Sunday 25 February 2018

Ross to seek AG's advice on ticket probe as he defends handling of scandal

Minister for Sport Shane Ross and his wife Ruth arrive home at Dublin Airport yesterday. Photo: Arthur Carron
Minister for Sport Shane Ross and his wife Ruth arrive home at Dublin Airport yesterday. Photo: Arthur Carron

Kevin Doyle and Philip Ryan

Sports Minister Shane Ross has said he will listen to the Attorney General's advice on the best type of investigation into the Olympic ticket scandal - but will not be bound by it.

As he returned home from Rio de Janeiro last night, Mr Ross defended his handling of the ticket controversy, saying: "I have been very active on this from the very moment it broke and I have been meeting with relevant stakeholders on it ever since then."

He said that complaints from Opposition TDs were just "what they do".

"I can understand their impatience, it is August, they have to find something to talk about and criticise and I'm sure if I was in opposition I would be saying the same thing.

"But we've been working day and night on this ever since it happened," Mr Ross said.

He will meet with the AG today before announcing an inquiry that could look at the OCI's record on ticketing as far back as the London Olympics in 2012.

Mr Ross said nothing "should be out of bounds at all provided it doesn't do any damage to proceedings that are going on in Brazil".

The minister admitted events surrounding ex-OCI president Pat Hickey's arrest have overshadowed the achievements of Irish athletes at the Olympics, including some who have had what he described as "the performances of a lifetime".

Asked about his hour-long meeting with Mr Hickey on Monday, the Independent Alliance TD said things had moved "a long way" in the meantime.

"Yes, we were stonewalled and I was absolutely shattered by his attitude on Monday night.

"Now I think you will find we have a really independent inquiry and we have moved to that stage."

Emails revealed by the Brazilian police showed that a senior barrister advised Mr Hickey to put the minister "back in his box".

However, Mr Ross tried to laugh off the phrase, saying: "They wouldn't be the only people who have done that. It is strange legal advice. They would be in very good company."

He has not yet decided on whether any sanctions will be taken by his department against the OCI in advance of an inquiry, but said there was "a case for looking at how the funding is arranged".

The OCI received €1.7m in direct funding from the State between 2013 and 2016.

"I don't want to interfere with the autonomy of Irish sport but I want to make absolutely certain that the funding is properly used and that there is proper governance because they are representing Ireland overseas and that is something we have got to protect," Mr Ross said.

He added that the most important thing is for the money to reach the athletes.

"And there will be no attempt to prevent, prohibit or hinder any money going to the athletes at the moment," he said.

The minister refused to say whether Mr Hickey's standing with the OCI is tenable in case it prejudices a potential trial in Brazil. Mr Hickey has "temporarily" stepped aside as president due to his arrest and ill-health.

The minister has not yet spoken with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Irish Independent

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