€23 million for greyhound track that may be worth €2 million
17 June 2017
The Harold's Cross greyhound track site which the government has agreed to purchase for €23 million of taxpayers' money may have been worth just €2 million.
Further to our report last month, in which we highlighted that several TDs questioned the price being paid, it has emerged that at a 2015 meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, it was stated that it was "probably worth €2 million".
Greyhound industry supporter, and then Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Tom Hayes TD stated at the meeting: "I do not know yet - and I await the board’s work in progress in relation to this - whether planning permission can be got [for the Harold's Cross site]. Is it realisable that it will take a good chunk. There is no point in selling it for two or two and a half, three million euro. However, if it comes to a situation where it is worth €10 million or €12 million, it cuts the debt in half and puts the industry in a real good place into the future."
At the same meeting, Senator Denis Landy commented: "Without rezoning, it will not realise its sales potential of €10 million. At present, it is probably worth €2 million, which the Minister acknowledged."
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed's recent approval of a €23 million payment for Harold's Cross prompted politicians to question the price being paid, with one saying it was a multiple of what it's worth.
In a recent statement, Minister Creed (who has been personally involved in the greyhound industry, reportedly co-owning a greyhound named Swift Starlet), said: "This asset sale [of Harold's Cross], which will realise €23 million 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."
Coincidentally, the €23 million Minister Creed is proposing to hand over for the Harold's Cross site almost matches the Irish Greyhound Board's reported debt of over €20 million plus bank interest.
The sum far exceeds the true value of the site, according to some politicians challenging the offer.
Last month, Michael Lowry TD (Independent, Tipperary) told the Dail that Harold's Cross was believed to be only worth between €4 million and €6 million.
Questioning the "in excess of €20 million" being offered, he stated: "We have been told by the former chairman of the [Irish Greyhound] board - consistently - that it is worth €4 million to €6 million and that it should not be sold because we would not get value for it."
He added: "At the meetings we regularly attended - both private and public - we were all the time told that Harold’s Cross wasn't worth selling and that it was valued between €4 million and €6 million. I and other public representatives have been lambasted, but my theory is very simple. The board needs to spend this money. At the moment, it is servicing a debt and paying an interest bill of €1.15 million a year."
Michael Lowry is not the only TD asking questions.
At a meeting of the Dail Public Accounts Committee on 18th May, Fianna Fail politician and qualified auctioneer, Marc MacSharry, said €23 million appeared to be "a multiple" of what the land was worth.
Deputy MacSharry said that even if the zoning change is secured from Dublin City Council (to allow the building of a school), the site would not be worth any more than €9 million. With its current zoning for amenity use, he said it is probably worth just half of that - "all very, very substantially less than €23 million".
Party colleague Shane Cassells TD also expressed concern that the Department of Education was paying too much, pointing out that the sum being paid "magically" covered the scale of the Irish Greyhound Board’s debt.
Irish Greyhound Board interim CEO Seán Brady, would not reveal “for commercial reasons” a previous valuation of the Harold's Cross site by real estate company, Savills.
Earlier this year, RTE's Drivetime programme reported that, despite interest from several buyers in Ireland and abroad, "the IGB claimed that the Department of Agriculture told them in March not to put up the Harold's Cross site for public sale." https://youtu.be/vvLum3TGMw0?t=2m35s
Could this be because the Department of Agriculture (which is on record as saying it will not stop funding the greyhound industry with taxpayers' money) wanted the Irish Greyhound Board to only accept a government bid which would be large enough to wipe out the crumbling industry's crippling debt which "poses a real threat to its solvency"?
This year, government funding for the greyhound industry increased by €1.2 million to €16 million (that's over €300,000 every week of the year), bringing the total received since 2001 to around a quarter of a billion euro.
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