Tuesday, 13 July 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Minister of State. I listened with interest to his reply. This is a taxpayer-funded sport, and certainly the governing body is taxpayer funded. The selection process and the Olympic Games delegation would receive similar taxpayer funding. The coach, who is a resident of California I am told, is taxpayer funded. I am not sure how appropriate it is for someone who has not set foot in the State for 18 months to be selecting a team where the nominations closed a few weeks ago. I also appreciate that the Minister of State cannot pick the teams, but perhaps the Minister of State could have mandated that a team be sent, provided that the team met certain criteria, which I am told they had. I would not expect any Government Minister or official to get involved in the who or what within that. Not sending a team at all, however, is outrageous and is a national scandal. The Minister of State was quite correct that Heike Holstein will be competing at individual level and I wish her every success. Ms Holstein is an accomplished rider and would have been part of the team had the whole team been able to be sent and had there been a team entry, which there is not.
I do not want to get into apportioning blame but I must ask a number of questions that have been put to me about the appeals process. I have already highlighted that the coach is overseas. The decision appears to have been made on the final day and when it was announced it was almost too late to appeal. There were a couple of appeals, one of which was given only partial information. One of the riders, James Connor was not apparently informed that having already engaged with Horse Sport Ireland prior to that he had actually secured Olympic accreditation. This may have influenced the decision. A number of questions have to be asked.
There is another point to be made, which I appreciate might be hearsay but it came out in the appeals process that a phrase was used where the back-up team were described as opportunistic. I am quite shocked that would be thrown out as some kind of apparently derogatory term. Anybody in sport, in life, in politics and in business should be opportunistic. It is called ambition. We had a by-election candidate, a fine new Teachta Dála, Deputy Bacik, elected into this House today because another Member had stood aside and created a vacancy. That is what is done to succeed, stepping forward when the door opens and taking the chance. Our riders tried to do that in this case but were prevented from doing that. It is outrageous to dismiss them for having the temerity to try to represent their country.