Monday 16 September 2019

Gene Kerrigan: I know, it's only Rock 'n' Ross but I like it

From Dublin to Rio, our pillars of society just can't help making a show of us

By Tom Halliday
By Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Now, let's be fair and balanced about this. On the one hand, it's no joke. I mean, a 71-year-old pillar of Irish society arrested in the nip in a Brazilian hotel, in front of a TV camera. With armed cops swarming all over the joint.

And then he's wheeled off for police questioning; before being put on ice in a jail that doesn't rate very highly on TripAdvisor.

On the other hand, the pillar of Irish society involved is Pat Hickey. And we have to admit that over the decades Pat seems to have enjoyed his power as Chief Panjandrum of the Olympic Council of Ireland.

The kind way of saying it is that Pat has never suffered fools lightly.

The unkind way of saying it is that many found Pat to be a bit of a . . . well, in the spirit of the kind of interaction that abounds in today's media, we'll ask you to finish that sentence yourself.

So, yeah, some sniggering is justified, but not too much.

It's just an allegation, and it's just ticket-touting, so let's keep some perspective.

On the other hand (that's three hands so far), we've had a lot to put up with. From Dublin Castle to the United Nations, from Belfast to Rio, our pillars of society keep making a show of us.

Life is too short to list the immoralities, from planning scandals, through various kinds of abuse to the breathtaking asset-stripping of the public purse in order to bail out the bankers and the builders.

Let us consider now just two of these scandals.

First, the uproar about alleged ticket-touting. Second, the shoulder-shrugging with which various pillars of society greet the utterly foul smell coming from Nama.

The alleged ticket-touting is alleged to involve about €3m. That could be a real figure, or something some journalist thought sounded good. On the one hand ('that's four hands), tickets for the opening ceremony were going for up to €8,000 each on the black market.

On the other hand (five), we can see on TV there are oceans of empty seats for many events. So it could be the touts were stung in more ways than one.

Does ticket-touting matter? Yes, it does. If everything goes to the highest bidder, the rich can outbid us all for anything worth having. They do pretty much as they like, already, but the Brazilians have made it a bit more difficult by very sensibly outlawing "crime against the popular economy".

(Imagine what we could have done with such a law in this country, over the past few years.)

Was Pat Hickey or anyone else involved in ticket-touting? We don't know. The Brazilian courts will decide that. What we do know is that a ton of tickets in the care of the OCI turned up somewhere that Irish Olympics tickets had no business turning up.

The excuse we got was that some guy was holding them for someone else who was authorised to sell them. The tickets, we might say, were just "resting in his account".

As soon as the ticket scandal emerged, Shane Ross flew off to Rio to put manners on Pat Hickey. Unfortunately, it didn't come across as "I'm going to sort this out". It was more along the lines of, "Watch me sort this out". Shane, in short, was all pouty and shouty for the cameras.

At one stage, according to the Irish Times, Shane let the Hickey camp know he wanted a decision on the inquiry in time to announce it on the RTE Nine O'Clock News.

Not a good look, Shane.

Shane found the meeting "absolutely shattering". Pat said it was an "excellent" meeting, so I think we know how that went.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael's Noel Rock, a Ross lookalike, vented mightily against ticket-touting. Rock managed to grab a few headlines for himself without the bother of flying to Rio. Rock wants a proper inquiry and he wants it now.

Diversions like the Rock 'n' Ross show are fun, but what on earth is an "inquiry" supposed to do? Find out if there was ticket-touting?

Shane, Noel, lads, eh . . . how do I put this? There's something you should know.

To properly inquire into the alleged ticket-touting, you'll need to chat with Pat Hickey.

And the Hickster is kind of difficult to reach at the moment.

Unless you and your retired judge and all your inquiry's legal camp followers decamp for Rio and break into Bangu 10 and see if conditions are indeed "totally subhuman", as advertised.

Meanwhile, anyone else brought before your inquiry will, no doubt, on legal advice answer every question with, "Ah, you'd need to ask Pat about that".

Perhaps, after all, the Brazilians will allow Pat home to answer questions from Shane's retired judge. In which case, you'll have to question others - non-nationals, some outside the country. Some might even be still in one of the Bangu jails.

Meanwhile, the stink from Nama is as strong as ever - the stink is as enduring as the indifference to it of our pillars of society.

While the alleged ticket-touting involves about €3m, Nama involves tens of billions.

Why did we choose Nama, of all the scandals we might compare with the alleged ticket-touting scandal?

Nama has been doing business with vultures - outfits that accumulate large funds and use them to buy up distressed assets. Nothing matters to vultures other than profit - and the effects of their activities can be extremely damaging to society.

One of Nama's sales, Project Eagle, has aroused great concern, with the PSNI and the UK's National Crime Agency looking into it. It involves arrests, diverted millions and further very serious allegations.

Mick Wallace TD did much of the spadework on this scandal and in June he put down a motion for an inquiry - reasonable, given that Nama is a Government responsibility.

We knew Fine Gael would oppose it. Because FG favours vultures. We know this because in 2014 Bolivia put down a UN resolution to provide protection against vultures - FG voted against it. And in the Dail FG did indeed oppose the Wallace motion.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin had ferociously demanded an inquiry into Project Eagle. And here was the party's chance to vote for one.

FF linked arms with FG to defeat Wallace's motion.

They did so on the basis that we should wait some years until the criminal investigation in another jurisdiction is finished.

Noel Rock and Shane Ross voted against an inquiry.

Nama is complex. Ticket-touting is simple, anything to do with the Olympics is headline-friendly. The criminal investigation in another jurisdiction didn't matter when there were headlines to be grabbed.

Friday's Irish Independent had an unusual photo of Pat Hickey. All you could see, through a police car window, was an arse, as its owner appeared to dive head-first under the seat.

Being fair and balanced, I can't confirm the ownership of the arse. On the one hand, it might have been Pat, embarrassed at his circumstances. If it was Pat, maybe he saw an Olympic ticket on the floor of the car and bent to grab it, hoping to return it to its rightful owner.

On yet another hand, the arse might have belonged to someone else entirely.

So, this column ends as it began, with more hands than a convention of poker players. It's been, I think you might agree, as fair and balanced as a blonde tightrope walker.

I'll see myself out.

Sunday Independent

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