Wednesday 21 March 2018

Powerful duo were 'hostile' to sacked athletics chief, court told

Tim Healy

THE former female chief executive of the Athletic Association of Ireland (AAI) "faced the resistance and hostility" of two powerful men in Irish sport from day one in job, the High Court heard yesterday.

John Treacy, CEO of the Irish Sports Council (ISC) and its chairman Ossie Kilkenny, were part of an alleged orchestrated campaign to get rid of Mary Coghlan, her counsel Brian O'Moore said.

Ms Coghlan claims the ISC was guilty of misfeasance in public office by putting pressure on the AAI to dismiss her.

She is seeking a declaration her dismissal by the AAI was invalid and damages for defamation. The two sporting organisations deny the claims.

The issue in this case, according to Ms Coghlan's counsel, was whether the ISC could "effectively bludgeon and compel" a non-governmental body to dismiss its chief executive.

The "resistance and hostility" Ms Coghlan faced from Mr Treacy and Mr Kilkenny, who were "two powerful men", began from her appointment in April 2008 and manifested itself quickly in two significant areas of the AAI, the court was told.

These were over who was to replace the existing director of athletics and who was to control the high-performance unit for athletes. It was Mr Treacy's wish to control those two areas and he was facilitated in this by the chairman of the high performance committee, Patsy McGonagle, counsel said.

Ms Coghlan did not accept this, and stood up to the ISC, he added. She discovered that Mr McGonagle had written an email in which he described her as "a silly bitch" and she made a formal complaint to the board of the AAI, he said.

An inquiry was set up by the AAI, but Ms Coghlan was fired and it never took place.

A newspaper article about this proposed inquiry prompted a statement from the AAI, released through Bill O'Herlihy's PR company, saying Mr McGonagle was under investigation for gross misconduct.


A few days later there was a meeting of Mr Treacy, Mr Kilkenny, other ISC members and the "top brass" of the AAI.

At that meeting, Mr Kilkenny threatened the €1m annual funding for the AAI, asked whether Ms Coghlan's contract had a probationary clause and referred to having to "remove this cancer within us".

This was clearly a reference to Ms Coghlan although Mr Kilkenny's solicitors later wrote to deny this, counsel said.

Arising out of this, the AAI was not given its funding as normal, the following February -- but got funding on a monthly basis, he added.

Concerns arose that the AAI might have to lay off staff and this was raised by an official in the Department of Sport with Mr Treacy, who said once the "core issue" was resolved, there would be no question about the funding, counsel said.

Subsequently, the AAI served three months notice on Ms Coghlan and she left her job.

Later, at a joint Oireachtas Committee meeting on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the president of the AAI, Liam Hennessy, identified Ms Coghlan as "a problem", which she says was untrue and defamatory, counsel said.

The hearing, before High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, continues.

Irish Independent

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