Wednesday, 25 February 2004

Ceisteanna (11)

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

98 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the reason the chairman of Bord na gCon has resigned. [6314/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

The Deputy will be aware that under section 8 of the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958, the chairman of the board may at any time resign his office by letter addressed to the Minister and the resignation shall take effect as and from the date of the receipt of the letter by the Minister. A letter of resignation from his position as chairman of Bord na gCon was received in my Department last Friday, 20 February, from Mr. Taggart. No reasons for his resignation were given in his letter but I understand there had been a somewhat contentious meeting of the board earlier in the week.

At the outset I want to place on record my own and the Government's appreciation of the energy and vision of Mr. Taggart who has always had my full confidence and support. His drive, passion and foresight at the helm of Bord na gCon since his appointment as chairman in 1995 has created a vibrant greyhound industry as evidenced by the year on year increases in attendances and betting and the countrywide network of modern facilities which are attracting growing numbers of people to greyhound meetings throughout the country.

Following subsequent contacts involving representatives of the greyhound industry, Mr. Taggart and myself, Mr. Taggart intimated that his services are again available to work for the further development of the greyhound industry and I welcome this development.

I welcome the announcement by the Minister that the chairman, Pascal Taggart, has changed his mind. Nevertheless, I would ask him to be more forthcoming as to why he resigned in the first instance. I will add my view, given that the Minister is not prepared to tell the House and the public what happened.

Is the Minister aware that two members appointed by the Government totally frustrated the workings of the board, leading to Mr. Taggart's resignation? One member took the bizarre action of taking a court injunction against his own board and his own directors, which subsequently failed. The other member, in sympathy with him, sought to have his legal costs paid and totally obstructed and frustrated the board meeting last Wednesday, forcing Mr. Taggart and another director to offer their resignations. What action will the Minister take to ensure incidents such as these will not recur? Will he allow these people to remain on the board or will he take some other action?

The Minister has a major gender balance problem on the board. There is just one woman on the board, even though there were three in my time. I have no hesitation saying that I was the person who identified Mr. Taggart as the proper chairman for Bord na nGon because of his genuine interest in racing and his business acumen, and he has proved me right. I am sure everyone will accept that he was an inspired choice at the time. I remind the Minister that his record is demonstrated by figures. Bookmaker betting has increased from €22 million to €91 million, totaliser betting from €6.7 million to €50 million and attendance figures have increased from 580,000 to 1.3 million. The figures speak for themselves. What will the Minister do to ensure there will not be a recurrence at the next meeting of what happened last Wednesday and what has happened in the case of one director for the past two years?

The Deputy will be aware that it is not the function of the Minister, nor can he give details about what did or did not happen at a board meeting. On learning of Mr. Taggart's resignation, I subsequently made contact with the greyhound industry and I am pleased to say that these consultations resulted in Mr. Taggart accepting the appointment as chairperson of the board. I am well aware of the contribution Mr. Taggart has made to the greyhound industry in Ireland and I am particularly pleased that he has agreed to take up his position.

As Deputy Deenihan knows, I am not in a position legally to remove people from the board that easily. I noted newspaper comments by the Deputy to the effect that he was being hounded out of office. I had no intention of becoming involved in hounding anyone out of office. I want the man to stay where he is as I greatly respect his performance as chairperson of the board.

The Minister may or may not be aware that Mr. Taggart took no directors fees or travel expenses since being appointed, and he has worked 25 hours a week. Last week a letter was sent to the Minister by the greyhound fraternity, from trainers, owners, bookmakers and other stakeholders, after more than 300 people attended a meeting in Portlaoise. These people are not happy with Mr. Taggart changing his mind and becoming chairman. They want a board to represent their interests. The Minister has a responsibility to ensure that Bord na gCon works effectively and efficiently and that the directors on the board, who are answerable to him, work with the same purpose and for the good of the racing industry. If he cannot give that assurance, he cannot have responsibility for the greyhound industry.

I had consultations with representatives of the industry and there was a frank exchange of views. It will benefit the industry if Mr. Taggart continues as chairperson. I regret that the meeting was so contentious and became so fractious. However, as Deputy Deenihan will be aware, I was neither at the meeting nor did I seek to motivate anyone going to it. My entire interest is, and was long before I went into politics, the good of the industry. I had a very good relationship with Mr. Taggart long before I became Minister with responsibility for the industry. As Deputy Deenihan outlined, he has done a great deal for the industry and I want him to continue to do so. If I had any hand, act or part in what did or did not go on at the meeting, I do not think I would have met people in the industry in regard to its future and the future of Mr. Taggart.

I am pleased he has decided to resume his position as chairperson and I look forward to a far greater degree of constructive debate within the board in the future.

Will the Minister contact the directors?

I cannot make people say anything. However, I can make known my views, which I have done.