THE IRISH Greyhound Board could have saved the taxpayer millions if they hadn’t taken the “scenic route” in buying the Greenpark site in Limerick for their new stadium, which eventually cost €21m.
Fine Gael deputy Kieran O’Donnell made the claim at the Public Accounts Committee hearing into the mismanagement behind the acquisition of a greyhound stadium for Limerick, following a special report investigating the activities of Bord na gCon in Limerick.
While deputy O’Donnell praised the Limerick facility at a meeting by the State’s spending watchdog and said the site was ultimately the right choice, it only broke even last year and is set to record a €20,000 loss for 2014.
Geraldine Larkin, chief executive of Irish Greyhound Board, confirmed the board is set to drop 86 race nights from its nationwide calendar for 2015 as the money is not there to support them. Bord na gCon now has a debt of €22m, and €12.5m of that relates to the Limerick stadium, which went ahead without any proper financial appraisal, and the acquisition of another site which was eventually deemed unsuitable. The special report by the Comptroller and Auditor General raised a number of concerns in relation to risk, financial and project management processes in relation to the €21m project.
The examination revealed that initially a site for the new stadium in Meelick was proposed, and costs were incurred in April 2005 amounting to nearly €2m for this site. However, a consultant’s report for the Meelick site - before it was bought - identified specific risks in relation to access to the national road network. But there is no record that that report was presented to or discussed by the Board before the site was bought.
Bord na gCon decided not to proceed with a planning application for this site. The site is still held by Bord na gCon and is currently valued at €160,000.
It spent €1m buying the site and a further €935,000 on site investigations, project planning and design fees for a proposed dog track there.
There is currently no plan for the 16-acre Meelick site, they told the committee, but the board will be examining whether to put it on the market or not.
PAC member Joe Costello said: “It should have been obvious to anyone this was not a satisfactory site.”
The Labour TD said it was “an atrocious decision” and that taxpayers’ money had been “thrown around like confetti”
Furthermore, in another blow to their finances, the old head office building of Bord na gCon at 104 Henry Street was expected to realise €3.5m in 2011, but is currently valued at €1.4m.
But Ms Larkin said none of their members at the meeting were “involved with the Limerick project, whose genesis goes back to 2000.
“It is simply a fact that we were not privy to the discussions that took place at the time, were not part of the contract negotiations, the sanction of borrowings or the supervision of the construction phase.
“And, while we have, as best we can, familiarised ourselves with detail from the files, that is, at the very best, a remote and inadequate view and is limited as a result.”
Nonetheless, she said, the current board and executive now have the responsibility to deal with the legacy of the Limerick.
“We are, in a sense, dealing with a perfect storm here; servicing the additional borrowings arising from the Limerick project but also endeavouring to manage an industry that faces many other challenges, some of the most acute of which arise from the impacts of the recession.
“Disposable income has come crashing down, affecting all our income streams - gate receipts, food and beverage income, tote and indeed sponsorship. While IGB has always carried borrowings, these have effectively been doubled as a result of the Limerick project.”
Phil Meaney, chairman of the greyhound board, said the impact of the Limerick project has had more than just a detrimental financial impact.
“Apart from the management of the financials arising from the Limerick project, its profile has meant that it has absorbed massive amounts of staff time; it has damaged staff and organisational morale, affected our relationships with some stakeholders and to this day has badly affected the capacity of the IGB to focus on the future. So, there is a huge opportunity cost here.” Deputy O’Donnell said it “seems extraordinary that for a critical period between April 2008 and February 2012 there was no chief financial officer in place”, given the budget of Bord na gCon, as it received €11m a year from the taxpayer.