media reports, the Minister of State has heard the comments made here today and we have studied the work done by the Committee of Public Accounts. To put it mildly, there are disturbing issues that must be addressed. I have every confidence the Minister of State is putting in place actions to answer the queries and resolve the problems that may exist. I look forward to the initial reply by the Minister of State but also to his substantial reply and action that will follow receipt of the report. I wish him well in his important endeavours.

4:25 am

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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I thank all the Senators for their contributions. Some of the matters raised are internal Bord na gCon day-to-day issues, but the debate has been worthwhile.

The first thing I did when I got home from Dublin after my appointment last June was to drive down the road to Golden, near to where I live, to visit a man, Mr. Pat Dalton, who is known by everyone in the greyhound industry. He is one of the world's leading experts on greyhounds, breeding, ownership, etc. He has places in the United States and another place in Golden, County Tipperary. I spent two hours with him on that occasion. I met Bord na gCon as a group in Limerick on another day and I also met the board members individually. After that, I visited greyhound tracks throughout the country. I know a bit about dog racing because, like Senator Landy, I have been involved in syndicates that owned weak dogs.

I met many people on my visits throughout the country and soon realised that the industry was challenging and needed to be examined. I gave it some thought and decided that the best thing to do, in consultation with the senior Minister, Deputy Coveney, the officials in my Department and Mr. Phil Meaney, the chairman of Bord na gCon, was to get somebody independent to conduct a review of the entire industry, from head to toe. We set about an independent process by appointing a group using the public procurement mechanism. The post was advertised and the guidelines were provided which I can read if Senators so wish. The terms of reference were advertised and, through public procurement, Indecon won the opportunity to conduct the process. I have spoken to the company and can confirm it is in the middle of carrying out its review. Many of the concerns that have been raised in this debate, particularly the fears raised by Senator Mary Ann O'Brien, some of which I share, will be raised in the review. However, I want to give the review time. Indecon is only on the job since Christmas but we should have its report in eight weeks time.

When I was asked to attend this debate, I was very conscious that some of the issues likely to be raised would be dealt with in the report. One does not buy a dog yet do the barking oneself. The company comprises highly efficient people. When it gives me the review, I will return to the Seanad to discuss its contents. I hope that many of the issues raised in this debate will be dealt with in the report.

The issue of appointments is quite interesting and important. It is one of the things I can do. I can appoint people to the board of Bord na gCon, be it political or otherwise. After meeting the board in Limerick, I met each of its members individually. On that occasion I met a man called Brendan Moore who was appointed by my predecessor, the late Deputy Shane McEntee. He had written to me and told me that day that he was not fit to be on the board. I can remember asking someone, if he was not fit to be on the board, what he would do instead. I was not going to force him out and waited six months. He did not attended a meeting in those six months, and he is the man Senators quoted in the debate. He did not attend a board meeting and when some moves were being made within the Department, because I was concerned that the position was in effect being left vacant, and we thought about moving him, we received a letter of resignation from Mr. Moore prior to Christmas. Within days I made an appointment. I did not, for the first time in the long history of Bord na gCon or any other board, go to any political party but looked for one person, and that person was a top class accountant. After a lot of work and effort I was able to offer the position to Ms Riona Heffernan who is a financial director of the C&C Group in Ireland. When one makes such an appointment, nobody can question it and that is the road that I will continue to travel. In the next appointments I will make, I will examine each and every one because competence to me is number one. This is because such people have a duty as board members because the board receives taxpayers' money and public moneys are taken in.

The fall in attendance rates and in the tote at race tracks is due to people not having as much money in their pockets anymore, as pointed out by Senator Landy. It is a fact of life that nobody has as much money as they used to have. There is a need to create other ways to attract people to our tracks and it is not just a problem for Bord na gCon. Last week I went horseracing in Portlaoise and its organisation is faced with the same issue - attracting people to its race tracks.

There are a lot of issues to be addressed and people on the board have a lot of responsibilities. There are dedicated people on boards, and on this board in particular. The board of Bord na gCon comprises some very competent people. It is the easiest thing in the world to claim they are political appointments. There are quite good people on the board but these are difficult times. Bord na gCon has many assets and the company is not broke. Obviously it does not make as much money as it did due to times we live in. Such matters must be dealt with and that is why the board must comprise strong people. A strong board and an upcoming report will help it to change direction and will put the company in a better place to deal with the current economic reality.

Other issues were raised, including about the Limerick stadium, which issues were bandied about left, right and centre. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine was not the Department responsible at the time the stadium was built. It was under the remit of the Minister for the Arts, Sport and Tourism, led by our former colleague, Deputy John O'Donoghue. He was the Minister responsible for the project at the time. The matter is being examined by the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General and a review has been undertaken. The Senators are right to say that if taxpayers' money is being wasted, the matter should be dealt with.

It is quite easy for Senators to throw muck and to try to get it to stick to me, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, or some similar person. The reality is that a lot of what was said and a lot of the worry started before the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine became involved. People should be aware of that.

With regard to the position of the new chief executive, Mr. Adrian Nealon has moved on to a position in another organisation.

He was offered the position for another two years but he did not accept that because Government policy is to cut the salaries of chief executive officers and that was provided for in the contract that was offered. He has another job now. However, the Public Appointments Service, PAS, in co-operation with the board will engage in an independent appointment process similar to that used for the appointments of county managers, HSE directors or Secretaries General of Departments. An independent process is being put in place through the statutory body, the PAS. Hopefully, next week the board will place an advertisement in newspapers and on its website. The board has been the subject of a great deal of bad publicity, which is not good for the industry. We should be more careful about the message we send. I want a good chief executive officer who will recognise the major opportunities for the future.

The issue of doping procedures was raised. There are procedures in place and Indecon is examining them in its report. I ask the Senators for an opportunity to return to the House when the report has been published and we will deal with the future of the industry. The large outstanding debts and so on will also be dealt with in the report and we can have a more substantive debate then. Decisions are made and sanctions are imposed by the central control appeals committee regarding infringements. Results of positive tests are published in the Sporting Press. They are not published until after the deadline for an appeal has passed or until an appeal has been heard and the findings issued. The control committee sits periodically - approximately once a month. Some cases are complex and take a considerable time to process. The committee has 14 days from the date of a hearing to notify an individual of its findings. He or she has then one month from notification. A new committee was appointed in August 2013.

With regard to meeting people and consultations, I would like a representative body to be established by owners if they want to meet me. However, it cannot be one group of owners in one part of the country and another group elsewhere. I have arranged a meeting with the trainers association and I will meet a representative group for owners. It is unfair to say I have not met owners because I met some in Ballykisteen Hotel in Tipperary at the end of October.

I am determined to make the industry work. We are using taxpayers' money and I will make sure the industry is in a better place in the future.