Friday 30 September 2016

Kenny stuck for words on Rio tickets scandal as minister takes charge

Holidaying Taoiseach is happy to let Ross take the heat while Hickey's family demands government help, writes Philip Ryan

Published 28/08/2016 | 02:30

‘There is no handbook on how to react when one of your citizens is
arrested in the nip abroad’ Photo: Getty
‘There is no handbook on how to react when one of your citizens is arrested in the nip abroad’ Photo: Getty

Enda Kenny, who readers will remember is our current Taoiseach, is having a grand old summer holiday. After a tiresome few months at the start of the year, Kenny rang the final Dail bell on July 17 and watched as excited TDs scurried from the chamber back to their constituencies for their annual three-month holiday.

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Since then, we haven't heard much from the history-making two-term blue shirt Taoiseach and figurative head of the Fianna Fail-led, sorry, Fine Gael-led minority government.

He spent some time in Killarney, as he regularly does, and came up to Dublin to cheer on Mayo in the GAA Championship. Apart from that, there have been irregular updates on his Twitter profile when Irish Olympians landed medals.

So it seems he has been following the Olympics and he may be aware of the non-athletic events which have been overshadowing the successes of our athletes.

He presumably knows there are two Irish men, one of whom is 71 years old, languishing in a Brazilian jail and facing the real possibility of being charged with ticket touting offences.

He may have even seen the video of Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) President Pat Hickey being dragged from his hotel room by police. It was a very embarrassing moment for Mr Hickey and for the nation in general. Everyone was talking about it.

That is, everyone except Kenny, who has been happy to sit back and watch Shane Ross grow from a rabble-rousing senator into a responsible government minister as he tackled his first proper controversy. Ross has been a walking lightning rod for the Olympic ticket touting and doping scandals, while the Taoiseach and most of his ministers have been nowhere to be seen.

On Friday, Hickey's family said they wanted to talk to Kenny about his imprisonment. Kenny's spokesman shrugged off reporters with "no comment", and pointed out that Pat Hickey is being offered consular assistance.

Read more: Pat Hickey family 'gravely concerned' - have requested meetings with ministers and Taoiseach Enda Kenny

There is no handbook on how to react when one of your citizens is arrested in the nip in a foreign country for an offence that isn't a crime at home. This is a scandal like no other. But the political reaction in Ireland has been one of apathy mixed with opportunism.

Ross had a shaky start as the news broke when he was on holidays, but he seems to have gradually won favour among his Fine Gael colleagues. Before the Sports Minister got involved, it seemed like Noel Rock was the only politician looking for answers. It was only in the last week or so that we've heard from any of our political leaders.

Fianna Fail has gradually awoken from its summer siesta. The party's sport spokesman, Robert Troy, swanned back into the country last Tuesday and took to the airwaves to call for a "speedy conclusion" to the ticketing controversy. "Timing is of the essence," he said, three weeks after the controversy first emerged, when Irish businessman Kevin Mallon was arrested on August 5.

As if Troy's contribution wasn't enough, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin then decided to weigh in and condemn the behaviour of the Brazilian police and their treatment of Hickey. Martin said it seemed the presumption of innocence had been "disregarded completely" by Rio police officers, who filmed and then leaked the video of Hickey's arrest.

Some in Fianna Fail questioned his stance, given the lack of public support for the OCI president. It didn't help that his comment came out on the same day police released emails in which Hickey seemed to offer Olympic tickets to the boss of a firm not authorised to sell them.

But it's not just Fianna Fail struggling to keep up with the 100m sprint-like pace of the Olympic tickets debacle. Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin released a statement in which he criticised Shane Ross for being "mysteriously quiet" at the beginning of the controversy, before telling him to "get out of the limelight".

Throughout the fiasco, Sinn Fein has held near daily press conferences. Imelda Munster, Sinn Fein's sports spokeswoman, has treated the press to such insights as this: "We need to get to the bottom of this issue and ensure that it never happens again." Indeed we do.

Other politicians are keeping their heads down and reading with interest the daily plot lines in the salacious Rio tickets mystery.

The annual demand by an eager new TD to have the Dail recalled hasn't even happened this summer. Instead, we have a neat little bow tied around our judge-led inquiry into something that is not illegal here.

This boxes off the pressure on Ross and lets him claim to have taken action - just like a real minister would.

Kenny can keep working on his memoirs, play golf or slip into his Lycra and go for a spin on his racer. And sure, Fianna Fail and the rest of them don't know what to be thinking or saying, so they'll be fine too.

Meanwhile, there are two men, whom we must presume innocent until proven guilty. Hickey's family want Kenny to get involved. They are worried about his health and are concerned he will not get a fair trial in Brazil.

With the controversy showing no signs of abating, it is now time the Taoiseach showed some leadership.

Sunday Independent

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