Monday 26 September 2016

Sports Minister needs to sharpen his reflexes

Published 11/08/2016 | 02:30

Shane Ross Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Shane Ross Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Shortly after US swimmer Michael Phelps was confirmed as the greatest Olympian of them all, having won his 21st gold medal, Minister for Sport Shane Ross was also furiously doing the backstroke.

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Mr Ross was unapologetic about not being in Rio while the Irish team reeled from the Michael O'Reilly doping crisis and a scandal over highly irregular ticket sales. There are major issues to be addressed about how a competitor who took a banned substance could make it as far as Rio - considering the devastating fallout for the team - and given the rigid tests that are supposed to be in place.

But Mr Ross just found it all embarrassing and disappointing. He told us that he intended to be "kept informed" of the progress of inquiries being made by the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) into ticket re-selling allegations.

One would hope so. But one might also wonder should he not be getting some answers for himself. Is he not, after all, the minister?

"It is embarrassing. But let's forget about it now for the time being and go full-speed ahead looking for medals next week." Eh, no, minister. Let's not forget about it.

The entire Irish team has been tainted by these scandals, which is monstrously unfair to all concerned. The time to get to the truth and to flex the full muscle of ministerial office is now.

And why the softly softly approach to OCI president Pat Hickey? The OCI must explain how a man came to be re-selling tickets earmarked for the organisation on the streets of Rio. These events have completely over-shadowed our participation in the Games, and Mr Ross's casual approach is less than appropriate, given that the gold-standard reputation of Irish sport is on the line.

Making the banks behave on mortgages in arrears

Scarcely a day passes when Finance Minister Michael Noonan does not find himself questioning the banks in one way or another. Given that we are supposed to have left the crash behind us, it would be easy to conclude that he is either asking the wrong questions or getting the wrong answers.

Yesterday, he approached Central Bank Governor Philip Lane to assess the range of solutions being offered by lenders to customers struggling to pay their mortgages.

Last year the Government produced a new package to deal with mortgage arrears. It removed the veto wielded by the banks over any proposed insolvency arrangements.

But Mr Noonan is still not convinced by the restructuring solutions being proffered by lenders before cases end up in court. The intention is to help people hold on to their homes - and Mr Noonan wants to be sure that everything possible is being done to achieve this. This means flexibility from banks towards people in trouble. The Central Bank must make sure that the banks and other lenders are being accommodating.

Repossessions need to be avoided, but engagement by those in arrears is also critical - and reality must not be lost sight of. Last year, 48,000 mortgages were restructured, and 687 houses were repossessed by banks. Nonetheless, there is something a little troubling about the fact that Mr Noonan still has concerns about the amount of information in the public domain regarding the steps being taken by lenders in dealing with those in arrears. It is vital that this process be completely transparent.

Irish Independent

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