Thursday 8 December 2016

Diarmuid Connolly's DRA reprieve 'fundamentally wrong'

DRA panel member Brian Rennick calls decision to lift ban an "unjustifiable precedent"

Published 22/09/2015 | 02:30

Diarmuid Connolly (centre) celebrates with James McCarthy and Cian O'Sullivan after their victory against Kerry in Sunday's All-Ireland SFC
Diarmuid Connolly (centre) celebrates with James McCarthy and Cian O'Sullivan after their victory against Kerry in Sunday's All-Ireland SFC

One of the members of the Disputes Resolution Authority panel that set aside Diarmuid Connolly's recent one-match ban as a result of his red card against Mayo in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final has come out strongly against the decision made, describing it as "fundamentally wrong."

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Solicitor Brian Rennick has challenged the reasoning of fellow members Hugh O'Flaherty and David Nohilly that the case against the Dublin footballer was "a breach of fair procedures, a significant impairment of his rights and was disproportionate, irrational and unfair."

Rennick claims the case should have been sent back to the Central Hearings Committee for reprocessing to allow for the additional information requested by Connolly to be heard.

A 43-page document sets out both sides in what is only the second DRA panel ever to deliver a majority-only decision.

The verdict of the majority was based on information which Connolly had sought from the Central Competition Controls Committee relating to the specifics of what communication between the officials there had been in relation his altercation with Lee Keegan that led to the red card for striking.

Connolly had requested seven different points of information based on what linesman Conor Lane had seen from the Hogan Stand side of the field and what, if any, communication was there regarding any other Mayo player apart from Keegan. He was able to satisfy the majority that the information provided was not sufficient, despite their contention that "the presumption of accuracy of the referee's report stands in full."

Self-defence

The player had brought 11 different points of argument to the DRA, among them his claim that his action was in self-defence. Interestingly, the majority observed that they "do not agree with the proposition that a player is not entitled to defend oneself.

"The Claimant gave evidence to this Tribunal of being 'choked' etc., at the time of the altercation. Whilst that may or may not have been case is not for us to decide, but to say no such defence exists absolutely is not correct in our opinion. We shall go no further on this point."

The substantive issue was that the additional information that Connolly had sought had not been considered by the Central Hearings Committee and thus the case brought against the Dublin player was unfair.

The majority ruled Connolly was "not given details of the entire evidence against him (as was his right under rule), he was not given an opportunity to test that evidence, particularly, the evidence based on hearsay (linesman's evidence) and was not afforded any right to scrutinise and question the entire evidence against him."

The CHC, they argued, erred and failed to take account of potential relevant considerations to the detriment of the claimant (Connolly).

Because it was such a "serious sanction," they suggested, "a higher standard is required of the disciplinary bodies."

In the circumstances of Connolly finding himself engaged in the process for a third successive night, within 24 hours of the replay, they ruled that it would be "unduly harsh and disproportionate to remit the matter back for further reprocessing in the circumstances."

Rennick rejected this however. He contended that all the information needed had been before the CHC and that Connolly's argument relating to the evidence had not been "canvassed" before the DRA hearing.

"The obvious question arises as to what information was withheld from the Claimant in respect of the infraction that was alleged? The answer is none," he wrote.

"The only evidence on which the Claimant was dealt with was that which was before the CHC. There was no other evidence against him. What was not put before the CHC was the detail of the altercation between the two players before the infraction occurred."

Information

He said Connolly could have raised the issue of the additional information at the CHC hearing. "The blame for this appears to be left at the door of the CCCC, the Referee and the CHC. That is to ignore the fact that the Claimant could have taken issue with this before the CHC who could in turn have remitted the matter to the CCCC if they saw fit. This was open to the Claimant had he considered that all of this information was in fact relevant to the conduct of his defence."

Describing the decision and reasons for setting aside the Connolly suspension as "fundamentally wrong", Rennick stressed that "in instances where the DRA finds that there has been a breach of fair procedures that can be remedied that the case should be remitted to the CHC for re-hearing with directions as to how to correct the breaches complained of."

He added that the consequences of the majority decision was that a clear Category Three infraction was going unpunished and that was, in his view, "an unjustifiable and undesirable precedent to set in the context of a disciplinary process."

Irish Independent

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