Creighton criticises ‘unnecessary’ internal conflicts in horse sport body

Board members warn legal battles could undermine ‘financial stability’ of Horse Sport Ireland

The national governing body for equestrian sports had been dragged into “avoidable and unnecessary” internal conflicts and legal disputes in recent years, former board member Lucinda Creighton claimed when resigning from its board.

Last month the entire board of Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) resigned after a long running conflict between factions at the top of the organisation came to a head.

The resignations caused governance turmoil for the organisation, leading Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to appoint a new interim board.

In a November 11th letter to the Minister, Ms Creighton said she was “disappointed” to have to step down from the board but felt her position was untenable.

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The organisation had been “dragged into legal conflicts and internal unrest – much of which I believe to have been avoidable and unnecessary, and which has come at enormous financial cost to the company and the sector”, she said.

The Irish Times previously reported HSI had paid more than €650,000 in staff severance or settlement payments since 2018, as well as €400,000 in legal fees on the cases.

In total the organisation had spent more than €2 million between settlements, severances, legal costs and consultancy fees in recent years.

In her resignation letter, Ms Creighton said she believed the ongoing conflicts and disputes had “undermined the financial stability of the organisation”.

As a result she said HSI “cannot deliver the level of service for the sector” if it continued to operate in the same manner.

Ms Creighton said she and three other directors, Clare Hughes, Paul Duffy and Tom Freyne, had “raised a series of issues which we believe to be hampering the organisation” with the chair of the board in recent months.

The board members were concerned about HSI’s deteriorating relationship with affiliate organisations, such as Showjumping Ireland, Dressage Ireland and the Irish Horse Board, she said.

In mid-October the HSI took a judicial review against its main funder, the Department of Agriculture, over its decision to award a contract for marketing services promoting the industry to the Irish Horse Board.

Ms Creighton described the legal challenge as “particularly troubling”, as several board members had not been provided with a copy of HSI’s bid for the contract “due to a perceived conflict of interest on the part of certain directors”.

In a November 11th letter to the Minister, Ms Hughes said she and other directors had “made repeated requests for transparent information and financial figures” from HSI, which she said “received little response”.

“We have, unsuccessfully, sought access to specific financial information, externally commissioned reports and tender documents, which have not been provided to the board,” she said.

Ms Hughes wrote that as a result she “felt unable to carry out my duties as a director” and her position on the board was “no longer tenable”.

The letters to the Minister were released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Joe Reynolds, former chair of the board, wrote to the Minister on November 17th declaring his resignation, at which point Mr McConalogue announced a new board was being appointed.

Mr Reynolds said “deep divisions” had arisen on the board in recent months, adding it “has not been possible to build a bridge between the differing parties”.

“These divisions relate to a wide range of core issues, some of which were personality driven, while others were linked to historic issues within some affiliate groups,” he wrote.

He noted in his letter that he had initially offered to stand down ten days earlier but agreed to stay on while the department identified replacement board members.

Mr Reynolds said despite the governance turmoil the staff at HSI had “worked tirelessly” during a difficult period for the horse sport sector.

The former chair said many reforms had been undertaken in HSI in recent years “but there is still more work to be done in this area and that will be a key task for the new board”.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times