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Bloodhound or Greyhound

Posted on: March 8th, 2012

So after all last week’s hullabaloo, how much do we really know about Greyhound Waste?

Well, for a start, did you know that it is a criminal company? You didn’t? Perhaps you should know a bit more.

Last year Greyhound — the outfit that has won a series of State waste contracts — was prosecuted and found guilty of three charges brought by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It was fined and costs were awarded against it.

It takes a lot of aggro for the EPA to bring a company to court. Greyhound was served with 10 notices of non-compliance before eventually being forced in front of the beak.

Quite a casual attitude to the law.

Perhaps the errant company learned its lesson? Was it chastened by the experience? Was it a one-time offender?

What do you think? These cowboys of the waste industry seem simply to have carried on as before. Believe it or not, they were visited on the same site in Clondalkin, Dublin, by inspectors nine times in 2011 — after the convictions in court. They were served with a further five non-compliance notices. The court clash seems to have left the lads from Greyhound unfazed.

Last week the EPA told me that even now, once again, there is an active investigation into Greyhound. Amid all the public kerfuffle about Greyhound’s despicable behaviour to its customers on the ground, the EPA had cause to visit them as recently as last Thursday.

The latest EPA report on Greyhound was issued on December 12. It is a damning account of their cavalier attitude to the law. It is clear that they play fast and loose with the rules.

The report found Greyhound was a repeat offender, once again guilty of non-compliance with the conditions of its waste licence. The Agency has threatened it with another court action. The pong around the Clondalkin area has been intensifying in recent months. There were several other health and safety issues on the site in the last few weeks.

This is the company that won the waste contract for CIE, for South Dublin County Council and for Dublin City Council.

All right, they may be a bit cavalier with the courts and immune to the sensitive nostrils of the villagers of Clondalkin — but what else do we know about them?

Well, we know that they are hell-bent on cash upfront. Apparently they have insisted on upfront payments from their targeted 140,000 Dublin City Council customers. That means (subtracting waivers and refusals) that they have probably already trousered well over €4m in cash for the gig. Greyhound has banked this little nest egg.

What sort of a company demands such massive amounts of cash upfront?

And where is this mountain of cash? Does Greyhound really need it badly? Is it in Ireland or stuffed offshore?

Difficult to say. Greyhound is a silent company. It refuses to communicate with the media. It has cutely opted for the road of unlimited liability. That means that neither its employers nor its customers can inspect its accounts. Worse still, its owners have relocated their shareholdings, offshore — to the Isle of Man. As a result, no meaningful post-2009 information about Greyhound is likely to see the light of day.

So we may never get a picture of Greyhound’s financial health. Whether it is solvent, on the pig’s back, or teetering on the brink. Long live the Isle of Man, the guardian of commercial secrets.

Nor will we be able to compare its solvency with its competitors. Yet we do have some indication of how it rates against them in their relative respect for the law. Very tellingly, last week, the EPA made a damning comparison of Greyhound with its peers.

An EPA spokesman told me that the “number of visits [to Greyhound] and non-compliance is high — for any company”.

Competitor waste companies are obviously not so dismissive of the law as Greyhound, but it does not seem to count when contracts are being dished out. Other more law-abiding waste operators were in the frame, but Greyhound was selected.

How in the name of God did they win the contract?

Especially, as they had previous form. Their experience when they were forced to return €1.3m to Iarnrod Eireann for overcharging, as revealed in 2009, should be sufficient to eliminate them from any future State contracts — local or national.

If that alone was not enough, the devastating words of Dick Fearn, chief executive of Iarnrod Eireann, that “basically the money charged [by Greyhound] did not tally with the actual work done” should have sealed its fate for future contracts.

Not at all. These are State contracts, Irish-style.

South Dublin County Council say they did not know about the CIE scam! Dublin City Council say that they did, but awarded the contract to Greyhound anyway!

Which council was worse?

We also know that there was no competitive tender in either case.

We also know that it was Ernst & Young, the disgraced auditors of Anglo Irish fame, who were awarded the job of finding a waste collector; it chose Greyhound for both councils. We also know Ernst & Young received around €250,000 in both cases.

Nor was there any competitive tender for the Ernst & Young task to find a waste operator. E&Y are on a “panel”.

Consultants like E&Y have had a good week. Last week the Department of Finance agreed, under pressure from AIB, not to tell the Irish people how much they had paid another old favourite — PricewaterhouseCoopers — for work done for the State- owned bank. The usual bull of “customer commerciality” was offered as the excuse.

In Ireland insiders protect insiders. The wagons are being circled. AIB and the Department are re-establishing the old culture of secrecy. Keep the gigs in the family. PwC has milked the bankrupt banking sector. E&Y have been faithful servants of the councils.

Greyhound has responded to its favoured status by seeking blood from its new victims. Hard-pressed citizens claim that its behaviour merited it being renamed “Bloodhound Waste”. It initially refused to empty the bins of 18,000 customers who had not paid the €100 upfront fee and registered with it for collection.

Eventually, as Greyhound began to feel the heat from the Dail, it conceded ground. It began collecting waste from everyone — but by that time it had already extracted the cash upfront from the vast majority of customers.

So there we have it : an outfit with convictions for law breaking; whose latest accounts are not available; owned offshore in the Isle of Man; which has been forced to cough up €1.3m for overcharging; whose charges “did not tally with the work done”; which demands payment upfront.

What an ideal company to sweep the boards in Ireland’s mysterious world of waste.

With qualities like that there is no need for such an outrageous indulgence as a competitive tender.

In the Dail last week, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, declined to respond to suggestions that there was anything unusual in giving the contract to such a company.

Nothing has changed.

Maybe the Taoiseach was right. No rivals could possibly compete with Greyhound and offer all these unique ingredients for a State contract, Irish-style.