Shane Ross and Pat Hickey hold ‘tense, frank’ meeting over tickets
Minister ‘stunned’ as Olympic Council refuses request for independent figure on inquiry
Seized Olympic tickets allegedly are displayed during a press conference. Photograph: Getty Images
Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) president Pat Hickey has refused a request by Minister for Sport Shane Ross to include an independent figure on the council’s inquiry into Ireland’s Olympic ticketing controversy.
Irish man Kevin Mallon was arrested and OCI tickets were seized more than a week ago by Brazilian police in an operation targeting alleged ticket touts at the Olympic Games.
Mr Ross and Mr Hickey met at the Minister’s hotel on Sunday night, shortly after the Minister arrived in Rio de Janeiro.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Ross described the meeting as “fairly tense, fairly direct and fairly frank”.
He said he would consult with his Minister of State for Sport and the Attorney General about the Government’s next move in light of the OCI’s refusal.
“We are certainly looking at the prospect of a different inquiry. That has not been ruled out,” he said.
Mr Hickey, who described the encounter as “excellent”, said the OCI had refused the Minister’s request as “under senior counsel advice we are carrying out our own investigation which has already started and we are not investigating ourselves, we are investigating the trail of the tickets and what has happened”.
The Minister said he was “absolutely stunned” by the OCI’s “extraordinary decision” to reject his demand for one or two people from outside the organisation to join the inquiry.
“We just met a brick wall,” Mr Ross said. “I have said all along I don’t think the OCI inquiry is credible because they are a major player in this particular controversy. So I think it would have been far preferable and more sensible and it would have been a credible committee in which I could have had confidence if there was an independent to sit on it. Now I feel that the committee is flawed from the beginning.”
Mr Ross said the OCI is taxpayer-funded and there is a reputational issue also involved. “The reputation of Ireland has to be upheld and the credibility of Ireland and Irish inquiries of this sort have to be sustained,” he added.
“We met a situation where a body that is supported by the taxpayer is now refusing to let representatives of that taxpayer to be part of this inquiry. It is something I take extremely seriously and the mood was very, very sombre indeed.
“It is a terrible spectacle and I think the OCI simply has its head in the sand over this issue,” he said. “I think they feel somehow they are above accountability to the Irish people and to the Government and that situation cannot be allowed to continue.”
The OCI delegation also refused to share any information it had received from its authorised ticket reseller Pro10 on the grounds it might prejudice the case of Mr Mallon, who was arrested in the police operation in which the OCI tickets were seized.
Mr Hickey said lawyers advised the OCI “that while there is an Irish citizen in jail that we have to be extremely careful in what we disclose, that he is innocent until proven guilty and anything we could say in disclosure of facts could be prejudicial to a fair trial. So we can do and say nothing until this trial has finished its natural course”.
Mr Ross said he would consider going to meet Mr Mallon in prison if he requested it.
Later on Monday, he is due to meet International Olympic Committee (IOC) director general Christophe De Kepper. Mr Hickey is also scheduled to be at the meeting.
The Minister said he would raise with Mr de Kepper his request for an independent representative on the OCI’s inquiry.
Mr Hickey said the OCI is already providing the IOC with details of its investigation into its tickets.
Shane Ross statement in full:
Statement by Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Mr. Shane Ross, TD.
14 August 2016
A meeting was held between Minister Shane Ross, TD, and his official, Mr. Ken Spratt and two representatives of the OCI, Mr. Pat Hickey and Mr. Willie O’Brien this evening.
At the meeting, the Minister suggested that it would be beneficial for both the OCI and the Minister if the OCI would add independent members to their panel investigating the current tickets controversy. The Minister emphasised the necessity of independence and rigour in such investigations, in terms of establishing their credibility.
The OCI refused the Minister’s request, citing legal advice.
Furthermore, the OCI declined to answer any questions about the recent tickets controversy on the grounds that it might prejudice the case before the Brazilian courts. The OCI also stated that it would not provide any information to any third party, including any independent inquiry the Minister might establish, until such time as the case concludes.
While the Minister accepts that due process and natural justice must take its course, he does not accept that there is any legal basis for refusing to accept independent members on the OCI’s inquiry.
Tomorrow (Monday), Minister Ross proposes to discuss the matter with Minister of State for Sport and Tourism, Mr. Patrick O’Donovan, TD, and will also raise the matter with the Attorney General. A decision will be made on the basis of these consultations.