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Minister told greyhound racing not sustainable from commercial perspective during Covid prior to State funding boost

Greyhound Racing Ireland says that the additional funding has helped it to prevent further staff layoffs.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Shutterstock/Irma07

THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE of Greyhound Racing Ireland (GRI) told government officials that further cuts to expenditure – including job cuts – would be brought in unless the group was given more State funding. 

A week before Budget 2021 was announced,  GRI’s Gerard Dollard met with Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue seeking to secure more funding for the organisation. 

In a briefing note prepared for the minister ahead of the meeting, it’s understood that McConalogue was told the level of operation that was possible for greyhound racing under Covid-19 restrictions wasn’t sustainable from a commercial perspective.

It’s also understood that the New Economy and Recovery Authority (New Era), which is a division of the National Treasury Management Agency, has been asked to examine potential solutions to the financial crisis facing the greyhound industry in Ireland particularly in the context of Covid-19. GRI said that, at this time, it has not received any advice from New Era.

In the past, New Era has been tasked with providing advice to the likes of An Post, Bord na Móna, CIÉ and the Dublin Port Company. 

Following the meeting in October, the GRI subsequently secured an additional €2.4 million in funding in Budget 2021, bring its total State allocation to €19.2 million.

The move was criticised, including by Social Democrat TD Holly Cairns who brought a motion to the Dáil seeking to block the increase of funding to an “inherently cruel” industry

In correspondence released to TheJournal.ie under Freedom of Information legislation, Dollard wrote to officials at the Department of Agriculture the day after his meeting with McConalogue.

In this email, he said that the minister was under the impression the organisation was seeking €5 million in extra funding.

The GRI chief executive said: “The Minister appeared to be working from a document that suggested we were seeking an additional €5M in Budget 21.  Having checked the matter the document was not our budget submission but was an analysis that had been submitted to the Department in respect of Covid impacts on cost and income.

“For example, the €5M estimate included a sum of circa €1M for redundancy costs which is a guesstimate of what might arise if the government’s current moratorium on payment of redundancy is ended during 2021.”

Dollard said he wanted to reiterate a point made in the meeting that within its current allocation, GRI had had to lay off staff, enforce payroll cuts, make reductions in expenditure, avail of support schemes such as the wage subsidy scheme and a undertake general critical review of activities.

“For 2021, on the basis of current levels of funding, RCÉ will need to continue its approach of further payroll cuts, lay-offs and a significant reduction in prize money which will have a major impact on the industry,” he said.

“It is impossible to predict with any certainty the environment that will apply in 2021 but it is very likely that the greyhound industry will be operating at exceptionally low levels of commercial activity. Losses arising will need to be made up by either additional financial allocations or further cuts to expenditure.”

The GRI chief executive added a request that this information be relayed to the minister. Separately, in its written Budget submission, the GRI said that the industry supported thousands of jobs and was a “significant” sector of the economy.

It also said it had made strides in the area of animal welfare in the wake of the RTÉ Investigates documentary. That documentary found that around 6,000 greyhounds were killed for not racing fast enough in 2017.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Cork South-West TD Holly Cairns said it was concerning that the government has been “consistently pumping money into a loss-making industry,” and also referenced the “cruel” record of animal welfare.

“The majority of people don’t want it to continue,” she said, pointing a Red C poll commissioned in late 2019. 

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Cairns said that during the pandemic – when there are high pressures on the public finances – it didn’t make sense to continue funding this industry. 

“I think it’s obvious to most people the industry is on its knees,” she said. “But the government continues to fund it. The measures they’ve taken in the area of welfare don’t go far enough. 6,000 greyhounds killed in one year – the scale of animal cruelty is shocking.”

The Social Democrat added that it was a common refrain used by supporters of the industry is that it’s the “lifeblood” of rural Ireland.

“You can’t claim to have a monopoly on rural Ireland,” she said. “It’s a presumption that’s untrue and insulting.”

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, Greyhound Racing Ireland had assessed various scenarios regarding its future outlook as a result of Covid-19.

“At no stage was any direct request made for a specific sum in relation to funding from Budget 2021 and at no stage was the sum of €5 million sought by Rásaíocht Con Éireann,” it said. 

“The various analysis would have reflected different scenarios including if the moratorium on redundancies ceased and staff who were laid-off claimed entitlements under the relevant legislation then there would be a significant redundancy liability for Rásaíocht Con Éireann.  I am sure this would apply to most companies.

On the other hand, commercial income had virtually ceased for Rásaíocht Con Éireann and when one took into account the loss of admissions income, tote income and food & beverage income, an overall loss in excess of €5 million would arise in a twelve-month period.  Rásaíocht Con Éireann would have presented the various issues as part of its budget submission and it was a matter for the Minister and government to make a determination on what an appropriate response.
Rásaíocht Con Éireann currently has all casual and part-time staff on lay-off (since April 2020), some staff on a four-day working week and is discontinuing temporary contracts only filling essential vacancies. The additional funding provided in Budget 2021 coupled with the supports available under the various wage support scheme has prevented further lay off at this time.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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