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It just sold a stadium for €23 million - but there are warnings the greyhound industry is 'in danger'

The sale of Harold’s Cross came after a 2014 government report that recommended that it be sold.

Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

THE LAST TIME there was a greyhound race run in Dublin, there was no Fine Gael leadership race.

In fact, Enda Kenny hadn’t even gone to Washington to meet Donald Trump. On 23 February, Drumsna Star won the Slán Abhaile Open 525 metre race at Shelbourne Park, but the capital’s two greyhound tracks have been empty since.

Since then, Harold’s Cross has been sold for €23 million to the Department of Education and members of the Dublin Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association (DGOBA) have picketed Shelbourne Park in protest at the way the sport is being run.

DGOBA along with the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation are unhappy about the stewardship of the sport, which has seen attendances more than half since 2007.

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The sale of Harold’s Cross came after a 2014 government report that recommended that it be sold and the money used to address the IGB’s debts from the construction of Limerick Stadium, which currently stand at €20.3 million.

Speaking at the Public Accounts Committee last month, Phil Meaney of the IGB said that the capital simply wasn’t big enough to warrant two stadiums, despite Harold’s Cross making a profit of €280,000 in 2015.

“The decision to sell Harold’s Cross is not solely predicated on its potential value to the IGB or its contribution to the resolution of the debt issue, but is also based on the fact that it is two miles from Shelbourne Park stadium which is twice its size and operates for a limited period every week, as indeed does Harold’s Cross. It doesn’t make commercial sense.”

Government involvement

General view of the third race Shelbourne Park Source: INPHO

The IGB will receive a government subvention of around €12.8 million this year and its status as a semi-state company (along with Horse Racing Ireland) marks it out in the sporting landscape.

Indeed, its status as a sporting body marks it out among semi-states.

Bord na gCon was set up under the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958, for the improvement, development and regulation of the greyhound industry.

Despite its subvention and posting a €2.3 million surplus in 2015, the Bord faces financial difficulty. Profits from racing activities declined in 2015 to €617,502 and there is a €20.3 million debt – much of which accrued from the building of the Limerick stadium.

The deterioration in attendances has led to a decline in prize money, which has led to breeders blockading Shelbourne Park, picketing former Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney’s office and demanding mass resignations from the board.

Dave Cunningham, the secretary of the IGOBF, says that the industry, which according to a 2010 report generated a wage bill of €207 million, has been failed.

“It’s shocking that a Minister has let this go so far. Government has let this go and failed the industry. In the last seven years, there has been a decline in attendance, a decline in breeders and a decline in trainers.

“Prize money has been cut by €31 million – it does not pay to win one race these days. People are leaving the sport.”

Cunningham says that the handling of the Harold’s Cross situation has particularly angered breeders. He says that many Dublin breeders do not have dogs of the quality required to run at Shelbourne Park and will lose their only option in Harold’s Cross.

“IGB closed Harold’s Cross without meeting with breeders. It’s totally unacceptable. They now say there’s no need for two tracks so close – but they’re saying that after 90 years.

“Breeders have had enough of the board. It’s time for the board to step down.”

As for ending the blockade, Cunningham is adamant about how that can happen.

“Shelbourne Park will not be re-opened until Harold’s Cross is reinstated.

“It’s stalemate at the minute. They’re burning money left right and centre. The industry is in danger.”

Debt burden

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed this week approved the sale of Harold’s Cross, saying that without it, the IGB’s solvency could be an issue.

“This asset sale, which will realise €23m for the Board, has the potential to set the greyhound industry on a new path of sustainable growth, and to deal with the Board’s current debt burden which poses a real threat to its solvency.

“It represents a new start for an industry that is a fundamental part of the fabric of both rural and urban Ireland, but which has been experiencing great challenges in recent years.”

An IGB spokesperson says it wants to see Shelbourne Park reopened.

“The IGB remains committed to meeting the DGOBA to see racing return to Shelbourne Park as soon as possible. The IGB wants to accommodate extra racing at Shelbourne Park which will include reflecting the tradition of racing at Harold’s Cross. The current dispute is the equivalent of having our own Croke Park shut down; this is costing the IGB €30,000 per week and has already cost greyhound owners €250,000 in lost prize money. There are no winners from the dispute.”

Interim CEO of IGB Dr Sean Brady says the sale is the right decision.

“[The sale offers us a] bright future, free from crippling debt is within sight for our industry, if we all start working together. For the first time in years, we can consider increasing prize money, investing in better marketing and upgrading our stadiums. We urgently need to see racing return at Shelbourne Park as this is essential for the future of our industry.”

The Department of Agriculture say that they are happy to keep funding the board. In a statement to TheJournal.ie, they say they have confidence in the industry’s guardians.

“The Department is satisfied that the Chairman and Board of Bord na gCon continue to discharge their functions and that against the background of a difficult operating environment over the past number of years, they are taking positive steps to address the issues identified in the Indecon Report, including those in relation to finance, governance and integrity services.

“The Department is committed to securing the future of the greyhound industry. The new Greyhound Industry Bill is going through Pre-legislative Scrutiny at present and a report from the JOC is expected in mid June. This Bill seeks to address the deficiencies in the existing legislation as identified in recent reports carried out on the industry including issues of governance.

The Department believe that the new Bill will strengthen the Irish greyhound industry, enable it to deal with the existing challenges and maximise its future potential.”

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