Coveney says there is an ‘assumption of guilt’ in Pat Hickey case

Minister defends Government’s handling of Olympic tickets controversy in Rio

Simon Coveney: ‘Pat Hickey hasn’t been convicted of anything yet and he is being held in a high security prison’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Simon Coveney: ‘Pat Hickey hasn’t been convicted of anything yet and he is being held in a high security prison’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Simon Coveney has defended the Government’s handling of the Olympic Council of Ireland ticketing controversy and said he believes a non-statutory inquiry is the correct way to try and establish what exactly happened.

The Minister for Housing said he believed the appointment of a retired judge to head up an inquiry and the promise by the OCI to co-operate with the inquiry would clarify what happened that led to the arrest in Rio of OCI President, Pat Hickey.

“I think the government has done all it can do - there is a legal case underway in Rio but I have to say that looking from afar the way people have been treated is surprising to say the least. Pat Hickey hasn’t been convicted of anything yet and he is being held in a high security prison,” he said.

“Certainly, the way in which the case has been handled, there almost seems to be an assumption of guilt before anything is publicly proven,” said Mr Coveney, adding the Government has to deal with any reputational damage that may ensue if any inappropriate behaviour is found to have occurred.

“When something like this happens, you (the Government) have to act and I think putting together a non-statutory inquiry makes sense. The OCI have said they will co-operate fully so let’s get on and see if we can get answers,” he said.

Mr Coveney said he expected the identity of the retired judge who will chair the inquiry will be announced shortly and he agreed with Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross in his assessment the inquiry should be in a position to report on the controversy in about 12 weeks.

“The timeframe for the inquiry will be determined by how others co-operate. I would expect and understand that the OCI will co-operate fully and any of the organisations linked to them, and which may have been linked to ticket sales, will do so too,” he said.

Speaking at Beal na Blath in Co Cork where was attending the annual Michael Collins commemoration which was addressed this year by President Michael D Higgins, Mr Coveney said he believed the controversy about the alleged ticket touting was a serious issue.

“This is a very big issue - when the President of the OCI gets arrested and is in prison in the country where the Olympics are being held, that is a big big story by any standards. Pat Hickey is a hugely influential figure within the global Olympic movement and also obviously from an Irish perspective.”

“I think that this needs to be taken out of the political sphere. People are commenting and reacting to make headlines without any established facts. That is not helpful to anybody. The faster the inquiry gets set up the better.”

Mr Coveney said that the allegations of ticket touting and the ensuing controversy was highly regrettable as it distracted from some outstanding performances by Irish athletes in the Rio games where the country had won two silver medals.

“From an athletes’ perspective it was an awful shame - it took a lot of much deserved public attention, praise and support away from people like the O’Donovan brothers, Annalise Murphy and the boxers. On the athletics track, Irish athletes performed really, really well.”

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed similarly sympathised with the many athletes in that their many fine performances were overshadowed by the ticket touting controversy but struck a cautious note about the OCI co-operating with the government inquiry.

“This is hugely disappointing. After all the blood, sweat and tears put in by athletes into preparing for Rio, this is what is on the front pages. Initially, the OCI said they are doing their own (inquiry). Now, everybody is saying they will co-operate (with the State inquiry). I will believe it when I see it.”