Political patronage appointments to State Boards will always be a contentious issues. Political patronage is not a new phenomenon, “to the victor go the spoils”. The problem with these appointments is that some times the appointees may not have the skills or experience to be suitable for the positions. Every state board will have some less than qualified members. Problems arise when the number of inadequate board members out number the suitable members. The Irish Greyhound Board has moved beyond that critical number.

Right people for the job?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

ONE of Simon Coveney’s first ministerial board appointments saw a key election organiser for his Cabinet colleague Phil Hogan installed as the chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board in Apr 2011.

By Conor Ryan Investigative Correspondent Carlow businessman Phil Meaney was put in after political lobbying by a Fine Gael TD and, according to Mr Coveney, extensive consultation with the industry.

Regardless of his credentials in business, the decision flew in the face of a pre-election commitment to publicly vet such candidates. The minister said this was an exemption.

There was an urgency required, Mr Coveney said, to deal with problems in the semi-state company and a vacuum in leadership.

To make amends, he promised the appointment of Mr Hogan’s local organiser to the €21,000-a-year post was conditional on his confirmation by an Oireachtas committee.

In the Dáil, Taoiseach Enda Kenny stressed that such an interview would and should happen, to ensure “openness and transparency”.

“[Mr Meaney] will have to go before the appropriate agriculture committee to give his views on how the board should be run, his vision for it, the competencies he brings to the position, and how he views the future for the board,” he said.

“As in all other cases, that will be available as a public discourse between the committee dealing with agriculture and the appointee to Bord na gCon.”

Mr Meaney’s appearance before that Oireachtas committee did not happen. He has never been publicly vetted or questioned about his role, despite what the Taoiseach and the minister promised.

In a statement, the department said that, in the two years, there just was no time to bring him in for an hour-long hearing.

“With regard to the attendance by the chairman at the Oireachtas committee, while the chairman was available to the committee, the opportunity for a hearing did not materialise due to the work schedule of the committee,” it said.

This year, new chairmen were appointed to the boards of Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish National Stud. Both of these have already been publicly vetted and approved by the committee.

The department’s failure to fulfil a simple promise has happened at a time when scandal after scandal has left the Irish Greyhound Board in a perilous financial state.

Integrity issues have emerged, internal reports have criticised the firm, attendances have fallen, and debt levels have continued to rise.

One director, who has since left the board, demanded Mr Meaney consider his position after a perceived attempt to hinder an independent investigation into a race-fixing scam in Dundalk and a doping investigation in Cork.

This did not happen. Shortly afterwards, this director was replaced on the board in a move which saw three fresh political appointments made by Mr Coveney. Each of the board members have business and professional skills which they bring to the table, but they also have political connections.

These three were:

* Brendan Moore, who was heavily involved with the Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association;

* Tony McNamee, who was involved in the Irish Coursing Club and supported with the Fine Gael organisation in Kildare;

* Matt Murphy, a highly successful Galway hurling manager who was a college friend of Mr Kenny.

They joined three directors serving from a previous era.

* Billy O’Dwyer, a greyhound auctioneer who had been in place since Michael Lowry insisted on his appointment in order to support Bertie Ahern’s government.

* Teresa Wall, who is an accountant in Charlie McCreevy’s old firm and has served with the IGB for a long time;

* Tim Gilbert, who had been a constituency supporter/activist for Seamus Brennan, the former sports minister.

However, one of the recent appointments which Mr Coveney made — without recourse to any committee — has now hit out at the state this patronage culture has left the organisation in.

Brendan Moore, who was appointed to the IGB in late 2011, wrote in a letter: “I am a member of the board for 20 months now and in that time the industry has continued to increase losses and regulatory functions continue to be breached.

“[Political influence] has served Bord na gCon very badly and the commercial and regulatory awareness of the board in the present and past has led the industry to its present position.”

In the wake of his letter, the department defended all of the appointments.

“The board has a mix of skills and competencies including knowledge of the greyhound racing industry. The individual board member in question was appointed on the basis of his depth of knowledge of the greyhound industry,” it said.

The company said Mr Moore’s views should have been raised internally first.

“This is regrettable, as it would reasonably be expected that he would have regarded the board of IGB as the correct forum to raise these issues in the first instance. Had they been raised, his lack of awareness of the current operations of IGB might have been addressed and the damage to the organisation avoided,” it said.

The issues raised in Mr Moore’s letter had been made by him before, although first directed internally rather than at the minister.

MR MOORE’S letter said political activity was an old issue. “The problems in the greyhound industry are not new and are rooted in political interference, lack of accountability… There have been attempts before and reports have been written but primarily ignored. The appetite has not been present in political circles to tackle the industry properly,” he said.

The political connections of the board have surfaced because the tenure of Mr Meaney, Mr Moore, and others has witnessed a string of controversies for the already tarnished public body.

Publicly, the organisation has continued to enjoy unwavering support from Mr Coveney.

Last week, the newly appointed junior minister for the industry, Tom Hayes, underscored this with a speech in Thurles. His predecessor, Shane McEntee, said if other groups were run as well as at the IGB, the country would be better off.

The company has learned from the Taoiseach and the minister’s insincere commitment to transparency in appointments.

For instance, a freedom of information request to obtain Mr Meaney’s expenses has been refused and is under appeal with the Information Commissioner.

This is despite a 35% increase in board members’ expenses in 2011.

And the problems keep coming. The Public Accounts Committee has said it wants answers to allegations levelled by the Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association.

There are more issues which will emerge before the Public Accounts Committee gets to decide what it will do with the Fine Gael minister, his Fine Gael junior, and the party organiser running the board.

Mr Moore’s letter said the political involvement in the company had compromised its effectiveness and the industry was now on the brink of collapse.

He said it was specialist skills that should be sought out and political affiliations dispensed with.

However, the IGB disputed this and said it had the ability to move the company forward and it was doing so.

The department maintained that, regardless of political connections, the directors were the right people for the job.



Semi-state body with terrible track record

By Conor Ryan Investigative Correspondent

Tuesday, August 06, 2013 * The IGB undertook to build its new flagship stadium in Limerick on the back of a gentleman’s agreement.

* This agreement was abandoned at a cost to the IGB of more than €5m.

* The IGB and the Comptroller and Auditor General recently reported that proper procurement rules were not followed in a number of cases.

* The decision to build the €23m stadium was done on the basis of an incomplete and ultimately inaccurate cost benefit analysis.

* Plans to sell three Limerick properties to help pay for the stadium have fallen through, just €1.5m has been recovered from a €10m projection.

* The IGB ignored the advice of its lawyers and engineer who wanted the terms of the gentleman’s agreement written down.

* It ended up paying €2.3m for engineering work it thought it was getting for free.

* €1.2m of this engineering work was done by a company owned by one of the shareholders in the firm that sold the site and abandoned the gentleman’s agreement.

* It paid €1.2m to licence a car park it was supposed to get for nominal rent.

* It also signed a supplementary agreement compelling it to buy the same car park outright for another €900,000.

* The company also set aside standard tendering rules and allowed the seller of the site to appoint its own project manager for the IGB development.

* The new Limerick track, opened in 2010, has been losing money and has been taking in at least €750,000 below target.

* The IGB is heavily indebted and has had to mortgage out more of its tracks to cover its AIB loan.

* In its recently published accounts, it said it can only run as a going concern with the continued €11m annual grant from taxpayers and an uptake in turnover at tracks.

* According to a letter sent to Mr Coveney its tracks lost €1.1m last year.

* The company was unable to pay a development debt to Limerick City Council on time.

* The semi-state body has been trading perilously close to its €25m legal debt limit.

* Cost-cutting measures have focused on reducing staffing levels and lowering prize money.

* Staffing cutbacks was blamed for compromising security procedures ahead of a €37,000 smash and grab raid in Limerick.

* A series of issues regarding the integrity of the racing system have been discovered but the company’s response has been inadequate.

* A meticulous race fixing scam was uncovered in Dundalk. IGB regulation investigators failed to discover it because they did not interview key witnesses or look for routine evidence.

* The scam was eventually uncovered in a report delivered by the company’s internal auditor and its head of compliance. These two senior staff members have taken sick leave since the board received their critical report.

* The IGB has now brought in external legal advisors to review the men’s report.

* A winning dog belonging to Noreen McManus tested positive for drugs but the test was quashed because the wrong label had been attached to the sample. An internal board battle broke out over the handling of the test.

* The test led to one director accusing the new chairman of blocking the inquiry into the McManus issue and called on him to resign.

* A parallel independent inquiry into the Dundalk fixing scam was thwarted and ultimately abandoned by the consultant charged with investigating it.

* The sport’s Independent Control Committee recently found that a dog was given drugs while he was in the care of the IGB hours before he contested the 2010 Derby and lost badly.

* The IGB spent two-and-a-half years fighting the trainer who had been accused of drugging the dog only to lose the case.

* It is facing legal and case costs in excess of €1m.

* The IGB has been put on notice that the owner of this dog, and his family, will pursue a High Court action for damages.



Greyhound industry to be reviewed

By Conor Ryan Investigative Correspondent

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

A strategic review of the greyhound industry has been announced in the face of demands for an inquiry into how it is being run.

Tom Hayes TD, junior minister with responsibility for the industry, said that after meeting with the Irish Greyhound Board recently and discussing its plans, he has asked for a terms of reference to be drawn up.

The announcement came after the Department of Agriculture was put under pressure by one of the company’s directors and Fianna Fáil to examine the industry.

Last week Fianna Fáil’s agriculture spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív wrote to the Oireachtas committee asking for it to open up an inquiry this autumn. He asked for such an inquiry to include input from the IGB, owners and breeders, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, bookmakers, and private track owners.

“I view of the delay in the publishing of the annual report and accounts for 2011 of the Irish Greyhound Board, and the issues of concern about the industry aired in the public domain, I believe an examination of the greyhound industry in Ireland should be on the work agenda for the autumn,” he wrote.

Last month, Mr Hayes received a letter from a greyhound board director, Brendan Moore.

This claimed political interference had brought the company to the brink of collapse. He said the semi-state firm had combined debts in excess of €30m and its tracks lost €1.1m last year: “Confidence in the industry is shattered. Breeding figures and racing pools are dangerously low. The regulatory function is completely and utterly failing on a regular basis with one scandal after another.”

The IGB responded and said it had performed strongly despite the economic downturn. It said it has produced its own five-year plan that will turn the industry around.

���With the assistance of external consultants, IGB completed a strategic plan that involved over 1,200 submissions from industry stakeholders. This plan is being implemented,” it said.

The department said that notwithstanding the IGB’s plan, the minister wanted a review in line with the work carried out for the horse racing industry by Indecon consultants.

“Minister Hayes has met with key industry stakeholders in recent weeks and met with board members and executives of Bord na gCon on Jul 25. The terms of reference of the review are being finalised and will be published in due course.”

Both Mr Ó Cuív’s and Mr Moore’s letters came on the back of annual accounts for the company that had been belatedly published.

In these, the company and the Comptroller and Auditor General noted that it had broken procurement rules and had not conducted proper tendering. The IGB’s long term bank debt had risen to €22.7m and it said these will be on an interest only basis until 2016.