The body with responsibility for greyhound racing has not paid a dividend to the State for 25 years, despite its status as a commercial semi-state company. Bord na gCon, the Irish Greyhound Board, confirmed to the Irish Examiner it has paid no dividend from profits after tax to its shareholder, the State, in that time.
While commercial semi-state bodies are under no legislative onus to provide dividends, in recent years, since the introduction of the New Economic Recovery Authority in 2011, a return of 30% from such bodies has become the expected norm.
In the 10 months up to the end of October 2019, for example, the ESB returned dividend payments of €4.8m to the State, while the Port of Cork posted returns of €250,000.
Bord na gCon is, however, not alone among semi-states in not having made such dividend payments. Just 11 bodies are listed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as having returned a dividend to the State in each of the past five years.
“I’m not surprised,” said TD Catherine Murphy, who has asked a number of parliamentary questions on the lack of dividend payments from the greyhound board. “They get a fairly large contribution from the exchequer from betting tax, and only two of their race-tracks are commercially viable, Cork and Shelbourne Park.
You would expect that if you’re going to call them a commercial semi-state, at the very least you would expect them to be capable of standing alone. Not only are they not paying a dividend, but without the budget allocation they wouldn’t even be viable
The average attendance at Bord na gCon track meets in 2018 was 319 people.
Bord na gCon received €16.8m from the exchequer as part of October’s budget, a figure that came in for a great deal of criticism after an RTÉ Prime Time Investigates report in the summer alleged that overbreeding and mass culling of pups was widespread in the sport.
The board’s turnover in 2017 was €22.7m, down almost 20% on its 2016 figures, while profit before tax was down a massive 48% from €3.2m to €1.7m.
“The board told us that it’s a cultural thing, as to why funding the sport is important,” said Ms Murphy. “But when you look at the amount of money put into it, well there are lots of things that are cultural, but just €60m goes to all other sports combined.
“There would be a stronger argument made for football, hurling, or camogie, which are the national sports if you like, or even soccer which is the sport played by most people,” she added.
Bord na gCon has lodged an official complaint with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland about the Prime Time Investigates report, claiming the programme contained a “large number” of “factual inaccuracies and mistruths”.
RTÉ responded to that complaint saying that it “stands over” the report, describing it as a “comprehensive, factual investigation into practices in the industry” and saying that it had served the public interest.
In the fallout from the report’s broadcast a number of high-profile sponsors, including Barry’s Tea and FBD Insurance, walked away from the sport, while Tourism Ireland ruled that that greyhound racing would no longer be promoted to either the national or international markets.