Tuesday 25 October 2016

Something must be done - but just one small step at a time, as usual

Published 25/08/2016 | 02:30

Sports Minister Shane Ross Photo: Mark Condren
Sports Minister Shane Ross Photo: Mark Condren

They are idle most of the time. But, when they are called into play it's a busy place, and their work is also quite perilous.

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I'm talking about the little-known arm of government known as the 'Something-must-be-done department'. There is an old, warped but rather apt maxim in the strange world of public relations which goes: "Don't just stand there - do nothing."

It propelled Bertie Ahern through three decades of politics, as he watched many an incoming dangerous ball eventually bounce wide of the mark. In politics the virtues of standing idly by are often under-rated.

But we have a disappointing set of national returns from the Olympic Games, juxtaposed with the detention of a senior national figure from that self-same undertaking. We have for so long relied upon our boxers, many of them drawn from less affluent sections of society, to save our national blushes.

But the sporting gods did not smile on our pugilists in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

Instead, we have had the detention of our most senior Olympic official, Pat Hickey, and a series of allegations from a talkative Brazilian police force which is less than media-continent.

Factor in taxpayer payments to the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) and related sports bodies, less-than-encouraging tales of difficulties for Irish athletes' families getting tickets, and Irish people's more general fanatical commitment to volunteering for sporting endeavours. It all adds up to a pretty large headache for an already beleaguered minority hybrid Coalition.

Time for Sports Minister Shane Ross and his Limerick back-up, Patrick O'Donovan, to resort to the "Something-must-be-done" department.

So, what is the result?

Well, Mr Justice Carroll Moran, recently of the High Court, has been asked to probe the OCI's ticketing policy and its arrangements with third parties, along with the issuing of Games accreditation.

The Government inquiry will examine the handling of tickets for the Games in Rio de Janeiro and the 2012 London Olympic Games, as well as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Justice Moran is also tasked with looking at corporate governance at the OCI.

A deadline of 12 weeks has been set, but Mr O'Donovan said this can be extended if necessary. The judge will report back to the Government and there is the option of recommending a full commission of investigation which would have the power to compel witnesses. The opposition, led by former Public Spending Minister turned Labour leader, Brendan Howlin, has argued that a full judicial inquiry, equipped with compellability powers, is the only way to go.

Time may prove him right.

Meanwhile, we face the practical obstacles of a rather noisy process in Brazil which detains at least one key potential witness whose testimony would be indispensable.

Justice Moran has yet to even get his legs under the inquiry table. But it is hard to see this inquiry as anything other than a first step.

We need a big investigation into Irish sport governance.

Irish Independent

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