Transfer of €350k from Jockeys’ Emergency Fund to IHRB an ‘isolated incident’

IHRB CEO Darragh O’Loughlin tells PAC hearing he cannot reveal why financial transfer took place ahead of Mazars report publication

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Suzanne Eade (far left) and Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board chief executive Darragh O’Loughlin (right) arrive at Leinster House to attend the Public Accounts Committee. Photograph: Sam Boal/Collins

The “bombshell” €350,000 transferred between the Jockeys’ Emergency Fund (JEF) to the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) and back again in early 2022 has been described as an “isolated incident” although why it occurred remains unclear.

Both the IHRB and Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) appeared in front of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee for almost three hours on Thursday, almost exactly a year after the regulator’s chief executive, Darragh O’Loughlin, informed PAC of a financial issue of “grave concern” that had emerged days before.

That led to the IHRB’s chief financial officer, Donal O’Shea, being put on a continuing fully paid period of voluntary leave without prejudice to his position, as well as an independent report on the matter commissioned by HRI and carried out by the audit firm Mazars.

After months of speculation, last week’s publication of the IHRB’s 2022 financial accounts revealed the matter being investigated by Mazars revolves around a €350,000 transfer from the JEF to the IHRB in January 2022, a transfer reversed three months later.

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The Mazars report has still not been published and O’Loughlin declined to answer questions from PAC on Thursday as to why the financial transfers took place.

However, he did say he was satisfied no similar transactions had taken place in the six years back to 2018 when the IHRB company was formed by the Turf Club and the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee.

The IHRB administers several charity funds that support injured jockeys. The JEF provides care to jockeys who suffer catastrophic injuries. It currently has two beneficiaries. O’Loughlin said the fund has enough money in it to provide for both throughout their lifetime.

Pressed by the PAC members as to why the financial transfer took place, O’Loughlin said he couldn’t expand on the matter until Mazars had issued their report.

“It’s a question, and I’m not splitting hairs deliberately, why did it appear necessary, or what prompted it, is a question I expect Mazars to answer. The answer to that question could also, clearly, have implications in relation to the IHRB’s own disciplinary processes. Therefore ... I’m very much circumscribed in terms of what I can say.

“I can’t say anything or answer anything that could in any way prejudice any proceedings which may be under way, or any that get under way at any point in the future,” he said.

Asked by the committee chairman, Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley, as to when that report would finally be published, O’Loughlin said he expected it within a couple of months, but couldn’t be sure.

The IHRB boss also declined to answer questions on Donal O’Shea’s position and referred to “a question of timing.” But he stressed that no one was keener than him to draw a line under the matter as soon as possible.

“This process and all to do with it is taking longer than I thought it would. It’s taking longer than I think it should. But it is taking as long as it is taking. It is important that this be dealt with properly and thoroughly and transparently and that is what we’re attempting to do,” O’Loughlin said.

It emerged in Thursday’s hearings that Mazars are being paid €80,000 for the report.

The JEF is one of a number of jockey fund administered by the IHRB and although waiting on the Mazars report, O’Loughlin did comment: “In the meantime, formal agreements are being put in place between the IHRB and the various charitable non-profit entities for which administrative support is provided, along with written policies and procedures clearly defining roles and responsibilities, strict transaction approval controls, and segregation of accounts access.”

PAC was also told that €1.86 million has been spent by the IHRB on stable-yard CCTV at Ireland’s 25 permanent racecourses.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column