Saturday 16 November 2019

It's a disgrace! Public denied the chance to salute heroes

Silver for John Joe Nevin but no civic welcome amid money row and reluctance of athletes

John Joe Nevin
OCI president Pat Hickey


Gallant John Joe Nevin had to settle for a silver medal last night after his bid to join Olympic gold medal champion Katie Taylor faltered in the boxing ring in the Olympic stadium in London last night.

But the Mullingar Traveller and the Pentecostal Christian have emerged as the stars of the Irish Olympic team with their gold and silver medals leading the tally of five, and making it a successful Olympics for Team Ireland at the London games.

John Joe Nevin's dreams of Olympic gold ended when he was beaten 14-11 by Britain's Luke Campbell. "I'm heartbroken now. I wanted to go and join the club with Katie Taylor and Michael Carruth but it's not to be."

Nevin's silver medal came amid growing outrage that the public will not have an opportunity to show their appreciation for the team which won the heart of the nation within the last week.

Plans for a civic reception in Dublin faltered when the lord mayor's office asked the Olympic Council of Ireland or its sponsors to pay part of the cost of the event.

Olympic Council of Ireland president Pat Hickey has revealed that plans for a civic welcome in Dublin city centre were abandoned after the lord mayor's office asked the OCI, or its sponsors, to bear part of the cost of a 'welcome home celebration' for the heroic athletes tomorrow.

The Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) was seriously concerned that up to 50,000 well-wishers might swamp the airport tomorrow bringing it to a standstill and has warned that a homecoming reception is only for the official party and the media.

Plans for the kind of civic welcome given to Irish rugby and soccer teams, boxers and athletic champions, were finally abandoned after a poll of the athletes themselves -- held after talks with the lord mayor's office ended in confusion -- found that a majority of them want to go home after landing in Dublin.

It is believed that Pete Taylor, father and coach of Olympic gold medal hero Katie Taylor, was also adamant that his daughter would not participate in a city-centre civic reception.

"When we got up yesterday all sorts of talk was flying about. We heard people were planning an open-bus tour from Dublin Airport; someone else said there was something similar happening in St Stephen's Green. All I can say is that nothing will be organised unless the authorities come through me," he said.

OCI president Pat Hickey told the Sunday Independent last night that the mayor's office in Dublin was "very vague" in its proposals. "They wanted part of the cost to be borne by the Olympic Council of Ireland or our sponsors. Our attitude was if we are being welcomed back and hosted, then it was up to the city to pay for it," he said.

Dublin City Council said yesterday that they had approached the OCI and asked if they would make a contribution to the cost of the homecoming event, which involved a reception in the Mansion House and a stage in Merrion Square.

The mayor's office said private sponsorship had previously been used to welcome home Ireland's rugby Grand Slam heroes, and in the current economic climate taxpayers had to be protected.

After discussions broke down, Sonia O'Sullivan, chef de mission of Team Ireland, was asked to take a poll of the athletes -- and the majority expressed a wish to go home after a welcome at Dublin Airport.

Late on Friday night, Sports Minister Leo Varadkar stepped in and contacted the OCI and said that he "respected the wishes" of the athletes, and his department was now organising an official reception for the Olympians and their families and coaches at Farmleigh House on Friday, August 17.

"I think the Government deserve great praise for organising this on behalf of the nation" said Mr Hickey.

It now appears that there will also be an official reception for about 400 people in terminal two of Dublin Airport tomorrow after the Aer Lingus flight bringing the athletes home touches down.

They will then leave through the public areas of the airport and disperse.

A spokesman for the DAA said: "Dublin Airport will facilitate a press conference for media only at the airport. For health and safety reasons, this will be in a restricted airside area with no public access."

But the confusion and chaos over whether there will be any chance for the public to greet their heroes has led to criticism.

Fine Gael city councillor Bill Tormey said last night it was "an absolute disgrace" that there would be no public homecoming for the team.

"This is a lack of respect towards them. It's something to do with boxing and social caches that does not attach to boxing. If a rugby team beat the All Blacks in one match, the city would be cordoned off," he said.

Katie Taylor's local Fine Gael TD, Simon Harris, said he was disappointed there were no plans for a public homecoming. "I would have thought that a homecoming for our athletes, an open-top bus through the streets of our capital city would have been something within the remit of Dublin city council," he said. He said that if athletes were too exhausted, there was no reason why an event could not be held several days after their return.

Stephen Donnelly, an independent TD for Wicklow, said the athletes' wishes should be respected, but added: "I think it would be an amazing thing if athletes felt up to a public reception, I think the public would like it."

Boxer John Joe Nevin's cousin, Christie Nevin, said: "There should be something in Dublin, we were told that they are going to let the athletes' home towns look after the celebrations. People up in Dublin will be disappointed but I think they have been told they can go to the airport."

Boxing commentator Mick Dowling said he was "disappointed" that the public was not going to see the team in Dublin city centre. Any decision to postpone a reception would mean it was not so spontaneous, he said.

Dublin city independent councillor Mannix Flynn said he had been inundated with calls from people who were deeply disappointed at the "bureaucratic and administrative confusion".

"The need to have this is not far from a State and statutory obligation when you consider it. It's rather shoddy and kind of bordering on contemptuous of the public," he said.

Councillor Gerry Breen of Fine Gael also said the decision not to have any homecoming for the team in Dublin was disappointing but he said Bray and Mullingar wanted their place in the sun.

"If it's the athletes' wish not to have a ceremony then we must respect their decision," said former gold medal winner Michael Carruth.

"They have been away from their families for prolonged periods of time and maybe they just want to get home and spend some quality time with their family. I would love a party for the general public, who have been great the whole way through the Games and put on a fantastic display at home and in the UK.

"It's been the best Olympics for Ireland to date and of course we would all love a party. It's in our nature. But as I said if the athletes don't want that, then their wish must be granted."

Bray is to welcome home its heroes with a ceremony and concert on the seafront tomorrow night.

Bray Town Council has urged fans to "get out and shout", while an open-top bus will make its way from 4pm to the bandstand on Bray's seafront, where Katie Taylor and Adam Nolan will be presented to the audience.

Fans will be entertained with live music followed by a massive fireworks display at 9.30pm.

Bray Town Council have advised that anyone planning on attending this event should take public transport if possible.

In Mullingar, boxer John Joe Nevin and equestrian representative Joseph Murphy will be welcomed by a parade through the town on an open-top bus to Cusack Park for a homecoming ceremony at 7.45pm, an event which is expected to attract huge crowds.

Sunday Independent

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