I thank the Senator for raising this issue which has occupied a lot of my time. I have an official line but may be able to expand on that in the supplementary contribution.
Bord na gCon is responsible for the control, promotion and operation of greyhound racing, including the operation of totalisator betting, the making of grants for prize money, the allocation of grants to improve amenities at tracks and the licensing of tracks. In that context, it runs commercial operations in a number or greyhound stadia, including Harold's Cross. There are 17 greyhound tracks licensed by Bord na gCon which owns Shelbourne Park, Harold's Cross, Cork, Tralee, Waterford, Youghal, Limerick and Galway, and also has a 51% share in the Mullingar track.
In an economic report by Jim Power in 2010 it was estimated that the greyhound racing industry is responsible for sustaining in excess of 10,000 full and part-time jobs directly and indirectly, many in rural communities, and injects an estimated €500 million into local economies. While this work may be somewhat outdated at this point, the fact remains that the greyhound sector makes a significant contribution to the rural economy. The greyhound breeding industry is also very export oriented with over 75% of greyhounds now running in the UK being Irish bred.
Greyhound racing attracts thousands of tourists to Ireland from many countries, particularly France, Germany and the UK, and Bord na gCon works closely with Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and the various tour operators. Ireland is regarded as a world-class player in greyhound breeding and there is considerable potential for further development in this area. The Irish Greyhound Derby, run in Shelbourne Park, is one of the richest greyhound races in the world. However, Bord na gCon has been operating in a very difficult financial environment for several years and in particular since 2011 when it took on considerable debt as a result of the development of Limerick stadium. In 2014, against the background of reducing income for the organisation through the recession, and the significant debt burden, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine commissioned an independent report into certain matters relating to Bord na gCon, including its financial performance and prospects. That report, known as the Indecon report, provided a roadmap for the sustainable development of the greyhound sector, and recommended several asset disposals, including Harold's Cross, in order to reduce the debt burden.
I understand that Bord na gCon, having considered the matter and having regard to the recommendations in the Indecon report, has decided to put Harold's Cross stadium on the market in order to reduce its debt levels and increase its capacity to provide support and assistance to the industry. The directors of the Dublin Greyhound and Sports Association Limited approved the sale of the Harold's Cross property at a meeting held on 16 March 2017.
While the sale of Harold's Cross is very regrettable, Bord na gCon's view is that there is no other option if the burden of debt on the organisation is to be reduced in any meaningful way. I understand that its intention is to transfer the Harold's Cross racing schedule to Shelbourne Park and Bord na gCon continues to accommodate racing at Shelbourne Park on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, albeit that is suspended at the moment because of ongoing pickets. Bord na gCon has informed me that all permanent and temporary staff who had been employed at Harold's Cross have now been transferred to Shelbourne Park with no breaks in their employment records. I understand that the closure of Harold's Cross has led to concern among supporters of the stadium and an effort at mediation between Dublin Greyhound Breeders and Owners Association, GOBA, and Bord na gCon is under way. Bord na gCon has informed me that Kieran Mulvey has agreed to chair this mediation process. There has been significant Government commitment to this sector in recent years, with the contribution of the taxpayer, through the horse and greyhound fund, having increased from €10.8 million in 2014 to €16 million in 2017.
I remain committed to continuing to support this vitally important sector. However, it is clear that if it is to have a sustainable future, the burden of debt on Bord na gCon must be reduced. In this regard the board has its own responsibilities to discharge, and this may involve very difficult decisions.
I can appreciate that the local community will have a view on the further uses to which the site may be put, if sold. Any proposal for its development will be subject to the full rigours of the planning process. Any sale of the Harold's Cross stadium - and I refer to the Senator's point - will require my consent and that of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I will consider any specific proposal for its sale having regard to the Indecon report's recommendations around the need to avoid further debt burden on the taxpayer and the need to reduce the significant burden of debt of Bord na gCon.