Agriculture ministers and department officials held more than a dozen unrecorded meetings with the chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board over the course of 17 months when controversies around its operation began to emerge.
Some of these meetings coincided with news reports of problems at the company, but nothing was written down by department officials or the ministers about how the meetings were arranged; who attended them; what was discussed; or what were the outcomes.
These meetings came to light after the Office of the Information Commissioner ordered the release of the expenses’ records for the chairman of the IGB, Phil Meaney.
These revealed 14 such meetings took place between Mr Meaney’s appointment in April 2011 and July 2012.
Records were kept for just one meeting — a scheduled event between officials and representatives of the IGB.
The department has recently been criticised by the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, John McGuinness, for failing to keep a closer eye on the board in order to protect taxpayers’ money.
During the 17 months covered by the released material the department kept no records of two meetings involving Minister Simon Coveney, three with the late junior minister Shane McEntee, and five which either one or both men attended but where the expenses sheet did not include a surname. There were also three unrecorded meetings with departmental officials.
The department was given a list of meetings which Mr Meaney attended by the Irish Examiner and asked to release any records of them or correspondence on their organisation or their outcomes.
However, the department said it could not comply with that Freedom of Information request because “there are no records held in this department in relation to the meetings”.
In a follow-up statement it said this was not unusual.
“Due to the number of meetings undertaken by the minister on a daily basis, not all meetings would be attended by officials from the department or official minutes taken,” it said.
One of the unrecorded meetings Mr Meaney attended was with a named official, Dermot A Ryan, in Naas during May 2011.
As part of the follow-up query, the department said it was documented after all on Mr Ryan’s own expenses’ sheet as a meeting regarding Bord na gCon.
At the Public Accounts Committee this month, Mr McGuinness asked Mr Ryan to account for how the department responded to issues at the IGB.
Mr McGuinness said it was not good enough for the department to dismiss problems as operational matters for the company.
At the PAC, Mr Ryan said it holds twice-yearly meetings with the IGB where it deals with any controversial issues and goes through a comprehensive check list.
Mr Ryan was specifically asked how the department responded to a detailed report of problems with the Limerick track development which appeared in this newspaper on May 8, 2012.
Mr Ryan said he subsequently met the chief executive officer and his team at the standard meeting.
Mr Meaney’s expenses revealed that, in addition to the routine meeting, the chairman met one of the ministers in Clonmel the day after the May 8 articles were published. No details were kept.
On Jun 13, 2012, Mr Meaney met Mr Coveney for another undocumented meeting in Dublin.
* The Irish Greyhound Board has said “serious mistakes” were made in the purchase of a useless site in Meelick for €1.2m.
At a recent Public Accounts Committee meeting, the company confirmed the site would be written down significantly after it was bought despite having no road or sewerage access.
However, the IGB defended its spending on its flagship €23m stadium in Limerick, which was developed after the Meelick site collapsed.
In a detailed statement to the Sunday Independent, the IGB maintained that it had followed all procurement rules in the development of the stadium. However, the statement also confirmed the existence of a further commitment it made to spend €925,000 to buy a car park on which it has already spent €1.2m to licence.
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