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Friday 19 October 2018

Activities of greyhound board 'went unsupervised'

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

THE Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism has failed to appoint a board member to supervise the activities of Bord na gCon.

This is despite the fact that the move was recommended two years ago by an expert report, following a series of controversial episodes at the semi-state greyhound body.

The Public Accounts Committee was examining a report by the state's spending watchdog into Bord na gCon.

Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism secretary general Con Haugh defended the failure to appoint a board representative, on the grounds that it was not the job of a staff member to sit on the board "squealing" about anything that was going on.

He told the committee that a member of the department had been on the board between 2003-2005 but had resigned for personal reasons after a number of "quite challenging and energetic" board meetings.

Fine Gael committee chairman Bernard Allen said this was a "gigantic leap of faith" to allow the activities of the board to remain unsupervised, while Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming criticised the board's reluctance to discuss the report.

The board received €14.7m in funding from the state last year, but Bord na gCon chairman Dick O'Sullivan described this as excellent value for money, given the industry's popularity.

"Greyhound racing, in rural Ireland in particular, is a facility that is very badly needed. At a time when post offices and garda barracks (are closing), greyhound racing is the answer to that," he said.

Mr O'Sullivan said that while the eight or so "developed tracks", like Shelbourne Park, made profits each year, other, older dog tracks, such as Limerick, were losing €250,000 a year. However, the board has signed contracts this week to buy the land for a new €23m stadium on the old Limerick racecourse site on the Dock Road.

The board is also implementing a voluntary redundancy package, which has seen six to seven staff depart, with up to seven weeks of redundancy pay.

Its chief executive, Adrian Neilan, acknowledged that there might be a need to tighten up procedures to stop children gambling at dog tracks, after questions were raised by Labour TD Roisin Shorthall.

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