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Sunday 18 March 2018

State agency blasted over greyhound venue costs

Watchdog not happy with Bord na gCon's 'waffling' on overrun

DANIEL McCONNELL Political Correspondent

"WAFFLING" bosses of Ireland's greyhound industry have been accused of "financial mismanagement" by members of the Dail's most powerful watchdog committee.

The stinging rebuke by members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) centres around what some committee members believe is the failure of Bord na gCon bosses last Thursday week to adequately explain to them how the cost of building a new stadium in Limerick allegedly went from €10m in 2000 to almost €22m on completion.

PAC member Derek Nolan told the meeting that he does not accept the contention that the project came in on budget, given that "costs exploded throughout the development".

"Serious errors were made with regard to who was responsible for site-filling and compacting and car parks. Basic legal, construction and project management mistakes were made, which led to the debt being much higher than it ought to have been, which has put Bord na gCon in this position," he told the meeting.

The meeting also heard claims that Bord na gCon failed to adhere to State procurement policies in 2011.

Committee members this weekend expressed criticism of CEO Adrian Neilan, who they say must take absolute responsibility for the alleged mis-spending.

"The buck stops with him, he is the man in charge. The contracts on this stadium were signed on his watch," said Mr Nolan.

In a lengthy statement to the Sunday Independent, Bord na gCon conceded "serious mistakes" had been made in the past.

However, it rejected criticisms about the development of the Limerick stadium, which it insisted was delivered "on time and on budget".

The board said: "We have given detailed explanation on the C&AG queries on procurement but would like to stress that, even when procurement was not adhered to fully, the purchase of services did not represent bad value for the Board."

Mr Nolan this weekend has led calls for the Limerick controversy to be subject to a special report by the State's Comptroller and Auditor General.

FG's Simon Harris said that despite the lengthy hearing, still of major concern to him was his belief that Bord na gCon ignored legal and engineering advice in the controversial land deal on which the stadium now stands.

The meeting heard Mr Harris questioning board officials at length over the issue of an informal arrangement or "gentleman's agreement" in relation to readying or filling the site. Mr Neilan told the meeting that, despite an initial promise that the seller of the stadium site would ready the site, this deal broke down, forcing Bord na gCon to ultimately pay €2.5m in order to proceed.

"It is not acceptable if professional advice was sought and then disregarded. This is an organisation that is being kept afloat by taxpayers' money," Mr Harris said.

Bord na gCon said any suggestion that it ignored advice was not true, but that it was confronted with a commercial offer that the site would be filled for free, and they considered it worthy of pursuit.

Mr Neilan has repeatedly insisted that the increased cost in readying the site was covered by securing a better price in the building costs because of the downturn.

Mr Nolan told the meeting that they rejected his claims, saying that the need to fill out the site did result in a significant extra cost to the organisation and, by extension, the taxpayer.

The alleged overruns on the Limerick stadium also don't include a €1.3m on a potential alternative stadium site in Meelick, Co Clare, which had to be abandoned because it was deemed to be unsuitable. It emerged at the committee hearing that the Meelick site has been written down by €1m.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, PAC Chairman John McGuinness said the financial position of Bord na gCon was the cause of great concern. He also criticised the Department of Agriculture for failing to adequately protect taxpayers' money at Bord na gCon.

"The answers given at the committee hearing didn't instil me with confidence," and he accused CEO Adrian Neilan of "waffling" when answering committee members' questions last Thursday week.

The Sunday Independent has seen correspondence from former Bord na gCon board members, the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation and other interested parties to the PAC, who have expressed concern about the manner in which they claim the industry is being run.

Following the hearing, Bord na gCon has been sent a series of detailed questions by the PAC in relation to the Limerick controversy as well as the failures to adhere to State procurement policies.

Bord na gCon has this weekend confirmed it is complying with the PAC's demands and is set to have the responses back to it within "two weeks".

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Bord na gCon chairman Phil Meaney said he acknowledged the calls from the PAC to clarify a number of issues, and would do his best to address such concerns. He insisted there was "nothing untoward in the Limerick project".

Sunday Independent

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