I am pleased to give the joint committee a sense of the Irish Greyhound Board’s response to the Indecon report. We are a very challenged industry at present, the reasons for which are quite complex. Some derive from legacy issues and some have been alluded to by the chairman in his opening commentary. We have significant commercial and business issues to face and serious levels of debt to manage. We operate in a rapidly changing and fast moving entertainment space. At the same time, we are in receipt of public moneys and are, therefore, accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas and this committee. That said, I see great opportunities to restore the sport and generate a thriving industry. The industry is at a crossroads and while the Indecon report has highlighted many challenges and difficulties it is also a time of opportunity.
One of the main conclusions of the Indecon report is one from which all those with an interest in the industry should take confidence. It states: "If action is taken on the recommendations presented, Indecon believes that the organisation will be able to move to a position of higher surpluses and lower debt and provide a platform for the successful development of the sector."
Indecon, which focused on four core areas, governance, finance, regulation, and welfare, provides the IGB with a roadmap. It does not represent the only perspective on the industry but we would be foolish to ignore what it has to say.
In terms of giving a high level overview of our response to Indecon, the following points are important. Our response is grounded on measurable activity.
Our financial strategy is based on generating €3.5 billion operating profits by 2017. This will be achieved through cost-cutting measures within the organisation, calibration of racing, and greater focus on the effectiveness of the money we are spending. A significant contribution will also be realised from our work on the internationalisation of our racing product and through new streaming, new co-mingling and fixed odds partnerships.
As our response says, we will be disposing of non-core and core assets in an orderly way to maximise commercial return from their sale. These assets include buildings in Limerick, land in Cork and Limerick and, as the chairman said, the Harold's Cross stadium. The Irish Greyhound Board cannot keep funding tracks which are not giving a return on the money spent. Any decision on future funding will take into account the multiplicity of factors impacting on a stadium’s performance. These will not be exclusively commercial metrics, although financial performance is critical and will include, for example, the strength of the local dog pool, the level of sponsorship achieved, the attendance levels and tote performance.
Similarly, there will be significant reforms to the regulatory framework of the IGB, both from an operational and legislative perspective. These reforms will be based around the introduction of new and enhanced control measures in all regulatory processes and procedures. In particular, these include monitoring the use and misuse of substances in the racing greyhound, establishing a clear policy to provide an effective deterrent to licensed parties subject to our disciplinary system and, above all, ensuring integrity services in the greyhound industry are aligned with international best practice. There will also be greater regulatory transparency with more detail published, including the publication of details of control committee hearings. Excellence in the regulation regime and alignment with best international practice is very much a priority for the IGB. In that context, the board is pleased to note that, following its recent presentation to the independent control committee, it has increased financial penalties for breaches of regulation.
Discussions have commenced between the IGB and Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine officials to identify changes that need to be made to primary legislation to underpin regulation and integrity. Compliance with the 2011 Welfare of Greyhounds Act is also a requirement for all those in the industry. Sanctions for welfare breaches will include a greater use of existing powers, endorsement of trainers' licences, issuing of fixed payment notice and exclusion of non-compliant owners and trainers from all events licensed by the IGB and the Irish Coursing Club. Additional supports will be provided by the IGB to re-homing greyhounds when resources permit.
Whatever criticism might be levelled about the past, we have a greyhound industry now with an infrastructure of stadia of which we can be proud. The new facilities that have been created have averted the kind of decline apparent in other markets. The challenge now is to use that infrastructure to grow attendances and build the leisure aspect of the industry.
The chairman has referred to the much more challenging economic environment that exists for businesses like ours which depend on discretionary consumer choices for attendances and tote income. Our aim must be to position the organisation and industry for strong recovery when consumer confidence returns. A strong unified collective effort is required from everyone in the industry if we are to restore it as a sport, leisure activity and business.
The industry has also been something of a lightning rod for controversy and disagreements among stakeholders, and that is not helpful. I can understand the impact these have had on the confidence of those in the middle ground who want the industry to be put on a clear path to gain momentum and prosper. A priority for me and for the board is to improve relationships with all stakeholders, to communicate better and to set out a clear programme for recovery to ensure the industry survives and thrives into the future. We have a good deal of work to do. While we will consult all industry stakeholders and strive to work in concert with them as we move forward, that does not remove the obligation on the board and the IGB to take difficult and unpopular decisions if they are necessary. I am optimistic about the future. The Indecon report and the board’s response to it are important first steps to achieving our goals.