Wednesday 23 January 2019

No conspiracy: Spring and Browne just didn't cultivate enough votes

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Fionnán Sheahan

There's a great auld yarn told about how Ireland won a seat against the odds on the UN Security Council in 2001.

The mandarins in the Department of Foreign Affairs felt we wouldn't win because we couldn't get enough votes from Africa.

Then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told them to get the Ambassadors to check where the leaders of each country went to school. Ahern cutely figured many would have been educated by Irish missionaries. The diplomats used the religious order contacts to lobby the African heads of state on behalf of the native sod.

The votes flowed in.

The strength of the old-school tie was less familiar to the blazers who ran Ireland's bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

When he became bid chairman two years ago, former Tánaiste Dick Spring compared the voting procedure to the UN Security Council.

Unfortunately, Spring and his cohort forgot the basic tenets of elections: you have to go out and win votes.

The naiveté of the Irish bid team was severely exposed this week in the wake of the third place finish in the race to host the tournament. As they stuck strictly to the rules, France, the ultimate winners, went about it in a clinical manner.

To put it in a local political context, the French played the game like Leo Varadkar in the Fine Gael leadership election. Ireland was the Simon Coveney.

What was most striking was the hangdog look on the Irish bid team, most notably IRFU chief executive Philip Browne, as they bemoaned the lack of support from our Celtic cousins in Scotland and Wales. More to the point was the failure by the Irish side to get the support of our neighbouring rugby nations.

The assumption the Scottish and Welsh would vote for Ireland was arrogance personified.

Why was the relationship so poor? Where was the political arm-twisting on Scotland and Wales? Governments don't vote but pressure exerted by the Taoiseach on Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones to have a strong word with their rugby union chiefs.

The last high-profile foray into the political world by the IRFU showed a distinct lack of tact. The union attacked then minister Eamon Ryan for placing rugby matches on a protected list of TV events, just days after the reopening of Lansdowne Road, for which the taxpayer had paid almost half of the €411m redevelopment cost. Astounding ingratitude.

After he lost his seat in Kerry North in 2002, Spring was asked by a reporter what went wrong?

"I didn't get enough votes, darling," he replied.

There's no conspiracy around Ireland's loss in the Rugby World Cup bid.

The bid didn't get enough votes and has only themselves to blame for failing to win friends and influence people.

Irish Independent

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