'This is a very dark time for me. My dejection is complete. Obviously things are also difficult for my family. I want to keep my dignity and professionalism and do the best I can for my staff'
MORE than 200 jobs are now at risk after Celtic Bookmakers went into receivership yesterday.
Former minister Ivan Yates, who co-owns the chain with his wife, said he was hopeful that more than 100 of the 237 full-time and part-time jobs could be saved if a buyer for many of the outlets could be found.
"We are hopeful that over 100 can be saved," he said, "but I can't give any guarantee of that."
Mr Yates met with staff last night to brief them on the situation. He had also held talks with individual members of staff over the previous 24 hours.
The receiver, Neil Hughes, said he was working to sell the chain -- or at least some of its 47 shops in the Republic -- as a going concern, with the aim of protecting as many jobs as possible.
"Every effort will be made during the sale of the business as a going concern to safeguard the employment of as many of the company's staff as possible," he said.
Celtic Bookmakers also has two betting shops in Wales but these are part of a separate company and therefore not part of the receivership process.
Mr Yates paid tribute to the loyalty that staff had shown as the business weakened in the past two years.
He praised the dedication of his workforce, who had accepted the need to do away with overtime and bonuses, reduced numbers and had even cleaned the shops themselves.
This had helped to cut running costs from €17m to €11.7m, but it was still not enough to save the business.
Betting turnover had fallen 50pc since 2007, when the company had had an income of €180m and profits of €4m.
Although he faced possible bankruptcy, Mr Yates said his first thoughts were with staff.
"I will have to face up to this, but at this time my main concern is for those tearful staff who have been given this desperate news."
He said he had tried everything possible to save the business and neither he nor his wife had taken a salary in the last three years. They had lent it all the money they had.
Mr Yates said people working in head office and management faced redundancy, but the Department of Enterprise guaranteed statutory redundancy rights to those affected.
The receiver would seek to renegotiate terms with landlords, reduce rents and would advertise in the 'Racing Post' this week to sell all the shops.
Mr Yates said he had closed several loss-making shops last year and stopped telegambling as he did everything possible to try and save the business.
While the export sector was doing well, he said, those in the hotel, catering and domestic sectors were facing desperate times and the more discretionary spending was, the worse it became.
He added: "This is a very dark time for me. My dejection is complete. Obviously things are also difficult for my family.
"I am really not thinking of the future, I want to keep my dignity and professionalism for the next few weeks and do the best I can for my staff."