Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 28 October 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications
Departure of High Performance Unit Head Coach: IABA and Sport Ireland
The purpose of the meeting is to engage with representatives of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA, and Sport Ireland on the recent controversy surrounding the departure of Mr. Billy Walsh from his position as head coach of the high performance unit. The committee's role is to establish the facts surrounding Mr. Walsh's departure from his position. While we realise we cannot change what has taken place, we hope we will all learn from this process in order that matters are dealt with in a transparent manner in future. We all agree that this scenario should not be allowed to happen again and procedures and processes should be put in place to facilitate the smooth running of all sporting organisations.
On behalf of the joint committee, I welcome from the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, Mr. Joe Christle, chairman of the board of directors; Mr. Pat Ryan, president; Mr. Fergal Carruth, CEO; and Mr. Ciaran Kirwan, director. I welcome from Sport Ireland, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, chairperson designate; Mr. John Treacy, chief executive; Mr. Bernard Allen, chairperson of the national governing bodies, NGB, grants committee; and Mr. Liam Sheedy, chairperson of the high performance committee and board member.
I draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of that evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings should be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person, persons or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also advise witnesses that any submission or opening statements they have made to the committee may be published on the committee website after the meeting.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Mr. Joe Christle to make his opening statement.
Mr. Joe Christle:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to address it. I will introduce members to my colleagues: Mr. Pat Ryan, president of Irish Amateur Boxing Association Limited, IABA; Mr. Fergal Carruth, CEO; and Mr. Ciaran Kirwan, director. I am Joe Christle, chairman of the IABA's board of directors.
Last week, we published a full and detailed statement, which was provided to the clerk to the committee for circulation along with this statement to assist the committee in its work. I wish to read that statement into the record and we look forward to answering whatever questions members may have after the statement is concluded.
We wanted Billy Walsh to stay. He is the most successful coach in Irish Olympic history and his achievements on the international stage are unparalleled in the history of Irish sport. He brought a level of commitment and dedication to his work that challenged everyone involved in our sport to aspire to excellence. We are grateful, and always will be, to him for all that he has done for Irish boxing.
At the end of February, Billy Walsh made the IABA aware of approaches from USA Boxing. This open engagement is characteristic of the positive working relationship between the head coach and the CEO and chairman, between the employee and his employer. Once Billy had clarified what scale of remuneration he needed in order to stay, our CEO worked with the board of directors to secure the resources required to retain his services.
The board and the CEO work in the best interests of Irish boxing and those involved in our sport in pursuit of our shared goal, namely, the promotion and development of boxing in Ireland. Equally, as directors of IABA Limited, we are bound by all of the responsibilities associated with acting as listed directors including, but not limited to, the legislation protecting employees' rights. In terms of our funding model, as an all-island sport we receive support from the Irish Sports Council-Sport Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland. The directors are charged with overseeing the allocation of funds and the IABA has participated fully in all meetings, submitted all required documents and participated in audits and reviews as requested to ensure that we maintain access to the Government funds that our sport needs if we are to continue meeting our strategic priorities. These include driving high performance, sustaining membership and attracting new participants, especially in those areas in which involvement in sport promotes positive societal benefits as well as health and well-being for the individual.
This year, boxing clubs across Ireland received €389,700 from the sports capital grant scheme. On the current funding side, the Irish Sports Council, ISC, entrusted the IABA with €1,356,713, of which €925,000 was allocated to meet the costs of the 2015 high performance programme. This funding model means that the IABA is almost totally dependent - circa80% level of grants to overall current budget - on the support of Sport Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland for its operating funds. Our clubs, our high performance athletes and our staff appreciate the opportunities to participate and excel that this funding represents.
As directors, we are at all times conscious of our responsibilities in accounting for how these funds are spent. As would be expected of a company, our annual accounts are independently audited by an accountancy firm and have consistently received an unqualified report, which as members will know indicates a clean bill of health. The growth of the sport at grassroots level, the upgrading of many of our clubs' facilities and the success of boxers in qualifying and achieving podium places in major championships is evidence of a sound return on the investment.
Regarding corporate governance, as directors we were cognisant of a significant risk if the terms being offered to the head coach were agreed without due consideration of the consequences for the rest of the staff and athletes involved in the sport. The directors could not afford to enter into a contract with a projected liability of over €1.6 million, especially when the IABA is dependent on Government funds and the statutory agency, Sport Ireland, is not in a position to guarantee multi-annual funding.
This was our position in discussions with the Irish Sports Council, ISC, from the outset, and remains our position, which is based generally on our moral obligations to the individuals involved as well our responsibilities to the sport of boxing and as directors of IABA Limited.
At this point it may be important to remind committee members that the directors are volunteers who receive no remuneration or expenses and so there is no question that these assessments were based on self-interest.
The efforts of ISC representatives to effect a resolution is acknowledged. There is no doubt, however, that the advice and funding offered by the ISC focused mainly on one role, that of head coach. It was difficult to have those broader and longer-term concerns dealt with when the time-critical issue was the threat posed by the offer to the head coach from US Boxing.
The projected salary costs to the IABA of the proposed remuneration package for the head coach was approximately €1.6 million, which, given our dependence on Government funds, creates a long-term liability without matching funds. As a board compliant with corporate governance best practice, it would have been irresponsible, if not reckless, to commit to this level of future liability.
In terms of a resolution, meeting the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, at his request on 11 September allowed the IABA to explain its broader and more long-term concerns. The Minister of State acknowledged our concerns about the risks of negotiating with one employee without regard for knock-on consequences, including but not limited to relativity claims from other staff. It was understood that the risk of losing our head coach had to be balanced against the exposure of the IABA to substantial liability and significant risk if changes to one staff member’s terms were agreed in isolation.
In addition, we articulated the concern that any increased remuneration paid to retain the services of the head coach would adversely impact attempts to secure funds for the other aspects of the development of the sport.
It was the Minister of State’s positive intervention that gave rise to the proposal to switch to a new fixed term contractual relationship. As has been widely reported, the new terms would result in a significantly enhanced remuneration package and would allow Mr. Walsh to benefit from a severance payment to, in effect, compensate him for his switch in status from a permanent to a fixed term
A meeting was scheduled based on the discussions of 11 September and with the full support of the Minister of State and the ISC. That meeting took place in the Irish Management Institute, IMI, on 14 September with Mr. Walsh and his HR adviser. The terms were discussed and the meeting ended positively. The Minister of State and the ISC were informed immediately that the outcome we all wanted had been achieved.
As is normal in such circumstances formal contracts were exchanged between the IABA's solicitor and Mr. Walsh's nominated solicitor. The IABA's solicitor forwarded a severance agreement contract together with a fixed term employment contract, which was largely based on Mr. Walsh's existing contract of employment. As is often the case, his legal advisers sought certain amendments to both of these contracts, many of which were acceded to by the IABA. These contracts were then returned to Mr. Walsh's solicitor. It was the IABA's belief that all major concerns regarding Mr. Walsh's new fixed term contract had been allayed.
There was no further contact on these issues until 19 October when Mr. Walsh resigned. It is a source of huge regret that Mr. Walsh decided to resign but any suggestion that the directors wanted Mr. Walsh to leave is totally and utterly refuted. Mr. Walsh resigned despite our efforts, and those of the nominees of the Irish Sports Council, to retain his services. The suggestions that he is the victim of a campaign to oust him from his job are untrue. He was the highest paid, permanent employee of the IABA. He resigned his permanent role to take up another offer. We are hugely disappointed that he took that decision but we are now challenged to regroup and look to the future, and that is what we intend to do.
We are grateful to the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and those who worked with us from the Irish Sports Council-Sport Ireland who tried so hard to secure a successful resolution to these negotiations.
Looking to the future, wehave a responsibility for the entire sport, from volunteers who run our 360 clubs catering for 16,500 members to today's Olympians and those coming through the youth and junior ranks who are our Olympians of the future.
The CEO has a responsibility to all his staff. As directors, we are accountable to the members of the IABA for the decisions we take on their behalf. We are also charged with ensuring that the CEO is supported in his work and for setting him performance measures, which he has reached at every level.
The board is fortunate to have among its directors a solicitor, a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and a fellow of the Institute of Directors, each of whom offer their time and expertise on a voluntary basis. Since we were appointed, we have adhered to the principles of good corporate governance and have worked hard to bring about changes to ensure the company is fit for its purpose in serving the needs of boxing. These developments include the following achievements: a full revision of its memorandum and articles; a full HR review to ensure compliance with best practice; a new financial management and control system; the appointment of a chartered accountant as CFO and head of HR and the draft of a new rule book 2016.
The board and the CEO have worked very well together and are committed to continuing their work together to ensure the interests of all stakeholders are incorporated in the development and implementation of the IABA’s plans. We are determined that the systems in place which have served so well the ambitions of our medalists and Olympians will continue to evolve and strengthen to ensure future success. We look forward to the opportunity to put to one side the disappointment felt by all parties about Mr. Walsh's decision to resign and to engage with the Minister’s officials and Sport Ireland in laying out plans which they can support to secure the resources necessary to continue on the road to Rio and beyond. We welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with the Minister and his officials and to resume our work with Sport Ireland in our joint endeavours on behalf of Irish boxing. I thank the committee for its time and attention and we look forward to answering any questions members may wish to pose.
Mr. John Treacy:
I am joined today by my colleagues, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, chairman of Sport Ireland, Mr. Liam Sheedy, chairman of the high performance committee at Sport Ireland, and Mr. Bernard Allen, chair of the Sports Council's national governing bodies, NGB, grants committee. I will now provide the committee with a summary of my full written statement.
High performance sport is an internationally competitive business and talented people move between systems and are well remunerated. It is no surprise that Mr. Billy Walsh was approached by USA Boxing. Our initiatives here were based on a belief that Mr. Walsh could be persuaded to stay and that the IABA had a sincere desire to retain him. Mr. Walsh has departed and we wish him well in the USA. It is important to put on record our appreciation of his contribution to Irish sport. Mr. Walsh is an extraordinary coach and, in effect, he had been doing two jobs since 2008. He had developed sophisticated and rare skills particularly in the performance environment and he will be missed by us all. However, he leaves a legacy. There are exceptionally talented boxers, coaches and service providers within the IABA system that will continue to perform and hopefully excel at Rio 2016. We have confidence in them and will continue to support them in full.
It is also important to acknowledge the contribution of the wider IABA to the success of the high performance unit. The clubs and the volunteers do excellent work. To state that this is not understood or appreciated by Sport Ireland is unfair and not correct. This finds practical expression through substantial grant aid. The IABA receives the highest level of Sport Ireland grant funding for its high performance programme - €925,000 in 2015. It received the fifth highest core grant in 2015 of €431,716 and over the past two years has seen investment from Sport Ireland increase by 12%.
This is in an environment in which our budgets are actually going the opposite way.
It is accepted that there has been tension within the IABA between the high performance unit and the rest of the organisation. This was highlighted in our London debrief document, which was published some time ago. Comments published in the media and attributed to named board members simply endorse this view.
The IABA stated on 23 October that the majority of negotiations with Billy Walsh were on financial matters. It was clear from the outset that the non-financial matters were of paramount importance. Sport Ireland cannot understand a nine-month negotiation process that excluded serious discussions on key issues. The requests of Billy Walsh on the non-financial aspects of his role were consistent with the recommendations of the London debrief, which is Ireland's official review of our Olympic performance.
It is worrying that the chairman never felt confident that he could get a proposal that we worked through with the IABA in Sandyford by the board. This suggests that the high performance unit does not enjoy the confidence of a significant element within the IABA. This fracture within the IABA must be addressed once and for all. Furthermore, the absence of a board decision is a corporate governance issue. Questions of a governance and operational nature naturally arise from what is known about recent events.
Sport Ireland is not involved in any attempt to undermine the IABA. It has consistently supported all activities of the IABA, even through times when it was challenging to do so, and the evidence speaks for itself.
Some of the comments attributed to the IABA were a clear attempt to misdirect and distract from the failure to retain Billy Walsh. Our intervention here was based on our belief, which we share with the IABA, that Billy should have been retained. Sport Ireland has statutory responsibility regarding high performance sport and makes no apology for working to retain Billy Walsh.
Sport Ireland has written to the IABA with a series of questions to find out how this matter unfolded, and we await an appropriate response. Although attributing blame will not bring Billy back, it is imperative that we examine the factors that led to his departure and never again lose world-class talent needlessly.
The fundamental issue is how the events of the past weeks and months affect the long-term health of the high performance unit within the IABA. As the statutory agency for sport, we have a responsibility and a duty to ensure that public investment in governing bodies is supported by effective corporate governance. There is a legitimate interest in investigating and understanding what happened.
We are strongly of the view that the over-reliance of the IABA on Sport Ireland funding is not healthy and is one underlying factor that leads to tension. The past few days have demonstrated that there is an enormous amount of public interest in Irish boxing. Surely the IABA has missed an opportunity to benefit from this public interest in recent years. Specifically, Sport Ireland does not seek to control those functions that are rightfully under the authority of the governing body of a sport. In fact, we are trying to empower the organisations all the time by ensuring they have the right people in the right place, including performance directors, coaches and so on. We have also demonstrated that by getting the NGBs themselves to allocate the carding. So we are empowering the governing bodies in this particular area. However, the NGB must acknowledge the legitimate and statutory obligation of oversight vested by the Oireachtas in Sport Ireland. Sport Ireland is accountable to this committee, to the Minister and to the Oireachtas. In turn, those bodies that are funded by Sport Ireland must accept levels of oversight consistent with the amount of taxpayers' money invested in them.
I thank the representatives of the IABA and Sport Ireland for those presentations. I will call members in a moment, but I might set the scene.
My first observation on both presentations is that you both very much want to secure success for Irish boxing, and you have delivered that success in spades particularly since 2002. However, obviously the events of the last week and the last number of months show that trust has broken down and you cannot agree on the best way forward. This has been an issue since the establishment of the high performance unit in 2002. While we do not wish to pick over the bones of everything that has happened since then, the issues that arose in the last few weeks did not just appear out of the sky. There was a situation in 2006, at the Beijing Olympics, where Gary Keegan did not have access to the boxers and so forth. All of those issues have been boiling under the surface for the last 13 years in many respects. Will the representatives of the IABA and Sport Ireland outline why that was allowed to develop over such a long period?
There are other questions. We also must look forward. What processes will be put in place to fill Billy Walsh's shoes, as it were, in the high performance unit? This is probably a matter for the IABA. What guarantees can be given that a similar situation will never happen again? Also, in view of the current situation, can it be guaranteed to the sporting fraternity and, above all, to the boxers that their preparations for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will not be negatively affected in any way?
Many issues have been covered in the media in the last week in particular. I have a question for the IABA with regard to the contracts, or the amendments to the contract. It was suggested that the IABA reserves the right to make reasonable changes to any terms and conditions and will notify the head coach within one month. Is that true or was that part of the contract? Second, I understand that the constitution of the IABA provides that all international teams must be formally approved. Can you confirm that is the situation? I have been involved in sport for many years and that would be similar to Liam Sheedy picking the Tipperary team in 2011 and there having to be a special meeting of the Tipperary county board to approve the team he picked before the All-Ireland final. It does not appear to make sense, but perhaps it does.
Those are my questions to open the proceedings.
Mr. Joe Christle:
I will deal with some of the questions you asked and I will then refer to Mr. Ciaran Kirwan, a solicitor with nearly 30 years experience. He is a volunteer director who provides pro bonoadvice to the board on legal matters. He had specific oversight of the creation and development of the contract stage.
In advance of that, earlier you asked about the IABA's plans for the future. If I can refer to last week, once this bombshell - which was a bombshell and a shock to everybody on Monday - was absorbed there was a scheduled meeting on Tuesday in which all the coaches were meeting to carry out a particular task regarding budgeting.
At that meeting we discussed with all the coaches and support staff the issues around having a leaderless team. Zaur Antia, who as technical coach in the high performance unit was one position below Billy Walsh, was appointed as interim head coach of the high performance or elite athletes. That decision was made with the full support of the coaching staff and the board.
We have scheduled a board meeting for next Wednesday at which all the issues that arose last week and in the media coverage will be discussed and a plan put together for filling the position previously occupied by Billy Walsh. At that meeting, we will, as the Chairman alluded to, be going back over the history of the directorship of the high performance unit. In 2008, the director of high performance left the IABA high performance programme and that position was not filled for two years. It was advertised and Billy Walsh was one of the many applicants for the position. The candidate who was chosen was not acceptable either to the Irish Sports Council or to Billy Walsh - to work under him. As a consequence of that, a new title was created for that person's appointment, namely, director of boxing development. I realise I may be losing members' attention but it is very important to outline the history and timeline of all of this.
The board of directors has never been comfortable with the notion that there was no director of high performance. Billy Walsh had continued as head coach and was, to all intents and purposes, de factooperating as director of high performance, notwithstanding that he was under the title of head coach. There were some administrative qualities that had let him down in the interview process which were recognised by all sides this year. With the assistance of the Irish Sports Council, now Sport Ireland, funding was made available for the position of administrative assistant to the high performance coach. That position was filled this year, with Caradh O'Donovan starting work in May or June this year. Caradh came over from Triathlon Ireland with all the qualifications in sports management that were required for the position and she has integrated well within our organisation.
Reference was made to a gap in communication between the IABA and the Irish Sports Council. In my capacity as chairman - I am only chairman since July 2014 - I have not had any personal experience of that. I enjoy a very warm relationship with the chairman and other members of the council and the board of directors is very cognisant of the importance of fostering that relationship. The board has gone through a seismic change in terms of its constitution in the past year, with the rewriting of the memorandum and articles of association.
All of the recommendations in the strategic plan for boxing, put together by a joint committee in 2011, have been moved forward and were outlined in the submission.
To answer the final question, notwithstanding that the results appear to say it works, the selection process was recognised as something that needed a little bit of change or revision. This has been revised in the new draft rule book. According to the current rule book, which is the 2006 boxing rule book, the final authority for sanctioning a team is the boxing council. Since 2008, when Mr. Walsh stepped forward, his selections or recommendations have never been gainsaid. They have only been added to, notably with the choice of Paddy Barnes in 2008, who was not part of the high performance unit but was sanctioned by the boxing council to compete in the world championships in Chicago. He qualified for the Olympics first and, as we know, he podiumed in Beijing and London. He remains part of the high performance unit and has qualified for the Rio games.
We recognised that having the team sanctioned by a committee of 38 members would be unworkable in the future and, because of the changes in boxing, we wanted to introduce an objective set of criteria, which is what is in the draft rule book. This is significant in terms of the relationship between the board, particularly the chief executive officer, and the former head coach. Billy Walsh had a direct hand in drafting the new rule. It has yet to be ratified by the clubs, but it was only sent out in the past month. What the Chairman identified as a governance weakness is one recognised by the current board, and it has been addressed by it with the assistance of Billy Walsh.
I will ask Mr. Kirwan to deal with the specific questions on the contract.
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
The direct answer to the Chairman's question as to whether there was a clause in Mr. Walsh's contract that allowed for the terms and conditions to be changed is "Yes". In my experience, this is a standard clause that any prudent employer has in a normal contract for any employee. It is the same for all of our employees that such a clause is there. Incidentally, the clause is rarely invoked by an employer but-----
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
No, Chairman, it does not. If an employer does not reserve the right to change the terms and conditions of employment, he or she has no way of insisting on those changes being put through. If the organisation were to move its headquarters from the South Circular Road to Abbotstown and an employee refused to go, in the absence of such a clause there is absolutely no way the employee could be compelled to do so. In general, one rarely comes across an employee who is entirely happy with every term and condition of employment but clauses are inserted and often never invoked by an employer. Very often an employer will include a clause stating if an employee is out sick for more than three days he or she will not be paid but it is rarely invoked, particularly with regard to a very long-standing employee who has become ill.
Very often employers will not invoke the clause and will continue to pay the employee’s full salary. Any prudent employment lawyer would advise an employer client to insert such a clause into the contract.
That surprises me, but I accept Mr. Kirwan’s answer. Does Mr. Treacy wish to talk about how this has been an ongoing issue? I recall raising the fact that Billy Walsh did not have a contract several years ago. Looking in from the outside over the past ten years, it seemed obvious there were issues that needed addressing. How did it get to this?
Mr. John Treacy:
There certainly were issues that were identified in the London Olympics debrief. One was to provide resources in terms of coaching, which was provided by the Irish Sports Council. Another was to provide the resources for an operations manager behind Billy Walsh in high performance sport. That funding was provided. However, we learned during the course of the year that this operations manager was reporting to the chief executive officer, not Billy Walsh. That was not in the spirit of what was intended. The other issue was the provision of a facility where high performance boxers could train with plenty of room. That has been provided and is in the process of completion in Abbotstown. Those were the pieces from the debriefing that we wanted to be put in place. The other issue in terms of the tension between the high performance area and the rest of the IABA have not yet been addressed. We hope that will happen and we will work with the IABA to ensure it happens.
I would also like to acknowledge that there have been some positive developments within the IABA. There is some good corporate governance around the finance area, which we would have been worried about quite some time ago. In fairness to the IABA chairperson, he has done very good work in ensuring there are good processes in place around this. That was a serious issue that was addressed and I compliment him on that. We are very clear that we will work very closely with the IABA over the next year to ensure there will be no impact whatsoever on any boxer who qualifies for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Mr. Kieran Mulvey:
I want to reiterate what the chief executive has just said. We want to work with the IABA. That is our modus vivendi. That is what we are statutorily required to do. Like everyone in this room, everyone has a regret about what has happened. It has happened, however, and we have to learn the lessons from it. I want to acknowledge the remarks of the chairman of the IABA today. We will reciprocate along those lines and sort them out. It is not in the interest of anyone in any organisation or any sport to have a sparring match between ourselves around this issue.
There are, however, issues that must be addressed. I would take issue with the interpretation of the requirements and contracts by Mr. Kirwan. I have dealt with this professionally for the past 25 years. Compellability is a question in terms of contract. Unreasonable compellability is another issue. It is standard practice in most contracts that where the head office of an organisation is relocated, the employee must go with the headquarters. As in my own contract, I do not have a negotiating position on that. The most recent public service agreements take from all public service employees the specific location of their employment. They can now be redeployed within 45 km if it is necessary. These are arguments we can have another time, another day.
I thank both sides for their presentations. There have been claim and counter-claim over the past couple of weeks. Our only interest is in finding a path forward for the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA, and the professionals involved.
Mr. Christle set out towards a resolution in the meetings on 11 and 14 September. Mr. Walsh said in his statement, issued last week, that on 14 September there was a meeting at the Irish Management Institute, IMI, where a framework for an agreement was discussed and agreed in principle:
The proposed new IABA fixed-term contract arrived three days after the IMI meeting.. I was shocked at the tone and content of the new fixed-term contract in that it consistently undermined my role and my authority at every turn... I was given absolutely no autonomy in the new contract and this was clearly aimed to undermine my position and would have made my job extremely difficult to do if not impossible to do... I firmly believe that they had no intention or desire to engage me into the future... I believe they did not want me to stay. I was left with no alternative but to resign
How would Mr. Christle characterise the relationship between Mr. Carruth and Mr. Walsh?
Mr. Joe Christle:
No, and neither was the chief executive. That meeting was chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ring, where the framework for the exchange of contracts was completed. That proposition was made by the Chairman of the Irish Sports Council. Neither party was present and it was not discussed any further.
Mr. Christle was made aware there was a dysfunctional relationship. On foot of that information did Mr. Christle seek to discuss the nature of that relationship with Mr. Carruth, or why did Mr. Carruth continue to negotiate with Mr. Walsh if Mr. Christle was made aware that there was a dysfunctional relationship?
Mr. Christle said the projected liability of something like €1.6 million would arise in the event of entering into that contract and because there was no guarantee of multi-annual funding that would not be good corporate governance. What is the general projected liability of the association in respect of other contracts? He goes on to say in a statement given to this committee and published more widely last week:
The IABA was shocked by the very public attack on it and on Irish boxing, by the Chairman and CEO of Sport Ireland. An attack, that was totally disingenuous and plainly part of a campaign by a statutory state body to exercise control over the IABA’s High Performance Unit.
Does Mr. Christle believe that to be the case?
Mr. Joe Christle:
I believe the tone of the remarks made by the chairman and some of the remarks by the chief executive in the heat and shock of last week were certainly capable of being interpreted as showing a bias towards a certain position.
Moreover, it was one that would not be welcomed by the board of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA. Consequently, the answer to the Deputy's question is "Yes" to that.
Before Mr. Christle gets back to the first piece, on that point would he accept that section 11 of the Sport Ireland Act 2015 sets out clearly the criteria, terms and conditions of assistance provided by that body to the IABA? It allows it particular powers to establish different criteria in that regard and it might be well asserted that it was simply exercising its rights under the legislation, rather than what the IABA believes to be a bias.
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
We are well aware of the contents of the most recent Act, much of which, as Deputy Dooley probably is aware, was taken from the 1999 Act setting up the Irish Sports Council. We are well aware of the limits of its authority in respect of its statutory responsibilities. We also are cognisant of our own responsibilities. Unlike previous occasions when difficulties arose, we now are an incorporated body and are a separate legal entity. It is the first time the IABA really has had a board of directors overseeing its operations.
The IABA went on in that statement to state the following:
This, we believe is yet another clear example of Sport Ireland’s officials seeking to go beyond their authority and its statutory mandate and act Ultra Vires their statutory power or remit. The agency has a track record and form in this regard and has paid dearly for it in the past.
Why did the IABA think it necessary to include that statement? To clarify, whose language is this? Who wrote the statement? Was it the chief executive or the chairman and was it approved by the board? Was it written by Mr. Kirwin as the legal adviser?
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
No, Deputy Dooley, it was a collective statement, very much like we believe the role of our head coach was a collective group of people, assistant coaches and support staff. This was a collective decision and a collective statement issued on behalf of the IABA board and no single individual had any greater input into it than any other.
Mr. Joe Christle:
We did the deal on the 14th and on the following day, there was an interaction between the head coach and the chief executive, which I believe goes to the key to character of the relationship between them. The head coach had mistakenly booked himself with the rest of the team to go to the training camp in Assisi before the world championships in Doha and all the team and all the support staff were leaving on the following day, that is, on Wednesday the 16th. Unfortunately, he also had committed to a speaking engagement with Ronan O'Gara in Lansdowne Road, which had been advertised. He was able to approach his chief executive and to admit to the oversight. He was able to ask for a new ticket to be bought for him, all of which was granted because it was understood that Zuar Antia and Eddie Bolger were well capable of looking after the boxers for the first two days of the training camp. It was also understood that Billy Walsh de facto was a kind of spokesman for the IABA and notwithstanding that it was a private speaking engagement, it would be a good idea that he would be able to fulfil that engagement. The reason I say this is these all are facts. If one has a bad or dysfunctional relationship with one's chief executive, one would not admit to an error or oversight and would not ask for time out to fulfil a private speaking engagement that is outside the remit of one's employment contract unless one had a good relationship with the chief executive. Both of them could agree very quickly and were right to agree quickly, as members saw, from the results in Doha.
Mr. Kieran Mulvey:
A reference was made to a statement I made at a meeting in Athlone. I made a similar observation at a meeting with the board of directors on 20 August. I do not want to get into the detail on this but we are still at a loss as to how eight months passed in a negotiation with one of the organisation's most vital employees.
I welcome the delegations from both organisations. We are in a post-Billy Walsh period. The Chairman rightly said at the beginning that, irrespective of what committee members say or do today, we cannot change what has happened. I had two questions, but the Chairman asked one and Deputy Dooley stole the other so I will go straight to my comments.
I am a great admirer of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association. Any organisation that has survived for 104 years and which was built on voluntary contribution must be admired. Mr. Christle said he and his colleagues get no remuneration for what they do and that their contribution is voluntary. My heart and soul are with them. One of the great characteristics of the association is the volunteering. Anyone who examines the merits and collective and individual achievements of boxers in the North and South must admire them, bearing in mind the population is so small.
If what has happened is the only oversight or downfall in 104 years, the association has had a great history. Amateur boxing is almost exclusively a phenomenon in working class communities. I am lucky because there are a number of boxing clubs in the community in which I live. One club, St. Mary's in Tallaght, is almost on my doorstep. I am not a member. It was a bit too polite for me so I got into politics. The club has done a great service for local kids year on year, all on a voluntary basis. I admire the amateur aspect.
I referred to the collective achievements of the association. This country almost came to a standstill in 2012 when Katie Taylor won a gold medal. People walked out of their workplaces and half the nation got drunk. I do not know which half. We were all clapping and admiring the great achievement. Likewise, the whole nation came to a standstill in 1992 when Michael Carruth won his gold medal. Whatever some people here might say about the funding of amateur boxing, the sport has been the poor relation of others over a long period in terms of investment. Without being too ideological about it, one should consider what is allocated for sports of a different code. I refer to the funding given to sports that are more identified with middle class communities. In this regard, amateur boxing has been sold short.
I have a sense of déjà vu. Interestingly, this is the second post mortemI have been to as a member of this committee. Most of us were here in July of last year when some country singer by the name of Garth Brooks, of whom I had never heard, did not make it to Ireland because things went wrong.
He made an offer that he would swim across to meet the Taoiseach. I am not sure if he ever got here. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, who kept it low key. I would have thought that at one stage last weekend, we would have caught sight of the Taoiseach jumping off Belmullet Pier heading for Colorado to drag Billy Walsh back but that did not happen.
On a more serious note, I know the IABA team is going to Poland next month. I wish to associate myself with what will, hopefully, be a proud outcome in the bouts in Poland and I have no doubt they will do this country proud. I have complimented the IABA for its legacy for 104 years. As an admirer of what Billy Walsh has done for boxing in Ireland, I also compliment him.
I thank the witnesses from both associations for coming here. There seems to be a big conflict in respect of what actually happened. Mr. Walsh is saying that it was not down to monetary issues yet the IABA is saying that it was down to these issues in terms of long-term contracts and their consequences. That seems to suggest that there were serious problems. The negotiations lasted eight months, which seems to be a long period for negotiations. Even the people who went to the negotiations for Mr. Walsh - Fergus Barry and Tommy Cummins - described the meetings as being tetchy on each occasion so there was obviously some serious conflict. I know the IABA has done marvellous work for boxing. It has been the flag for this country for a long time, which is fantastic.
To me, a coach is someone who has a fair amount of flexibility. Is it true that part of the contract involved insisting that Billy Walsh had to get written permission to talk to the Irish Sports Council or the Olympic Council of Ireland? If so, what did it mean? It has been said that conditions were imposed on him and the IABA reserved the right to make changes to the contract. I find that hard to understand when someone is signing up to a contract. To impose those conditions on a manager is like telling José Mourinho that we are going to impose certain conditions. That man is very strong-minded so we know what he would say. He would go his own way.
Do the representatives from the IABA think that an independent review by the Minister of State to see what happened here would be a good idea because there is obviously a conflict? The statutory body, which is Sport Ireland, has said that it could look at funding in the future. Do the representatives from the IABA think that this is very unfair or puts a condition on the directors and the CEO, etc? Is the funding under threat?
Is the damage to morale, etc., repairable? Zaur Antia is the interim head coach.
Will coaches be subject to the same sort of conditions as Billy Walsh into the future?
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
Deputy Ellis asked a number of questions, and I ask him to forgive me if we do not answer all of them. I will try to take his last question first. They were standard terms and conditions for all of our employees. The clause the Deputy mentioned regarding the media, which has been highlighted, is a clause in all of our employees' contracts. It is one that is rarely invoked, as can be seen from the fact that it was never invoked in the case of Billy Walsh, who was the most high-profile member of our association. Very often he was the only face anybody could recognise from the IABA. We had no difficulty with that whatsoever. That clause is in place to deal with cases in which an employee spoke against the IABA or some of our policies. It was not an attempt to stop him from talking to the media about teams, coaching or tournaments. I am sure the Deputy will agree with me that he has been a very high profile member.
On the question of the damage that has been done, we would have to concede that some reputational damage has been done to the association but we are determined to work with the Irish Sports Council in the future. We regard it as having a symbiotic relationship with us. Naturally, we feared that our funding was under threat when the statements to which the Deputy referred were made. He was probably present in this House when they were made. We were greatly relieved when the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, indicated that the funding was not under threat.
Deputy Dooley mentioned legislation, and in the relevant legislation the Minister has the power to make a direction to the Irish Sports Council, of which we were cognisant. Those issues can be addressed. We are confident that we can work with the Irish Sports Council in the future, and we want to do so.
In respect of a review, it is a matter of opinion whether it would be beneficial at this stage. There will be various opinions on that, but if a review is instigated we are perfectly happy with that and will co-operate fully.
I have one further question. Does Mr. Kirwan see a difference between a head coach and a person involved in performance? I am under the impression that the problem lies in the fact that perhaps he does not see Billy Walsh as anything more than a coach, and to be a high performance-----
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
Our chairman will deal with that. It is really important that it goes on the record that the association was incredibly proud of Billy Walsh and his achievements. If the Deputy carefully reads every public statement and utterance we have made, he will find that at no time have we ever been denigratory towards Billy Walsh. His record is outstanding and we were bitterly disappointed, but at the end of the day, for whatever reasons, if he decided he wanted to take up employment elsewhere, that was his entitlement. He was the one who made the decision. We accept that we would have preferred if he had made a different decision and remained with us The chairman will answer the Deputy's question on the differences between a high performance director and a coach.
Mr. Joe Christle:
The position of high performance director is one that could be filled by somebody with the appropriate qualifications in sports management, but not necessarily by the best or most distinguished coach in Ireland, whereas the head coach of the high performance unit would have to be among the best boxing coaches in Ireland. There is a subtle difference.
My observation is that there is something in the position with which the association is not satisfied. From what I can see, the problem seems to be that the association does not accept that Billy Walsh had certain other qualities apart from being head coach.
Mr. Joe Christle:
I should say this because he is not here. That review was requested by the head coach. What he wants is to improve high performance management and performance. That spirit will be continued by the board of directors. It is why he was and is still held in the greatest esteem by the board of directors and everybody in Irish boxing.
Mr. Kieran Mulvey:
I think the record of the House stands as to what I said last week regarding the funding of the IABA. I made a very clear commitment that it would not be touched but that we would have to satisfy ourselves regarding certain governance considerations. We will work those out with the IABA in time because we are obliged to do so under our statutory obligations.
Whereas the Minister may give policy directions on sport policy, the onus is on the board of Sport Ireland exclusively to decide on the criteria. We are required to have that responsibility to the Minister, the Oireachtas and this committee. We will work out with them what we need to do and sort out the situation in dialogue with them. There will be a positive dialogue because from what I have heard this morning we are both committed to ensuring that nothing upsets the arrangements for Rio and the ongoing situation we need to address. Issues have arisen that need to be addressed and we need now to put aside the comments all of us have made and work together. As the Chairman acknowledged, I have a very good working relationship with Joe Christle as does the chief executive. We need to work these issues out and we will work them out.
I welcome the witnesses and compliment the work the Irish Amateur Boxing Association is doing across the country, including in my own constituency in Limerick.
From looking in at this and speaking to people who are involved in coaching and boxing, they are absolutely flabbergasted. Something which started to fester in Beijing rumbled on to London. There were eight months of protracted negotiations up to now and we are left in the mess we are in. One thing we could not say is that no one was proactive in trying to deal with this. A total hames has been made of it. We are where we are and everybody is saying we have to move on and be all positive. We have to hold hands and pretend there are going to be all good days ahead. An absolute bags has been made of this from start to finish.
Reference was made to heat - taking the heat and the shock and the bombshell out of it. It was some length of a fuse that was lit for this man's so-called bombshell last week. This has been going on not for months but for years. Reading some of the media reports, it appears a coach was denied access to the key people in China and accreditation. Even more recently negotiations were reportedly held in the Clayton Hotel in Leopardstown over two days between 20 and 22 August, there was agreement and everybody walked away and shook hands on it. Then an e-mail was sent by the CEO, it is reported, which referred to Mr. Christle as having a dysfunctional relationship with the coach. An e-mail was then received looking to have some terms and conditions of what was agreed renegotiated. We have had the toing and froing between Mr. Kirwan and Mr. Mulvey as to who has the more experience in employment law, and we have a person in the middle of it who ultimately must feel there is no trust in him here. To bring it up to today, that person has said to RTE: "I could not work for someone who clearly did not want me."
In anybody's language there has to be a serious look at how this thing was handled and what changes have to be made. On the one hand we have the funding agency, which might have used emotive language last week.
I do not agree with the use of emotive language in making potential threats and things like that because there has to be structural change. However, it seems somebody of his calibre has walked off the pitch because, in his view, he clearly was not wanted because there had been an absolute and total breakdown of trust. It was agreed to in Leopardstown, but the delegates can correct me if I am wrong. Like everybody else interested in this matter, I am only basing it on what is in the media. It is a case of "Dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi." Unfortunately, the one person who should be here is not here to give his side of the story. Billy Walsh is in America getting on with his life. Good luck to him. What we have seen in recent weeks is a dysfunctional relationship between the court and the IABA and between the IABA and the Irish Sports Council, with the result that the net losers have been those who enjoy watching boxing and others who train in clubs around the country, including in Rathkeale, who hope they might one day box for Ireland.
Mr. Kirwan believes that, under the clauses included in the contract, he could not talk to the media or pick a team without the board's approval. I do not know how many all-Ireland and provincial championship winning teams the Chairman has managed. However, if he had to run them by the chairmen of the Galway, Mayo or Leitrim county boards before he spoke to Marty Morrissey at the end of a match, it would have been unworkable. I appreciate what Mr. Kirwan is saying about his experiences, but if one looks at it from Mr. Walsh's point of view, he has given his professional life to the development of the sport, in many instances on a voluntary basis, no more than anyone else up and down the country. It was as if the sword of Damocles was hanging over him. The IABA got the tone wrong when it walked away from Leopardstown and then came back to seek further changes to the contract. As an outsider looking in, if I were in Mr. Walsh's shoes, I would have been saying to myself, "These people are not serious about me working for them. They want me out."
I ask the Irish Sports Council how this issue was left to run for so long to the point where Mr. Walsh has now left. I know that the Minister of State had to intervene and that the interventions were necessary. That is all well and good, but now that Mr. Walsh has left, are we are all going to pretend that everything is hunky-dory? He had a proven track record. It is my understanding the meeting in Leopardstown was convened after the European championships. Mr. Walsh had to leave in the middle of the meeting but came back the following Tuesday. He walked away with a handshake but then received an e-mail, as reported subsequently in the media, stating, "All bets are off. We are looking at things again." How could it have wound up other than being a disaster?
Was the report in the media on the meeting held in Leopardstown accurate? Was there an agreement on 20 August in Leopardstown between the IABA, Mr. Walsh and the Irish Sports Council and was it subsequently altered by e-mail through the CEO's office to Mr. Walsh?
Mr. Joe Christle:
That is why it might be a very good idea to have an independent review of all the circumstances and what is in the media. There was a meeting between the board of the Irish Sports Council and the board of the IABA on 20 August, at which we all understood we wanted Billy Walsh to stay. We all wanted to retain him, but the difference between both sides was that the IABA had to take cognisance of certain issues that would arise if money was simply thrown at the problem because of the knock-on effects in loads of different areas. All of these concerns were ultimately set out for the Minister of State on 11 September.
The framework was put together by the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, in order to solve the problem.
At the end of the meeting in Buswells Hotel, at the suggestion of the chairman of the Sports Council it was agreed that we would meet and he would offer his professional good offices to mediate a solution between Billy Walsh and the IABA, with the Irish Sports Council also involved. That was to take place within two days, because there was a board meeting on the following Tuesday, the 25th. It took place on Saturday, the 22nd, in Sandyford. At that stage, on Saturday the 22nd, the first draft of a proposal was put to the IABA. The IABA set out its concerns in regard to some of the measures that were in the proposal. On the following day a second draft was delivered by e-mail. When that was looked at it did not reflect the concerns as had been voiced by the attendees on behalf of the IABA. What I, as chairman, did not want to happen when I saw it was that it be put to the board of directors and be turned down, because I did not want a strike against this process. I wanted to retain him. We decided to communicate some amendments and try and get the process going. We asked the Sports Council if it wanted us to put the proposal before the board of the IABA and it said it had no further role to play in the matter.
Notwithstanding all of that, we put the proposal to the board. It was discussed at the board meeting, and the minutes will reflect that. Having listened to the discussions I decided, as chairman, not to put it to a vote, because I did not want a strike down. I would rather that it was just considered and that we would not have it going back to Billy Walsh that it had been rejected out of turn. We re-energised the negotiations that were already in play and it was at that stage, ten days later, that the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, intervened, convened the meeting in Athlone on the 11th, which was a Friday, and on the 14th, the next working day, we sat down. That was the first time - not in Sandyford - that, as far as I was concerned, there was a deal done - a handshake and a "look you in the eye and I am satisfied with what has been set before me". As I have said, I indicated to him that what the IABA, the Sports Council and the Minister wanted was the spectre of him going to America to disappear.
Mr. Joe Christle:
The issues were to do with if there was a level of pay increase in circumstances where he continued as a permanent employee. He was the highest paid permanent employee and the head coach of the IABA. The projected increase, with a guaranteed bonus, was in excess of 60%. In the view of the board of the IABA that would have created a huge issue in regard to relativism. We already had both boxers and coaches coming to say to us: "We hear he is getting more money" and so forth. All of these issues must be built in because we are not self-funded. We must find funds to meet those demands.
Mr. Joe Christle:
Yes, it only related to money. There was going to be no change in his role. The IABA, at board level or at any level, never sought for Billy Walsh to not be the head coach of high performance.
The IABA was completely satisfied with his performance. Even at the meeting in the Irish Management Institute, IMI, and notwithstanding the severance terms, the package relating to the fixed-term employment and the level of wage increase offered to him, it was stated that he would still be in place as the highest paid permanent employee and that we would seek to get him a 5% or 10% wage increase and fight for every bonus so that he could remain as head coach. These were the two options and they were always open. At no time after he became the head coach did anyone in the IABA seek to remove him from that position. This is the slightly invidious position in which the IABA finds itself as a result of media coverage. It is why an independent review might be one measure that could repair the resulting reputational damage to the IABA.
To some degree, the board of directors takes the view that Sport Ireland and the IABA must move on and work together. We have a shared goal, namely, that there be no negative effect on those who have qualified for the Rio Olympic Games. This is the goal of the IABA and I believe that it is the goal of the ISC. Anything that hampers that relationship would need to be considered carefully before engaging in it.
Mr. John Treacy:
I will address the first part and Mr. Mulvey will address the second. When this issue arose in February, we were concerned about the possibility of losing Mr. Walsh, our leading coach, a year before the Olympic Games. We raised it with the IABA at the time. We are not the employer. It was up to the IABA to take action. We met it in March and urged it to deal with the issue, sort out the contract and ensure that Mr. Walsh did not leave the country. He is in an international marketplace and his salary was not at the level of other high performance directors. He was the lowest paid. This is the background.
We raised the matter in April. The chief executive called me seeking funding for an international event. I told him that the ISC's one priority was not to lose Mr. Walsh and that it should be his top priority as well. Rolling into July, we met the chairman and chief executive and underlined the importance of retaining Mr. Walsh. The board, which includes the four people present, met the IABA in August. Through that meeting, we again outlined the importance of retaining Mr. Walsh. During that meeting, we were told that the IABA had 20 coaches who could do Mr. Walsh's job. We were astounded. Our chairman asked a relevant question at the time, that being whether the IABA wanted to retain Mr. Walsh. The answer was "Yes." That was good to hear. The next day, we met in Sandyford. I will hand over to our chairman, Mr. Mulvey, who will take up the story from there.
Mr. Kieran Mulvey:
I accept Deputy O'Donovan's remarks. Perhaps I used intemperate language, but it was out of sheer frustration. I got upset by what I saw happening and the collapse of all of the efforts that had been made to achieve a result. It is not in my character to do that publicly or otherwise. I am in the business of mediation, that is my professional career, but I was upset and had a deep sense of frustration because I could anticipate what I eventually saw in the newspapers and on television on Thursday. My opinion at that point was that something dramatic needed to be done to stop Mr. Walsh from going to America, but it did not materialise.
The IABA did raise with us, at the meeting in the Clayton Hotel, very legitimate concerns around the impact this would have in the downscale effect of giving Mr. Walsh a particular increase. We felt it needed to be done and benchmarked against other high performance directors - not matching the US offer because I never really knew what the US offer was - to try to retain him. We did agree with the IABA that this would have an effect within the organisation which we could not address immediately in those negotiations and on the basis of his contract. But we did write:
IABA salary view - the Irish Sports Council recommends that an independent review be undertaken of the salary structure of the IABA. The terms of the review are to be agreed with the IABA. This review will be undertaken as soon as possible in order that any recommendations may be implemented from 1 January 2016 [which was our next funding round].
Our view was that they had raised concerns and we needed to address those but the only way we could do that was to agree terms of reference with them. In the meantime we did indicate to them that if a particular difficulty arose with the technical director Mr. Zaur Antia then we felt that needed to be addressed immediately to assist the situation. There was an immediate effect and I know what this means and I accept they had a legitimate concern about that.
I appreciate the committee can get confused about the deadlines but at the meeting with the Minister in Athlone it was made very clear to us that the IABA wished solely to negotiate with their own employee. The view we expressed at that stage was: "Fine, good, and perhaps you would let us and the Minister know what is happening." There was a clear message from the IABA: "He is our employee and we will negotiate with him." At that meeting I did give the assurance, on behalf of the Irish Sports Council, that we would fund any agreement they reached - within the general parameters we had previously outlined and agreed. Our view at that stage was the financial issue was out of the way and that the IABA need not worry about it. We knew we could fund it and that it was benchmarked against other high performance directors in other sports in Ireland, not internationally. We also felt that our proposal or agreement catered for their concerns and that we would conduct, with the IABA, an independent review on agreed terms of reference to go through the organisation from head office to high performance coaches-----
Mr. Kieran Mulvey:
Yes that proposal was agreed as we understood it and it is in the document. Reference was made to two technical changes which related to the high performance unit and the reporting arrangements. That is not unusual in terms of what may happen because there was a difference of opinion between the IABA and Mr. Walsh. We tried to get themodus vivendi around that. It comes back to the core of the issue but this will arise again unless we sort it out now and both the Irish Sports Council and the IABA are clear about what the relationship is, and more specifically what the relationship will be, with the high performance unit and the director of the high performance units in other sports. The role may be termed head coach but it is also regarded the high performance director. The issue is also to avoid this happening again. I and my colleagues on the board are clear there should be no more "dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi". There will be a very clear understanding as to what we all mean so that we will not disagree any more on the meaning of the wording, or maybe express our opinions about that. We need memorandums of understanding. We need to know what we are both trying to do and what we are both trying to achieve because we both agree with about 90% of what we try to do and try to achieve. What is needed now is that we do not have a reoccurrence of what has happened in the past. This will be good for good for them, good for us and by God it will ultimately be good for the taxpayers of this country and the boxing supporters that Deputy Maloney spoke of.
Otherwise, we are only knocking ourselves out here.
Mr. John Treacy:
I have an important point to make, which is that Billy Walsh showed great flexibility around the financial aspect. He was agreeing to leave his full-time employment with the IABA to become a contractor. When we met with the Minister in Athlone, we talked about a five-year fixed-term contract. When the IABA went back and negotiated, the fixed-term contract was reduced to three years and Billy Walsh was agreeable to that. Mr. Walsh was showing great flexibility through all of this. I make this point to underline that finance was not an issue here.
I thank the delegates for attending the meeting. I ask them to write down my questions because I will be sticking with them. When I spoke to people in the boxing world at the weekend, a lot of them referred back to the Olympic Games in 2008 when Gary Keegan resigned. Will Mr. Carruth clarify whether Mr. Keegan resigned after being refused access to the boxers by the IABA for the entire duration of those Olympic Games? If the problem started then - and Billy Walsh commented on it at the time - then it has been festering for almost eight years. What has Mr. Treacy done to try to resolve it in the past eight years? The situation should not have been allowed to go on like this.
It is generally accepted that Mr. Walsh was head coach and high performance director. However, after Mr. Keegan's departure, as I understand it, money was paid to the IABA for a high performance director but nobody was filling that post. Is that correct or not? My question is to both sets of delegates.
When Mr. O'Rourke was appointed in 2011, I assume a job description had to be written up by the IABA, or was there any such job description? Is it true that Mr. O'Rourke was a participant in his own interview process? I would like an answer to that from the IABA delegates.
The witnesses spoke about the need to watch the money. Will Mr. Carruth confirm whether the IABA has made a lot of appointments in recent months? If money was so scarce, where is the funding for these appointments coming from and who provided it? Is it true that a logistics manager was recently appointed to the high performance unit even though a high performance administrator is already in post? Will Mr. Carruth say whether that appointment was supported by Billy Walsh? Did Mr. Walsh know about it and was he involved in the interview process? Who sanctioned and financed the appointment? Will Mr. Carruth tell us how many times Mr. Walsh asked him about or requested a face-to-face meeting with him to discuss the appointment of a logistics manager? Did Mr. Carruth cancel meetings on the morning of this meeting?
Do the IABA delegates intend to visit the new centre of excellence soon? I drove there the other day and it is a fine facility. Are there problems in regard to their visiting it?
We are all trying to ensure our athletes can be among the best in the world. With 37 weeks to go to Rio, will Mr. Treacy tell us whether any of our swimmers are using the facility at Abbotstown? Is it true that one of our swimmers is using a pool that is heated to two degrees warmer than should be the case for Olympic training?
Is it true that there is a lot of discontent in many sports in Ireland regarding how the Irish Sports Council is operating at the high performance level? Over the past weekend I spoke to athletes and people in different places, and what I heard was alarming. Could Mr. Carruth and Mr. Treacy answer the questions I asked?
Mr. John Treacy:
When Gary Keegan left the IABA in 2008, he took up a role in the Irish Institute of Sport. We were very concerned that we would lose Gary Keegan internationally. We wanted to make sure we kept the expertise that had developed in Ireland. He is now the director of our institute in Abbotstown and does a fantastic job.
In respect of any funding we provide to the IABA for high performance, every year it has to provide budgets in terms of where the money is spent. That money can only be spent with our sanction. We clearly monitor all the funding in terms of high performance. It is done differently from the core areas, but the funding for high performance is all verified in terms of where it is spent.
Mr. John Treacy:
I am telling the Deputy that in respect of all the money spent on high performance by the IABA, it was agreed with us how money was spent, because that is the way the money is spent.
I do not have the information regarding who is training at the swimming pool at the moment. Not every sport qualifies for high performance. Clearly, we have criteria for sports that are funded for high performance. The nature of high performance is that you have to win medals at European and world level, so we cannot fund every sport for high performance. It is very clear. We agree performance plans with the high performance sports we fund and we monitor these plans. We meet with them twice a year, so we are very clear regarding any issues that arise and we must solve any problems that the organisation might have. Of course, there are issues that arise with some athletes on an ongoing basis, but it is up to the governing body to a large degree to solve them.
Mr. Fergal Carruth:
I will come to that. Mr. Treacy already mentioned that our funding is decided in advance by way of application to the Irish Sports Council. When I started as CEO of the IABA, just under two years ago, we highlighted some professional inputs we would like to see within the association, which we felt were lacking at that time, to increase our corporate governance, effectiveness and efficiency. It was with the assistance of the Irish Sports Council that we were able to put many of these positions in place. One of the positions is our accountant, others are a full-time child protection officer, a marketing manager and an operations manager in the high performance unit. The operations manager was particularly referenced in a report on the high performance review instigated-----
Mr. Fergal Carruth:
He was out of the country at the time of the interview process but, as I said, the position came from a recommendation of the review of the high performance unit which Mr. Walsh had instigated, and he was fully supportive of the recommendations of the review. As such, he was fully supportive of the position of high performance operations manager. The high performance director of the Irish Sports Council was on the interview panel. We had a successful candidate and the position is working out very well at present.
Mr. Joe Christle:
-----we have indicated in the past that we asked for a facility to be built because the high performance gym, which is beside the stadium, was not fit for purpose approximately two or two and a half years ago. We asked for and got agreement that a facility would be built in Abbotstown and we fully intend to take it up as soon as it is finished.
Mr. Joe Christle:
What was originally requested was a training facility and not an administrative facility. If there is to be a permanent administrative facility it will have to go through a new process. The training facility will have rooms set aside for administration, so obviously administrators will have to be relocated there to support the high performance unit and coaches.
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
Unfortunately none of us here, or anybody on the board, was present at that time. The Deputy mentioned Gary Keegan earlier. Our board of directors was only instituted as recently as 2008, which was subsequent to those incidents.
The board put together by the IABA chairman, Mr. Joe Christle, is a relatively recent composition.
I thank the representatives of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association and Sport Ireland for appearing before the joint committee. This matter seems to be dragging on and I am not sure we will get anywhere with it. This is the first time since I became a Member of the Oireachtas that the resignation of a sports coach has been discussed in a committee. The reason this issue has come before us is the esteem in which Mr. Billy Walsh and the IABA are held and the outstanding success achieved in Irish amateur boxing for many years.
I should place on record that I was the chairman of the high performance committee of the Irish Sports Council between 2008 and 2012. I foresaw this issue coming to a head all those years ago because I was part and parcel of conversations with Mr. Walsh and members of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association who are not members of the IABA board but are still very much involved on the periphery of amateur boxing. Gary Keegan and Billy Walsh travelled to Germany to study high performance programmes and later visited Russia where they learned from what the Russians were able to achieve. More important, they excelled to such an extent that they became the envy of high performance programmes around the world. They were also envied in Ireland, not for what they achieved but because they seemed to have become better than everybody else.
Mr. Christle stated that he wanted Billy Walsh to stay and the issue was definitely not one of money. I do not believe that. Why did Mr. Christle not go out of his way during the relevant period to make sure the IABA kept Mr. Walsh, rather than allowing the matter to drag on and eventually wearing Mr. Walsh out, with the result that he left his position?
Mr. Walsh's high profile was also mentioned. It was something of a problem that he had a higher profile than boxing itself and some of the other coaches. Mr. Treacy indicated that 20 coaches were available to replace Mr. Walsh. I believe the kudos Mr. Walsh was receiving did not go down well and I understand some of the coaches behind the scenes did not rate him.
The Irish Amateur Boxing Association receives funding from the Irish Sports Council. How much money from its own purse was the IABA prepared to put into retaining Mr. Billy Walsh? Of the total funding the IABA receives to run the organisation, what percentage comes from sponsorship, gate receipts and membership fees, respectively? What is its largest source of income?
On the debriefing following the London Olympics, I understand many of the national governing bodies have delivered on the structures that were suggested. Why has the IABA not delivered in this regard? Will the representatives of the IABA describe the association's relationship with Sport Ireland? I read a statement from the IABA in which it ascribed "ulterior motives" to Sport Ireland. If that is the case, what are these ulterior motives?
A replacement will have to be found for Billy Walsh. How will he be replaced? When will the process begin? Who will be involved in the interview process? Who will be on the selection panel? What powers will the new head coach or director of high performance have? Will he or she be able to report or speak to the Olympic Council of Ireland or Gary Keegan at the Irish Institute of Sports? This will be a tedious process.
I have several questions for the representatives of Sport Ireland. After the experience of the past eight years, does Sport Ireland have confidence in the board of directors of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association? Does it have confidence in the ability of the chief executive officer of the IABA to deliver? How does it propose to repair the damage that has been done to boxing in recent weeks and years?
The first direct question concerned funding for the high performance director and the contributions the IABA, Irish Amateur Boxing Association, made to that. What percentage of its overall funding comes from non-taxpayer sources?
In the proposed change in the contract for Billy Walsh, it was to ensure the IABA could keep Billy Walsh on while the Irish Sports Council suggested it would cover whatever costs there were. What contribution would the IABA have made to retain Billy Walsh’s services?
Mr. Joe Christle:
The IABA was not in a position to make any contribution towards the refunding. It does not make any contribution towards any of the positions in the high performance team itself. The €925,000 fund is allocated to the high performance team by the Irish Sports Council. That is what is used to cover, not only all the wages but the expenses of the high performance development plan, transport and pathways undertaken to qualify for the Rio Olympics.
Mr. Joe Christle:
Up to €500,000 is spread among all of the provincial councils, county boards and local clubs. One of the matters on the agenda of the last board meeting was the approval of an amount of money to cover the costs for referees and coaches from the four provinces who come to all the championships that are staged in the National Stadium. There is roughly one championship event 25 weekends of the year. For example, the intermediate championship was on last weekend and will be on this weekend and the following one. There are a lot of entries and roughly 25 different competitions through boy level, youth level, intermediate and senior for boys and girls. In an amateur boxing contest, there are five judges, a referee and a supervisor, essentially seven officials. They do all this work and come from the four corners of Ireland. The approved budget to cover their expenses was for the amount of €2,000 per province. This was to be distributed by the province to the team of referees and judges.
These championships ensure the development of boxers from youth all the way through to intermediate and senior level, which is the conveyor belt - the pipeline - that guarantees a solid intake into the high performance programme. The €2,000 for a whole year has to be distributed among 25 or 30 referees per province. It is an extraordinarily thin spread; it is like margarine.
Deviating slightly from the Senator’s question, the need for a strong pipeline into the high performance programme was demonstrated in several examples over the years. It was also enshrined in the strategic plan’s recommendations to facilitate the transfer and the development of talent from club level through to the high performance unit. The high performance ethos was put together by Gary Keegan from the Irish Institute of Sport and continued by Billy Walsh, with Gary Keegan’s support.
It was recommended that this ethos be drilled down into four regional academies to provide closer access to that talent in order that talented boxers at provincial level would be able to make the transition to national level.
In the past, we saw the likes of Joe Ward, who has just qualified for the Olympic Games in Rio but who unfortunately missed out on qualification for the London games in unlucky circumstances. When he came along, in Kenny Egan, he had one of the greatest boxers Ireland has ever produced as the sitting champion. Kenny Egan is an Olympic silver medal winner and a winner of international medals of all different types. Joe Ward came along at 17 years of age and was able to beat him in the national senior final. What is a great tribute to Kenny Egan, because I hate to make reference to the one fight we all saw that he lost, his first national championship, is he came back year after year until he finally retired. Kenny Egan demonstrated an enormous heart and has won the affection of everybody in boxing; he is an unbelievable man. However, the question is from where will the Joe Wards of tomorrow come. That is the concern of the board of directors. That is why we had realistic concerns arising out of funding and taking on future funding at the level at which Billy Walsh's package would have been, had he remained on as a permanent employee. We always wanted him as a permanent employee but at the level he was at previously or with increases of 5% or 10% or with negotiated bonuses. In international sport, it is not normal to have a long-term contract for a high performance coach. I am not talking about boxing but about other sports, and contracts usually are for one, two or three years and are then are rolled over. This is not to state they cannot be renegotiated during their term to extend them if it is in the interests of both parties to so do and this is what was envisaged by the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA. We would be able to tell the board of directors that while we have taken on this responsibility, we have an assurance and a guarantee from the funders that we can cover it. The IABA was not taking on a long-term responsibility and at 52 years of age, it would have been 13 years of responsibility for that elevated salary. This is something we simply were obliged to take into account. Did I go on for too long? Pardon me.
Mr. John Treacy:
On the comments of Senator Eamonn Coghlan, as he is well aware, we work in partnership with the governing bodies of sport and it is very much a partnership on the high performance side. We work on this with the coaches, mainly with the high performance directors, and it is a partnership. Since this issue arose in February, that partnership with the IABA definitely has been strained. That is the best way I could describe it. As for the urgency of this issue, we urged the association to deal with this issue and it was not dealt with. To my mind, without question it fell down on the non-financial issues. Sport Ireland will work closely with the IABA in the coming months and will meet the association on a monthly basis. We have had strained relationships with national governing bodies of sport, NGBs, in the past and what we have done is to work with them to work through issues and solve problems and where we can provide resources to support the organisation, we will do so. This is what we propose to do with the IABA over the next number of months.
I intend to take the next four members together, starting with Senator Mooney and proceeding to Deputy Tom Fleming, Deputy Griffin and Senator Brennan. Deputy Keating should note members of the committee are entitled to contribute first. I am not sure whether Senator Sean Barrett wants to contribute.
I welcome both delegations. Having listened to the debate and exchange of views, I, too, have had serious difficulties with the use of the word "bombshell" in respect of the resignation of Mr. Billy Walsh. I was surprised to hear Mr. Kirwan talking about including legally binding sections that will not be invoked. It is rather strange to interpret employment law by including sections in the belief they will not be invoked anyway. That did not seem to be an approach with which Mr. Walsh agreed. Does Mr. Christle resent the high performance unit within the organisation? Does he resent its success? Is there some culture within the IABA that has drawn the wagons around and which has resulted in the expressed view that many more coaches can be recruited? It has been asked what Billy Walsh means anyway. Despite this, all the evidence suggests Mr. Walsh was not only a successful coach, as Mr. Mulvey stated last week, but the best boxing coach in the world. Mr. Christle is saying he wanted Mr. Walsh to stay but the evidence suggests otherwise.
I hope the Chairman will allow me to make a quotation in order to put my question together. Mr. Walsh is quoted in a newspaper article as having said, "I could not work for someone who clearly did not want me". He stated the association has implied he left because of money. This has arisen repeatedly here. The delegation has gone into a lot of detail about money. Most people in the public arena who support boxing and acknowledge its success would not understand the dancing on the head of a needle over whether there would be a problem for the other employees. They regard Mr. Walsh in the same way as they regard Mr. Joe Schmidt and Mr. Martin O'Neill, namely, as the man leading the success of his sport. Does Mr. Christle resent the success of the high performance unit? Is there something in the organisation that resents success?
Mr. Keith Duggan stated in The Irish Timeslast week, "The future of Irish boxing is what is at stake here but this sorry mess, this usual disgrace, is an unhappy reminder that Ireland is the undisputed world champion when it comes to mugging itself". How could the association let Mr. Walsh go? For eight months, this went on. Mr. Christle said in his submission that, on the receipt of the offer from the United States, there were attempts to come to a new arrangement. He said there was an initial urgency to the process at Mr. Walsh's insistence but that the urgency subsequently subsided due to overseas commitments. Why did the urgency subside? If the association was so keen to keep Mr. Walsh, why did this drag on for eight months? Towards the latter end, it was dragged on again. Without going into specific details, Mr. Walsh referred to timelines. Contracts were sent back. Up to 60 amendments were required for the contract to be fair and acceptable to Mr. Walsh. Throughout his statement, Mr. Walsh makes it clear the money was not an issue.
I am aware other Members wish to contribute. There is much more I would like to say. The association has acted disgracefully and not in the best national interest. This is the closest thing in sporting terms to national sabotage. Our having such limited expertise in a wide variety of sports is such that the letting go of Mr. Walsh in the manner in which he was let go does not reflect well on either the chief executive or Mr. Christle, the chairman of the IABA. In fact, people outside the Houses have asked that Mr. Christle might even consider his position.
I welcome the witnesses. We cannot forget that this is really all about the sport. It is primarily about the boxers themselves but also but the clubs and wonderful tradition of amateur and professional boxing in this country. Boxing is one of the few sports on the island of Ireland that are under the one flag.
This has been a debacle and a travesty. We need to look at it objectively. From what I have been hearing and I have heard it here again today, there is what I would term a milk-an-water attitude by the Irish Amateur Boxing Association to many aspects of all this. There has been procrastination throughout the saga. It was very unfortunate that the Dáil was in recess at the time in the late summer. It was very disturbing to everybody to hear that there were difficulties regarding the relationship between Billy Walsh and the boxing association.
The world is in awe of the success of Irish boxing for such a small nation. There are many factors involved in that. I compliment the Irish Amateur Boxing Association on keeping the ship going. Down through the years we have had a proud record. There has to be due recognition of that.
We have reached unprecedented levels and there is only one person over the last decade that we can really select and identify. I would say his technical team have been brilliant. Paddy Barnes, a very successful Olympic boxer, came out with some revealing statements recently. I would take that to be the authentic version of what is happening. These are the people who have been at the coalface.
It is regrettable that this has gone to such a level. Billy Walsh is not here to defend himself. In his statement he stated:
I was shocked at the tone and content of the new fixed term contract in that it consistently undermined my role and my authority at every turn.
The new fixed term contract gave me very few legal protections and prevented me from having any contact with the Irish Sport Council (ISC) or the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) for example. These are key stakeholders that I need to deal with on a regular basis due to the nature of my role and the work of the programme. I was prevented from having contact with the ISC or OCI without prior written permission of the CEO. This stipulation also included any contact with the media.
I was given absolutely no autonomy in the new contract...
There are several things that stand out here. Billy Walsh is an honest man and I take his word at face value. We are well aware that he was bound to be pursued and courted by the American boxing association. Who knows, perhaps behind the scenes there might be some other large nations after him also. That would only be in the nature of the business, given his success.
The Sport Ireland statement stated:
Sport Ireland believes that the proposal tabled on the 22nd August by the Sports Council, and supported by Billy Walsh, and the IABA representatives presented a realistic and fair framework to ensure his retention.
It is not clear why this proposal was never presented to the board of the IABA...
That is something that needs explanation. The statement also states, "it was prepared to provide funding for the financial cost of any agreement arising, if it was agreeable to both sides".
The IABA then concluded that there had been successful talks and negotiations. This was proven not to be the case. The horse has bolted and has left at this stage. The point about it is that I do not think some of the explanations we are getting today are valid or credible.
The bottom line is that this will be a very hard role to fill in future. It is a loss to Irish boxing. As a small nation, we have been - pardon the pun - punching above our weight.
Does the IABA accept there was undue delay and that many petty obstacles put in the way of reaching a working agreement with Mr. Billy Walsh? Has the IABA learned from the travesty? In future negotiations with a potential head of boxing, will it eliminate some of the overzealous and inappropriate terms that were imposed in the context of Mr. Walsh's contract?
Mr. Joe Christle:
We are the most successful Olympic sport in this country. Incidentally, for clarity purposes, we were successful long before we had a high performance unit. We have medals going back to the 1956 Olympic Games. We have continued that. Whether we had a high performance unit or not-----
I want to be very clear. I ask Deputy Griffin to finish putting his questions. I will then call Senator Brennan. Everyone will get plenty of time to contribute. We can stay here all day. Supplementary questions will be allowed as well.
As long as we have an assurance that the questions will be answered. On the IABA's record, Mr. Billy Walsh now joins a record that consists of Gary Keegan and Nicholas Cruz. Is that a record of which Mr. Christle is proud? I believe he would agree that those two people are no longer on good terms with the IABA, and his relationship in that regard is not one of a good record. There was an interesting article in The Sunday Business Postthis week by Fearghal O'Connor. He refers to a meeting of 14 October that took place here in Leinster House. I ask Mr. Christle specifically about that meeting. Am I correct in saying that the meeting in question took place? The question requires a one-word answer.
It seems that at that meeting a number of new proposals were put to the Minister and the Sports Council. It reminds me of the workers in the vineyard in that if the IABA were to keep Mr. Walsh, other people needed to benefit as well. The article in question states:
Furthermore, the document that had started by detailing a proposed taxpayer-funded contract with Walsh concluded by saying that "the IABA has received objections both verbally and in writing from coaches and very high-profile boxers within our High Performance team.
They are very irate at the notion that one member of the High Performance team [is] receiving supernatural pay increases whilst the rest of the people involved in the success story that is the IABA [are] not being recognised or considered for further reward for their involvement.
Who were the people who made those complaints? Were any of the representatives here today involved? Did any of them seek pay increases or better conditions as part of this process? I would like an answer to that question. Mr. Christle might make a note of these questions because it is important that they would be answered. The article I mention also refers to a request for further capital grants for equipment and for the National Stadium.
Did the IABA make a submission to the sports capital programme for the regional fund this year and if not, why not? Would it acknowledge that many of its clubs already received substantial funding from this round and previous rounds in 2014 and 2012? Were there clubs that did not apply and if so, why not? Why did it feel additional capital was required?
Is it now concerned that a head coach who obviously knows the strengths and weaknesses of our highest performers in the boxing ring is now working in a different country with different teams? Is the association concerned that our boxers will now be vulnerable in the ring as a result of having lost the services of Billy Walsh? Did that concern the association during the debacle? Will we regret this in a few months' time in Rio de Janeiro?
At the outset, I acknowledge the voluntary contribution the IABA has made to boxing throughout the length and breadth of this country for in excess of 100 years and its achievements at local, international and world games and the Olympic Games. I would not like to put a monetary value on its contribution.
Billy Walsh had a permanent job with the IABA since 2008 and on 14 September 2015 he was offered a new contract. I had a permanent job and I would not like to have been asked whether I would move to a contract basis, having been in a job for the best part of 15 years and it had taken eight months to decide what the contract would be.
Mr. Treacy stated that this man fell on "non-financial issues". Are there any other issues that the committee should be told about? He said all parties were disappointed about the decision. The terms "bombshell" and "shocks" were used about the announcement. I might find it difficult if asked to quantify my opinion, but I do not think that a man of the calibre of Billy Walsh received the respect and recognition he deserved for his work over the years. He was classed as the best boxing coach in the world, but it was not long until he was sourced by an association in the United States. He obviously made his mind up fairly quickly. I would like to know whether there are any other issues somebody could relate to the committee.
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
I will take up on where I was interrupted by Deputy Dooley. I intended to say that we were successful before the high performance unit. We have been even more successful since the initiation of the high performance unit and are very grateful to have received taxpayers' money for the unit.
Taxpayers' money has, in effect, allowed our elite boxers to become full-time athletes. That was the key difference. That is why, despite our previous successes, we have had more concentrated success. That was the point I was going to make before I was interrupted.
I want this to be made perfectly clear to the committee. I spoke to the athletes and coaches personally last Friday. We in the IABA and those on the board are absolutely bursting with pride at the achievements of our high performance unit and boxers. They are the very reason every schoolboy and schoolgirl walks into a boxing club, whether in Manorhamilton, County Clare or one of the underprivileged areas of Dublin. They go because of people like Katie Taylor, Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan. We are under no illusions about this. This thing that has been propagated in the media that we are somehow resentful needs to be put to bed. Not only are we not resentful, we are incredibly proud and have no intention of ever not being involved. I do not know if I can be any clearer than that.
Mr. Kirwan may be saying it and I do not doubt his sincerity; perhaps, therefore, I should say how much I admire his work. He mentioned Manorhamilton. There has been a boxing tradition there for a long time. With everyone else, I am bursting with pride at what our boxers are doing. It raises serious questions for the Irish Sports Council about other high performance units, for example, that in athletics which, despite all of the hype surrounding it, has failed to be as successful as the boxing high performance unit. Why is it that the sport of boxing had this unique coach or series of coaches who succeeded so well? The structure from the bottom up has obviously contributed. I recognise all of this, but I am still of the view that something is inherently wrong with the process of the past eight months. That is what I am trying to get at, despite what Mr. Kirwan is saying.
The supplementary question is specifically about the response Billy Walsh has put into the public domain. It raises fundamental questions about the IABA's position. Was Mr. Christle being prompted by people within his own organisation to get rid of Mr. Walsh?
Mr. Joe Christle:
I thank the Chairman and the Senator. There is one thing that ties in with what the Senator said earlier. When I said in reading my statement that we wanted Billy to stay, Senator Eamonn Coghlan said he did not believe me. That is a perfectly valid opinion to hold, particularly having regard to the coverage in the media, but from 20 February through to the formal meetings with the Irish Sports Council and the proposals drawn up on 22 August, a number of solutions and options were put forward by the IABA to try to deal with the problem. It started off with whether he could become a contractor, in other words, with a contract for services. That was one suggestion made at the very start which would have obviated the need for relativism because he would have changed his status. We would then just have been looking to match what the yanks were going to pay him. The other option was offering a fixed-term contract. The indications were that that was what he would be getting in America and it did not seem unreasonable to offer him one here on similar terms. Again, that would have obviated the need because he would have changed the terms of his employment.
The other proposition put forward again by the IABA was to waive his exclusivity of service contract within his contract that he was now on as the highest paid permanent employee and the head coach of boxing. At no stage did the IABA want to interfere in any way in that contract, except to offer to waive that and work with the Sports Council to seek increases in wages and bonuses. The only thing that we were putting forward was the proposition that if a bonus is paid to the coach it should also be paid to the boxer, in the sense that they are the ones taking the wallops, and when the bell goes one gets out of the ring and the other stays in. Therefore, that seemed a not unreasonable proposition and it was, in fact, acceded to by the Minister and by the Sports Council in the proposition that was put together in Athlone on 11 September.
Mr. Joe Christle:
Pardon me, Chairman, and I am sorry Senator, but I am just trying to indicate that a recommendation was put by me to the chief executive of the Sports Council that if the IABA waived the exclusivity of service contract then his experience and expertise in the high performance programme couild be provided and shared. We have heard from some of your colleagues that the high performance programmes in the other sports are not producing the same level of medals or the same levels of international success. The proposition was that he would be able to be paid either by the Sports Council, the Institute of Sport, Campus Ireland or whatever group out there to provide this expertise to them and share it with them.
If it was the case that the IABA wanted to get rid of him or did not want him to stay, as I said, why would they have come up with all these different ways to try to overcome the obvious and inevitable funding issues that arise when one renegotiates the terms of one contract? Particularly in order to match the offer that he had from the US, it meant an increase of north of 50% and 60%; it is an enormous amount which has devastating effects down the way, unless one has the funding secured.
Mr. Joe Christle:
No. What was being offered to him in the agreement in August was that he would remain as a permanent employee with his remuneration going up at the levels that I am talking about. What I am trying to convey to the committee is that the IABA did not want him to go. Firstly, we never asked him to leave or change his employment status. I have already put it on the record that even at the very last deal he shook my hand and said "These terms are acceptable to me". We said: "There is always the choice to remain as a permanent employee. That is the choice that you can always make and we will fight for increases of the more modest 5% or 10% and bonuses for you." The choice was made because he was comparing the offer that was there in terms of the length of time of the employment of contract with his offer in America.
He is not here, nor does anybody in the room actually know what he was offered in America - none of the terms and conditions of that offer.
The IABA is not entitled to know and would never have asked what those terms and conditions were. We have to respect his right to negotiate on his own behalf and then try to fight to retain him. If we come up with various propositions, such as acting as a contractor, as a fixed term employee or waiving his exclusivity of service, they are all ideas to try to find another way to keep him in Ireland and keep him involved, not only as the high performance unit’s head coach but also in sport, and lending his expertise to the other sports, that indicates the IABA wants him to stay.
Mr. Pat Ryan:
Absolutely not. The inception of the high performance unit in the IABA was one of the greatest happenings in its history. Naturally, in its infancy there were many misconceptions about what was involved in high performance, who would run it and all kinds of questions.
When the position came up, Gary Keegan, who is a personal friend of mine, and I, discussed it at length. He and I are directly involved in co-ordinating training at national level. Gary was fortunate and successful in his role. We then identified a coach and Billy Walsh was identified at that time as a very young, ambitious and well-established coach and he was appointed.
It is necessary to take a broader view of the high performance unit. It is the jigsaw for success. Part of the jigsaw was to try to source a technical coach. This job was given to Dan O’Connell from Cork, who was one of our top international referees and judges. In Georgia Dan found Zuar Antia, who was brought to this country and we employed him. He is probably reputed to be one of the finest technical coaches in the world. His contribution to this jigsaw is huge. Also at the time, Jim Moore, whose son won a bronze medal in 2001 in Belfast, was part of the coaching staff. The Irish Sports Council supplied the necessary support staff in sport psychology and eventually came on board with Gerry Hussey, a remarkable sports psychologist. His contribution was also huge. We had dieticians, and a strength and conditioning coach, John Cleary, an exceptional guy. His work ethic and contribution to the entire programme, from youth to senior level, have been phenomenal. We absolutely do not resent the high performance unit. I am sure the CEO of Sport Ireland, John Treacy, would be aware that my endeavour to be president of this organisation goes back many years, with a good struggle.
However, I succeeded. It would have been mooted around the country, because Billy Walsh and I spent ten years together in the high performance unit. I was involved in coaching many teams under Billy's stewardship. I know the value of Billy Walsh and never was his professionalism or expertise questioned by anybody.
What is more important for me, as president of the organisation, is the tears that come after. There has been a huge discussion here about what happened with regard to Billy's position and the parties involved. However, it is important that we are very much aware that the high performance unit is one element of our organisation. To take it a stage further and say that we are dysfunctional would be a misrepresentation of how the organisation functions. We have more clubs, more coaches and more boxers, both boys and girls, at present. We have an excellent level 1 and level 2 coaching programme that is implemented and delivered by established master tutors. We also have a referee and judges programme that has enabled some of our referees and judges to officiate at the three pathways that are now available to the Olympic podium, which are AOB - Olympic, WSB - World Series Boxing, and APB - the AIBA professional programme. The same coaching staff is involved with that. I am concerned that we need more coaches to function at this high level. The high performance unit has been fantastic for the IABA but to develop the sport further, it is now a requirement for us to move forward to establish these centre-of-excellence boxing academies in the four units so we can continue the pipeline or conveyor belt and produce boxers from all 32 counties, and so the coaches working in these areas get an opportunity to learn high performance systems and, therefore, continue to produce the conveyor belt of boxers coming to high performance.
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
I wish to respond to Deputy Griffin, who asked a specific question about our remuneration. It related to the article in The Sunday Business Post and the Deputy asked whether the directors sought anything. For absolute clarity, the directors receive no remuneration whatever, nor do we claim any expenses for attending board meetings or any other meetings anywhere in the country.
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
As our chairman stated, we said there would be a relativity knock-on effect or a benchmarking for our other employees. We are in a situation here where our most prized asset and coach has come to us stating that he has received a very attractive offer. We were never privy to what that offer was, nor should we be. That is a matter for himself. If we accede to all his financial requests we know, with certainty, that his assistant coach, our other coaches and, indeed, our boxers - not only do we know, it has already happened to us-----
Mr. Joe Christle:
Pardon me, Deputy Griffin. I wish to have it on the record here that the chief executive, Mr. Fergal Carruth, has put himself on record as saying that even if there was any review he feels he is adequately paid and that he did not seek, nor has he ever sought during his time, to leverage his own position. He is a very modestly salaried CEO.
Mr. Joe Christle:
The terms that are there were the terms put in place by the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, on 11 September. There was a pathway to success, the first part of which was to offer to Mr. Walsh a fixed-term contract along with a severance package. The IABA did not know what the severance package was going to be - it was to be ring-fenced and proposed by the Irish Sports Council, at the invitation of the Minister. On the day on which we conducted the negotiations, I was on the phone to the Irish Sports Council to find out exactly what we could offer Mr. Walsh in order to fix the deal.
Mr. Joe Christle:
Yes, in the October meeting - which was called by the IABA to bring the Minister of State up to date with everything that had happened since the Athlone meeting - we set out what we had already done. These are the other matters that were agreed in Athlone and we were seeing what had happened regarding those other matters. At the 14 October meeting, it was clear that the most important thing for the Minister of State, the Irish Sports Council and the IABA was to get Mr. Walsh's signature on a contract. We all agreed on that and we all left the room saying "That is what we will get done." That was on the Wednesday before Mr. Walsh's resignation letter on the Monday.
Can Mr. Christle explain why he felt that a review of all salaries should be undertaken on behalf of the ISC before any contracts were signed. The IABA was standing on the edge of a cliff and it was still seeking to impose these conditions. Why was this done when we were on the verge of losing this highly valued coach? Why did the IABA complicate the situation so much and why did it include those conditions? Was it just a bad game of poker that the witness was playing?
I remind Deputy Griffin that we have a procedure and he has put his questions to the witness. The Deputy will get the chance of a supplementary question if his question is not answered. I invite Mr. Christle to answer.
Mr. Joe Christle:
The board of directors was happy to set that aside and follow the proposal or the urging of the Minister.
The Sports Council and the IABA, at the meeting on 14 October, were happy to set it aside and fully concentrate on getting the contract and getting the deal that had been agreed on 14 September signed and sealed. That was the week in which the world championship finals took place on the Wednesday and Thursday and Billy Walsh was back on the Friday and coming up for a meeting on the following Tuesday. The IABA expected contracts to come back from the solicitors because it was at the exchange of contract stage and we had given our word to the Minister that we would finish this by the following Friday. It did not matter what was coming back from the solicitors, it was going to be done. The Minister indicated in the strongest possible terms that he wanted it done and we said that we would get it done.
Mr. Joe Christle:
I am not aware of any other issues. In regard to the recognition of Billy Walsh, the IABA could not have put it more clearly in the statement that was read into the record, he is the most successful Olympic coach in any sport in Irish sporting history. We are extremely grateful for all the work that he has done. These are not platitudes. This is real. That is why for eight long months we battled to try to find a way to hold on to him.
Mr. Fergal Carruth:
Deputy Bruton asked if any other clubs applied for the OSCAR grant and why some clubs did not. The answer to that is yes. A lot of clubs benefitted from the OSCAR grant to the tune of almost €600,000. For the ones that did not, we have, with the assistance of the Irish Sports Council, employed two development officers to go directly into clubs and, amongst other things, help them to fill out application forms for various grants and local sports partnership funding that may be available to them. They have already started with the association and are now visiting clubs.
I have a question on the boxing side and concerns that out boxers are now more vulnerable in the ring as a result of losing our head coach to another country - someone who would have known their weaknesses. Is that a consideration?
Mr. Pat Ryan:
To answer Deputy Brendan Griffin's question, it will be difficult to fill the void Billy has left. If we could do it all over again, we might possibly prefer it if he had not walked into the office. We have a very successful coaching team that operates within the high performance unit. It is important to emphasis that it is the system which is in place that justifies the success we have seen. Billy played the lead role and did a remarkable job, absolutely. However, his experience will now be passed on. Zaur Antia has been beside him all the way for the past 13 years. John Conlan who is the Ulster high performance coach and also contributes to the national high performance coaching team is a very accomplished coach in his own right. He is the father of Michael Conlan who recently won a gold medal in Doha. In addition, we have Eddie Bolger, another valued member whom we appointed in the past 12 months. He took over responsibility for Joe Ward at youth stage because his club coach, Seamus Dorrington, was not in a position to continue with him at the time. Eddie took over coaching responsibilities for Joe for a number of years and is now a member of the high performance coaching staff. Joe is the current World Championships silver medalist.
As members can see, we have developed coaches who have grown within the system which was headed up by Billy. It is very important that we have additional coaches who have spent a number of years working in the high performance area.
I apologise for interrupting. My interpretation of Deputy Brendan Griffin's question was that he was seeking Mr. Ryan's view on whether Ireland's boxers would be negatively affected by the fact that Mr. Walsh would effectively be coaching our opponents. If I understand him correctly, Mr. Ryan is saying we have a good coaching structure to carry on the work.
Mr. Fergal Carruth:
We cannot speak directly for our boxers on this issue because they really would have to answer the question themselves. We can, however, speak for those who have given their view on it, one of whom is Katie Taylor. Referring to her opponents, she has observed that one can tell boxers what to do, but it does not necessarily mean that they will be able to do it. That reflects the degree of confidence boxers have in our high performance unit and programme. Comments have been attributed to a number of other boxers and Deputy Tom Fleming noted that he was not particularly happy with what had been said in one instance. It is not a case of their feeling any badness towards anybody leaving; the boxers regret Billy's departure, but they ultimately have confidence in their own abilities and try not to let themselves be distracted in any way, shape or form.
I welcome the delegates. My question is to the delegates from the Irish Sports Council. The minutes of the meeting of 14 October refer to remuneration for Billy Walsh of €115,000, plus a bonus of €10,000. Is that the delegates' recollection of the agreement?
Supposing it had not worked, which is a concern I have, and its successes were not entirely due to Billy Walsh. He is 52 years of age and he could have run out of ideas. Would the organisation have been stuck with the arrangement or would it have been able to renegotiate it if it had not worked out?
I thank Mr. Mulvey. In his statement, Mr. Walsh indicated that the new fixed-term contract gave him very few legal protections and prevented him from having any contact with the Irish Sports Council or the Olympic Council of Ireland. He further indicated that he was also prevented from having contact with the Irish Sports Council or the Olympic Council of Ireland without written permission of the CEO and that this stipulation also related to any contact with the media. Is this a normal relationship for a sports organisation to have with a person of Mr. Walsh's stature?
Mr. John Treacy:
Perhaps the Senator should address his question to the IABA. Any person dealing in high-performance sport needs to talk to the media on a regular basis. This is very clear. It is part and parcel of what these people do. They are on the edge of performance. Mr. Sheedy could tell the Senator exactly what his role was when he managed Tipperary.
It is normal also that when a person achieves international success, he or she receives kudos for his or her performance. When Shane Long scored a goal against the world champions, people in Tipperary could have said they washed the jerseys and pumped up the footballs when he was playing as an under ten but, for better or worse, it was Martin O'Neill, the manager of the team - who sent Shane Long onto the pitch as a substitute just before he scored - who was recognised. Is this not the nature of sport, that success at the highest level gets media attention and reward? We need the under tens in boxing and football because their efforts inevitably feed in to international success.
Mr. Liam Sheedy:
Absolutely, any sport starts with participation, which is clear. Participation is built and out of this, the strong ones come through. The bigger the pool at the bottom the greater the potential but 80% or 90% of the talent will operate in the participation pool. The cream will rise to the top and we need to ensure they can walk into a world-class high-performance structure. Billy Walsh oversaw that high-performance operation in boxing and what has been achieved in the ring has made us all stand up and take notice. It is phenomenal. It is unfortunate that we have ended up in here today speaking about what has happened over the past eight months. Mr. Walsh is more than a coach. He made an emotional connection with boxers and only over time will we understand whether this can be replaced.
It is great to hear that support structures are in place but he is a major loss to Irish boxing and sport.
I wish to make a number of observations and put some questions but I will defer to committee members first. I am conscious that we have been meeting for three and a half hours. Would the witnesses or members like to suspend for 15 minutes before concluding? We are close enough to the end but I do not want-----
That is fine. I just wished to give people the opportunity. I will be able to make my observations at the end of the meeting but I will turn to members now. I ask each to remain brief. We have given everyone a fair crack of the whip and I do not want long speeches, only supplementary questions.
I thank everyone for this open engagement. It has been helpful, although whether it gets us to where we need to be is another question. From what we have heard over the course of today and what we have read in recent days, Mr. Walsh was head coach and thede facto high performance director even though he had never been appointed to the latter role. Something was stated that I was not aware of and that I must have missed when researching this situation, namely, that he had gone for the position and had not been successful and that someone else had been appointed. One of the witnesses indicated that the person who was successful in the competition did not take up the position because he or she was not acceptable to Mr. Walsh or the ISC. Is that correct?
He did not take up the position. It could be inferred from that that Mr. Walsh felt out of sorts because he was not the chosen one. He was offered another position. This sets the context in which he began his discussions with the IABA following an offer that he would have had to consider, given that the IABA was never going to make him the high performance director. In February, he got an offer from the US. I presume that he made contact with either Mr. Christle or Mr. Carruth or both?
Mr. Joe Christle:
It was all I could think of, even if I were falling down those steep stairs. I expressed to Mr. Treacy and Mr. Mulvey that I had a deep pain in the pit of my stomach at the prospect of Mr. Walsh leaving Irish boxing. All that I wanted to do was to try to put together a package to retain him. Not for even one second did I decide to wish him all the best and say that I would see him around and not do anything to keep him. That never crossed my mind and it was never discussed. The only thing-----
I will conclude on this point. On the premise that Billy Walsh had proven himself time out of number and was worthy of the title of high performance director, was consideration given to going with that and all that flows from the position of director, in terms of answerability and being able to decide himself? I do not wish to nit-pick but Mr. Christle made a point earlier in which he characterised the relationship between Mr. Walsh and Mr. Carruth as being on good terms on the basis that Mr. Walsh was able to admit there had been a mix-up and to get a ticket to travel wherever. It is ludicrous for someone at that level not to have such autonomy within his or her own unit or that there was even a requirement to approach Mr. Carruth to seek approval to resolve something so minor. It is clear there was conflict on what was his role and his autonomy. Without going back over it, there is voluminous coverage in various different statements he has issued and in reports that ultimately, it came down to autonomy and a sense of recognition by the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA, that this man was fit to run his own unit, within certain constraints. The directors of the association of course have responsibilities and they devolve certain powers and responsibilities to a director in charge of a particular function and I would have thought that is the normal way. It then goes back to what Mr. Kirwan has said about the capacity within his contract to be changed without reference to himself. While that point has been covered, in looking at all of this, it appears to me to be a relationship that was not self-respecting. It is clear from everything Mr. Walsh has said that he did not believe he had the autonomy or the respect of the association. If anything emerges from today's meeting, it is clear to me he did not and some of what has been said by its representatives leads me to assume or believe this is the case.
As Mr. Walsh is not coming back, we are now past that. How can the IABA prove to members, who represent the taxpayer, that it will be able to move beyond this and will be able to put in place a high performance director who will have the autonomy and wherewithal to get on with the task required of that person to run the unit? The representatives from either the IABA or Sport Ireland mentioned the necessity to have a memorandum of understanding between the two bodies. Is the IABA prepared to enter into that discussion? Would the association be prepared to come back to the joint committee or to send it a communication within a month or whatever to the effect that it has signed off on such a memorandum and now knows what is meant by a high performance unit within the boxing association, what are the director's role and responsibilities and whether everybody is happy with that?
Mr. Joe Christle:
As I outlined previously, we will have a board meeting on Wednesday and they are exactly the terms upon which we will be considering this. We do not simply wish to appoint another head coach as what we want to get is a director of high performance. If that turns out to be a significant front-line coach as well, who has all the attributes, then two positions will have been filled. In all the appointments to which Mr. Fergal Carruth alluded since I have become chairman, it has always been the case that somebody from the Irish Sports Council has sat in on the process, on the interview panel and on the drawing up of the terms of employment, the duties and so on. On the appointment of Mr. Fergal Carruth, I worked with Gary Keegan to whittle down a list from 22 to eight. We were asked to bring it down to six but we could only get it down to eight.
I absented myself from consideration of anything to do with Fergal Carruth's application simply because he had acted as secretary to the board and I had had previous contact with him, so I said I could not be involved. There was an instance in which Gary Keegan had to say the same to me about one of the applicants.
We want to move forward in a way that is not only in tandem with but in agreement with the Irish Sports Council and the Department. I hate to use the much-bandied-about word "dysfunctional," but this dysfunctional communication or understanding involving the single most successful national governing body in the history of Irish sport must be repaired. I would like to be able to say both for myself and as a legacy to whoever comes after me that I assisted in the facilitation of that. The Deputy's words are well understood and taken on board.
Mr. Bernard Allen:
A comment was made about the filling of the position of chief executive officer. I was on the interview panel and I must say that I was not happy with the process. I expressed my reservations at the time. Certain changes had to be made to the process. I do not think it was as smooth and as clear as has been portrayed to the committee today.
Mr. Bernard Allen:
I was unhappy with the process. I was present at what was to be the final round of interviews and was given inadequate explanation about how the weeding-out process had taken place. Gary Keegan was present at the first meeting and was subjected to such a level of treatment that I had to intervene and say "Look, this isn't on." I would not agree with the statement that this process was clear-cut and clean.
Mr. Joe Christle:
I went through that process with Gary Keegan. I was asked by the board to whittle down 22 candidates. I suggested that it should be done with somebody from the Irish Sports Council. I know where that process happened. It was very open and clear and we got it down to eight candidates, although we could not get down any further. I said that this was the end of their involvement and my involvement in that process, so I am a bit mystified as to why this is now being called into question. I have a copy of a report drawn up by Gary Keegan and that I signed off on. We were both extremely happy with the process. I am only talking about this little part of the process - the whittling-down process. If I can dig it out, that report would put to bed any fear that there was some kind of-----
Mr. Bernard Allen:
Information about the total number of applicants for the job, how the applicants were reduced to a certain number and how the final number was arrived at needs to be supplied.
I did not intend to speak but I cannot let that statement go that the filling of the chief executive officer's post was clean and smooth and with the impression being given to the committee that it was clear cut. In fact, we had to have a second round of interviews because a person who I deemed to be adequately suitable for the position did not even get to the final round of interviews. That is a matter of public record. It was signed off on and there was a majority decision made. Quite rightly, the Irish Sports Council went with the majority. However, I did express reservations at the time and reported back accordingly to the Irish Sports Council on the matter.
There are no problems whatsoever inside the ring. Athletes from other sports are reminded many times of how wonderful the boxers are and how many medals they have won over the past 50 years by the gentlemen opposite, with glee in their eyes.
There are, however, some problems outside of the ring. Today, we see the problems are about trust, communication, respect and credibility. That is among the Irish Sports Council, which asks sporting national governing bodies to reach certain criteria in all the various levels of performances such as high performance teams, sports development and participation in sport. Part of the problem is also Billy Walsh. It was not about money but he was looking for respect. It seems like he was not being given that. There is also the problem within the IABA, which refuses to be dictated to by the Irish Sports Council. The IABA does not go 100% with any suggestions the council has.
Having listened to some of the other debate today, I also feel a major part of the Billy Walsh problem is the boxing coaches. Reference was made to club level and regional level coaches. Once an athlete gets to the high performance level, he or she is taken over by the high performance coach. I do not believe the coaches are too happy about this. They got their athlete to a certain level. Why should they then have to hand them over to a high performance coach? Going back several years when Billy Walsh was given this role, it is my understanding that when the coaches showed up at the National Stadium, the high performance coach said they were not allowed in because it was his gig. The problem is actually coming from the coaches because of the long-term influence they may have with board members of the IABA. This is where the problem arises, with giving Billy Walsh respect and credit.
There is also a problem with Gary Keegan's and Billy Walsh's brilliance when they established the high performance unit in the IABA. However, because they aligned themselves with the Irish Sports Council and the Irish Institute of Sport, the IABA does not seem to like that, unlike some other national governing bodies which I have observed welcoming such support with open arms.
The IABA referred to a newspaper report about ulterior motives within the Irish Sports Council. What are those ulterior motives? Is the Irish Sports Council really trying to control the high performance unit of the IABA?
Mr. Joe Christle:
Senator Eamonn Coghlan will have to ask the Irish Sports Council about those ulterior motives, if they exist at all. I believe there is a history of miscommunication, which I spoke about earlier. We have inherited a legacy of that mistrust.
With regard to the statements made last week, when everyone was in shock - including us, as has been acknowledged - threats were made and language was used that put the coaches and boxers in fear as to where their money would come from. The IABA had to react to that, not only because we have had this conversation and engagement but also because the reality is that we all volunteer to try to promote sport. The sport we are passionate about is boxing. We must keep asking ourselves, as I do, what is in the best interest of the boxers themselves. The ones on the line are the ones who have already qualified for the Olympic Games and the others in the elite programme who are on the way to qualification events in 2016. We must ask whether it in their interest that we try to draw a line under this and get rid of the history of the non-filling of Gary Keegan's role as director of the high performance unit from 2008 to the present day. I have not had the discussion with the board of directors but I understand that is the line we will be moving towards. We have to put together a plan of action that will satisfy not only the boxers but also, and ultimately, the people of Ireland who give the money to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Irish Sports Council. In my view, they are the most important stakeholders in this after the athletes and coaches in the high performance category and all the volunteers and boxers underneath them. We cannot concentrate on one and not on the other.
Is it in our interest to have some sort of battle between the IABA and the Irish Sports Council or any other funding organisation? I cannot see that it is. Lessons have to be learned by all sides, including the IABA and the Irish Sports Council. I look forward to engaging in dialogue with both the Minister and Irish Sports Council on constructing a pathway that will mean the work towards Rio de Janeiro will not be as affected as it might be by the departure of our head coach.
From talking to people involved in boxing, I have learned the consensus seems to be that, for the next 37 weeks leading up to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, what has occurred will not have the impact that some people might believe it will have. It is the period after the Olympic Games that many people are worried about.
Obviously, the delegates have been involved in boxing all their lives. Did Mr. Keegan resign? This has not been answered. He was refused access to the boxers by the IABA. If I am involved the GAA, I know what is going down in every county. What is the story? The story proceeds from Mr. Keegan to Mr. O'Rourke. Did Mr. O'Rourke get a job?
I want to be clear on an issue. I have been led to believe Mr. Walsh contacted Mr. Carruth on several occasions to arrange meetings. Perhaps something will emerge within the next week to prove what I am saying, be it a text or an e-mail. Did Mr. Carruth refuse or cancel any meeting with Billy Walsh in the past three months? Is he putting on record that he did not do so?
"To the best of my knowledge" is not a straight answer. Mr. Carruth would know whether he received an e-mail or a text, whether he told someone he could meet and whether he met that person. It is a simple question to ask.
If something crops up in the next week, would it make Mr. Carruth's position untenable? If information were to emerge that Mr. Carruth had refused or cancelled a meeting, would it put him in a difficult position?
The boxing world and the Irish Sports Council have known since 2008 what has been going on. Mr. Allen, in his statement, dropped another bombshell. We do not know what sort of in-house arrangements are in place regarding appointments. Sport Ireland is the diesel in the engine that keeps the car rolling because it has the money. Why did someone not clean up this fiasco in the past eight years? Many people have many questions to answer for this hoodwink job or whatever it is because we do not know what is going on. At this stage, we have lost a person who everyone, on both sides of the argument, recognises was top class. Why did someone not foresee this development? Mr. Treacy has been in his position for a good few years and is experienced at his game. Why did someone not move in and turn off the flow of diesel? That is the only way something could have been sorted out.
Mr. John Treacy:
In 2008, Gary Keegan came over and worked for the Irish Institute of Sport. We put our foot down and stepped in when a candidate was picked who we believed did not have the ability to do the job of director of high performance. I am not quite sure what the circumstances were in terms of what offer was made to the candidate in question but he went off and did another job. Billy Walsh essentially did two jobs. In 2012, we were told that Mr. Walsh's terms were to be enhanced and I believe he was promised enhanced terms. I also believe, however, that his terms were never enhanced. It must be remembered that Sport Ireland is not the employer.
Mr. John Treacy:
We are the diesel. We have a high performance programme that is winning medals and one does not want to cut off the diesel to it. Therefore, we were caught in a bit of a bind. We worked closely with Billy Walsh to ensure the boxers were well catered for and we increased the money for high performance, where it was needed. A new board was also coming in and we placed our faith in it.
We were delighted to see a new chairman coming in.
Our reaction last week was not over the top; rather, we put our foot down. We could not take any more. We were extremely disappointed.
Mr. Bernard Allen:
Let me clarify the situation. I was unhappy with the procedures. We accepted the majority decision of the interview panel and that is as far as we could go without interfering in the internal workings of the association. I was extremely unhappy about what I saw there. It is no exaggeration to say that I experienced rough words being spoken to Gary Keegan. I was challenged about whether I was calling people dishonest when I questioned certain things. As I said, I was unhappy about a very experienced administrator not even getting the benefit of an interview. I insisted that the person be interviewed but, naturally enough, the person did not get the job.
Mr. John Treacy:
I want to add one last thing. We are very reluctant to issue threats of withholding funding. We saw some of the reaction this week, in terms of the misinterpretation of the chairman's comments. We do not threaten organisations; rather, we try to work with them. This has brought the situation to a head.
I return to my original question. Can the public who fund the organisation have confidence in it, given everything we have heard from Mr . Allen and Mr. Treacy, what we heard Mr. Mulvey say last week, everything that has happened with Billy Walsh, the reports about Mr. Keegan and as far back as Mr. Cruz?
Mr. Joe Christle:
I believe the answer is "Yes". How can I convince the committee or the Deputy that is the case? Throughout the process with Billy Walsh I believe I can stand over my efforts and those of the board of directors to try to retain the services of Billy Walsh. The only way to demonstrate that those efforts were real and thorough is for an independent review on this whole process, from February to today, to be carried out. I would welcome that because of the words of the chairman and chief executive of the Irish Sports Council in regard to the competence or efforts of the board of directors, directed at me as chairman of the board of directors.
As a matter of public confidence, I refer to the CEO being asked by my colleague whether a meeting was refused or cancelled. I acknowledge that Mr. Carruth is a busy man as the CEO, but surely someone of the stature of Billy Walsh asking for a meeting to be arranged would be acknowledged. Can he give a "Yes" or "No" answer to that question? I would like something more substantive than "To the best of my recollection".
Mr. Carruth says that to his knowledge he did not refuse a meeting. If some new information comes to hand - perhaps that he inadvertently refused a meeting or did not contact Billy Walsh - would he please supply that? We have to accept that for now, and if something else shows up we will have more questions.
I am glad that Mr. Treacy referred to the overt threats from the IABA, because the threat of the withdrawal of funding has come up time and again in this discussion. I was present at the meeting last week with Mr. Mulvey, and Mr. Treacy is perfectly right. I left here totally convinced that there was no threat to the funding of the IABA’s boxers. What Mr. Mulvey explored - he has answered already on this and can answer again - was the possibility, because of all that had happened following Billy Walsh’s departure, of adopting the United Kingdom model of funding for the high performance unit, which is a separate issue. That was not a question of withdrawal of funding but of perhaps redirecting funding.
I can understand his frustration, which he made quite plain, considering Mr. Christle's statement last week. According to Malachy Clerkin in The Irish Times, “They are standing up for boxing against a meddling Government agency, one they described yesterday as having [and this is a quote from Mr. Christle] ‘absolutely no experience, knowledge or credibility in this sport’.” If I was sitting on the Irish Sports Council I would have had a much less restrained response than Mr. Mulvey’s to that sort of allegation. That was an outrageous thing to say. I appreciate that people said things in the heat of the moment, but in the context of what Mr. Christle said, and what Mr. Mulvey said about the possibility of exploring the issue, I can understand Mr. Mulvey's point of view. I left here under no illusion but that there was no threat to withdraw funding. I raise this only because Mr. Christle said it sent shock waves through the organisation, from coaches down to boxers. It was good and proper to clarify that here again.
Can Mr. Christle clarify for me whether at the meeting on 14 September it was the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, who proposed the financial package and the remuneration to Mr. Christle, or was it the Irish Sports Council?
I find that surprising because I would have thought it was the purview of the Irish Sports Council to decide on funding. The money comes from the taxpayer to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. There is then a legal process under which the council operates in the disbursal of those funds. I find it a little surprising that the Minister of State intervened and was proposing a financial package, which seemed to raise questions about his relationship with the council. That is a separate issue. I just wanted to clarify that it was not the Irish Sports Council that put forward the proposal but the Minister of State.
In terms of what has been outlined about the statutory obligations and responsibilities of the Irish Sports Council, I would have thought that was an issue for it to put forward in its dialogue with the IABA as a governing body, rather than for the Minister of State to intervene at that point.
We all agree that the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, has given an inordinate amount of time to trying to resolve this issue. I compliment him on that. The role of the Irish Sports Council and how it decides on its funding under its statutory obligations might arise in the future. That is why I raised it.
My next question relates specifically to the meeting of 14 September and what happened afterwards.
I am sorry, but I ask the Chairman to just bear with me for one moment because I want to find the particular reference made to it by Billy Walsh. He said the new fixed contract would give him very few legal protections. I think Senator Sean D. Barrett referred to this. Mr. Walsh said he was under significant time pressures to sign. Instead of rejecting the contract outright and walking away, he said:
I went through the proposed fixed-term contract with my solicitor and a HR professional and identified up to 60 changes that were required to make this a fair and acceptable contract document for me. We submitted these changes through my solicitor to the IABA solicitor on 21 September and no response came from the IABA until 8 October. From 21 September to 8 October it seemed that they were deliberately dragging this out.
He went on to say: "The IABA had merely agreed to a few stylistic changes and one or two elements of limited substance." I am going to direct the question to Mr. Kirwan because he seems to have come across as the person who was directly involved in the issue of contract employment law. Does he have any response?
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
Yes. I understand from our own solicitor that the timelines involved resulted in our solicitor taking annual leave and Billy Walsh's appointed solicitor also taking annual leave, as well as the difficulty of clearly getting instructions from Billy Walsh when he was, in fact, head coach in Doha with our team during that period.
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
There you go. I am open to correction, but I think there were approximately 60 amendments. Incidentally, they were referenced by Billy Walsh's solicitors as suggestions. They were not red flag items; they were suggested for consideration. That was the terminology used, if the Senator really wants me to be specific.
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
I was not directly involved, but I believe over 30 of the amendments were, in fact, agreed to. It was at that point, as a solicitor, that one would usually expect the other solicitor to come back and look for a few more, but that did not happen. The next communication we actually received on was the resignation.
I hope the parties, in paying tribute on the loss of a great servant to Irish sport, will belatedly reach agreement. The other thought I had was that over the weekend the Irish hockey team qualified for the Olympic games for the first time since 1908. I hope what we have heard in the past four hours will not set a precedent. It has been very sad to listen to it.
I think everybody will agree - I meant to say this earlier - that I have huge admiration for the manner in which the IABA has maintained unity in boxing on this island and particularly how it has managed time and again to cross the sectarian divide in the North. I only wish the soccer authorities would take a leaf out of its book. It has done a tremendous service for the country in that regard.
I will draw our proceedings to a conclusion with a couple of final questions and observations. Having listened to the discussion for the past four hours, I have a simple question. What would both organisations do differently in the future than they did not do in the past few weeks and months?
To tidy up, I have another question, but perhaps the answer was given earlier. I understand the administrative assistant of Billy Walsh was moved or changed. Why did that happen? That question is for the IABA.
To be as positive as I can - this is an observation, having listened to the discussion for the past four hours - the financial issues were addressed by the IABA in terms of the knock-on effects of a new contract and also by the Irish Sports Council.
Financial issues were addressed by the IABA, in the sense of the knock-on effect from a new contract and all of that, and were then addressed by Sport Ireland. That would be my observation. I am still puzzled by two things, the first of which is the contract. I am not a legal expert and I know Mr. Kirwan answered my previous question. I am puzzled that one side can change a contract but the other side cannot do so unless it breaks the terms or walks away from it. I may be making a wrong interpretation. I refer to term "the reasonable changes without ..." in this regard. The second thing that puzzles me is the requirement for Billy Walsh to have written permission. I want to move away from all the legal stuff for a moment. Mr. Pat Ryan, manager of the Portlaoise team, is present. I congratulate him on his win at the weekend. If he, as a team manager, had to get written permission to give interviews to the Laois media after a game, how would he feel about that? As somebody who has been involved in this situation along with Mr. Liam Sheedy and others, forgetting about the finance for a second, I would not be five minutes in the job if those conditions were imposed. While the IABA wanted to do everything to keep Mr. Walsh, I do not believe the non-financial conditions were credible. That is my genuine observation. I respect if the IABA has a different view on it.
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
The Chairman is perfectly entitled to his observation. However, we are reluctant to draw analogies to other sports. When addressing the Oireachtas committee, I believe the chairman of Sport Ireland drew the analogy to Joe Schmidt and rugby. I could draw the analogy to rugby and the incident with Matt O'Connor, the former Leinster coach. I am not privy to the exact clauses in his contract but we know that when he complained about the condition of his players on returning from international duty and their lack of availability for Leinster matches, he was, in fact, called in to a disciplinary hearing by the IRFU, as I understand it. We all know what happened to Matt O'Connor.
Yes, I agree with Mr. Kirwan in the sense that if a coach says something derogatory of the people who employ him, obviously he must live with the consequences. However, we are talking about preventing him from actually speaking. He realises that he deals with the victory or the defeat that happens and if he deals with something else or goes outside his remit then he is answerable, of course, to his board or whatever.
Mr. Ciaran Kirwan:
I think the answer to the Chairman's question is that it was included in his contract long before this board was involved; it was in his original contract back in 2003, as I understand it. If we consider the high profile he has had in the media, clearly we were not restricting him.
I wish finish on a positive note. I welcome the observations of the IABA and Sport Ireland to the effect that they want to get this matter resolved and ensure that nothing similar ever happens again and also that the preparation for Rio and other boxing tournaments will not be affected. It is incumbent on both organisations to deal with the issues rather than the personalities. I hope we might be here for a review after the Rio Olympic Games and that we will be discussing our athletes winning another bucket-load of medals.
I thank Mr. Joe Christle, Mr. Pat Ryan, Mr. Fergal Carruth, Mr. Ciaran Kirwan, Mr. John Treacy, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, Mr. Liam Sheedy and Mr. Bernard Allen for engaging with us today. It was important for the public that the issues raised in the media in recent weeks were articulated here. This has been a useful exercise. As there is no other business, I hereby adjourn the meeting.