Sunday 25 February 2018

Mulvey shows he means business

John Greene

John Greene

IN his long career as an athlete and sports administrator, John Treacy can rarely have endured as torrid a time as the near two hours he spent in committee room 4 at Leinster House last Wednesday.

Although the chief executive of the Irish Sports Council was flanked by new chairman Kieran Mulvey, and communications manager Paul McDermott, there can be little doubt as to the intended target of the barrage of criticism which rained down from members of the Committee on Tourism, Culture, Sport, Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs.

The committee had invited in the sports council representatives to discuss dispute resolution procedures in Irish sport. Towards the end of what was at times a brutally frank assessment of the failures of the Irish Sports Council in this area, one senator looked across the chamber and said: "You have not been showing the sort of leadership you should be and that is why you are here."

Committee members had clearly done their homework. With Tom Kitt, Mary Upton and John O'Mahony to the fore, they asked some very searching questions and, further, made insightful and informed observations on systems failures at the ISC which led directly to the Mary Coghlan case in the High Court, but also to other disputes, like the one with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association and another pending High Court case taken by Gerry Giblin, a director at AI.

And if the president of Athletics Ireland, Liam Hennessy, was watching the proceedings, he will know that he too now faces a grilling after the committee confirmed its intention to invite him to attend a future meeting.

Hennessy last appeared before this committee in June 2009 and later admitted he had spoofed and prevaricated in his attempts to avoid answering questions. Last Wednesday, Tom Kitt said he had been appalled at Hennessy's admission and made it clear that he was determined to pursue the matter further -- and to extract an apology from Hennessy.

In the meantime, this was the first public glimpse of Mulvey in his new role and many in Irish sport will have been encouraged. On his appointment, he said, the minister left him in no doubt that she expected him to ensure the exchequer gets value for money in its outlay on sport, currently €50m annually, and to deal with issues which had arisen and, as he put it, draw a line under them.

He had a clear message too that he wanted an end to litigation -- hardly surprising given his background as a mediator. He confirmed that the council will now offer mediation to Gerry Giblin in an effort to avoid another costly court action -- the first time such an offer has been forthcoming in this case. "I will make every effort with the council's executive and board to avoid litigation," said Mulvey.

Mulvey also intends to oversee the roll-out of a code of good practice to the national governing bodies funded by the sports council and he made it clear also that he did not favour undue interference in the day-to-day affairs of these bodies, including appointments processes, which have been at the root of a lot of the council's problems.

Although the provision of funding would have to have some strings attached, such as adherence to that code, Mulvey said, crucially, that his aim will be to strike a balance between a duty of care and downright interference. "If you make the wrong decision that's your problem, not ours. We might have to live with the consequences but it's better than being in court every day."

Mulvey used this outing to put down markers for the future. He showed that he had a grasp of the various subtleties that have led to the disputes which have discredited the council and some of the good things it does. (On Thursday and Friday, for example, it hosted the All-Island Sports Conference in Dublin, which had participation as its theme and which featured the launch of an important study entitled 'Children's Sports Participation and Physical Activity'.) It was interesting too that Mulvey -- and not Treacy -- fielded a lot of the criticisms about events which occurred prior to his appointment.

Treacy (pictured) did offer up a defence of the council's record over the last decade in fostering participation, providing expertise to elite athletes through its high performance programme, its record on anti-doping and its record at offering value for money. He also said he was satisfied with the council's record in the area of dispute resolution, saying that for every dispute which ends up in the public domain, another ten come across his desk which are dealt with "under the radar". However, he failed to deal with any of the issues which had so exercised the committee members, and in particular the Coghlan case.

Kieran Mulvey will bring a new dimension to the sports council. It is far more likely that future areas of contention will be dealt with using internal procedures -- he favours setting up a dispute resolution service to cover areas not currently under the jurisdiction of Just Sport Ireland, such as appointments and terminations. However, his wish to "bring an end to legacy issues" will not be so easily granted.

Sunday Independent

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