Governance in Irish Athletic Boxing Association: Discussion

Today's meeting is convened with representatives from the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, IABA, and Sport Ireland to discuss governance in the IABA. I welcome our witnesses to the meeting in committee room 1. First, I welcome IABA chairman, Mr. Ciaran Kirwan, and Mr. John Treacy, chief executive of Sport Ireland, who are with us in committee room 1. I also welcome the following representatives from the IABA who are joining the meeting remotely via Microsoft Teams, Mr. Fergal Carruth, CEO, and Mr. David Britton, national operations manager. Finally, I welcome Mr. Paul McDermott, director of high performance and the national governing bodies with Sport Ireland, who will be joining our meeting via Microsoft Teams. They are all very welcome.

I do not think anyone will mind if I take this opportunity either to congratulate or commiserate with Mr. Treacy, who is about to leave Sport Ireland after many years. I thank him for his willingness to engage with this committee and for his thorough reports to and constant co-operation with it. I thank him very much and wish him the very best of luck in his retirement.

The format of the meeting is such that witnesses will be invited to make opening statements, which will be followed by questions from members of the committee. As the witnesses are probably aware, the committee may publish the opening statements on its website following the meeting.

Before I ask our guests to deliver their opening statements, which are limited to three minutes, I would like to advise them of the following in relation to parliamentary privilege. Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they may be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with such direction.

Members are reminded of the long-standing practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the House, or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. For anyone watching today's meeting, in most instances Oireachtas Members and witnesses may now be physically present in the committee room. It is great to have people physically in the room rather than just talking to the screens or, worse, to ourselves.

I remind members of the constitutional requirement that members must be physically present within the confines of Leinster House. They may participate while sitting in their offices provided they are within the confines of Leinster House. If attending in the committee room, members are asked to exercise personal responsibility in protecting themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19. They are strongly advised to practise good hand hygiene and leave at least one vacant seat between them and others who are attending. They should also maintain an appropriate level of social distancing during and after meetings. Masks should be worn at all times during the meeting except when speaking.

I also ask members, please, to identify themselves when contributing for the benefit of Debates Office staff preparing the Official Report. Members should mute their microphones when not contributing to reduce background noise and feedback. I also ask that they use the raise hand button if they wish to contribute and are on a screen. I remind all those joining today’s meeting to ensure mobile phones are on silent or, better again, switched off.

Most members have had an opportunity to look at our running order. My colleagues will each have five minutes for questions and answers. There may be an opportunity for a second round. Without further ado, I will ask Mr. Kirwan to make his opening statement.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I am chairman of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, IABA. In my professional life, I am a solicitor with Margetson and Greene, which is based not too far from here. I have been in and around boxing for 50 years and I have served on the board for the past six or seven years. It has been my privilege and honour to be chairman for a little over two years. I am grateful for the opportunity to address this joint committee today. I am aware of some of the issues to be discussed but, before I start, I wish Mr. Treacy all the best in his retirement. I echo the Chair's sentiments in this regard. If I may, I will also congratulate our boxing team who participated in the Olympic Games, particularly our medallists. It was a tremendous performance throughout the country. We have 28,000 members, volunteers and schools programme participants throughout the organisation.

Amateur boxing is the Olympic sport in which Ireland has been most successful, accounting for over 50% of all Olympic medals we have won. In the previous four Olympic Games, our boxers have won nine medals, including two gold medals. We are extremely proud of the success of our boxers and the pride and honour our country takes in their achievements. Nonetheless, success at Olympic level is only one measure of the importance of boxing in Irish society. Perhaps it is of even greater importance that the IABA provides sporting opportunities to those in some of Ireland’s most socioeconomically disadvantaged communities and those from minority ethnic groups such as the Traveller community. With regard to the role the IABA plays in Irish society today, we feel that our newest Olympic gold medallist, Kellie Harrington, put it best in her recent interview with The Irish Times when she said:

I’d love for people to really understand how boxing all over Ireland has taken in so many kids off the street. They probably all won’t turn out to be big champions, but ... [they will have] made something of their life outside .. sport and all because they were taught discipline through the boxing club.

She also said, "Coaches in the clubs don’t do college degrees to become life-skills coaches - but they are life-skills coaches - unpaid, voluntary life-skills coaches who work at a full time job and have families at home and [yet who] still choose to come to try to better the kids ... [in] their communities."

In addition to the above, the IABA has always been a 32-county sport and we are very proud of the cross-community relations that were maintained in boxing throughout the conflict in Northern Ireland, where boxing people from both nationalist and loyalist communities continued to meet with each other and participate in sport together through a shared love of boxing. I am pleased to say that is still the case today.

The sport thrives from having a fantastic volunteer structure that, with generations of experience handed down, continues to produce a pipeline of talent for our excellent staff team in the high performance unit.

However, our invitation to come before the committee today comes about as a result of its request to discuss all governance within the IABA structures, including at central council and provincial council level. In terms of adherence to governance standards, we can confirm that the Rio games review of 2016, conducted by Sport Ireland, was fully adopted and all key recommendations implemented. We can also confirm that an AGM is held every year, that we produce audited accounts which are filed in a timely manner each year in the Companies Registration Office, and that we have introduced a new, overhauled memorandum and articles of association. These have been approved and signed off by the Revenue Commissioners. We have also introduced a new rule book. These new rules saw the introduction of terms of offices, selection of elite teams by high performance unit staff and a new disciplinary process overseen by an independent barrister.

We have implemented best practice in child protection processes, employing a full-time safeguarding manager to manage the organisation’s vetting systems and to ensure the company is fully compliant with all legal requirements and legislative Acts. We have received the best possible financial health check rating by Sport Northern Ireland and are reviewed twice annually by Sport Ireland. We have recently undergone an extensive governance review by Deloitte on behalf of Sport Ireland, which found zero significant issues outstanding. The board of the IABA has committed to declaring code compliance by the end of this year. The status of this is currently at 92% and it is now down to the board to ensure the final matters are addressed and to declare code compliance.

The committee should be aware that, last June, I requested Mr. Treacy and Sport Ireland to commission a robust independent review of the governance of the IABA. We believe the committee is aware this review is ongoing. The agreed scope of the review comprises an external assessment of the IABA’s governance model; an assessment of implementation of the governance code and a review of cultures and behaviours with the IABA structures, including board of directors, council and provincial structures; an assessment of the extent to which the governance model supports the needs of boxing and its members; and work to identify any additional considerations to facilitate the effective governance of the IABA going forward.

Given our extremely good standing with Sport Ireland, the statutory body for sport in this country, and with Sport Northern Ireland, we are disappointed this governance review has not been allowed to be completed before being asked in here today. It would have been more appropriate if that review had been allowed to conclude. We would then have been very pleased to return to the committee to discuss any recommendations received. The review is extremely important. I requested it from Mr. Treacy because I am aware a small but vocal minority of people have opposed the governance changes we have introduced. I wanted an independent governance review to confirm to our membership that we are on the right track and what we are doing represents best practice in governance.

Mr. John Treacy

I will shorten my contribution and will not read out my full statement. I am joined on screen by Paul McDermott, who is our director of high performance and national governing bodies. He is very involved in all of our activities. I will start off with the McLaren report. I am not sure if members of the committee have had an opportunity to read it. I have a copy with me today and I encourage members to read it. It lays bare the scandal of boxing judging at the Rio Olympic Games. It underlines that unfair judging cost two of our boxers, Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor, legitimately won medals. Can the members imagine what it is like for an athlete who gives his or her life over to training to be judged out and told three days ahead of time they are going to lose a fight? It is absolutely remarkable. That is what happened in Rio. Richard McLaren has done a fantastic job with this report. It is worth reading. This gives the committee an idea of the position of international boxing and international boxing governance during the Rio games. It has not got much better.

It is fair to say Irish boxing was not in a good place after the Rio games. The high performance director, Bernard Dunne, has led a revival of Irish boxing at international level. Notwithstanding the challenges presented by Covid-19, Irish boxers enjoyed a very successful Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Under the leadership of the IABA’s performance director, Bernard Dunne, the high performance programme delivered not only gold and bronze Olympic medals, but also several outstanding performances throughout the Olympic cycle, including the qualification of seven boxers for the Tokyo Games itself. That was a magnificent achievement, considering the position the sport of boxing was in after the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. As the Taoiseach said on Friday at Dublin Castle, Irish Olympians lifted the nation during the summer, and that was badly needed. The impact was very much led by the personality of Kellie Harrington. It was a fantastic performance all around and I pay tribute to all our athletes who got ready for the Olympic Games in Tokyo under difficult circumstances. They were going to countries where Covid-19 was prevalent to compete in events to allow them to qualify for the Olympics. I pay tribute, therefore, to all the team and to the Olympic Federation of Ireland, OFI, for the fantastic work that was done to ensure that we had a successful Olympic Games in Tokyo.

I pay tribute as well to the high performance team in the IABA, led by Bernard Dunne, whom I mentioned, Zaur Antia and John Conlan, as well as all the boxers. Rarely have sportspeople achieved so much in such adverse circumstances. Similarly, we must also compliment the executive and board of the IABA for facilitating and encouraging the work of the high performance team over the last three years, which was led by Ciaran Kirwan and Fergal Carruth.

It is fair to say that every four years there is noise within the system. Central council elections are coming up at the end of November, so again we have noise in the system in that regard. It is our strong view that it is time for Irish boxing to adopt modern governance practices. In this regard, Sport Ireland has initiated a governance review at the request of the IABA. This work has commenced. It is well underway and it is being conducted by Brian MacNeice. Sport Ireland considers it important that this review take into account feedback from the grassroots of Irish boxing. The review is currently at the consultation stage and this process will last for three or four weeks. The full report should be completed before the end of the year. It is important to note that it will be an entirely inclusive process and all stakeholders will be given an opportunity to provide input. This will include the clubs, the provincial councils, the central council, the board and staff members. It is imperative that any recommendations deriving from the review are fully implemented. It is well known, however, that not everyone within the Irish boxing community is fully supportive of the work of the IABA and the high performance team. It is time for that conflict to end.

I thank Mr. Treacy for that statement. I appreciate it. I thank Mr. Kirwan as well. I will now hand over to the members. They have the rota in front of them and they all have five minutes, with a bit of latitude because we do not have a full complement of members here today. In that regard, we have received apologies from Deputies Mattie McGrath, Cannon, Mythen and Griffin and Senator Warfield.

I join with the Chair and my colleagues in acknowledging and congratulating Mr. Treacy on his success and on his contribution to Irish sport as an athlete and as the CEO of the Irish Sports Council and of Sport Ireland. I wish him every success in future. I thank him sincerely.

My time is limited, but I wish to raise a few matters. My first question is for Mr. Kirwan. I thank him for appearing before the committee. I am surprised, but probably not shocked, that in his opening statement he failed to address the ongoing disruption of governance and the organisational structure within the IABA caused by the vote in objection to the affiliation of the Leinster, Connacht and Dublin councils. I ask Mr. Kirwan to tell us how he, as the chairman, and the IABA intend to resolve this ongoing dispute.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

The Deputy has asked his question right at the end, but he stated his position earlier. The reality of the situation is that we are an incorporated company. Sport Ireland requested that back in 2007 and 2008. Prior to that, we were a federation, or an association. We were not governed by company law. Those changes were opposed by a minority of people within the organisation at the time, to the extent that a High Court action was instigated by members of the Dublin county board. That action was unsuccessful and we proceeded to become an incorporated company in 2008, and that is what we continue to be. As such, the board of directors is the governing body. In reality, and on the ground, the central council organises boxing at a national level. The provincial councils organise boxing at the level in their respective provinces and that goes right down to the county boards.

I think the Deputy's question is addressing the fact that it has been consistently well publicised by a particular journalist in a particular publication in recent months that the Leinster, Connacht and Dublin county boards withdrew their support from the central council. I do not sit on the central council, as the Deputy will probably appreciate. Some of our elected directors sit on the central council, but-----

Is it correct that the overall governance of the IABA is controlled by the directors?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Yes, that is correct.

Are there regular meetings with the central council?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

There are regular communications. For example, the president sits on our board, as well as the presidents of Leinster and Ulster and the nominees of the presidents of Connacht and Munster. Therefore, there is a constant line of communication. There is no difficulty with communication. What we do not do, and could not possibly do as a board, is to get involved in the day-to-day running of club or provincial boxing or even the senior championships, which are the highlight of our calendar year but that are run by our central council. What has happened in the organisation this year is that three of the units, those cited by the Deputy, namely, Connacht, Leinster and the Dublin county board unilaterally withdrew their support on their own terms from a superior body. That superior body reacted to that by seeking their expulsion. The matter came before the board and it, in accordance with our procedures and proper corporate governance, referred the issue to our membership panel. It is not a disciplinary matter because it is a membership issue and it goes to a membership panel that is fully independent. That is where this matter is now and it would not be proper for me to talk about this issue any more or to prejudge what the outcome in respect of that decision might be.

As the national governing body of boxing, which governs from the grassroots up to the county and provincial levels, the board has moved to expel these provincial councils.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

No, again the Deputy just did not listen to what I said.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

What I said was that it came to the board, but the board does not have a function in this regard other than to refer the issue on, in accordance with our rules and procedures, to the membership panel. The membership panel has nothing whatsoever to do with the board of directors. The board could not decide to expel somebody and the board has not decided to expel somebody.

Okay, well-----

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

What has happened is that our central council has requested the expulsion of certain members and that has now gone before a membership panel, in accordance with our procedures.

A statement on the website of the IABA, referring to 29 August, states that "The matter has now been referred by the Board of Directors to an independent Membership Panel to consider the matter and to make [the] final decision". Who is making the decision?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

The membership panel makes the decision. It was referred to the board by the central council. We then said that this was not a matter for us but one for the membership panel. The panel was constituted by the board and two members of the board who face expulsion fully agreed with that procedure. They also agreed with the individuals, whom I will not name, who constitute that panel.

How is that independent membership made up and who is on it?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I am not going to say who is on it because it would not be fair to tell the Deputy the names of those individuals. They are two independent barristers and a governance officer from another national governing body, NGB. I can say that much.

How is the process in respect of resolving this issue proceeding?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I think the Deputy is misunderstanding. The issue has not been determined.

Well, there is an issue.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Of course there is an issue.

A fundamental issue.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

The reality of the situation is that a subordinate body withdrew its support from our national governing body.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

To be fair to them, I do not think they realised the consequences of that action. As Mr. Treacy pointed out, this is an election year. As far as I am concerned it was electoral posturing. It is as simple as that. They withdrew it and they did not realise what the consequences of it would be. They are now facing those consequences.

The retribution is that-----

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

The retribution cannot come from me or from the board.

Letters have been issued to all the county boards informing them that funding that had been allocated from Sport Ireland is being withheld. A total of €725,000 was allocated as part of the Covid-19 resilience fund. Ultimately, the IABA has put a hold on that and every grassroots club has now suffered as a consequence of the board of directors.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Sorry, the Deputy needs to clarify that remark. How much of it have we withheld?

I ask Mr. Kirwan to tell me.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

It is €10,000; that is all.

Has Mr. Kirwan-----

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Out of the €700,000 the Deputy mentioned, it is €10,000.

Does Mr. Kirwan have a list of all the clubs that have received allocated funds?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I am not in a position to give the Deputy a list of the clubs that have received, but I can tell him-----

In terms of transparency and good governance-----

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I am sorry. The Deputy made a bland statement and gave the impression that we withheld €700,000. Of that €700,000-----

I said the IABA was allocated €725,000 from Sport Ireland.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Does the Deputy accept what I am telling him that it is only €10,000 of that money that has not been distributed?

I would like to see evidence.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

The Deputy does not accept it.

I do accept it if Mr. Kirwan shows me the number of clubs-----

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I am here today to try to help the committee. The Deputy-----

I come from the province of Connacht and represent the people of Mayo. I have some representation to give on this issue.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I have no difficulty with that. Of course, the Deputy will be aware that the presidency in Mayo changed this year. The president in Mayo had been in situ for more than 30 years.

Mr. Kirwan has been on the board of directors since 2015.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan


He became chairman in 2019.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan


Therefore, he understands the process here.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I do.

We are looking for answers to genuine questions.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I am happy to give the Deputy any answer, but I am not prepared to go into a situation where the Deputy makes a statement where he says resilience funding was withheld as if we were doing it as some sort of retribution.

Sorry, it is on hold. The letters speak for themselves. We have copies of the letters that were issued by the IABA.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I will probably need to pass over to my colleague, Mr. Fergal Carruth, to speak about that letter.

Was Mr. Kirwan aware of these letters being issued in July of this year when funding was distributed back in January?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

What does the letter say?

It states:

Unfortunately, the decisions taken by your Provincial Council also has the potential to impact your application for Resilience Funding as Sport Ireland have placed various governance requirements on National Governing Bodies to adhere to throughout this process including but not limited to the requirement ... [of] 3.2...

A number of issues have been highlighted.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Can I just say-----

Was Mr. Kirwan aware of these letters being issued?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I am aware that letters were issued, but I am also aware of the following matter the Deputy did not allude to. He represents Mayo and I understand that. I appreciate his position and I know where he is coming from.

I also represent, in this Parliament, national-----

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I accept that absolutely. Regarding Connacht, is he aware that Connacht not only withdrew its support for the officer board but it also withdrew its support for the board of directors?

That is correct.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

It was the only province to do that. When its representatives were asked to produce evidence of the correct procedures being followed at their meetings, what was on the agenda, when was it proposed and who seconded it, no documentation was forthcoming. As the Deputy is probably aware, there was an election in Connacht. The day after the election they gave us back a one-liner telling us they now recognise the board. There was no further explanation.

My final question is about the commitment to add two additional members to the IABA board of directors, which was approved in 2019. Why has that not come to fruition?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

When the Deputy says it was approved, what does he mean?

Was it agreed at the AGM in 2019?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

No, it was not on the agenda for the AGM in 2019. What happened in 2019 was that a new rule book was approved. That new rule book, among many other things, encompassed the potential appointment of two further elected representatives to the board. That process was conducted and, in accordance with our procedures, the candidates who put their names forward went to our HR and nominations committee, but unfortunately they did not reach the criteria that were set for those appointments.

Regarding corporate governance, we are required to adopt a position where we have the required skill sets in the areas of legal, financial and corporate governance. Unfortunately, in this instance, the applicants did not meet those. The matter still has not been resolved. It can be resolved. The Deputy has spoken to me about trying to resolve matters. It can be resolved, but the only way the candidates who are there at the moment can be brought forward for election is if we reduce or change the criteria. The danger of changing-----

I need to draw a line under that. I remind our guests that this slot is for the members to make best use their five minutes' questioning. I would prefer to get answers rather than statements.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I am only trying to-----

I appreciate there is some work to be made through the-----

Regarding the additional members on the board, will there be gender balance in those representatives?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

No, as a board we are very weak on gender balance. Traditionally, we have struggled in that regard.

In light of our two most high-profile athletes being Kellie Harrington and Katie Taylor, the IABA still does not have female representation on its board.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

No, we do not. It is a problem and I can see that.

I thank Deputy Dillon. We need to move on, but it is hoped we will have time for a second round of questions.

I congratulate the IABA on the recent Olympic success, which was a fantastic achievement. There is a feeling among some of the grassroots that there is a disconnect between the IABA board of directors, its central council and the grassroots. There is a very poor relationship there. The Holy Cross Boxing Club in Drogheda is just across the road from where I was brought up. For decades we have been able to see the commitment, dedication and hard work almost every night of the week. It is a club of the highest standard. I am sure that same commitment and dedication exists in almost every boxing club in the country.

To have that feeling of total disconnect and such a poor relationship there speaks volumes for the way the grassroots feel out of the loop and feel they are not treated as equals. Mr. Treacy from Sport Ireland has said the report he is compiling will be finished by the end of the year. I welcome that there will be consultation with all members. How does Mr. Kirwan intend to correct that and put it right so that members feel they can be listened to, have a say and do not feel that disconnect?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

The Deputy needs to bear in mind that in 2019, I introduced a change in the structure of the company that made the grassroots clubs members of it. Prior to that, the only members of the company were the board of directors. That change was very significant. A roadshow went on for two or three years. There were 15 or 20 draft rule books encompassing all that. The big change was that the clubs are now the members. The clubs have the ability to vote. We have a majority of boxing representatives on the board. I have never appointed an independent director in my tenure. My predecessor, Joe Christle, never appointed his full complement of independent directors. There is a majority of directly elected boxing representatives on the board.

Does Mr. Kirwan accept that more needs to be done if that is the feeling throughout the country?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I do. I do not think it is as widespread as the Deputy is portraying it, but I think a significant part of our membership do not quite understand the implication of the changes and the fact they now have full control over the company because they are effectively the members or the shareholders of the company. That was one of the reasons I asked Mr. Treacy and Sport Ireland to commission a report so that the changes we introduced could be examined and could be ratified or amended. Anything in the company can be changed. The rule book can be changed. What is being witnessed at the moment, unfortunately, is no different from a political party. When a leadership contest comes up, two groups emerge and there is an electoral battle.

I am not cutting Mr. Kirwan short, but we are limited in time. He said he did not think the issue was as widespread as I indicated. Maybe that is an eye-opener for him.

Having discussed this with many people, I know it is quite widespread. The association should take on board the telling fact that it is more widespread than it is aware of. Let us hope, following the publishing of the report, that is rectified. It is a shame given the commitment of the volunteers in boxing clubs in every county.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

It is.

I will move on. We will wait for the outcome of the report and then consult with boxers at grassroot level to see if they believe anything has changed. Does Mr. Kirwan accept that the IABA has governance deficiencies? I am looking for a "Yes" or "No" answer.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I think we do.

I refer to the high performance unit. Billy Walsh left it in 2016 and cited at the time that the IABA wanted to have control over team selection and finances etc. and that this was the reason his contract fell through and he went to USA to join the team there. Some might argue that we risk losing another very successful high performance director over the same issues. Who selects teams at high performance level? Is it the director of the high performance unit, HPU, or are others involved?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

It is the director of the HPU.

So no others are involved whatsoever; the director is solely responsible.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

The high performance unit has sole control over the selection of all senior elite teams.

Is that the high performance director or the unit itself?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

The high performance director does it in conjunction with his head coach, Zaur Antia, in particular, and John Conlan, who is the assistant head coach. He is based primarily-----

How many are in the high performance unit?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Staff wise, we have-----

How many are involved in the decision in selecting teams?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

As chairman, I do not get directly involved in it at all.

But Mr. Kirwan would know the number if more than the director of the HPU is involved. Is it the director solely or are a number of people involved?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the director of the high performance unit.

But others are involved in that decision too.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Naturally, he is not the head coach. The head coach would be heavily involved in the selection and recommendations.

So it involves the director of the HPU and the head coach.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan


Is that it? Does Mr. Kirwan have confidence in Bernard Dunne in his position as high performance director, "Yes" or "No"?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I can do better than that. I have absolute confidence in Bernard Dunne. I should lay my cards on the table. I chaired the interview selection panel that appointed him and I am pleased with the results.

Time is of the essence. Mr. Kirwan has answered "Yes". Why then was Bernard Dunne only given a two-year contract that ends more than a year before the Paris Olympics? What was the reason for that?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

The reason for that was there were a number of members on the board who wanted to give him a six-month contract, which would have been, in effect, an absolute vote of no confidence in him prior to the Olympic games. It would have had a devastating effect on the morale of that unit. I insisted he was given a longer term. I wanted him to be given a term up to the Paris Olympic Games in 2024. That was what I pursued and what the high performance director wanted. Sport Ireland was incredibly supportive of me in that stance. Ultimately, as in many things, a compromise had to be reached. I managed to get the board to pass this compromise, despite resistance.

Will Mr. Kirwan keep his responses as short as possible, once he has answered the question, because time is of the essence?

Will Deputy Munster wrap up her questioning because we are over time?

I have a couple of final questions. Are the media reports that he has been on leave since August correct? Reports of a complaint he made about the SWOT analysis position paper that was circulated were published today. I understand the IABA and Sport Ireland have stated that analysis was completely without merit. Will Mr. Kirwan clarify that? Was it discussed at a board meeting in February that led to the offer of the two-year contract?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

It came to our attention in February or March. It came to the attention of Sport Ireland at the same time. When it was brought to my attention, I read it to the board. I rubbished it and, despite some members having been involved with that document, the board unanimously rubbished it with me. It was an appalling document and an appalling attack on one of our staff members.

Was the paper shared by the board members? Who wrote the SWOT analysis?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

The SWOT analysis was anonymous; no one has admitted to writing it.

Did the IABA investigate it?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

We are investigating it. There is an current investigation going through our disciplinary process. We have certain information on it. We know whose handprint - in an IT sense - is on it. We are making progress but it is slow and there have been no admissions. It is anonymous and it should not be given credence. Discussing it here gives it a certain amount of legitimacy which it does not deserve. It was an appalling attack not just on our high performance director but on our unit. It said our high performance unit was out of touch with modern coaching methods. I think of the answer the athletes gave in the Olympic Games. We not only won two medals - a fantastic gold medal and a bronze - but six of our seven boxers either won a medal or were beaten by a medalist. It was an extraordinary achievement despite that attempt-----

I note Mr. Kirwan said that it was anonymous and it is under investigation. However, it is hard to credit that he does not know.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

No one has taken responsibility for it. That is not to say that I do not have suspicions as to who was behind it. However, I do not have the proof as yet and it is now a matter I can no longer comment on because it forms part of an independent disciplinary process, with an independent barrister who does this work for the association on a pro bono basis.

I will now conclude that piece and move on. I call Senator Cassells.

I welcome the witnesses to the committee. Mr. Kirwan said in his opening statement that the IABA is a volunteer-led organisation and has been for a long time. Much of today's discourse has focused on finding the balance between the volunteer-led side and the high performance side. I refer to overall expenditure, and the audited accounts for 2019, which amounted to €3.3 million. How much of that was used to support boxers and how many boxers were supported financially during that period?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Mr. Treacy probably has the figures for that.

Mr. John Treacy

In 2021, Sport Ireland allocated core funding of €500,000. High performance received €770,000 and an additional €65,000-----

That covers everything, including staff, employees etc.

Mr. John Treacy

The core funding covers that.

My question was very specific in terms of how much support was provided to boxers.

Mr. John Treacy

An amount of €328,000.

That was in 2021.

Mr. John Treacy

Yes. The high performance piece is a big part of that because it also covers much of the costs for the boxers. There is also the support of the Sport Ireland Institute where all the boxers train on a campus. The facility available to our boxers is second to none and is world class.

How many boxers were supported by the €328,000?

Mr. John Treacy

I do not have the number off the top of my head. It mostly included people who were of international, world class and podium standard.

Are we talking about a dozen or two dozen?

Mr. John Treacy

We are talking about a dozen.

Looking at figures from a decade ago, nearly €600,000 was spent on 44 boxers. That is my point in terms of the focus on expenditure.

Mr. John Treacy

I am glad the Senator asked me that question. At that time, we were funding juniors and developmental people as well. Sport Ireland made a policy decision to let the governing bodies themselves decide this and that the money would go into the high performance budget of the national governing body. That is what happened in the case of all national governing bodies, including boxing. The money we allocated for juniors and developmental people went into the high performance budget. The IABA could, therefore, fund those juniors and developmental people.

That is the nub of the question. As regards the focus, was it the wrong decision to focus on the elite side rather than also on the wide diaspora of the membership?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

That is a very good question, but it is a point that is not unique to boxing. It relates to any sport. I refer to the difficulty in the GAA between club players and elite county players, or in the IRFU between the clubs in the rugby league compared with the provinces. I think I know the point the Senator is making. It is one of the reasons club members may feel a certain disconnect. We have more than 360 clubs. They tend not to be very large clubs. Most are small and thinly spread clubs with small membership bases. We have approximately 1,600 coaches across the island but the reality is that most of them will not have the privilege or pleasure of coaching an athlete to elite level.

An important point I wish to highlight is that the success of our elite athletes repays us in leaps and bounds by bringing in children who would not otherwise join our association. Ours is a minority sport. It is not the most popular sport in the country by a long shot. However, to have local heroes such as Kellie Harrington and Emmet Brennan - you can go right through the country listing such athletes; they are not just in Dublin - is what attracts people to the sport. These athletes are local and they are rooted in their communities and clubs.

I refer to harnessing that success. Any major sporting organisation would use it in the context of the commercial side. Mr. Kirwan stated boxing is a minority sport. How much is being taken in through sponsorship from the major sponsors who are backing the sport?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

From the inception of our association, we have always had difficulty attracting sponsors. I do not know whether that is because our sport is so rooted in the working class and, in many cases, the underclass that sponsors do not wish to be associated with it or if there are other reasons. You would have to ask the potential sponsors. We have never been successful in attracting large-scale sponsors. However, even in the USA, they have been unable to attract large-scale sponsors to boxing. It is not unique to Irish boxing.

Mr. Kirwan cited the senior championships as the pinnacle of the sport. They are something I remember from when I was a kid. What is the status in terms of the sponsorship of those championships?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

We have a sponsor for the senior championships. Its sponsor has changed through the years. One of the well known media news outlets was our major sponsor. The senior championship has been sponsored. Of course, we seek to have television coverage of the championship.

Is there a problem attracting sponsorship towards the senior championships in the context of the participation of the elite boxers in the championships?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

That is a different question.

I am asking it as a follow-up.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

It has been a problem. I can only give my personal view. Like the Senator, I have been going to the senior championships since the late 1960s. I have been attending them for more than 50 years. This year was the first year I can remember that I did not attend, although there must have been others. I did not attend as a result of Covid restrictions. My attendance would have been ancillary to the event. Mr. Treacy has been a guest at our senior championships on many occasions. The reality is I have always believed the senior championships should be the pre-eminent event and all our fighters, including those in the high-performance unit, should be entered into it.

That is not happening and it is undermining the sport Mr. Kirwan is promoting. It harms the potential for sponsorship. It is a bit like the IRFU forgetting about its club game, which suffered and diminished as a result. Is that happening within the sport of boxing?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I will give a current example. We recently sent a developmental squad to the world championships. It did not consist of our number one fighters, who had just been at the Olympic Games and were not in a position to go to the championships. It was people-----

There was controversy in that regard. Why was it initially decided not to proceed with that but then decided to go ahead?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

We all expected a team would be selected. Obviously, the coaching team and our Olympic squad had just come back from the Olympic Games. I am sure the Senator accepts that. It was because the Olympic Games were scheduled to take place last year but delayed until this year. The world championships has never before been held within two months of the Olympic Games. That was an issue. They were not selected. A team was already scheduled to go to a training camp at the headquarters of Team GB in Sheffield. Mr. Carruth, our CEO, who is attending the meeting remotely, as is our national operations manager, suggested we should delay the non-selection of a team and let the squad go over and then the coaches could go over and make a determination. The coaches went there and made that determination and the team was entered.

Mr. Treacy made a comment that surprised me in terms of there being a lot of noise around-----

Mr. John Treacy


In fairness to Mr. Treacy, I do not think he would make that comment about any other sporting organisation coming here. We had the GAA in here. In terms of running a major organisation-----

Mr. John Treacy

I have often said it in respect of governing bodies that if there is noise in the system, it is usually time to do a review. The Senator alluded to the fact that Gary Keegan, Billy Walsh and Bernard Dunne were all coming under pressure. Prior to the Olympic Games, Bernard Dunne came under pressure that was totally and utterly unfair and unfounded and should never have happened. That was coming from the sport itself. It pains me to say that. What we are trying to do with the review is to consult all the clubs, get the governance right, make sure the clubs and membership are listened to and put a structure in place that can govern the sport going forward. It is often the case in the context of sports governing bodies that when there are elections coming up, there is noise in the system. That is what is happening now. There is noise in the system. The big issue here is that it is not the IABA and ourselves at loggerheads about Billy Walsh any more. This is a boxing council issue. It is divided and there is an election coming up. It is really unfortunate. The Senator referred to the GAA and other sports. If those sports have dirty linen, they wash it quietly in the background. Unfortunately, some sports wash it in the public eye. That is where boxing is at the moment in spite of a really successful Olympic Games with unbelievable performances. Kellie Harrington was absolutely magnificent.

The Senator raised the issue of sponsorship. If there is all this noise in the system, how will one attract a sponsor? This is one of the fundamental issues. Corporate Ireland will take one look at this and ask why it would ever go near such a deeply divided body. This issue is not unique to boxing. Some smaller sports have real difficulty getting corporate sponsors on board.

Is there too much focus on the higher element of the sport in terms of the balance of expenditure rather than the spread of money that existed previously? I accept Mr. Treacy is trying to introduce a policy that may come under pressure from national media and whatever, that is, he wants to see people do well at major championships and that is where the expenditure is focused. However, as a result of that, the amateur ethos Mr. Kirwan referred to at the outset may have been surrendered to a certain degree and the smaller financial supports that were in place in previous decades are not as prevalent as they were to help people.

Mr. John Treacy

If there is a promising young boxer coming up, he or she is identified as having the potential to make it at elite level. There is a system whereby the coaches have developmental weekends and all that. Those steps are there for the boxers. If they make it to the elite level, they train full time on the campus. There are stepping stones. There is the national championships, at which boxers can make that step up. Some members of the squad who went to the world championships put their names on the map, so they are naturals to move into that space. If a boxer has potential, the mechanism is there for him or her to be identified and move on to the next level.

I am going to have to draw a line under this set of questions and answers.

Mr. John Treacy

My last point is that €750,000 is spent on high performance and much of that competition is for junior and development athletes to go overseas and compete to prove their calibre.

I thank Mr. Treacy. We are not doing very well today in terms of time. We are an hour into the meeting and only four members have contributed. I want to make sure all members get an opportunity to contribute. That is why I have shown latitude.

I concur with the sentiments of congratulations to Mr. Treacy. I still get a bit star struck. We do not have many medallists in athletics.

We all grew up knowing exactly who John Treacy was. That is enough of the platitudes but I will just say "well done". It is an absolute pleasure. I have two questions. The first relates to boxing. I come from west Cork, which is not exactly a boxing stronghold.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

It is more of a hurling area.

Mr. John Treacy

I believe it is football.

It is football. That is spot on. It makes sense that it is not a boxing stronghold. The few clubs we have are somewhat underfunded. They scrape by on fundraising and whatever finances they can scrape together. Despite my saying at the outset that it is not a stronghold, believe it or not, there are some young female boxers in particular who are starting to come up through the ranks, inspired by Kellie Harrington, Katie Taylor and many others. What is being done to infiltrate those rural areas? It appears the sport is urban-based. Many of our more successful athletes have been urban-based. What are we doing to reach out to those smaller clubs in rural areas that are trying their best to encourage young people to get into boxing? How are we funding that? Is there a plan for the future?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I believe Mr. Treacy would concur that there is probably more money being put in at club level than ever before. Obviously, it is never enough from our perspective. I understand the point the Deputy is making. I alluded to it earlier myself. The clubs are spread out. They are not just in the cities. In Mayo, we have a club in Geesala, which is about as remote as you can get. That club is very successful and has produced many champions. There tend to be traditional pockets, but that always relies on a coach, usually from the area, who brings a certain expertise or has a certain level of commitment to the sport. It is often passed down from generation to generation. If you talk to our CEO, Fergal Carruth, you can talk about his father and his brother. His father took over from Frankie Kerr, the father of Brian Kerr, the former Republic of Ireland manager. There is often a body of knowledge in these clubs, including the rural clubs. I am very keen to get as much money as we can to boxing at the local level because, with regard to the point the Deputy is making, that is where we can discover the champions.

The Deputy referred to female participation. Increased levels of female participation have been a tremendous boon to our sport. We do not have that at board level at this stage. As I conceded, that is a difficulty for us. With regard to the prospects for our women going forward, and even in the previous Olympic Games, we have Michaela Walsh, the sister of Aidan Walsh, and Aoife O'Rourke, both of whom are European medallists. They were potential medallists at those games and I am confident they will again be potential medallists in Paris in 2024.

With regard to rural areas, Cork is a very good example. Cork city was a real hotbed and stronghold of boxing for many years. In fact, the Taoiseach's father was heavily involved in boxing in Cork city, in one of the most famous clubs in Cork, the Glen Boxing Club. It is something we are always keen on. The number of boxing clubs has increased. We now have more than 360 boxing clubs. There are 28,000 participants in our sport now. In 2007, we had 10,000. Boxing has grown.

To finish on that point, west Cork got a bit caught up in the success of the rowers, which was amazing, but we took just as much joy and pleasure in Kellie Harrington's success. This presents an opportunity. There is an appetite out there now. People are interested in boxing on the back of Katie Taylor and Kellie Harrington in particular. There is an opportunity there to expand.

My last question is for Mr. Treacy. It is not related to boxing but it is not often that I get an opportunity to quiz him on this matter. This is probably the last one I will have. Is he aware of freestyle kayaking?

Mr. John Treacy

I am aware of it.

I want to tell Mr. Treacy about an incredible athlete we have in west Cork. Her name is Anaïs O'Donovan. She is not related to the rowing O'Donovans. She is a freestyle kayaker. She is 21. She has only been at the sport for just over a year but is already one of the top athletes in Europe. She featured very highly in the European championships. She has had to go to the UK to avail of the training facilities there. Even though it is affiliated with Canoeing Ireland and even though there are world and European championships, freestyle kayaking is not recognised as an Olympic sport. Anaïs O'Donovan is one of the shining lights globally in freestyle kayaking. I encourage everybody to check out the sport because it is incredible what these athletes can do in a kayak. It is best explained as gymnastics in a kayak.

Fringe sports that are not, or not yet, Olympic sports really struggle to get funding, particularly from Sport Ireland. Anaïs O'Donovan, whom we have to encourage and help and whose talent and success we have to embrace, has nowhere to go. Could Sport Ireland step up to the mark and give her a bit of guidance as to where to go for funding for training and equipment? The most experienced freestyle kayakers could not believe the success she had using the equipment she used when featuring at the European championships. It was so old and out of date but she was still successful. Can we do something for her?

Mr. John Treacy

High performance supports are targeted at Olympic sports, as the Deputy knows. I suggest the Deputy put Ms O'Donovan in touch with Canoeing Ireland.

It has said "No" as well.

Mr. John Treacy

It said "No" as well. I will take the matter up with the Deputy after the meeting and see what can be done. I hope she is in a club.

She is in a club in west Cork.

Mr. John Treacy

She may be able to get help through a club. I will chat to the Deputy after the meeting if that is okay.

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for sticking to his time so well. It is very much appreciated.

I welcome our witnesses and concur with the comments regarding John Treacy. I wish him well. Prior to finishing up, perhaps he could come before the committee to give us a general review of sport across all the various disciplines. That might be worthwhile information for members of the committee.

Mr. John Treacy

This is my last meeting.

I will read a quote from Billy Walsh.

I have to say, USA Boxing have been fantastic. Being allowed to do your job and people having respect for you, it’s been an amazing feeling to be able to work in that environment.

He made these comments recently. I believe it was the first time he spoke publicly since the debacle a number of years ago. We lost probably one of the best boxing coaches in the world. It was all over contractual decisions that made it untenable for him to stay here. These decisions were made by the IABA. In its opening statement, Sport Ireland accepts there are governance issues within the organisation that have been there for a long time. It was only following this committee highlighting these issues that a governance review of the IABA was sought during the summer. I am disappointed the review is being carried out by the same person who carried out the previous review on the Rio games. It should have been a separate independent person who has not been involved.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

To be clear, the IABA did not pick that individual.

I said Sport Ireland. There should have been a totally independent review carried out by somebody else.

Mr. John Treacy

I can guarantee the person in question is independent.

He has done a similar review of the same organisation. I just felt-----

Mr. John Treacy

There are a limited number of people who do these reviews and we were asked for it at short notice.

I am glad Mr. Treacy clarified that. As someone who was elected here, I found the last comments Mr. Kirwan made to be disappointing. He said he was disappointed this review was not allowed to be completed before he was asked in here today. We represent the Dáil and the Seanad. We are here to represent the taxpayers, the people who fund the organisation. We are entitled to ask questions and give our views and opinions on any review that is being done. Time is running short but it might be appropriate for Mr. Kirwan to come back when the review is done to allow us to ask further questions and to go over the report when it is completed.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

That is the point I was trying to make when I said that. As is the case in many organisations, governance is a process. It is never completed to one's satisfaction. One reason I asked Sport Ireland to conduct this governance review related to the fact, as was raised earlier, that Bernard Dunne had been subjected to criticism, along with other staff I mentioned, from a small cohort within the organisation.

I will continue asking questions because I do not want my time to be used without me being able to ask questions. Mr. Kirwan made the point the IABA is about clubs and membership. That is how any sporting organisation should be. He stated it is a 32-county organisation, but that is not the case now in light of what was said earlier. Provincial councils and a county board have withdrawn their support and letters have been sent to them. The people in those entities do not know whether they are insured to box and so on. Mr. Kirwan mentioned the GAA. I served at club, county, provincial and national levels within that organisation and there is a structure, which I do not think there is within the IABA. There is no clear link between the members and boxing and what it is all about.

My questions are directed at Mr. Carruth. When I examined the financial statements submitted to the Companies Registration Office, CRO, an annual return was submitted for 2017 rather than the audited accounts. Was there a reason for that? The accounts for 2018 and 2019 contain a caveat from the auditor such that certain parts, including those relating to income and expenditure, do not form part of the auditing statement. Why is that?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I was not aware of that. Mr. Carruth or Mr. Britton might be able to assist the Senator. We would have appeared before the committee with more people, including our chief financial officer, CFO, but because of Covid restrictions, we could not. I will take the question on board and try to get an answer.

It is stated in the accounts. Since 2017, only annual returns, rather than the full accounts, were submitted to the CRO. It is stated clearly that, since then, certain parts do not form part of the annual financial statement.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

There may be a simple answer but I cannot give it to the Senator.

Insurance is another issue in the accounts. Mr. Kirwan stated earlier that some of the county board and provincial councils have queries as to whether their boxers are insured given the current circumstances. For a number of years, the average premium within the IABA has been about €250,000 per year. That seems very substantial. I have compared organisations of a similar size and membership. In the case of Swim Ireland, which is similar in terms of size and so on, the insurance costs just €65,000. Mr. Carruth might address the following. Is it correct that in 2019, an insurance broker that had previously provided insurance sent a complaint stating it had not been invited to participate in the tender process?

Mr. Fergal Carruth

A full set of financial accounts is presented annually to the membership, that is, all the clubs, county boards and provincial councils, weeks in advance of the annual general meeting, AGM. Our membership is given the opportunity to ask any questions it may have in advance of what was the convention and what will now be the AGM of the company, which will include the clubs. Any questions members have, if they put them in writing, are answered on the day, but if they have not been put in writing, we will attempt to answer them as well on the day, if possible. Following our invitation to this meeting, we asked whether there were any specific questions that might arise or any areas on which it might be of greater assistance to the committee to be given those questions in advance, and we would, of course, have come with those answers. I will be perfectly happy, if it is okay with the committee, to respond in writing to the Senator's question in order that it can go on the record of the meeting.

Insurance is now looked after, given it is managed by our CFO, a chartered accountant. He puts out a tender process for the insurance annually and we get at least three quotations. I am sure previous insurers were included, up to a certain point where they did not seem to be competitive, but I will ask about the year the Senator mentioned. If he can give me more information on what he would like us to answer, I will be happy to respond to the committee in writing on that too.

A person who had previously given a quote to the IABA queried why they were not allowed to provide a quote subsequently. Was the matter investigated or was the underwriter instructed not to seek a quote from anybody else? Mr. Carruth stated there were three quotes over recent years and the contract was fully tendered, with the best possible value for money secured.

Mr. Fergal Carruth


The IABA might provide me with that documentation after the meeting.

Mr. Fergal Carruth


It is a substantial sum to pay out, while a similarly sized organisation pays 25% of the figure.

Mr. Fergal Carruth

That organisation may be similar in size but we are a boxing organisation. It is a full contact sport.

Are boxers throughout the country personally insured in the ring?

Mr. Fergal Carruth

Yes. We have a very detailed policy in place. I will be happy to share that too with the committee. If a boxer is injured in the course of a bout and we are running the event in line with all the rules of the organisation, the boxer will be insured.

Many boxers seem to have left the amateur set-up over many years and graduated to the professional ranks. Significant investment is made in amateur boxing by the taxpayer. How does the IABA explain this common migration of boxers from the amateur ranks? It is my understanding a pathway advisory group was set up, with fully paid people in place, yet it seems large numbers of boxers leave prior to completing a full Olympic cycle. Who is in charge of that and what are the reasons for it?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

The simple answer is that in boxing, unlike in many other sporting organisations, we run only amateur participation. In the case of most other sports, the Olympic Games are the end of the process, whereas in boxing, there is both amateur and professional. Traditionally, not just in Ireland but in every country in the world in which boxers participate, there has always been the lure of the professional game. We could go back to Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. This applies to all boxers. It is not a new phenomenon in Ireland. Even in the case of our Olympic medallists, approximately 70% or 80% have gone professional. We have always been in competition with the professional game.

In recent times, some of the promoters of the professional game, in the UK in particular, have grown larger and larger and put down attractive incentives. I am pleased to say, as Mr. Treacy will probably attest, we have thus far managed to retain our Olympic team from Tokyo and I am hopeful that will remain the case. It is a difficult issue that is, in many ways, unique to boxing. The pathways in boxing are difficult, and those who do not quite make it into the high performance unit will often feel disillusioned because it just has not got the size or capacity to deal with those ranked number three or four.

It has always been an issue. We resist professional boxing insofar as we can and we encourage our athletes. When Kellie Harrington was asked whether she was going to go professional, she gave a very clear answer that it was not attractive to her and that she was quite happy to remain as an amateur with us. I look forward to watching her career over the next few years.

The witnesses mentioned they have a performance pathways advisory group. Who is in charge of that?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Mr. Carruth can give the details of the people who are on that subcommittee.

Mr. John Treacy

Before he comes in, it might be fair to say boxing has been more successful in hanging on to our amateurs over recent years. It was a bigger problem ten years ago when a lot of the amateurs were leaving a year before the Olympic Games. In terms of the investment we were not getting another big cycle out of them, but now we are getting Olympic cycles out of them. We are saying to them that if they go to the Olympic Games, they can prove what they are worth if they want to go professional after. We would like to see them doing an Olympic cycle and making sure they go to the European championships, world championships and the Olympic Games. Boxing has been very successful in hanging on to our amateur boxers and keeping them in the amateur ranks.

Mr. Fergal Carruth

Could Senator Carrigy tell me the name of that committee again?

Mr. Kirwan indicated that Mr. Carruth could answer as to who was in charge of that or part of it.

Mr. Fergal Carruth

Part of what? I did not hear.

The performance pathways advisory group.

Mr. Fergal Carruth

It would be done from the executive. We have a high performance manager in place. I would prefer not to name anybody if that is okay but that is their title. That person will deal with life skills for our athletes, working on different pathways for them as they mature within the team and preparing them for leaving the team at the end of their boxing careers. It is the high performance manager who is in charge of that.

Would it be right to say a significant number of people are leaving and going into the professional ranks?

Mr. Fergal Carruth

Mr. Kirwan put it very well. He set out that it has always been the case in amateur boxing that boxers will want to go to the Olympic Games and eventually on to the professional circuit. Some 62% of our teams from the 1992 games went professional, and as Mr. Kirwan rightly alluded to, 80% of all our medalists to date have gone professional. With the help of Sport Ireland, we can make a significant impact on that. We have had a great start with Kellie Harrington and Aidan Walsh choosing to stay amateur to date. It it is hoped that will be the catalyst for many more successful amateurs to stay in the amateur profession for a longer period of time.

I thank Senator Carrigy for those questions. I ask everyone to be mindful as we have less than ten minutes left. Deputy Chris Andrews is here with us as a guest today and I want to make sure he gets in. I call Senator Malcolm Byrne.

Like colleagues, I wish Mr. Treacy well on his retirement. I probably mentioned to him before that one of my fondest childhood sporting memories is watching him rounding the corner in the stadium in Los Angeles. He has made an enormous contribution to sport, both as an athlete and as an administrator. It is important that is put on the record.

Mr. Kirwan said boxing is volunteer-led. The boxing clubs in my county of Wexford make tremendous contributions within the local community. I was fortunate to be at the London Olympics and saw Katie Taylor's winning fight and how she inspired people. Being from Wexford, the witnesses will also appreciate that Billy Walsh has been an inspiration to so many young boxers, as have all our Olympians, not just the medalists. Back in 2015, Billy, who gave so much to the sport, felt he was treated very badly. A lot of issues arose around boxing at the time. Sport Ireland and Kieran Mulvey stepped in very quickly, and within 24 hours he was asking for answers. Billy Walsh still feels he was treated badly at that time but he has moved on in the interim. There was a lot of controversy around boxing back in 2015 and we are now seemingly back here again. Others have mentioned some of the other organisations and the experiences of national governing bodies, NGBs, but the only other organisation where I have encountered grassroots organisations grumbling to the same extent about what has been going on at senior levels has been the FAI. I ask Mr. Treacy to give us some assurances that what is happening in boxing at the moment is not the same as what went on in the FAI. Are there any lessons or parallels to be drawn there?

My second question, which is crucial, is about moving on from here. I appreciate that reviews are happening and I know there are disagreements but I want to see all the boxing clubs working together as part of a national organisation. The most important thing is that the athletes are supported but also that boxing clubs are supported within our communities. Colleagues have raised all the difficulties that are there. Structures can be changed but what confidence-building measures are going to be put in place? Whoever the members of this committee are in four or five years, we should not be having a discussion or debate around boxing again like we did five or six years ago.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I can answer that question in collaboration with Mr. Treacy. The difference between now and five years ago is completely, diametrically opposite. During my tenure as director and as chairman, we have enjoyed a close working relationship with Mr. Treacy and Paul McDermott, who have been of great assistance to me. We have rebuilt that relationship. I would like to think it is now a relationship that is symbiotic and mutually beneficial to Sport Ireland and ourselves. As Mr. Treacy alluded to earlier, more money has been put in at club level than ever before. I will be pressing very hard for that to remain the case. I said this earlier and I have to keep saying it. We are a volunteer-led organisation. Boxing would not exist in this country without volunteers. The high performance unit would disappear. I think and believe that all those bridges can be mended. This is a difficult time, as Mr. Treacy said. There is an election. The members of the committee are politicians so they know how factions develop, even within their own parties. These things happen, but they change and people come together. At the end of the day, most people in boxing are passionate about boxing and, above all else, about their boxers. Many of them are father figures to their boxers. It is an extraordinary sport. As Mr. Treacy said, it has made an enormous contribution-----

I am sorry to interrupt but I am conscious of time. Deputy Dillon raised the issues that abound in Connacht. It is the same in other areas. I do not want to rehash that but those people are as passionate about boxing as Mr. Kirwan is. Can they be brought back into the organisation?

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Of course they can, but what the Senator must remember is that change is never easy. Corporate governance to achieve the required standard is never easy. As an organisation, we cannot continue in a situation where somebody is in a powerful position such as a provincial president for 20 or 30 years. It is just not good. It causes blockages in the system. It leads to other people not being able to come in and it leads to the disenchantment the Senator is talking about. I am hopeful this review will show we are on the right path. We need to do more and this is the way we should be going.

We were not slow in the last four years, as Mr. Treacy has already said, to adopt the recommendations from the Rio report in 2016. We adopted all of them. We have zero outstanding issues. We followed our strategic plan to 2020. This is not an organisation that is in disarray at the top level. There are splits, difficulties, factions and strongly held views, but the organisation as a whole has been moving in the right direction. There is no way we could have achieved the success our high performance boxers achieved in Tokyo if our organisation was as dysfunctional as some people try to portray in the media. The committee members are all politicians and they all watch the media. They must bear in mind that all of those stories, almost bar none, are emanating from the same source.

This is not an FAI situation. Could Mr. Treacy give us assurances on that?

Mr. John Treacy

No. It is not an FAI situation. There are checks and balances in place in the IABA. The board is held responsible to make sure the executive accounts to it.

Reference was made to Billy Walsh. No one admires him more than me. He was a world-class coach and we should never have lost him. We came in here and we had a row with the IABA about it. Reference was made to Kieran Mulvey. He negotiated a deal, but it was not accepted by the IABA. He did a fantastic job in that situation. It is now water under the bridge. Bernard Dunne has rebuilt the programme.

It might be worth referring to a piece around corporate governance. We speak all the time to governing bodies about culture, treating people with respect, and valuing the opinion of others, whether they are on the board or the executive. Most of us, the chair included, give our time freely. That must be respected. People on boards should not be subjected to noise in the system. Everyone wants to do the best job he or she can when sitting on a board. I encourage everyone sitting on a board to respect the opinion of everyone on the board and to work together because that is what they are there to do. The job of a board member is to work for the betterment of the organisation. That includes asking the executive searching questions about how it runs its affairs, making sure there are checks and balances in place and that the executive is accountable. That is the way organisations should be run. I appeal to board members to work together for the betterment of the organisation.

I will start by congratulating the high performance unit on a fantastic Olympics. It was really exciting. I extend special congratulations to Kellie Harrington and Aidan Walsh who delivered medals, but also to the other members of the squad who did a fantastic job and got us all excited.

It is important to acknowledge that the IABA is a 32-county organisation. During the conflict, with strong differing views, the boxing community still came to the National Stadium and boxing operated on a bipartisan basis.

It seems to me the IABA is here as a result of what I heard described as noise and disputes, but I also feel there is political interference. I understand it will always have internal differences as an organisation, and it is entitled to argue and disagree. That will always happen. Equally, it must be done within the rules and proper corporate governance must be observed. A lot of the conflict has its roots in the article in the Irish Examiner, which outlined that the president of the IABA had reported Fine Gael councillor, Andrew Duncan, to the Garda for breach of Covid rules. I am not sure about the status of the investigation, but perhaps Deputy Dillon or Senator Carrigy could give us an update on the investigation into their colleague, Councillor Duncan.

I must inform Deputy Andrews-----

That is completely out of order.

Deputy Andrews is here as a guest. He has been provided with an opportunity to ask questions of the witnesses, not other members of the committee. This is inappropriate and not the place for it. I ask Deputy Andrews to withdraw his remark and to direct his questions towards the witnesses who are here to answer questions.

Weak governance is part of the terms of reference of this Oireachtas joint committee.

We are quite entitled to ask about that.

I did not say Senator Carrigy was not entitled to do that.

Deputy Andrews should please withdraw his comments.

Deputy Andrews directed a comment at me.

Which comment did I make?

The Chair asked Deputy Andrews to withdraw a comment.

Senator Carrigy must tell me which comment to withdraw. I made a number of remarks.

Deputy Andrews made a political charge against-----

He referred to harassment and commented on an investigation.

That was reported in the Irish Examiner. I asked for an update on it.

I ask Deputy Andrews to use his time on questions to the witnesses.

All right. As a result of a complaint that was made by the president, there was a counter-complaint and now here we are before the committee. Senator Carrigy is regularly reported in the Irish Independent looking for the IABA to be brought before this committee. All of that suggests to me the dispute has been politicised by a Fine Gael Senator and a Fine Gael councillor.

Deputy Andrews has obviously come in with a prepared speech. The purpose of his five minutes is to ask questions of the witnesses. I have not heard one question to a witness.

I have a series of questions.

I will ask the Deputy one last time to ask his questions of the witnesses rather than colleagues around the table.

That is all right. Yes, absolutely. Could I ask a question of Mr. Kirwan? He alluded to the fact earlier that it must be very difficult to be a very successful organisation and have a board that is not complying with corporate governance. Is it not the case that the disputes relate to different groups within the organisation, and should these issues not be addressed by the organisation? Does he feel there is political interference behind the IABA's invitation here today?

There is a minute left.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I hope that is not the case.

Senator Carrigy got 15 minutes.

He is a member of this committee.

I am substituting for-----

I am trying to be as fair as possible. Deputy Andrews wasted a lot of time on a political speech rather than asking questions of the witnesses.

We are politicians.

I know, but the specific purpose of this committee is to ask questions of the witnesses.

I have asked the questions.

I ask Deputy Andrews to use his time wisely. Mr. Kirwan has 45 seconds.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I hope there is not political interference. I am aware Senator Carrigy has asked for us to be called in. I am happy to be called in and to explain. It is also the case that one of our board of directors is a member of Senator Carrigy's party and in fact is in his constituency but, as I said-----

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

That is a fact.

I made a very fair comment. I am a member of this committee. Corporate governance-----

Excuse me-----

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I read the newspapers as well. Senator Carrigy has been consistently calling for us to come before the committee.

I will just make an observation. Committee members, as in any committee, have an obligation and duty to invite in any organisation we want. It is not a fair charge to say one specific member is trying to politicise an issue. In our sessions, all of us have the opportunity to make requests about organisations. It is a most unfair comment. However, the time has run out. If Mr. Kirwan wishes he can make one last point.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I am aware one of our directors is a member of his party and his constituency. That is all I was going to say.

My final point-----

I do not have a constituency. I come from Longford.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

Senator Carrigy comes from the constituency of Longford-Westmeath.

I come from Longford. I was elected on the industrial and commercial panel.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

If Senator Carrigy wants to get into the argument, I will get into it with him. I think he knows what I am talking about, but I am not going to go there.

I will say one final thing, which is really important. I know politicians read the print media all of the time. Almost all of those arguments have come from one particular source.

Mr. Kirwan made that point.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I am just going to quote-----

I am someone who is very objective, because I have no-----

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I know you are, Chair. This article was written the day before one of our boxers boxed against a world champion in the Olympic Games. It stated:

So far the Irish boxers have failed to catch a break in the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo. Sadly, long gone are the days when Ireland punched above its weight in the sport at Olympic level.

In truth, Ireland possibly overachieved by getting seven boxers on the plane to Tokyo. And just to compound matters the majority of the fighters got the equivalent of the draw from hell.

That was written by the same journalist. That was undermining one of our boxers in the middle of the Olympic Games. We do punch about our weight. We have continued to punch above our weight, and as Mr. Treacy said, we are the largest contributor to Irish success on the international sporting stage. I just want to make that point.

We are incredibly proud of the work our volunteers do in their local communities. They are some of the most socioeconomically deprived communities. In many cases, there is no other sport available.

I ask Mr. Kirwan to draw a line under his statement.

Mr. Ciaran Kirwan

I thank the Chair.

Deputy Andrews made a most unfair charge. It is unfortunate to conclude a useful, robust and transparent discussion in this way and I do not want to end the meeting on an unpleasant note. To go back to Mr. Treacy, this may be his final meeting with us, or it may not be since some members offered him an opportunity to come back again to give a broader view on sport and where it is nationally. I hope he will take the opportunity to do so. In the event that he does not, I thank him for appearing when asked to do so and for being courteous to members, transparent and willing to answer questions. He has been very co-operative in his time. I thank him sincerely.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.41 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 November 2021.