Tuesday 21 November 2017

Wexford chairman 'shocked' by €3m debt

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

MAJOR cutbacks are to be implemented in Wexford as they face up to a €3m debt, a day-to-day cash flow problem and a challenge which new county chairman Diarmuid Devereux compared to being "17 points behind at half-time, recovering and winning."

Devereux, who succeeded Ger Doyle as chairman in December, has promised that Wexford will work their way through the problems, the full extent of which emerged this month.

Admitting that he was "shocked" at the state of the finances when he examined the books shortly after being elected chairman, Devereux said there was only one solution to the crisis.

"We have to spend less and take in more -- it's as simple as that. There will be significant cutbacks in Wexford. We have been living beyond our means and it has to end. In fact, it has ended. Even since Convention we've cut around €300,000 of the day-to-day deficit. What we need now is to turn a deficit of around €25,000 into a surplus of around €300,000 (per year). That's the challenge because that's the sort of money we need to pay back our debts," said Devereux.

However, he promised that the cutbacks would not apply to expenditure on Wexford's senior hurlers or footballers or to the coaching programmes. "They represent the way back for Wexford and we won't be doing anything to interfere with their progress," he said.

There will be some cost reductions at underage level, but they will largely centre on more prudent use of gear and other incidentals as waste can occur across a range of development and other squads.

Some disquiet did arise in the underage grades last year over the failure to pay full expenses to the U-21 squads until just before Christmas.

Among the symbolic gestures Devereux used to signal his intention to get costs under control was to destroy the County Board credit card and to announce that he would charge no expenses during his period as chairman. "It's a privilege to serve Wexford and I won't be charging them a cent," he said.

At the beginning of the year, Wexford owed €2.4m on land purchases and developments with around €600,000 outstanding to creditors. Much of the €2.4m relates to the purchase of land for the Ferns Centre of Excellence project and the €300,000 debt on Wexford Park. It has also emerged that the Board lost €357,803 on the purchase and re-sale of lands at Glenbrien, the original choice of venue for the Centre of Excellence.

Devereux said that the Wexford Park debt would by paid off in three years' time.

In terms of day-to-day activities, the Wexford GAA public were stunned to learn that over one-half of the attendance at last year's county senior football final was admitted free of charge, while one quarter of the hurling final crowd were there on free passes. The situation was equally bizarre at the hurling and football semi-finals where one-third of the attendances were admitted free.

It's now expected that the County Board will place a ban on any free admissions for the semi-finals and finals, while legitimate pass holders will be asked to pay on a voluntary basis for a certain number of games.

Apart from the loss of revenue through free passes, another unusual item on the Board's books was the payment of €20,000 to a former employee on retirement.

Devereux is determined to get Wexford back on a sound financial footing as quickly as possible. He was praised at a recent County Board meeting for bringing the problems into the open so soon after his appointment as delegates were stunned to learn of the perilous state of the finances.

"It's fairly challenging, but the first thing from my perceptive was to get it out there among the clubs as quickly as possible. They are the GAA. In order to get their support and to make the tough decisions that are necessary, I gave them my word that I would be up front and honest in everything we're doing.

"There's no magic solution here. It's about cutting back on expenditure and increasing income. I made no secret of the fact that I was shocked at the state of the finances when I took over. But we're moving on from that. We now have a strong management committee in place and we're making progress.

He added: "Have no doubt that we'll get this sorted out. The clubs are behind us. We had a very positive meeting last night (Tuesday) and clubs made it clear that once they know what's involved in sorting things out, they will row in behind us."

Irish Independent

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