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File photo of greyhounds racing. Shutterstock/Francois Loubser
Greyhounds

Irish Greyhound Board spent nearly €18k on public relations in three months after RTÉ documentary

The IGB hired communications firm Heneghan PR a week after the documentary aired.

THE IRISH GREYHOUND Board (IGB) spent almost €18,000 on public relations consultants in the three months after an RTÉ Investigates programme exposed shocking welfare abuses in the industry last year.

The IGB, which receives annual state funding of around €16 million, hired top communications firm Heneghan PR a week after the documentary claimed that 6,000 greyhounds were being killed every year.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal efforts to restrict media coverage of stadium closures, and to ignore press queries relating to welfare issues as the authority sought to manage the fallout from the controversy.

Heneghan PR – predominantly the firm’s MD Nigel Heneghan, and former government press secretary Eoghan Ó Neachtain – also advised the IGB in relation to its appearance before the Oireachtas agriculture committee, and its unsuccessful complaint against RTÉ over the documentary last year.

The company also assisted with a separate complaint to RTÉ’s Liveline last August, in which the IGB expressed “disappointment” in an initial draft at not being invited to contribute to a discussion on the radio show about the treatment of greyhounds.

However, Nigel Heneghan removed the reference to “disappointment” in an email to the IGB’s press officer “because they could say if you are that disappointed, why don’t you come on air tomorrow – which is what we want to avoid”.

He added: “They could still ask us, but the updated wording might make it easier to say no!”

A number of greyhound stadiums closed in the months following the RTÉ documentary. Emails between the IGB and Heneghan PR reveal a strategy of “limiting stories to local coverage if we only release locally for now”.

“I agree with [the IGB press officer] in terms of endeavouring to keep it local in the short term,” wrote Nigel Heneghan.

In the case of Longford Greyhound Stadium, it was decided not to inform local media of its closure at all. The stadium had not issued a statement locally due to a poor relationship with the media, according to the IGB press officer.

“On that note, it might be a case of alerting Longford media to the story if we send our statement out of the blue,” he wrote.

“My suggestion again is to put it up on our own website for now and deal with queries from there.”

IGB CEO Ger Dollard intervened in a discussion about how to deal with repeated queries from a Mail on Sunday journalist concerning the welfare of a greyhound owned by a syndicate of current and former Oireachtas members.

“I would ignore the emails,” he wrote. “Nigel can tell her if he wishes that he has sent on to the IGB and is awaiting a response?”

The strategy appears to have worked, as Nigel Heneghan wrote on August 11: “Nothing in Mail on Sunday – good.”

A total of €17,785.80 was paid to the PR firm by the IGB in the first three months after the RTÉ documentary was aired.

A spokesman for the organisation said that it maintains consistent engagement with all media, and has endeavoured to respond to a large number of media queries at all times.

“The situations regarding the closures of Lifford and Longford greyhound stadia were, at the time suggested, fluid and changeable… A decision was made to prioritise informing local media in these areas of impending closures before national media to ensure the greyhound community in these areas… were fully and adequately informed,” he said.

He added that the journalist who inquired about the Oireachtas syndicate was “extensively engaged with” but the “ongoing submission of queries on a welfare case was seen as unreasonable, and the IGB chose not to further respond”.

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Author
Darragh McDonagh
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