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  • "I Cannot Forgive Shane Ross!" - Jonathan Irwin Gives Fiery Defence Of Friend Pat Hickey

"I Cannot Forgive Shane Ross!" - Jonathan Irwin Gives Fiery Defence Of Friend Pat Hickey

Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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Pat Hickey has had his passport returned to him and his friends are relieved.

Jonathan Irwin, former mover and shaker in Irish sports administration and the founder of the Jack and Jill foundation, appeared on Sean O'Rourke's programme on RTE this morning.

Irwin tweeted this yesterday evening.

In the course of a fiery defence of his friend, he tore into Shane Ross and Charlie Flanagan for abandoning Hickey. And he said that his hero Lord Palmerston (a former UK prime minister who is probably best known to younger readers as being Barney Gumble's favourite British leader) would sent out a gunboat in similar circumstances.


I do know Pat. When he first met me, he treated me as if I was a beetle to be crushed underfoot. But we we got to know each other.

First of all, the way he was arrested and treated, he was meant to be, as it were, an ambassador and a VIP in Brazil. He was hardly going to run away but there he was naked and dragged off to prison.

And then the sort of hate-fest that started in the media over here for quite a long time. It was as if this was the devil incarnate. As a human being, I was always brought up to stand up when I think things were wrong.

And I couldn't believe that Shane Ross, our Minister for Sport, gets on a plane and leaves our top administrator under arrest. And then, foreign minister Flanagan...

My great hero was always Lord Palmerston (19th century UK prime minister) who, if an English citizen or a passport holder got into trouble, by God, he sent a gunboat out and said we're taking none of this nonsense!

Obviously, the man (Hickey) has got to face the charges when they eventually come to court but to leave him abandoned was unbelievable.

It doesn't have to be Pat Hickey. It is anybody who is just abandoned. I have to say the Olympic Council itself wasn't enormously helpful. But I just think to abandon any human being in a foreign country with a legal system that seems to be very different to ours and is even slower. I mean, how can you treat a human being like this?

Sean O'Rourke argued that the Irish government could hardly intervene in the internal legal affairs of a foreign country. Beyond offering consular assistance, what can the Irish government do?

Get him out of there! I feel equally strongly about that poor boy in Egypt (Ibrahim Halawa). He's been lingering there without trial. Why do we give people passports? Because we're there when they are in trouble.

And Hickey is on the world stage of sport. He's very high up in the International Council. He created the European Games last year. And he's just vilified in the press and abandoned by his government.

It's not even a crime in this country. No, look, there are charges against him, I agree! But he didn't kill anybody! Surely it's humane to give the man, at his age, his passport back. He comes back to Ireland. I mean he's ruined, his career and his standing is totally ruined. You and I could not read what was written about him and said on the airwaves. I'd be nervous to even walk down Dorset Street (Dorset Street, by the way, is the location of Hickey's auctioneer firm).


Irwin did acknowledge that Hickey's stewardship of the OCI was controversial and that the empire he built wasn't a model of perfect governance. He cited Hickey's blithely authoritarian confirmation that John Delaney would succeed him as head of the OCI.

Pat is a creature of his own making and he has created an empire which probably, like a lot of dictators, if you look at it dispassionately, there probably are problems with governance and an awful lot of the members of the board have been there for ages.

And we were already told by Pat, and no one else but Pat, that John Delaney was going to take over from him. It's very odd that he (Delaney) wasn't in Brazil because he goes on to every bun-fight.

But it was an empire created by Pat which probably, to modern-day standards of governance, incorrectly. But it did work and look where he got in the pecking order of international world body. This is not a man of no ability. Yes, there are charges of ticket touting. I haven't a clue myself about that. I'd be amazed if |Pat, at his age, was selling tickets out the back door.

There's a interesting backstory to the Irwin-Hickey friendship, one that transports us back to the 1990s. Balls.ie spoke to Irwin about this back in September.

Irwin's first interaction with Pat Hickey was back in the early 90s when he was the chairman of the Dublin International Sports Council.

DISC, some of the older among you might remember, was the brainchild of Lord Mayor and future Presidential candidate Gay Mitchell.


After presiding over a reception honouring Michael Carruth on his homecoming from Barcelona, Gay was moved to lay out a daring vision. He said that Dublin should investigate the possibility of hosting the Olympics.

He was bold enough to say all this out loud and within earshot of newspaper reporters. The entire country duly fell about laughing and Mitchell was widely ridiculed.

The country hadn't yet got around to installing a 50m swimming pool and here we were pondering an Olympic bid.

However, he ploughed ahead and established the Dublin International Sports Council and appointed Jonathan Irwin as its head.

Irwin was initially in the majority in thinking Mitchell's absurd. But he now argues that DISC was instrumental in upgrading Dublin's sporting infrastructure.

It was every barroom's joke. And I was absolutely stunned when I was asked to front this up. Suddenly, what seemed to be the big Gay Mitchell joke, he wasn't too far wrong.

When all the committees came to the end of their reports and we gathered the whole thing together, it was very apparent that Ireland could make a bid that wasn't risible. We wouldn't be ashamed of it. Whether we'd have won it is a very different question.

Let's be honest about it, it was a dream (the Olympics), but the fact is that most of the things that happened in the report have come to pass.

The fact that we got the Tour de France (in 1998) here was unthinkable but it did happen.

An enormous amount of the improvements of infrastructure in this country and what was put forward in the Dublin International Sports Council.

It was during this time that Irwin first came into contact with Pat Hickey. Irwin received a bollocking from the OCI head for even floating the idea of the Olympics.

Hickey eventually came to appreciate the work of the Dublin International Sports Council though, according to an interview with Gemma O'Doherty in 2005, he clung to the view that it was unwise for a country the size of Ireland to try and host the Olympics.

Dublin, which is after all roughly the same size as Barcelona, was probably big enough to host the Olympics but Ireland wasn't a big enough country to stand behind the venture.

Irwin says that Hickey softened his views on DISC after his early dismissal of the idea. Irwin spoke to Balls about his friendship with Hickey.

Pat Hickey tried to eat me alive for even suggesting the Olympics. But by the time he read all the reports, he had come a long way to understanding that, whatever else, it was the most valuable blueprint for where Ireland needed to get to.

Did Irwin get on well with Hickey?

I'm a bit like the rabbit and the snake. He sort of came in like Margaret Thatcher and gave me an absolute battering. Which was water off my back. But, I have to say, we ended up pretty good friends. I mean he is an interesting street-fighter.

But he's probably the most successful administrator of sport in this country. I think Lord Killanin suggested him to be the new CEO (of the OCI) and he rose through the ranks. He's now the President of the European Council. He's in the top 15. If that was his basket in life, he did very well indeed.

I enjoy his company. He's a very entertaining person to be with.

Back to the present controversy.

Hickey has been asked to pay a €400,000 bond to the court in exchange for his passport. Irwin said the Hickey family wouldn't have the means to pay this and said the IOC (International Olympic Committee) should bear the cost.

O'Rourke sounded slightly bemused that Irwin at the suggestion that the IOC should buy Hickey's way out of the morass. Why should they stump up?

Irwin: Because he's one of their princes.

O'Rourke: So?

Irwin: So... Maybe, it's just me, I have this passion since I was a child that you stand up to the schoolyard bully and you stand by people when you think they're being harmed. The charges are there, we don't know if he's guilty or if he's innocent. But the way that everyone turned their backs on him. I thought it was against humanity myself. I go back to Lord Palmerston who would have sent out a bloody gunboat to get them out of there. And I cannot forgive Shane Ross for getting on a plane and leaving this man, his top sportsman in prison. I can't believe it!

Read more: "That Was A Real Chance For Irish Soccer. And We Blew It. And We Blew It Because Of The FAI"

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