Friday 19 April 2019

Boss admits no one held to account for €1.6m site blunder

Bord na gCon's chairman Phil Meaney and CEO Geraldine Larkin
Bord na gCon's chairman Phil Meaney and CEO Geraldine Larkin
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

THE State greyhound board has admitted no one has ever been held to account over a disastrous land deal which resulted in €1.6m being written off by the taxpayer-funded body.

Bord na gCon told the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) there was no prospect of recovering the money.

It spent €1m buying a 16-acre field and a further €935,000 on site investigations, project planning and design fees for a proposed dog track there.

The purchase was made even though a firm of consultants identified problems with the suitability of the site at Meelick in Limerick, concerns which appear not to have been discussed by the body's board in advance of the purchase in 2005.

The project was eventually abandoned with €1.6m in costs being written off.

Bord na gCon subsequently spent €3.4m buying a separate site at Greenpark in Limerick, which was developed into a greyhound stadium.

Its chairman, Phil Meaney, told the PAC the Meelick site was now valued at just €160,000 and admitted no one had ever been held to account for the decision to purchase it.

A hearing of the committee yesterday was also told the greyhound board's troubled finances meant it was only paying interest on its borrowings of €22m. Some €12.5m of the borrowings relate to the Gracepark track, which only broke even last year and is set to record a €20,000 loss for 2014.

Chief executive Geraldine Larkin confirmed the board is set to drop 86 race nights from its nationwide calendar for 2015 as the money is not there to support them.

"Disposable income has come crashing down, affecting all our income streams," she said.

The body, which gets €11m-a-year from the taxpayer, also admitted it had no chief financial officer in place from mid-2008 until early 2012.

A report by the Comptroller & Auditor General earlier this year detailed how plans for the Meelick stadium were abandoned after it became apparent direct access to the adjacent road would not be allowed, a risk which had earlier been flagged by consultants.

The C&AG said it could find no evidence the consultants' report was presented to or discussed by the then board in advance of the site purchase.

PAC member Joe Costello said: "It should have been obvious to anyone this was not a satisfactory site."

The Labour TD said it was "an atrocious decision" and that taxpayers' money had been "thrown around like confetti".

"If the problem was identified in advance, is it not perverse a decision was made to buy the site?" he said.

Mr Meaney, who was not on the board at the time, accepted it was not a good decision.

"From the paperwork and the findings of the C&AG, we accept that is a decision that should not have been taken," he said.

When asked if anyone had been sanctioned over the blunder, Mr Meaney said: "During my time, no action has been taken against any individual."

He said it was an issue the board could consider.

The site is currently rented out by Bord na gCon for agricultural use.

Mr Meaney said the controversy over what happened in Limerick was something he had inherited and that it was after having a significant impact.

"Apart from the management of the financials arising from the Limerick project, its profile has meant that it has absorbed massive amounts of staff time," he said. "It has damaged staff and organisational morale, affected our relationships with some stakeholders and to this day has badly affected the capacity of the Irish greyhound board to focus on the future."

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