Gardaí investigate 'dirty tricks campaign' around bogus coastal rowing letters

Second complainant says he found a miniature Halloween coffin under his car inscribed with the initials ICRF
Gardaí investigate 'dirty tricks campaign' around bogus coastal rowing letters

Gardaí are investigating an incident in which bogus letters were sent to government ministers purporting to be from a coastal rowing federation and which cast them "in a very bad light" as part of a "dirty tricks campaign". Picture: Jim Coughlan

Gardaí are investigating an incident in which bogus letters were sent to Government ministers purporting to be from a coastal rowing federation and which cast them "in a very bad light" as part of a "dirty tricks campaign".

The letters, which purported to be from the secretary of the Irish Coastal Rowing Federation (ICRF), John Flynn, were sent to then minister for sport, Shane Ross, and his junior minister at the time, Brendan Griffin, in December 2019.

However, Mr Flynn did not send the letters. On learning of their existence, he made a complaint to gardaí in Greystones and also wrote to the ministers in question and to Sport Ireland to stress he had not sent the correspondence.

'Miniature coffin left under car' 

It has also emerged that gardaí received a second complaint from another member of the ICRF, former chairman Victor Bridges, when a miniature wooden coffin was left under the wheel of his car in Co Donegal in 2018. The abbreviation  'ICRF' had been carved into the foot-long coffin. Mr Bridges, who is a member of the Troll Rowing Club in Wexford town, had been in Ballyshannon for a course and made a complaint to gardaí in the Co Donegal town.

A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said the force cannot discuss or confirm specific complaints received from, or reports made by, any named individuals or concerning any named entities, but added: "An Garda Síochána is investigating complaints of the nature described."

'Bogus letter put ICRF in bad light'

According to the fake letter, the ICRF is a "sub-grouping representing a small number of coastal clubs in Ireland" and is "not the governing body" and instead represent "minority interests in coastal rowing". It seeks "some financial assistance" from the minister and references "our sister organisation" the FAI.

John Flynn said: "It puts us in a very bad light."

He wrote to Sport Ireland and to the two ministers "that we had no hand, act or part in it" and that the letters had been sent with "the clear intention of misleading you" and causing "maximum damage" to the ICRF and was a "dirty tricks campaign".

Claims of a schism in the sport

That correspondence also refers to a "schism" between the ICRF and Rowing Ireland, and in correspondence with Rowing Ireland in April 2020, Mr Flynn said: "I want to make it clear to you right now that there is not a doubt in my mind that neither you nor anyone else associated with the Board of Rowing Ireland had any knowledge of this letter before now but I do feel it important that you should be made aware of it, if only let you know the depths that some people will sink to, to achieve their duel [sic] aim of eliminating our organisation and transferring control of our sport to Rowing Ireland."

The ICRF has a number of coastal rowing affiliate organisations, and has run the All-Ireland Coastal Rowing Championships. Rowing Ireland is the national governing body for the sport of rowing but the bodies have been in disagreement over coastal rowing and, more specifically, the offshore rowing class.

Coffin was a Halloween decoration

A separate complaint was lodged with gardaí in Ballyshannon in relation to the miniature coffin with ICRF etched into its lid.

Mr Bridges, who in 2018 was ICRF Chairman, said he made the coffins for his children at Halloween, but found one underneath his car while attending a training course in June 2018. He said he immediately notified gardaí in Ballyshannon.

More in this section

War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

Available on
www.irishexaminer.com/podcasts

Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence