Sport Gaelic Football

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Mulvey is right man for tough situation

KIERAN MULVEY'S first meeting as the new chairman of the Irish Sports Council may come as soon as this week -- and if it does it will surely be a baptism of fire.

Board members are understood to be keen to discuss a contentious document they received just before their last meeting on September 8 and are hoping for a meeting later this week.

The document was written, and circulated among board members, by former Athletics Association of Ireland chief executive Mary Coghlan. It is understood that it takes issue with several aspects of a report prepared by the Sports Council's chief executive John Treacy into the events which led to the ISC and AAI settling a High Court case taken against them last March by Coghlan. The report was sought by then sports minister Martin Cullen.

If the meeting goes ahead, Mulvey will be walking right into the middle of a mess which, effectively, has been eating at the Sports Council and AAI for almost two years -- a mess which his predecessor Ossie Kilkenny was mired in.

But while these are definitely turbulent times at the council, the new chairman's background in the Labour Relations Commission should mean he won't be fazed by his latest task. After all, this is the man who had no hesitation in stepping between the Cork hurlers and footballers and the Cork County Board two years ago to broker an end to what was at the time a bitter dispute.

This too is a bitter dispute but Mulvey's appointment to this role, at this time, can be seen as a statement by the current minister, Mary Hanafin, that she believes it is time to move on.

Mulvey has a pretty broad skill set but the fact that he is best known as a mediator, an expert in conflict resolution, is perhaps the most telling given that the Sports Council is currently embroiled in several high-profile disputes -- with individuals and with some of the associations it funds. The minister clearly took a view that a steady hand on the tiller was needed for the next five years.

Kilkenny's five-year term is likely to be more remembered for his role in Coghlan's dismissal last year, and the subsequent High Court case, than anything else.

In thanking Kilkenny for his work, the minister on Thursday was hardly effusive: "I want to express my appreciation to Ossie Kilkenny for his contribution to Irish sport during his time as chair of the Council, a period in which improvements have been made in many key areas, including the roll-out of Garda vetting, improved strategic planning throughout the sports sector and the completion of the roll-out of Local Sports Partnerships."

Mulvey's personality is very different from that of his predecessor. He is understated in ways, and skilled at plotting a route away from, or out of, conflict. In announcing his appointment, the minister made reference -- pointedly -- to his expertise in public management, human resources and industrial relations. The minister wants a clear break from the troubles of the last two years.

The new chairman's relationship with Treacy will now be crucial going forward. Obviously, with the London Olympics on the horizon, that will be a key focus for the council -- especially with the air of uncertainty surrounding its relationship with two of the key associations in athletics and boxing.

Given the likely content of his first board meeting, and the fact that London is just under two years away, Mulvey will have to get up to speed quickly, and to build a relationship with Treacy, and with the board.

His priority should be to resolve any areas of contention that exist between the council and those associations it funds. In doing this, he can establish clear rules of engagement between the parties and so remove any grey areas. There are also some outstanding legal issues -- including an action being taken by former AAI director Gerry Giblin -- which will need his attention. In resolving these issues, he must be mindful that the council's credibility has taken a hit and so he will be aware that his appointment can be the first step on the road to repairing its damaged reputation.

Outside of that, though, there is plenty more to be done. He needs to satisfy himself with the standards of governance in the ISC and also in the national governing bodies it funds. He needs to be satisfied that the NGBs have the right personnel and systems in place to maximise their potential and so operate to the highest possible standards. He needs to be sure that the €50m or so the ISC will distribute in 2011 targets, and is subsequently used in pursuit of, clear and tangible objectives.

Once Mulvey, and the Sports Council, is happy everything is in place, that everyone is on the same side, he can help foster a culture where sports are allowed and encouraged to run themselves, in collaboration with the ISC.

On balance, this is a good appointment by the minister, who clearly gave the matter some thought. Mulvey did not seek the position, he was sought out by the minister. Reaction on the ground among the NGBs has been positive, and his first visit to the Sports Council's offices on Friday also went well. Time will tell.

Sunday Independent

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