Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 21 Oct 2014

Indecon Report: Bord na gCon

We will now discuss the Indecon report on Bord na gCon. I welcome the representatives from Bord na gCon: Mr. Phil Meaney, chairman, Ms Geraldine Larkin, chief executive officer, Mr. Michael Murnane, chief finance officer, Mr. Joe Lewins, head of wagering, and Ms Hilary Forde, head of compliance.

I thank all of the witnesses for appearing before the joint committee today and remind everybody to switch off their mobile telephones. Today, we are discussing the review of certain matters relating to Bord na gCon - the Indecon report - which was published in July.

Before we begin, I wish to draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I now invite Mr. Meaney to make his opening statement, which will be followed by an opening statement by Ms Larkin.

Mr. Phil Meaney

I am pleased to be here today. This meeting is timely for a number of reasons, not least that I am speaking to the committee at the time of Bord na gCon’s response to the Indecon report which was published in July last.

The greyhound industry is a significant one, with a footprint in every county in Ireland. It has an important economic dimension and employs several thousand people, directly and indirectly. There are many dimensions to the greyhound industry. It is variously a sport, a business and a community-based activity that has a value beyond the exclusively commercial. We know that as a fund-raising vehicle, greyhound racing is hugely important to sports clubs, charities and the voluntary tier and makes an enormous contribution at that level. By way of context, the Irish Greyhound Board licenses a total of 17 tracks, nine of which are owned by the board and ten of which are operated by it. The remainder are owned and operated by private companies. We are funded through a combination of income generated by our own racing-related activities, including the operation of Tote wagering from which we retain a share of the receipts. Exchequer funding comes through the Horse and Jockey Racing Fund. The recent budget decision to provide an additional €2.8 million to the greyhound industry through the fund is most welcome, particularly given the 30% reduction in funding to the industry through that mechanism over a six year period.

Notwithstanding the difficult trading environment for the industry, there has been steady progress on a number of fronts. In recent years, Bord na gCon has discharged a €2.5 million commitment to Dundalk stadium undertaken in 2006, has invested €1 million in Clonmel stadium and refurbished Youghal Track at a cost of €150,000. The board formulated a new five year strategic plan, which is currently being updated in the face of current trading conditions and the Indecon report. It has also put in place new arrangements with its bank and introduced a much more streamlined organisational structure reporting to the chief executive. We have put in place a basis for the exploitation of the commercial potential of co-mingling and the streaming of Irish greyhound racing to an international audience. The board has also introduced and implemented a new animal welfare code.

Greyhound racing and coursing are minority sports competing for space in a very crowded marketplace. We have been badly hit by the recession - of that there is no question. Traditional patterns of attendance are changing. In this regard, new technology is a double edged sword. It presents commercial opportunities but also diminishes the need for attendance at race tracks. The business model going forward must take account of this transition. The capital investment that has been made, and which is sometimes criticised, will allow the industry the capacity to market greyhound racing with consideration for changing consumer tastes, higher spectator expectations and new demographics.

The Indecon report provides an independent review of the industry and the work of the board. The Irish Greyhound Board enthusiastically supported the Minister's decision in directing the review to be undertaken. It was necessary and desirable in light of the radically changed trading landscape, under-resourcing of the industry caused by severe cost cutting in IGB in recent years and the massive changes in the wagering environment, both positive and negative, that an informed independent view of the industry be taken. We welcomed the report and regard it as a defining moment for the industry.

Indecon made 27 recommendations on finance, governance, regulation and animal welfare. The committee now has our response in a series of time-lined proposals to implement the recommendations. While our chief executive, Ms Geraldine Larkin, will deal in more detail later with the Indecon report, I would like to offer some thoughts at this point. The Indecon report is a pretty prescriptive document but in fact deals with issues on which the board was already very clearly focused. We have already implemented its recommendations on strengthening the audit and risk management functions in IGB. Our immediate priority is to stabilise the finances of Bord na gCon while allowing it to breathe and to improve its commercial performance. All of this will involve an aggressive programme to improve attendances, develop additional sources of income and the sweating and sale of assets.

We face a serious financial situation, caused by significant decline in most categories of our turnover since 2008. Indecon references the negative developments in the Irish economy as contributors to that decline. In the middle of a recession, people have to make choices and they do not have to go greyhound racing. The more recent positive economic indicators and the pick-up in employment numbers will help but there will be a lag period before we see significant impacts. There is no doubt that decisions which will be taken in the coming years will be difficult for some stakeholders to accept. All stakeholders will have to accept that the decisions taken can only be on the basis of what is good for the industry as a whole. There is a radical cultural change required in how we manage the industry and how we go forward. The notion of poorly performing tracks having financial subsidy and support in perpetuity is gone. Individual stadia will have to stand on their own two feet and be able to demonstrate a capacity to perform under certain headings. There is likely to be rationalisation of tracks over a period and Harolds Cross will be sold at the appropriate time.

There will be a significant ramping up of governance and controls at IGB. This process has already commenced. Improvement of governance at IGB will be assisted by an external review of all corporate governance procedures and the establishment of a new code of governance appropriate to it. These are important steps forward, as is the facilitation of board members to focus on significant, macro issues in IGB through the end of their board involvement in local tracks and stadia to which they have tremendous commitment but which is hugely time consuming. Likewise, there will be changes with regard to regulation and welfare. The board wants absolute transparency in these areas and where there are gaps in information for stakeholders, we are committed to addressing those and enforcing the regulations, as evident from our response to Indecon.

I am sure the joint committee will wish to deal in more detail with these issues. I again thank the committee for the invitation to address it.

I thank Mr. Meaney for his opening statement and now invite Ms Larkin to make her opening statement.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

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.

Following today's meeting, will we be making a submission to the Minister?

While not wanting to discuss the business of the committee, we can do that or we can decide if we want to have further hearings with stakeholders before we do that.

Sooner or later we will do that because we will not just let this matter lie.

No. We agreed that before bringing in any stakeholders, we would invite in the representatives of Bord na gCon.

Gabhaim buíochas leis na finnéithe as ucht an cur i láthair inniu. The Indecon report makes horrendous reading. The industry got €103.4 million to invest, yet it has still managed to find itself in a dire financial position. No doubt the downturn in the economy will be cited for that, but many businesses that should have been more directly affected by the downturn have survived much better than Bord na gCon. A comparison of figures in terms of the number of people involved in the greyhound industry in 2006 and the number currently involved in it shows there has been a total failure.

The turnover from racing facilities has dropped from €63.4 million to €28 million. I would interested to have sight of the figures for the period prior to the height of Celtic tiger years but we have not been given those. Did the turnover suddenly increase in the period from 2002 to 2006 from €28 million to €63 million? That is the measure of how much the tiger economy impacted on the revenue accruing. I suspect that did not happen. There was a massive operating loss in 2013 of €9.6 million on a turnover of €28 million. That is disastrous in business terms. I understand the preliminary results for this year show that despite the upturn in the economy and revenue, the tax take and economic activity having increased, as the Government would advise us, attendance levels are down. The number of active owners has dropped dramatically from 14,000. I doubt if they all suddenly jumped out, as it were, in 2007. Therefore, it is not as if the Celtic tiger economy accounts for all this. The number has decreased from 14,000 to 8,000, which is almost halved.

What we have got from all this investment on behalf of the taxpayers is a massive debt. I am not an expert on greyhounds as I am not involved in the industry. I could count on two hands the number of greyhound races I have attended, and those I attended were mainly charity events. From reading the reports, having listened to what has been going on and reading between the lines of what the new chief executive had to say, it seems the regulatory regime and the integrity services have been deficient. I have heard many stories about what was going on in terms of tests and various things that were happening and matters not being pursued. Various allegations have been made and I would not like to repeat some of them, even under the protection of the privilege of the House. The Indecon report indicates failure of the regulatory regime and of all the integrity services. In fairness to the new chief executive, she pointed out in her statement that this must all change, that it has been deficient and that one of the reasons this industry has declined so dramatically is that people lost faith in it. That is very sad because, as pointed out by many people, greyhound racing is the poor person's horse racing. It has a low capital investment compared with getting involved in thoroughbred racehorses. It is something people like to do, but no one wants to be involved in an industry that cannot say it has the highest standards.

There are many questions to be answered and I am not happy. Someone new will be left with a legacy and while I do not have a problem with this, I am not happy because we have not been given an explanation as to why Indecon had to come in, and taking into account that these reports must always be careful in what they state, this report appears to be quite blunt about deficiencies. The chief executive spoke today about significant reforms to the regulatory framework of the IGB from an operational and legislative perspective. If it was working fine, why would it need reform? He spoke about the introduction of new enhanced control measures in all regulatory processes and procedures, in particular monitoring the use and misuse of substances in greyhound racing. We are speaking about a litany of failures to deal with the issue. How many of the six people on the board, including the chairman, were on the board during this period? Does the chairman not think, in view of the indictment in the Indecon report and what the chief executive has had to say to us, that the honourable thing would have been for the board members to state they had served their time and that it was time for a full new brush with a clean sweep of everything in order that others could pick up? Unfortunately, the term of office of those members in place during the period has led to the devastating report we have in front of us.

I welcome the members of the board and staff. In 2014, Bord na gCon received €10.84 million in State funding. I have discussed this matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, who has responsibility for Bord na gCon. He initiated the Indecon report, which was due out earlier this year but eventually came out in recent months. Many issues with regard to Bord na gCon about which we were concerned have arisen during this discussion. When the report came out, the credibility of Bord na gCon was shot dead because the report is horrendous, not alone with regard to the financial situation in the organisation but also with regard to the governance and regulation of the greyhound industry, the doping of dogs and the follow-up on it, the performance of the organisation as a business entity, and the procedures put in place by Bord na gCon.

Where would Bord na gCon be as an organisation if the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, had not initiated the report and if Indecon had not brought out the damning report in front of us for discussion today? Would we be rumbling along as we have been for the past five or six years, seeing it going down the tubes? I come from Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary, a couple of miles from Clonmel which, as everyone knows, is the home of coursing. I am a regular attendee at race meetings. I am the former owner of some bad dogs. I have seen the industry fall asunder in front of our eyes and nothing has been done about it. The two statements we have heard are quite encouraging as stand-alone statements, but the big problem is the history which preceded them. I do not believe this can be turned around by what has been presented to us in the statements we have heard today and in the response from Bord na gCon to the Indecon report. It is the job of the witnesses to convince me it will happen.

I bring everything down to basics, and the basics are that people will not go to dog racing any more because of the doping. When doping is found, the investigations are not followed up and ordinary people who have paid for dogs will not go to the track on a Friday or Saturday night because they do not believe their dog will have a chance. This is the basic nuts and bolts of what is going on. All pious platitudes of what will be done in future are torn asunder by the fact it has not been done until now. If the Indecon report had not been written, would we be here today?

With regard to the decision to sell the various landbanks, specifically Harold's Cross, what business case has been made that it should be the first track to be sold? Prize money is small enough in its own right at present. Was any alternative to reducing it examined? It is the bread and butter of the small breeder and trainer. Will the witnesses give specifics on how they will turn around the financial disaster that is Limerick? Will they make a credible case that Limerick will be dealt with properly? I understand that two years after a stud dog dies, the sperm is taken out of use. Will the witnesses clarify whether this is happening? Both speakers referred to a control committee. How was this put together? Who are the members? To whom are they answerable for the decisions they make? Will the witnesses clarify who decides on the staff at tracks under the control of Bord na gCon? How are they monitored with regard to the need for numbers and from where does the money come to pay them? Is it directly from the board or does it come through other mechanisms?

I have many other questions but I am conscious other members wish to speak. I would like to come back in again if I can get an opportunity to do so.

I will allow supplementary questions afterwards.

I welcome the delegation. Many of the issues raised seem to be legacy issues. To follow to a certain extent Deputy Ó Cuív's concluding remarks on the length of time the board has been in place, from the presentations the peak of capital expenditure was in 2010, which was the same time as the turnover collapsed from €63 million to €33 million. When did the chairman take up his position? How many people have had their board membership renewed since 2010?

It is quite obvious that IGB is in serious financial difficulty. A significant issue which has not been mentioned is the pension deficit, which seems to have been a noose around IGB's neck for quite a while. What specific methods have been put in place to try to address this matter as well as the other issues mentioned? There has been much talk about asset disposal. Anyone in difficulty must think about how to get out of the hole. A decision seems to have been made on asset disposal but debt sustainability is very important. With regard to the pension deficit and getting the finances back up and running, what format has been put in place to deal with debt sustainability?

The committee has been dealing in recent weeks with the new Horse Racing Ireland (amendment) Bill. Media rights are an issue. Is IGB behind the mark in this? Is there potential in media rights? The number of breeders and owners has reduced considerably. What incentives are being put in place to ensure one sees once again a person on the road walking a dog in every town and village in the country, be it morning, evening or night?

It was part and parcel of the community. Maybe that seems to be dwindling in more recent years. What is being put in place to encourage the ordinary Joe Soap - I do not mean that in any disrespectful way - to get back into the bread and butter part of the industry? This chief executive suggested that Bord na gCon seems to be a lightning rod, attracting negative publicity in some regards. This committee has received correspondence from various individuals over the last year or two. Would the witnesses say these individuals are large or small in number? Who do they represent? What has been put in place to try to deal with the issues they have raised?

I am glad to have an opportunity to raise a few issues. I was interested to hear the presentation made by the board of the Irish Greyhound Board. I wish the new chief executive officer well with the daunting and unenviable task of trying to restore public confidence in the board. The Indecon report made it clear that the organisation has seen a drastic fall of 55.6% in revenues over the period covered by the report. The witnesses are here today because the taxpayer provides annual funding of over €11 million to the industry. That figure will increase next year. One can argue whether it is right or wrong for the taxpayer to fund greyhound racing while children are waiting for treatment in our public hospitals. That is a debate for another day. The question we need to consider today is whether we are obtaining value for money. Is the corporate governance in the organisation receiving this funding up to scratch? Is the money being spent by the taxpayer bringing an output for the taxpayer? The simple answer to that question is "No". The Indecon report clearly highlights that. It clearly identifies a number of shortcomings to which I will come in a moment.

I agree with my colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív, that the Indecon report is extremely damning about an industry that is currently not fit for purpose. I have looked over the Irish Greyhound Board's annual report for 2012, the most recent year for which such a report is available. It shows that the debt-to-equity gearing ratio increased from 26% in 2006 or 2007 to 66.6% in 2013. Surely, by anyone's standards, that raises massive governance questions for the board of the Irish Greyhound Board. What was happening in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012? It is unbelievable that the board did not take corrective action when the net debt-to-equity ratio from a gearing point of view was moving in that direction.

I agree with Senator Landy that the Minister stepped in here because the disquiet coming from breeders and owners was being raised with Members of the Oireachtas. I know I certainly raised it in the Seanad and perhaps also at this committee. The Minister has had to undertake an independent investigation, which has proved that the board was simply not fit for purpose. I would like to know whether the current chairman of the board believes these issues were discussed at board level. What corrective actions, if any, were taken? If such actions were not taken, why not? In the view of the chairman, is an appropriate mix of expertise represented on the board? I refer to the financial competence and expertise of the individuals on the board. Does the chairman agree with my colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív, that the board is no longer fit for purpose? Given that a new chief executive officer is in place, perhaps a new board should be allowed to take over to freshen the image of the Irish Greyhound Board at a governance level. I would contend that a new board is required. That is a matter for the current board members and-or the Minister.

I would like to touch on a few other issues. If we look at the figures for the private and public tracks, we will see that the private tracks are losing money hand over fist. I have gathered figures on the performance of the private tracks in 2013. It seems that the income of those tracks was approximately €3.4 million. When costs of approximately €8.1 million, including prize money grants, are factored in, it is clear that these tracks lost approximately €4.5 million in 2013 alone, from an economic point of view. Surely that is not a sustainable position. We can blame the economy and everything else, but every organisation, regardless of whether it is publicly or privately funded, must react to internal and external economic factors in Ireland and elsewhere. There seems to have been no reaction here whatsoever. It seems that no action was taken to cut costs or improve performance. It appears that a decision has been made to let the taxpayer foot the bill. It is simply not good enough for those involved in the board to think they will be okay because the grant they get is increasing next year.

I have many examples of things that are going on in the industry and many questions about them. I know time is against us. The asset sales have been mentioned. How long have those properties been on the market? Has there been any negotiation on them? Have any offers been made? I would like to delve into many other financial matters. I might have an opportunity to do so during the question and answer session. Regarding the issue of drugs in the greyhound industry, the witnesses might help me out with the name of a drug that is being tested for. I know it is the same form of drug for which Ben Johnson was banned in 1988. My understanding is that two types of test can be carried out for the drug in question.

Ms Hilary Forde

Is the Senator referring to stanozolol?

Yes. I understand that both of the available tests for stanozolol - an oil-based test and a water-based test - are undertaken in the UK but the water-based test is the only one that is undertaken here in the Republic of Ireland. It seems this is based on the Australian model that is used here. It appears that when Irish dogs are tested for this drug when they go to race in England, the test results are predominantly positive for this drug. I understand this can be attributed to the new testing methods that are in place in England. I can point the witnesses in the direction of various examples. I am absolutely certain that they are aware of these examples. Following a hearing held by the disciplinary committee of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain on 16 September last, a professional trainer, George Gibbinson, was found to be in breach of UK rules. I would like to know why, in cautioning Mr. Gibbinson, the disciplinary committee felt the need to urge all trainers to exercise due diligence in assessing the drug status of greyhounds purchased from Ireland. When did the chairman and the board last discuss this issue? Have they discussed it? I understand steps may be afoot to bring in new standards of testing that would include oil-based testing. How many of the tests that were carried out on Irish dogs by the Irish Greyhound Board over the past three years were sent to laboratories in England for further testing to clarify the authenticity of the tests carried out here?

How many of those tests were sent to laboratories in England for further testing to clarify the authenticity of the tests carried out in this country? What were the results of the tests? If a positive result is shown at any Irish greyhound meeting, what is the board's protocol with regard to publishing the outcome of that test? Is it published immediately or within 24 hours, for instance? Drug abuse in sport cannot be accepted or condoned. We are talking about an animal which does not drug itself to achieve greatness, even if athletes sometimes do so. The trainers are culpable. The governing structures and regulations in place are questionable. What is being done to bring them up to standard? We can talk about the Australian standard or any other standard but our nearest neighbour, England, has questions about the greyhounds being purchased or raced. I refer to a recent case where a very famous jockey was part of a syndicate which owned a dog which also tested positive in England. Such instances are having a negative effect on the Irish greyhound industry. What is being done to rectify that?

I have a question for the chief executive and the chairman. How often has the control committee of the IGB increased the threshold for the drug stanozolol? Has any such increase been recorded by the control committee?

I thank the chairman and the chief executive officer for their presentations. The Indecon report is not good when one notes the losses and the continuing decline in income for Bord na gCon since 2006 and the proposed sale of one of the major stadia, the Harold's Cross track. Has Bord na gCon any plans to close other stadia or refuse private stadia the right to run greyhound race meetings? Does the report indicate which stadia are losing the most income?

I welcome Mr. Meaney, Ms Larkin, Ms Forde and Mr. Lewins, who is known to me. I have been involved in greyhound racing all my life, it is in my blood. I have trained, raced and bred greyhounds. The greyhound industry employs 10,500 people, part-time and full-time. That is why the Government provides significant funding because the industry is both a significant employer and revenue stream for the Government. In some areas greyhound racing is like the GAA club because local people have their coursing dogs and greyhounds.

Mr. Meaney and Ms Larkin have taken over a legacy of bad management left by the previous chief executive officer and other people who were involved in the board. It is very difficult for me to sit here and listen to certain people from a political party who were in power during these years from 2007 to 2011, as they lecture us about how bad or good things are when they did nothing themselves, only made it a retirement home for-----

I remind Deputy Butler that he is under privilege and he should not impugn anyone.

I will move on. I have said enough on that topic.

The committee is dealing with the Indecon report and the here and now. There are legacy issues but we must deal with the report.

I am speaking as an owner and as a person who is involved in the game and I find it very difficult to stomach some of the things that are being said at this meeting, rightly or wrongly.

I ask the Deputy to refer to the report.

What new arrangements have been agreed with the bank to deal with the debt of between €22 million and €24 million and the pension costs which amount to €8 million?

The problem I have noted around tracks is that during the Celtic tiger era, people flowed in the gates of the stadia, but with the recession, it has been difficult to get people to come to race meetings. Charity nights were very successful during the golden years. We must encourage the staff to make an effort, to get up and out, so to speak.

Mullingar is my local track although I live in Trim. Many people in the Meath area do not know anything about the Mullingar track because it is not advertised well enough. We need to encourage community and voluntary groups in the area to come to Mullingar for their fund-raising charity nights. There is no reason Mullingar greyhound track or other tracks should not host charity nights every week of the year to bring in large attendances. Many charities were overcharged on track rental and this issue must be examined.

The staff wages bill is at €8 million which is far too high. Ms Larkin will examine this cost and I ask her to say how she intends to deal with it. What is the benefit in selling Harold's Cross track and how will the money be spent? The Government is giving another €2.6 million along with the €11 million from last year. Could this funding be used to pay off the debt and the sale of Harold's Cross be deferred? I know the debt must be repaid but I do not think selling Harold's Cross immediately is the right way to go. I know Shelbourne Park keeps the whole show going.

With regard to the drugs situation, most owners and breeders say the fines do not fit the crime and the system used on the track and at coursing meetings will have to change.

Land around Shelbourne Park was sold many years ago but the price was never published. Will Ms Larkin make public the information on the selling price and how that money was used? There is suspicion attached to how that money was used.

Prize money was increased by 20% in the late Shane McEntee's time. I ask for a reinstatement of that increase out of the €2.6 million given in the budget because trainers and owners are suffering.

With all due respect to Ms Larkin, I hope the salary of the chief executive will be reduced. I ask for information on the current salary. For example, the US President, Mr. Obama, was earning less than the previous chief executive officer of Bord na gCon.

I won a competition in Drumbo Park two years ago. One man and a small staff run the whole show. It is a private operation with funding from the IGB. It attracts very large attendances along with a significant bookmaker turnover. He advertises the track successfully. The young crowd queue at the gates to get into that track. We should be doing that down here in the South. I suggest we examine that model.

I welcome the effort made by Mr. Meaney and Mr. Lewins to sell the picture rights into England and further afield which will provide a new revenue stream. Will Mullingar and Youghal track pictures be coming on stream for Channel 212, the greyhound station?

I apologise for being late. I am trying to read through the presentation. I am very supportive of the industry. It is a fantastic social amenity as well as generating jobs and entertainment. Criticism has been levelled at the organisation for some time, some of it unjustified, but questions must be answered. Are the witnesses satisfied the independent control committee is impartial and does not have a vested interest in having greyhounds itself in training with high-profile trainers? Are they satisfied that the laboratory in Limerick is fit for purpose? Many people are concerned about that. Were the samples positive that were sent to Newmarket following the recent puppy derby and will the results be published?

A stated priority of the board is to improve relationships with stakeholders, communicate better, set out a clear programme for recovery and ensure the industry survives and thrives into the future. Does the board have a strategy in place to achieve the goals?

The industry has taken a big hit in the past seven to eight years. It was stated that prize money is down, as is attendance. Charity nights were referred to. Charity events provide a fantastic service for GAA clubs, hospice groups and others. They bring people to venues throughout the country, which ensures the continuation of employment and helps the industry to thrive. I would welcome a response to the questions.

I thank members. There is a long list of questions which shows the significant interest in the issue. If the chairman or CEO wish other officials to respond to questions, they should feel free to do so. I will hand over to the witnesses. We might have supplementary questions later.

Mr. Phil Meaney

I thank the Chairman and members. I will deal with the existing structures of the Irish Greyhound Board, IGB. I am very comfortable with the ability of the able team in place to my right and my left to deal with the issues raised today. I was appointed chairman of the board three years ago. I neither sought nor lobbied for the position but, having taken it up, I have given it everything I possibly could in the three years. Two members of the current board were in place when I became chairman. Indecon recommended an increase in the size of the board from six with a chairman to eight with a chairman. That is a good idea which we have taken on board in our response to Indecon.

It is important to clarify that the position of chairman and his colleagues are non-executives roles. Our functions must be taken into the equation. When I became involved, the structure that existed in Bord na gCon was not operational. I do not for a moment criticise my predecessors, who were all good people and, like myself, did things to the best of their ability. It was a very flat structure with 19 people reporting to a CEO. I had come from the private sector where we had functional directors and my immediate task once I got my feet under the table was to bring the greyhound board to a similar scenario, where each of the functions, namely, finance, wagering, commercial, which is not with us today, regulations and racing governance would be all headed up by an expert in the field. The executive was completed a couple of months ago. I freely admit that it took longer than I had planned or hoped. Things tend to happen a little more slowly in the IGB than in private industry, but we now have a full executive in place. I can confidently say that each member of the executive is very well qualified in his or her field. That takes a huge onus off the board. While board members have very definite skills ranging from legal to finance, we do not run the business on a day-to-day basis.

When I became chairman of Bord na gCon, our borrowings were €22 million. There was an outstanding IOU for Dundalk since 2006 that had to be honoured. We were faced with either closing the stadium in Clonmel due to health and welfare issues or investing money in it. We invested €1 million there and similarly in the stadium in Youghal. Deputy Ó Cuív spoke about hiding behind the economic collapse. Whether he accepts it or not, without doubt in the same period it was a very difficult time for trading in Ireland, in particular in the leisure sector where people can decide whether to go racing. Despite having to honour the commitment on €2.5 million, the finances of the IGB have remained static. There was a massive reduction of more than 30% in State support since the economic downturn.

If I felt that I or the board were not doing an appropriate job, we would stand aside. I am confident that with the new skills we have on the board and the new executive that is in place, we can and will turn this business around in a short period. Deputy Ó Cuív and another speaker described the Indecon report as damning. It clearly states, however, that if the industry follows the recommended path, it can and will be very successful. I will leave it to my executive to get into the nitty-gritty. That is probably the best way. I would like to deal personally with many of the issues raised, but it would be wrong not to let the functional directors deal with them. I am more than happy to take a question on any point.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

I have quite a number of questions and I ask members to forgive me if I do not respond to everything.

I will remind Ms Larkin.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

Senator Landy asked a number of questions on the sale of Harold’s Cross greyhound stadium, the decision to cut prize money, issues relating to artificial insemination, our staff allocation and the control committee. I will deal with that group of questions first, which might impact on some of the other questions raised.

Senator Landy inquired about the analysis that was done on the stadium in Harold’s Cross. Apart from the analysis carried out by the board on that stadium and the suite of stadia owned by the IGB, the matter was examined separately by Indecon.

It was the conclusion of the independent analysis by Indecon and the board's deliberations that the Harold's Cross stadium be put up for sale. It was not an easy decision and was not taken lightly by the executive or the board. Among the factors contributing to that decision is the debt, which is not sustainable. We have to address that. We want to maximise the value we get from disposing of the Irish Greyhound Board, IGB stadia. The potential value realisable from any sale is a crucial factor. Another factor is the proximity of other tracks and the impact on the dog pool and the owners and trainers in an area if a track is to be disposed of. For those multiple reasons the Harold’s Cross track was nominated for sale. There is a commitment in our response to Indecon that it will be ready for sale by the end of next year. That means that in the meantime we will secure planning permission for the site.

Some committee members asked when the other property we have for sale was put up for sale in the first instance and what is the process for the future and the properties we have yet to sell. Those for sale are those in Limerick. They have been for sale since the IGB moved into its new headquarters. The main properties yet to sell are the land in Cork and Harold’s Cross. We will maximise the value from those properties by seeking planning permission and the relevant zoning necessary on them. We will not be giving them away to the first bidder who comes along. We are very clear on that.

There have been several questions about how we will turn this industry around and get back to growing attendance. My focus as the new chief executive officer is on looking forward rather than backwards and using Indecon as a key driver for that. We have already started, in advance of Indecon having commenced, considering the branding of all tracks such that we have local branding customised to each local track but maintain an overall policy and feel from an IGB corporate perspective. That is driven forward using traditional marketing methodologies and new digital infrastructures. We are pushing this through Facebook and other social media and encouraging the younger generation to attend at tracks and share their experiences with others.

This work is based on significant research and market analysis such that we now have our customer attendance segmented and we are very clear about the different types of customer, whether the general owner-trainer attending or the corporate leisure patron or the benefit attendees. We have very clear analysis and market segmentation and we are tracking each and every one of those on a stadium-by-stadium basis such that we can gear and focus how much new marketing we should use through digital infrastructures and the level of traditional marketing and radio campaigns. There is a very informed picture behind that. Taking all of those factors and the different market segments into account our intention is in the coming year to grow the various customer segments by between 1% and 6%.

That marketing strategy and drive to new attendance is also driven by proposals to target new levels of ownership. The current breeder scheme that lapsed with the reduction and reversal of the 2012 increase in prize money unfortunately did not give us the anticipated bounce in owners and breeders. I want to expand the base of owners and see how we might bring in new owners and bring syndicates and syndication back into the industry. It has often been said that the greyhound is the poor man’s racehorse but it still costs a lot of money, relatively speaking. There is a huge time commitment in the ongoing care, training and maintenance of a greyhound. I want to consider how to grow ownership. To do that in a way that is practical, pragmatic and focused and will deliver results we will have to sit down with the various stakeholders in the industry and come up with the best solution to growing ownership. Already there have been several suggestions, some of them poles apart, on where it would be best to focus our money. It is a matter of bringing all the ideas together and pushing that forward.

To grow attendance we are considering how we make our sales. There has been talk of getting staff at track level to go out and push sales. They are masters of many things. We are examining how we can better support them and how we can more intelligently and strategically use our track staff resources. We have always had a sales unit in Thurles for taking external bookings. We have done limited proactive work on outbound sales. A core initiative will be to have an outbound sales team that will be centrally based but will support all managers. That work has started. There is a pilot under way and it is beginning to yield results.

Many speakers have mentioned that costs have escalated over recent years but there has in fact been considerable cost reduction and cost cutting throughout the organisation. Our marketing and advertising expenditure has suffered and been significantly reduced. On closer examination of the marketing budget it is evident that a disproportionate amount of money is being spent to convert the converted, so to speak, going directly to the greyhound industry. This will be an unpopular decision but I see us diverting more funds to general marketing as opposed to industry-related marketing such that we can target those not coming into the industry. That gives a flavour of some of the high level measures we are taking to grow attendance at all tracks.

Senator Landy mentioned the continuing difficulties with artificial insemination, AI. That has been a significant issue and has been a priority for me and my colleague, Hilary Forde. Proposals have been submitted to, and approved by, the board which I believe will shortly be approved by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. These will clarify the position for the future and give us the time to conduct a genetic study of the aging of straws and its long-term impact on a greyhound.

That has been dealt with.

The Senator also asked for the membership of the control committee. I cannot answer him on that as I do not have the membership to hand, but I will be glad to provide it subsequently in writing. The control committee is independent. If they are answerable, they are answerable to the appeals committee.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

There is a control committee and then there is an appeals committee envisaged under the legislation. That is where the mechanism is. There is no reporting mechanism back into IGB and the board, as such.

The cases go forward to the control committee which makes its determination. The only further recourse is to the control appeals committee.

Could I have clarity on that? Is the appeals committee a stand-alone committee independent of Bord na gCon? My understanding is that Ms Larkin said they are not answerable to or under the remit of Bord na gCon. She said the control committee is answerable to the appeals committee, so who is on the appeals committee and what structure are they under?

Ms Geraldine Larkin

They are both within the structure of the legislation. When I say they are not under the IGB, they do not answer or report to the Irish Greyhound Board. The control committee and appeals committee sit alongside the regulator.

I would like to get clarity on that. I will be guided by the Chairman.

To be clear, I think the structure is that one has a board which has a non-executive function. There is a stand-alone appeals committee and a control committee. If somebody is not happy with the findings of the control committee they can go to the appeals committee, which is provided for under the legislation. However, the appeals committee does not have to answer to the board because it is an independent, stand-alone entity. Is that correct?

Ms Geraldine Larkin


I would like Ms Larkin to provide clarity on the appeals committee by correspondence as I am aware she does not have the membership with her.

Ms Geraldine Larkin


It is important to understand that the legislation provides that the appeals committee and the control committee do not have to answer to the board. I presume they are answerable to the Minister, however.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

Yes. Senator Landy also referred to staff allocation and payment methods. The staff allocation is decided centrally. Staff are paid through the IGB, but at track level, so their salaries accrue to the various tracks.

If the bottom line of the track does not meet the wage costs, where do they come from?

Ms Geraldine Larkin

That is what I said. The funding comes through the IGB's head office.

So the IGB picks up the cost of the wages if the track is not able to cover it. In other words, if the track is not viable, it cannot cover it. Is that correct?

Ms Geraldine Larkin

For our own tracks, in effect.

I asked about your own tracks.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

Yes, in effect.

Okay, that is fine. Thank you.

Okay, continue.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

I think that covers all of the Senator's issues.

The last one was the cut in prize money to which Deputy Butler referred.

I referred to it a couple of times, yes.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

I beg your pardon. In fact, it was the first issue I took down. The cut in prize money was looked at in terms of the ongoing sustainability and viability of the industry. It was also looked at in terms of the dog pools we have now as opposed to what we had in 2012, as well as the opportunities for owners and trainers now as opposed to the situation in 2012 in terms of winning prizes. In addition, it was looked at against the cold reality of our current finances. While it was regrettable, it was very necessary. It is a saving that will generate €750,000 for us in a year. It is a priority for us to restore it. Against that, however, we have to be realistic - it can only be restored when the IGB is performing at a level whereby we can meet our other liabilities and commitments.

Deputy Deering raised the matter of media rights and whether or not we are behind the scenes. I would say that we are not behind the scenes. I am glad to say that media rights will be an issue for the IGB. We are currently at advanced stages of negotiations with a number of different onward providers in terms of selling on the IGB product. That product has been split into a number of different models, such that we maximise the value and content from our bread and butter products. Once we progress, part of the process will be the conclusion of media rights. We have already spoken to some of the private tracks about media rights.

Models are in place with our colleagues in HRI that clearly show a good example of what needs to be done. There is no point in reinventing the wheel because we are similar industries. There is a lot to be taken and learned from that. The media rights issue is very much on or agenda and one that is being progressed. I already mentioned what we are doing about breeding and ownership, and how we will deal with that.

The Deputy also raised the question of the pension deficit and how we are about to address that. We have submitted proposals to the Department giving a range of options as to how we might best address the pension issue. It is clearly a priority issue for us given the fact that it directly impacts on so many existing staff, as well as staff that are no longer with us. Those proposals are being considered by the Department. The additional allocation of funding that we got in budget 2015 will also be a significant contributor for the IGB in future.

On that point, does Ms Larkin intend to use the extra funding in this budget to offset some of the deficit in the pension fund?

Ms Geraldine Larkin

As regards how we use the additional funding, we will be guided by the direction in the Indecon report. Indecon identified the pension deficit. Equally, it would have identified the debt liabilities we have. Apart from those two core issues, the extra money will also be used to re-engage and reignite various maintenance programmes around the tracks. Up to now, the board has had to reduce expenditure so there is a heavy maintenance schedule to be undertaken. Within that, I would also like to see money going back to owners and welfare, which are core issues. The challenge for the IGB will be how to maximise that additional funding so that we can benefit as many different calls on the funding as possible and ultimately grow the industry as well.

Senator Ó Domhnaill queried how long the properties have been on the market. The Limerick properties have been on the market for some time. The Cork property has yet to go on the market and will be subject to planning, as is the case with Harold's Cross.

The Deputy also raised a number of questions about stanozolol and other anabolic steroids. The IGB sends a control sample of tests to the UK. That is all that is required for our accreditation. The IGB laboratory is accredited AA. It is accredited to both the Irish National Accreditation Board and the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, so we meet the laboratory standards of both. That being the case, the Deputy asked what happens if a positive is found. If a positive is found, the procedure up to now has been a hearing involving the owner, the control steward at the track and a representative from the IGB, following which the matter is referred to the control committee. In recent times, a review of the time taken to conduct the middle piece of that work, the hearing with the control steward, identified that it was causing a considerable delay. That stage is being removed so that cases will go before the control committee much faster.

The Deputy also asked if it was possible to publish positive results. Heretofore, we have not done this, because the results have been associated with the determination of the case. We are putting new protocols in place for this piece of work so that it will be very clear what we are going to do if we publish results. It will also involve removing the dog and the existence of a particular prohibited substance from the subsequent deliberation. There is a need for very clear rules to be implemented before we start on that process, so that everybody is quite clear about it. However, that work is under way with my colleague and we are determined that it will be put in place. In the interim, I would like us to be in a position to publish more statistics so that people have more of an idea what we are about and more confidence in us, so that one can see when cases go to a control committee how long they are at that control committee and so on.

The Deputy also queried the threshold for stanozolol and whether that has been varied or increased by the control committee and-----

Ms Hilary Forde

The thresholds are not set by a control committee; they would be set by a laboratory.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

What I was about to say was that those thresholds have not been varied.

There was also a question about whether the board has plans to sell stadiums other than Harold's Cross. The tenet of the document that we will have put before the committee is not so much outright sale at this point. We are committed to supporting all of our own stadiums and all the private stadiums. At the same time, we cannot continue indefinitely, as has been echoed many times here today, to support tracks that are not viable and that are not delivering value for money with taxpayers' money. We have constructed a set of metrics, both financial and non-financial. We will assess each and every track based on those metrics and look at what the various tracks are delivering back to the IGB and, in broader terms, to the industry and the taxpayer. In the short three months I have been here, much of the feedback I have been getting is that staff on the ground are not committed to developing the industry. This gives everybody - the staff on the ground, the local owners and trainers - a role in ensuring the viability of a track is maintained. We will be measuring the financial performance and, entirely apart from attendance, that measurement will also consider the level of sponsorship we can get in and what level of community involvement is attached to each track in terms of benefit nights. Deputy Butler mentioned the benefit nights in Mullingar and there is great work done around the country in benefit nights, with huge amounts of money raised, I am glad to say. On the other hand, the difficulty is that many benefit nights are going back to the same pot of people looking for support. For us the challenge is to ensure, with the local communities as much as anything else, that we can identify different segments and different charities that will benefit on an ongoing basis from interaction with us. It is a very crowded space, no more than any other aspect of our business, in that we face challenges from all sorts of new and emerging charity fund-raisers - Strictly Come Dancing, virtual horse-racing, and many more. It is a matter of making sure that we are out there and focused.

It is crucial that we benefit from local owners in terms of growing benefit nights. Equally, the dog pool in an area associated with a track is crucially important in deciding what we do with it. We will look at all these metrics. We look also at the state of repair of a track and the level of capital investment that has occurred already. Some tracks have yet to be developed, and it would be wrong to put them all on the same level in terms of evaluation. These are the ways in which we will be assessing tracks, because ultimately we must ensure that the money we are spending is benefiting the industry in the best possible way and that we are giving money where it is delivering the most and giving the best return to the taxpayer.

Deputy Butler asked about the arrangements put in place with the bank. There are ongoing arrangements to ensure that our financial liabilities are being met in a timely fashion.

Has there been a reduction in payments? Everyone is going in and doing deals with banks. With the debt that is owed there, surely to God a deal can be made, especially if it is a State-owned bank that we owe the debt to. We need some people to go in there heavy-handedly and make a deal for the Irish greyhound industry.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

We will be progressing all our negotiations with the bank in the strongest possible terms. We realise that any money we spend is money that will not be available to spend within the industry, so I agree wholeheartedly with the Deputy in that respect.

The Deputy also raised the issue of additional funding and whether that additional funding might be used to offset debt instead of selling the stadium at Harold's Cross. While the additional funding is very welcome and will make a significant difference to the IGB, the targets we have set ourselves within our response to Indecon rely on our disposing of the asset, because we very much want to bring our debt liabilities down far more significantly than we could if we were just to allocate all the increase in money towards that.

In addition, this would mean we would not be able to utilise that money in other ways for the benefit of the industry going forward.

In light of the new betting legislation and the new tax relating to online gambling, the pot is going to increase as time passes. People are referring to the Indecon report as if it were the Gospel or the Bible. Surely, we can identify what is going to happen in the future. I do not believe that selling Harold's Cross is the solution. If it must be sold, that is fair enough. However, I am not convinced that it is the solution.

The Deputy has made his point.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

The Deputy's point about the new income is quite relevant. Again, he will see from the figures provided that there is an element of new income included in our target in respect of having an operating profit of €3.5 million by 2017. Even then, that will still be contingent on our selling Harold's Cross. I cannot predict the future, I can only deal with matters as they stand. However, I hear what the Deputy is saying.

The Deputy also referred to the fact that the fines just do not fit the crime. I agree with him in that regard. I was very pleased that - on our recommendation and as identified and recommended by Indecon - my colleague, Ms Forde, presented our proposals in respect of increased fines to the control committee last week. While that committee is independent, it did accede to increased fines. We have already had a number of cases in respect of which such fines have been applied. It is also significant, not just in financial terms, that the committee has agreed to a testing order whereby all the dogs of a particular individual will be tested going forward. This is crucial because it is not just financial penalties which must be imposed. We need to use all the powers available under the legislation and within our armoury.

A question was also posed in respect of the sale of lands associated with Shelbourne Park and where the money involved went. I do not have that information to hand but I can certainly investigate the matter and report back directly to the committee on it.

Through the Chair-----

I am indulging the Deputy, who is not a member of this committee.

-----the land in question was sold for a considerable sum of money and I would like to discover where that money went.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

I should have replied to the Deputy's question on my salary much earlier. My salary amounts to over €130,000 and it is in line with those of the chief executives of State bodies at the same level as the IGB. I understand it was reduced during the overall reduction in salaries.

The end of year results were not published until the following year. Does the Comptroller and Auditor General have oversight of the accounts?

Ms Geraldine Larkin


I know, from my previous experience as a Minister, that the process in this regard can take some time. The 2009 results, which were published in 2010, show a total liability - between bank borrowings and the pension liability - of €16.8 million. The 2013 results show a total liability of €29 million. Bank borrowings increased from €13 million to €22 million in the period from 2009 to 2013. The real deterioration with regard to bank borrowings would have occurred in 2010 but the results for that year would not have been published until 2011. The people who would have been aware of this would have been those in government in the period from 2011 up to now. There has been a major problem in the past four years. Unlike Deputy Butler, I take a completely non-partisan view of this issue. When the Deputy becomes a Minister he will discover that one only gets the information when one gets it. In other words, Ministers only become aware of serious problems when they are presented with the accounts.

I take this opportunity to commend the current Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on what he did in the context of commissioning the report from Indecon. I am big enough to acknowledge it when a Government does take action. The report is timely, particularly in light of the great concern within the industry. I am not in the business of playing political games with this matter. I do not care who appointed whom or to what board. It does not make any difference to me. However, I am obliged to state that there has been a major failure in this instance and the Indecon report highlights that fact. The board does not have day-to-day responsibility but it does have overall responsibility. Financial losses are one thing but such losses allied to a total loss of faith in the integrity of the industry is something else entirely. The Indecon report clearly indicates that there is no faith in the integrity of the industry and highlights the fact that this has had a huge effect. Other industries which faced even bigger challenges since the downturn have not experienced the same level of difficulty as Bord na gCon.

The committee must take a serious view in respect of this matter and it is to be hoped that the Minister will do so too. Ultimately, the broom must be wielded and we must start again. The industry must regain its integrity and it must not only be completely cleaned up but this must also be seen to happen. From everything I have heard - which, unfortunately, has been confirmed in the report - the industry lacks credibility. Senator Ó Domhnaill put it very well when referring to what our British counterparts are saying about dogs coming from Ireland.

Like Deputy Martin Ferris, I wish only the best for the greyhound industry. I am aware of the importance of the Sportsground in Galway, not only as a venue for greyhound racing but also for rugby. I am not particularly into rugby but I am of the view that all sports and recreational activities should be encouraged. I am delighted that we have a good venue for rugby in the west, which was not the case previously. The concept of co-location is very welcome and I am sure it adds significantly to the viability of the greyhound track in Galway. However, a major problem continues to exist. I welcome the appointment of the new chief executive and the overhaul of the organisation. That said, the board remains very small - at six plus one members - and two of those involved on it have been there since before Ms Larkin was appointed. It it time the Minister acted.

Ms Larkin referred to the fact that the industry has sometimes been a lightning rod for controversy and for disagreement among stakeholders. As stated earlier, members receive communications from people - anonymously or otherwise - in which particular allegations are made. I wonder whether there is a large group of such individuals. How does Bord na gCon intend to deal with this matter? I previously served as chairman of the GAA county board in Carlow. We did not tend to be very successful and when that is the case, then one tends to be the lightning rod for those who want to bring one down at the precise time when one is trying to get up. Is the position with regard to Bord na gCon, which is down and struggling and which is trying to put new structures in place, similar? It has taken time to resolve the mess that was in existence at the board over many years. Is Ms Larkin in a position to indicate whether the group to which I refer is large and whether its members have particular motives?

There appears to have been a total breakdown in communication between the Irish Greyhound Board, the industry and industry stakeholders. Repairing that breakdown must be the overlying objective if we are to bring confidence back to the sector. The question, of course, is how one goes about doing it. The Indecon report highlights many shortcomings that must be addressed one by one, including issues of financial oversight, day-to-day management and projection planning. The most recent strategic plan objectives for year one fall far short of what is in the IGB's own plan. That is an issue we have not touched on today and is, perhaps, a matter for another day.

I wish to make clear that I have absolutely no vested interest in this sector. We have a very fine, privately owned greyhound stadium in County Donegal which I understand is in difficulty and could potentially be put on the market. Apart from once attending a greyhound stadium on a social occasion, I would not know one end of a greyhound from the other. So far as I can see, however, the underlying issue is a lack of confidence in the sector itself. I will draw a parallel with cycling, which may or may not be a fair thing to do. Everybody knows about Lance Armstrong and the impact on that sport of the revelations about him. The elephant in the room in cycling has been the drugs scandal. Looking at it from the outside, without any vested interest whatsoever, it seems to me there also is an elephant in the room when it comes to greyhound racing. It is something that is affecting the confidence of the sector and the buy-in in terms of getting new breeders and syndicates on board. Why would anybody want to get involved in greyhound racing if there is a suspicion - even if it is nothing more than a suspicion - of generic and wide-scale doping in the industry, in a context where we do not have the testing mechanisms in place to determine whether or not the winner of last year's derby or this year's derby was legitimate?

Reference was made to control samples being sent to Britain. I understand from the Indecon report that 7,307 tests were conducted in 2013, but I am not sure how many of those were sent to Britain. Was the Indecon consultant fully briefed by the IGB in regard to the type of water-based testing that is done here and the availability of oil-based testing in the UK? That is not referred to in the report, which is either a shortcoming on Indecon's part or a shortcoming on the part of the IGB in terms of its responsibility to inform the consultant about the different types of testing. I recognise that the laboratories will calibrate the type of testing and follow industry best practice. The Australian model is being used here, as I understand it.

I acknowledge, too, that the control committee is entirely legislatively independent of the IGB. However, the Indecon report indicated that the IGB itself questioned the control committee's findings and rubbished samples that were taken on certain occasions. That raises questions, as Deputy Ferris noted. I am not sure who sits on the control committee. Are its members entirely independent or do they have any vested interests in the sector? In my view, any member of a control committee should have no such interests and, in this particular case, no link to any animal or trainer. I presume that is the case - if not, it is something that must be rectified urgently. Certainly, it would be alarming if any control committee - for one reason or another, and the reasons are outlined in the Indecon report - should rubbish samples that tested positive.

The drug-testing issue is one that needs to be challenged head on. I am not sure what the plan is in this regard and I have not heard a great deal today in terms of any absolute plan. There was no indication, for example, that the board intends to follow the UK drug-testing mechanism or how it will deal with and challenge the lack of confidence across the water in Irish greyhound racing. Perhaps that is a conversation for another day when the new chief executive officer has had more time to reflect and plan. It is something that must be challenged in a forthright way. I urge the IGB, both board and staff, to reach out and listen to stakeholders, breeders, trainers and all involved in the industry. Without those people, who very often are giving of their time on a voluntary basis, we will not have an industry in five or ten years time.

Does Mr. Meaney wish to respond?

Mr. Phil Meaney

Thank you, Chairman. Despite what the Senator has outlined, we have, in general, a very good working relationship with the stakeholders and the industry. I am very sure of that. I go racing three or four nights a week and meet representatives at every level.

Are there formal protocols of interaction between the IGB board and the industry?

Mr. Phil Meaney


How often do those meetings take place?

Mr. Phil Meaney

They are more at executive level than board level, but if any group of stakeholders wishes to meet the board or the executives-----

Is there a formal arrangement in place?

Ms Geraldine Larkin

There are a number of structures in place which allow us to meet with people. The arrangements are probably not as formalised as I would have experienced in a previous life; I will put it that way. It is an area on which I am working hard. There is a clear commitment, even going right down to the core concluding remarks in our response to Indecon, that we will work with all stakeholders. That is the only way we will develop practical and pragmatic solutions and restore confidence within the industry.

The Senator asked what we are doing on drug testing. We did not get into the detailed plans we already have under way. In short, in aligning ourselves with international best practice, we have looked to the industry in the UK, with which we have very close relations both at a technical or laboratory level and with the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, GBGB. There are very close working relationships there, and my intention is to grow them even further.

Getting back to the independent control committee, is it the case that some of its members have dogs in training with more high-profile trainers? Second, have any dogs trained by those high-profile trainers been the subject of a positive test?

Mr. Phil Meaney

On the first question, I cannot say for sure but my understanding is that there is nothing in the Act that prevents a member of the independent control committee-----

That is not the question I asked. I asked whether any members of the committee have dogs training with high-profile trainers.

Mr. Phil Meaney

I am aware of one such person. On the second question, bearing in mind I have been chairman for only three years, I am not aware of any convictions against that trainer.

I apologise for having to leave the meeting to attend a vote in the Seanad. I referred earlier to the Limerick fiasco. I acknowledge that my wording might have been a little strong. Will the delegates indicate how they intend to turn that situation around and how that particular element of the deficit will be addressed as a separate entity, if the plan is, in fact, to address it as such? I should have said earlier that I fully appreciate that both the chairman and CEO are relatively new to their positions. I acknowledge, too, that they have done a great deal of work since they came into their positions.

The chairman outlined his role very clearly. It is non-executive. I respect that. In my opening remarks I failed to mention that. I want to say the same to the chief executive.

I am conscious of the fact that the board came before the committee last November in regard to the 2011 accounts. A specific section of the report deals with Limerick. I am allowing the question. It is valid. I am making the point that so far we have steered clear of impinging the restrictions as per the Committee of Public Accounts. This is a valid question in the context of what was said by Indecon and the lead up to the decision.

Ms Geraldine Larkin

That is a fair point. The measures I outlined earlier in terms of growing attendance at tracks apply as much to the track in Limerick as to every other track. Branding, digital marketing, increased marketing, changing the marketing spend, appointing new outbound sales teams, customer relations management databases, building on owners who might have lapsed and encouraging them to return and working with local greyhound owners and breeder associations are all crucial to Limerick, as well as to everywhere else. I am also delighted that we have a new sponsor who is providing transport on a trial basis from Limerick city centre to the track, which is proving to be successful.

The Indecon report stated that we suggested we would examine growing the use of our stadia. Given the size of Limerick, it is a clear front runner in terms of using it for alternative purposes. We are actively engaged in identifying other potential uses for the stadium to improve its profitability in order that we are not relying solely on the hours of greyhound racing.

The level of questions and answers have demonstrated that the industry is of great interest to the members of the committee. That only reflects the interest held by the wider public, which we all endeavour to represent. It is because it is such a traditional activity in many parts of the country that there is such genuine concern. Many phrases such as "reputation", "confidence" and "finance" come up time and again. In order to restore the financial position of the industry confidence and reputation have to be restored.

There are 27 recommendations. The Indecon report has been very valuable. I presume the response from the greyhound board is on the website at this stage and is publically available. While all of that has happened, the elephant in the room has been reputation. The issue may not have become apparent were it not for the crash in the economy. Somebody on an expedition to a mountain who is hit by an avalanche might say there were weaknesses in the rules which allowed them to go there, but the main focus has to be on getting out alive. The same applies to Bord na gCon. It is a matter of the industry surviving. Confidence and reputation need to be rebuilt.

The Indecon report recommends, among other things, legislation. I remind everybody that section C of the heads of the Bill to be approved by Government is the greyhound industry (amendment) Bill to amend and extend the Greyhound Industry Act 1958 and the Greyhound Industry (Amendment) Act 1993 and related matters. It is expected to be published in 2015. Today we finalised agreement on a report on a pre-legislative scrutiny exercise we did on the general scheme of a Horse Racing Ireland (amendment) Bill. Integrity is an issue which has featured prominently. Integrity and finance have been interlinked and have probably been the two key matters of greatest concern. I anticipate that the Bill be go through the same process of pre-legislative scrutiny, at which stage we will have the Government and legislative response to the Indecon report and will know about the ongoing efforts made by the board and executive.

Ms Larkin is a brave woman. The Indecon report was published three months ago, and she started her job three months ago. I hope she went in with her eyes wide open. I wish everyone well. The industry needs all stakeholders to feel they are a part of the solution to restore the status the industry, sport and recreation once had. We took a decision to bring the Bord na gCon executive and board members before the committee to discuss the Indecon report before we held further hearings. I anticipate we will agree the process at our meeting. We have not finished and will send a response to the Minister before the publication of the draft Bill on the greyhound industry.

I thank members and the representatives from the greyhound board for their engagement. It was very useful and productive. It was conducted, as far as is possible, in a non-political way with people who have a genuine interest in restoring the industry's reputation and bringing it back to a sound financial footing.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.30 p.m. until 2 p.m on Tuesday, 4 November 2014.