Olympic CounciI of Ireland’s old guard may need to give way

If you wanted a scene-setter to explain the drama taking place inside, you couldn’t have asked for much better.
Olympic CounciI of Ireland’s old guard may need to give way

In a near-empty Dublin city in the dead of night on Sunday, the Olympic Council of Ireland’s executive committee — minus four members unable to leave Brazil — sneaked into a waiting safe-house to discuss the crisis engulfing their organisation.

Peering out from the top floor office of the Earlsfort Centre headquarters of the group’s solicitors Arthur Cox as they huddled together during a short break, the barely recognisable silhouettes of Ireland’s sporting hierarchy had a birds’ eye view of everything around them.

They could see the small number of journalists staring at them from the street just outside. They had an unobstructed view of the Spire in the distance, intended to act as a beacon for those in difficult times.

They could see it all. Yet not every committee member could see the one issue that is now staring them in the face.

In 2012 the Goal charity organisation — so long dominated by the powerful John O Shea — found itself in a public power struggle after a financial scandal which ultimately led to former Fianna Fáil TD Barry Andrews being appointed in his place.

Former Fianna Fáil TD Barry Andrews
Former Fianna Fáil TD Barry Andrews

In the same year a separate scandal involving funds befell the Red Cross, leading to a similar result.

And in late 2013, the Central Remedial Clinic controversy erupted and only ended when those in long-held positions were swept away by a new broom of reform.

The issues are all separate to what is happening at the OCI. However, they show that while it may not be universally popular within organisations at the centre of scandal, sometimes the only way to get through a crisis is to remove those at the top and start again.

During a five-hour meeting between 9pm on Sunday and just after 2am on Monday, the Irish Examiner understands the point was made by a number of OCI executive board members who believe the group needs a change of leadership to get through its recent controversies.

Officially, the view from the meeting was that there were “no fireworks” — as one individual put it — with nobody yet prepared to break ranks. However, behind the scenes a clear division is emerging between long-standing loyalists to Mr Hickey and newer appointees who feel the OCI must change or be forever tainted by the past fortnight.

The meeting of nine members of the OCI board and two more honorary but retired members began with the standard side-stepping and cold-shouldering of reporters.

With acting president Willie O Brien — just back from Brazil that afternoon — and second vice-president and FAI chief executive John Delaney — who never travelled to Brazil in the first place — managing to arrive through a side entrance, it was left to former general secretary Dermot Sherlock to defend Mr Hickey.

The honorary member, who surprised many with his attendance throughout the five-hour meetings, said what has happened was a “total and absolute disgrace”. There were nods of agreement, until he clarified it was the treatment of Mr Hickey, not the allegations against OCI members, which had provoked his anger.

Fellow long-standing executive member Tommy Murphy said he “always found Mr Hickey a very decent and honest man” as he hurried past journalists.

Moments later, all that came from Sonia O Sullivan was a polite but firm no comment — a position repeated by solicitor and executive member Sarah Keane, who is in charge of a reformed Swim Ireland.

Nothing public was said against Mr Hickey, but the latter comments were hardly the ringing endorsements the man of the moment would have wanted to hear.

For the next five hours the only sign of life from those attending the meeting was an occasional appearance next to a fourth-floor window as they tried to unravel the crisis.

Then, as Mr Sherlock darted from the building with a speed that belied his years, Ms Keane, Cathal Ó Cathain, and Robert Norwood appeared to explain the decisions that had been made.

The trio will form a “crisis management” group within the OCI while the tickets saga continues and as the organisation seeks to appoint an international accountancy firm to oversee its own report into what has taken place.

It was noticeable that no older members were picked to join the crisis group, a position one source said was “deliberate” as the trio are the new guard after becoming board members in 2014 and as such have fewer ties to Mr Hickey.

Publicly, the position remains that “no fireworks” took place during the five hours of talks. But given the subject matter involved it is hardly believable they took so long to agree to agree, with one official admitting yesterday the old OCI is “dead” and that there was an “acceptance of that last night”.

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