Olympic Council funds to be withheld until house ‘in order’

Shane Ross tells committee trying to compel Hickey to give it evidence a ‘difficult road’

 

The Government will not restore funding to the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) until its house is in order, Minister for Sport Shane Ross has said.

Some €500,000 in funds have been withheld since last year amid concerns about corproate governance at the organisation following the controversy over the handling of its tickets for last year’s Rio Olympics.

Speaking to the Oireachtas Commitee on Sport, Mr Ross said it would be unacceptable to restore the funding while the OCI’s “house is not in order”.

Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy told the Minister the move was harming the very people the OCI should be protecting - the athletes.

Mr Troy said the Government’s focus should be on ensuring that “Mr Hickey and his cronies and those who facilitated Mr Hickey pay the price”.

Mr Ross insisted he was anxious to see the OCI supported but stressed this would not happen until all of the issues raised in Mr Justice Carroll Moran’s inquiry into the affair were addressed.

The Minister said he was consider passing Mr Justice Moran’s report on to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

He said the inquiry into the events of last August, which saw the then president of the Olympic Council of Ireland Pat Hickey arrested for alleged ticket touting in Brazil, required serious consideration by a number of agencies.

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Compelling

Mr Ross also warned against compelling Mr Hickey to come before an Oireachtas commitee to discuss the matter. The committee on sport is considering finding a means to compel Mr Hickey to come before it to answer questions.

The committee was informed it does not currently have compellability powers, but could seek a change in standing orders from the Dáil and Seanad.

Mr Hickey declined to participate in Mr Justice Moran’s inquiry on the basis of legal advice from lawyers in Brazil and Ireland due to the ongoing legal proceedings over the affair. His lawyer has expressed a similar concern about going before the committee, claiming that having hearings into the matter are a breach of his client’s constitutional right to a fair trial.

Mr Ross said he had served as a member of the Public Accounts Committee for a number of years and considered the route of compelling a witness previously.

The Minister said it had never worked and advised members it is “a difficult road to go down”.

Socialist TD Mick Barry and Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd said they believed Mr Hickey should be compelled to attend.

Mr Barry said it was outrageous that the former OCI president could give media interviews but could not answer questions from elected politicisn.

The Minister said he believed Mr Hickey should attend and should be present to answer questions.

Ticket contract

Fianna Fáil TD Kevin O’Keeffe questioned Mr Ross about when he became aware of the OCI’s contract with hospitality group THG to handle Olympics tickets until 2026.

Mr Ross insisted he only this week learned of the agreement, which Mr Hickey’s successor as OCI president Sarah Keane said was “watertight”.

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster said it was unacceptable that nobody in the OCI or the Department of Transport and Sport was aware of the deal.

Ms Munster said the lack of oversight by the department raised concerns similiar issues could happen place again.

Mr Ross said he did not know who was aware of it. However, he said it was clear a lot of the activity around the OCI was exclusively negotiated by Mr Hickey.

Mr Ross defended his decision not to proceed with a statutory inquiry into the tickets controversy.

The Minister said he had no reason to believe those who did not co-operate would have assisted Mr Justice Moran if it was a formal investigation.

Instead it would have been bogged down in legal problems and Mr Justice Moran would have been in and out of the High Court.