JUST days before Budget 2023 is revealed, Horse Racing Ireland [HRI] has been strongly criticised over its spending by the Public Accounts Committee [PAC].

HRI chief executive Suzanne Eade and the newly appointed CEO of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, Darragh O’Loughlin appeared before the PAC on Thursday morning. During the near three-hour session, topics raised included the Curragh Racecourse, Tipperary Racecourse, insurance crisis, CCTV, and financial packages for Eade and her predecessor, Brian Kavanagh, as well as the former IHRB chief executive Denis Egan.

The meeting was called primarily to discuss HRI’s accounts for 2020. Mainly due to Covid-19, HRI registered a loss of just over €900,000 on their racing activities for that year. However, HRI also lost €1.8 million on its investment in the Curragh Racecourse, where it holds a 33% share.

Suzanne Eade said: “The big hit for the Curragh is depreciation which is over €4 million annually. Going forward they are going to have to get a lot more income other than from racecourse attendance to fill that gap.

“The Curragh has been strong in terms of reducing costs and I expect they will hit their budget for 2022, but what concerns me now is the cost-of-living crisis and rising energy costs. The fuel crisis threatens to be a really big drain for all racecourses in 2023.”

HRI looks set to become an even bigger shareholder in the Curragh as the track is unlikely to be in a position to repay a €9 million loan it received from HRI by the due date. Eade said it was likely the loan would be converted into shares in Curragh Racecourse Ltd.

PAC chairman Brian Stanley drew attention to a deal which saw the HRI-controlled Tipperary Racecourse buy 12 acres in 2019 at a cost of €25,000 per acre. The land was subsequently valued at €10,000 per acre following a land swap with a neighbouring landowner.

“This is an awful outcome,” Stanley said, claiming that effectively €300,000 in public money had been written off. Eade said she was “not happy with the way it turned out” but that “it looks worse than it actually is in reality” as the land was needed for track widening.

Ahead of next week’s Budget, Sinn Fein TD Matt Carthy questioned the logic in the 80:20 ratio used to allocate state funding to horseracing and greyhound racing each year. “In any given year Horse Racing Ireland might make a fantastic pitch for funds, or the Greyhound Board the same, but either one will rise or fall on the back of the other organisation.”

HRI’s grant for 2023 is likely to become known in the 24 hours after Tuesday’s Budget is announced by the Minister for Finance.

Racing’s annual grant

2014: €43 million

2015: €54 million

2016: €59 million

2017: €64 million

2018: €64 million

2019: €67.2 million

2020: €67.2 million

2021: €76.8 million

2022: €70.4 million