Homecoming celebration controversy: how it developed


BACKGROUND:TOMORROW, THOUSANDS will gather in Dublin city centre to cheer on Team Ireland after its most successful Olympics in almost 60 years.

The triumphant performances of our medal winners lifted the spirit of the nation at a time of almost relentless negativity. But somehow, even before the team had arrived home, plans for a homecoming celebration had unravelled amid an unseemly row over poor planning and miscommunication.

Newspaper headlines screamed about a “homecoming shambles” and a “planning fiasco”. In the process, Katie Taylor’s family were drawn into a spat with the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) over who was responsible for pulling the plug on a homecoming event in Dublin city centre.

In the end, following last-minute discussions, a celebration has been planned for the capital and is due to take place tomorrow. But the contrast between the smoothly organised Olympics in London – featuring almost 15,000 athletes and two million spectators – and a hastily organised celebration in Dublin was painfully evident.

But who knew what and when? Was the homecoming organisation really a shambles? Or was it simply a minor controversy over miscommunication that was stoked up by a news-hungry media?

Friday, July 27th

The opening ceremony of the Olympics gets under way. Plans are in place for a homecoming event at Dublin airport on Monday, August 13th, for the media and athletes’ family members only. No public homecoming celebration in Dublin is planned.

Thursday, August 2nd

As Irish boxers progress through the competition, the OCI contacts Dublin City Council about whether it would be possible to have a homecoming event, according to a council spokesman.

“We would only ever organise something if we are asked by a sporting governing body,” the spokesman says. “It’s the same with a homecoming celebration for the Irish rugby team or the Dublin footballers. When we are contacted, we are happy to facilitate it.”

Tuesday, August 7th

Following the bank holiday, Dublin City Council tells the OCI that a homecoming celebration can go ahead and draws up plans for a reception at the Mansion House on Monday, August 13th, followed by a public gathering on Dawson Street.

The council asks the OCI if any of its sponsors would be interested in contributing to the cost of organising the event.

“Given the economic circumstances, we thought it could be a win-win situation for everyone, but this was declined, and we respected that,” a spokesman says.

The OCI was unavailable for comment on this point yesterday.

The council contacts Minister of State for Sport Michael Ring regarding the plans. He agrees to jointly fund a celebration.

The costs are estimated to be in the region of €80,000 to €100,000.

Friday, August 10th

After consulting a number of athletes at the Olympic Village and over the phone, Team Ireland’s chef de mission, Sonia O’Sullivan, finds that a majority want to be reunited with their families rather than attend a formal reception on the day they return home.

Following formal communication from the OCI, Dublin City Council cancels the event.

Ring is contacted and also accepts the athletes’ decision.

“As far as we were concerned, it was a matter between the OCI and Dublin City Council. We had no control over this, but I was happy to respect the decision of the athletes,” he says.

Sunday, August 11th

A Sunday Times report quotes an OCI spokesman as saying the event was cancelled as Katie Taylor’s father Peter did not want his daughter to take part in it.

“It was Katie Taylor’s father who did not want to do it, and what is the point of having a homecoming if Katie is not going to be there?” an OCI spokesman is quoted as saying.

Peter Taylor denies the report and says he had nothing to do with the decision. He says he and his daughter were having dinner at the time that Team Ireland made the decision not to take part in Monday’s event.

“I don’t know why my name is being dragged into this. It’s without substance, and those few stupid words have taken the gloss off everything Katie has achieved,” he tells The Irish Times.

The OCI later distances itself from the comments, saying it was a mistake to suggest Peter Taylor had blocked a Dublin homecoming.

OCI president Pat Hickey is due to be interviewed by RTÉ’s This Week programme, but is unavailable following an “urgent meeting”.

In his absence, O’Sullivan is asked to account for why the homecoming event has been cancelled.

She says she had only been told of plans for a public homecoming celebration days earlier, but found that athletes did not wish to take part. “If the performers don’t want to go on the stage, then there’s no point doing it,” she says.

As the day progresses amid mounting controversy, the OCI contacts Dublin City Council to see if an alternative day can be organised for a homecoming celebration, if athletes are willing to take part.

Late on Sunday night, after discussions with the council, athletes and Ring, the OCI announces that an agreement has been finalised for a homecoming celebration on Wednesday afternoon.