Monday 11 December 2017

Relief on all sides as ISC dispute ends

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar


A BITTER and hugely damaging dispute between the Irish Sports Council and one of its own board members has been resolved, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Board member John Byrne, currently the chief executive of the Community Games organisation and formerly an FAI employee, has been at loggerheads with the Sports Council for several months over allegations made against him.

The dispute had already led to a costly court battle and the setting up of an independent investigation by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar.

Byrne took the council to court earlier this year to prevent it from investigating allegations made against him by the FAI last April. In August, the High Court found in Byrne's favour and quashed the investigation.

In his ruling, Judge Michael Peart was critical of the council's conduct. He found that it did not have the power to investigate one of its own board members, and that this was properly a function for the relevant minister. On foot of this ruling, the FAI took its complaint – that Byrne had been involved in "a grave and improper interference in the funding process" – to the minister.

Further complaints were then received by the minister from the GAA, the IRFU and Special Olympics Ireland, prompting him to set up an investigation. Last month, Paul Turpin, a governance specialist at the Institute of Public Administration, was appointed by Varadkar to conduct the inquiry into the complaints from the four associations.

Details of what one source described as an "amicable resolution" were described this weekend as confidential, but the Sunday Independent understands that both parties agreed to ask the court last week to make no order as to costs and also that the minister's investigation will be ended.

According to a source, the Sports Council informed the minister that the four associations are satisfied that their concerns had been addressed and no further action was required. It is understood they received clear assurances from the Sports Council's executive.

The initial complaint from the FAI centred on a series of emails the association uncovered on its server from Byrne's time working there which they claimed showed that Byrne had attempted to have influence over the Sports Council's "funding decisions pertaining to the FAI".

Byrne, however, strongly rejected this and when the council attempted to investigate him he launched his court action, arguing that the council was acting beyond its statutory powers and also that the process had been unfair to him. The ruling, when it came, from Judge Peart, agreed with Byrne's argument.

It is also understood that there is considerable relief on all sides that they were able to reach a compromise as the matter had the potential to cause serious harm and embarrassment to Irish sport. Varadkar said yesterday that a lot of time and energy had been consumed by the issue and he welcomed its resolution. He said his main concern is that the sport sector focuses on issues relating to sport and its development.

However, Turpin has been asked by the minister to report back to him as soon as possible on whether the Sports Council's procedures on conflicts of interest meet the requirements of good corporate governance. According to a well placed source, that element of the investigation will proceed "for the benefit of the Sports Council and sport".

Sunday Independent

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