Upcoming Irish dancing competitions should be postponed pending the outcome of an investigation into alleged results-fixing, a former world champion has said.
Layla Healy, who won the under-18s world championships in 2013, said she was not shocked to hear of allegations of “favours” being given between judges and teachers, and she was aware of it “through the years”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Liveline programme on Thursday, in the wake of accusation that Irish dancing judges have fixed competitions, she said the judging process in feiseanna was “definitely not as trustworthy as it should be”.
She said: “Judges and teachers could get in contact with each other and say, ‘Well listen I’ll give you, you know, favours.‘ Favours is a big, big word that’s thrown around the place in the Irish dancing world.”
Asked if she would compete in a competition next week, if she were still dancing, she said: “Absolutely not.”
“[Competitions] should be put on hold until we have the whole thing sorted ... It is disheartening on the dancers as it is ... It is a big deal and part of your life.”
The allegations of “several grievous breaches” of the Irish Dancing Commission’s code of conduct are to be investigated by an independent former judge of the Court of the Appeal.
Senior legal sources say that is former justice Michael Peart, who served as a judge of the Court of Appeal from 2014 to 2019 and a judge of the High Court from 2002 to 2014.
When contacted by The Irish Times on Thursday Mr Peart said he “would rather not comment at this time”.
An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG), which governs Irish dancing in Ireland, said its ethics committee received allegations in July along with supporting documentation.
The Irish Independent has reported that Irish-dancing judges accused of fixing competitions have been allowed to continue overseeing major competitions.
‘Grossly unethical behaviour’
A statement from An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG) does not reference the specific allegations.
“Due to the potential extent of such allegations — and to ensure fairness, transparency and thoroughness — the services of an independent former judge of the Court of Appeal have been engaged to oversee and supervise the immediate investigation into these matters,” CLRG said this week.
“They will have full and open access to the resources and records of CLRG. The process will no doubt be difficult and arduous, but this grossly unethical behaviour must be eliminated from our competitions, dance schools and governing organisations.”
CLRG added that it regarded “such breaches to be gross misconduct”.
“Any registered member found to be engaged in such practices will be subject to due and full process under our published Disciplinary Procedures as can be found here,” it said.
“This process has already started and the principles of natural justice apply. To ensure the integrity of the process and until it is complete, no further comments will be made.”
Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin said she would be writing to the organisation and that her department had no “regulatory or funding role” in the CLRG or its competitions.
Ms Martin told RTÉ Radio 1 that at the “very least” it was expected children and young people would be treated fairly in competitions and that they “have the full confidence they are being treated fairly”.
She said Irish dancing was an “integral part” of Ireland’s cultural heritage and was celebrated by Irish communities across the world.
Ms Martin said she welcomed that an ex-judge was investigating the matter and would be writing to the CLRG to “seek assurances” they are taking every measure necessary to restore “confidence for families right across world”.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said “people need to have confidence in any type of events or competitions or organisations”
“A judge has been appointed to do a report so I’ll await the report. And I’m sure whatever comes out of that there will be actions taken afterwards,” she said.