Investigation Into Competition-Fixing In Irish Dance Is Dropped, And Everyone is Angry

Some of accused in scandal fear cheat allegations will haunt them for rest of their careers

Since its chaotic handling of the alleged cheating scandal in 2022, the reputation of An Coimisiún Le Rincí­ Gaelacha (CLRG) has hinged on it trying to bring the cases of the 44 people accused of so-called feis fixing to a satisfactory conclusion.

That will now never happen. And in the midst of the latest scandal, it has also emerged the CLRG is facing insolvency.

Those who had been accused are furious: many maintain that had they had the benefit of a hearing, they would have been cleared of gross misconduct. They now feel, as one person put it, that these allegations will “haunt them for the rest of their Irish dancing lives”.

Others are distraught that CLRG has wasted what is perceived as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reform what many believe is the flawed and difficult culture in the fiercely competitive world of top-tier Irish dancing.

Regardless of their views on the feis fixing scandal, almost everyone in Irish dancing is wondering if the days of the CLRG, the biggest and oldest Irish dancing organisation in the world, may now be numbered.

With more than €1m spent trying to manage the alleged cheating scandal so far, the cash-strapped body is in a precarious financial position.

Accounts seen by the Irish Independent reveal CLRG is at risk of going under this year. Those close to the top of competitive Irish dancing are questioning how CLRG can afford to hold next year’s world championships in Dublin.

It is all playing out under the tenure of Sandra Connick, the chair of CLRG, who was appointed in the middle of the cheating scandal in May last year.

Ms Connick is on the record as vowing that “all 44 will have their day in court”… It is a promise that will haunt her

She had sought to define her tenure at the top by handling the scandal and seeing it out to the end.

“Oh, she’s definitely ending it,” one seasoned Irish dancing teacher said this week, “but not the way that anybody wanted it.”

In a letter to members this week, Ms Connick revealed “with great regret” that 35 out of 44 cases would never be heard.

“I have no doubt many of you will be extremely frustrated by this decision, as am I. Unfortunately, it is a necessary and unavoidable course of action at this time,” she said.

Ms Connick is on the record, both in the media and in meetings with dance teachers, as vowing that “all 44 will have their day in court”, that CLRG was “adamant” it would hear every case. It is a promise that will haunt her.

It is understood the reason the cases can no longer proceed is because the CLRG’s only witness is no longer available.

This is an issue that gets to the heart of the entire alleged cheating scandal: for at least a significant cohort of allegations, CLRG never seemed to have anything more than third-party screenshots to make its case.

These were screenshots of small portions of conversations between a number of teachers and judges and one person, Kevin Broesler. He resigned his CLRG post in December 2019 – nine months after many of the text exchanges – after civil proceedings were taken against him in the US. He was suspended from teaching and adjudicating CLRG events.

As he is no longer a CLRG member, he was not called to give evidence. And CLRG never had access to his phone.

In the few hearings that did take place, this reliance on third-party screenshots was strongly challenged by those accused of cheating.

In terms of their own ‘witness’, CLRG just had the person to whom the allegations were sent. That person, who is also dealing with an illness, is understood to no longer be making themselves available for disciplinary hearings. So the rest of the hearings have collapsed.

There was a strong sense of suspicion that there were some who were exploiting the scandal to settle old scores and rivalries

Ms Connick’s announcement came just days after CLRG’s AGM in Dublin. According to sources, there had been rumours that the disciplinary hearings would be abandoned as far back as the Irish Dancing World Championships in Glasgow in March. There is astonishment as to why this matter was not brought to members at the AGM.

There is very little sympathy for the position CLRG has found itself in. The original allegations were sent to it in the summer of 2022, and all the available evidence shows it did not act on them. Some wonder now if all this could have been avoided had the matter been dealt with efficiently and internally in July 2022.

By the end of that year, CLRG was in the eye of a global storm. The alleged cheating scandal had broken in October, and 44 of its teachers and judges were facing allegations. Its initial handling of the story had been terrible – often acting as a passive witness to the scandal, rather than the governing body that Irish dancers were crying out for.

It is hard to capture just how febrile the atmosphere in Irish dancing was.

Accusations were flying, and some had questioned why only 12 teachers and judges had been singled out in the initial complaint.

Anonymous forums were savaging people. There was a strong sense of suspicion that among those who had honest intentions to save Irish dancing, there were some who were exploiting the scandal to settle old scores and rivalries.

Of the few disciplinary hearings that did take place, one would later hear evidence from one teacher who told how someone using a fake email posing as CLRG’s ethics committee sent emails to some of those accused of cheating containing phrases such as “I am coming for you next”.

Belatedly, CLRG vowed to take action. All 44 individuals were informed they would be facing disciplinary action and were duly suspended.

Those suspensions would end up being lifted last year on foot of a successful High Court action where one accused teacher, Mandy Hennigan, argued that one person had been denied due process when she was suspended.

Ms Hennigan denied any wrongdoing. All suspensions were lifted by CLRG, which could not afford to fight multiple versions of the same court case.

Many of the 44 accused had not yet received a book of evidence detailing what allegations they were facing. Now they may never know

By the end of last year, very few disciplinary hearings had taken place, to the consternation of many.

Many of the 44 accused had not yet received a book of evidence detailing what allegations they were facing, with some claiming they had no idea why they had been accused of cheating. Now they may never know. It is yet to be seen if any of those who were accused will now consider legal action against CLRG.

Having endured two years of very public pain, Irish dancing is coming out of this scandal with no hope of resolution or redemption. Morale is exceptionally low among teachers and some parents – and that is even before considering the additional stress of CLRG’s financial position.

It emerged at the AGM that CLRG has spent more than €1m on the scandal and all the legal and PR costs that came with it. CLRG’s accounts for last year, seen by the Irish Independent, warn that it incurred a deficit of €1,008,910 in 2022 and €704,269 last year.

“If the company were to continue in a similar manner, then within the next 12 months it would exhaust its cash reserves and become insolvent,” its audited accounts said.

CLRG is considering hiking the price for solo dancers entering the world championships by €100, to €220

Its financial survival depends on a number of new measures, which were considered by teachers last night.

Yesterday evening, a meeting with teachers considered the need for CLRG to increase the fees for major competitions. It is considering hiking the price for solo dancers entering the world championships by €100, to €220. Team entries would also be hiked by €50. The registration fee for teachers and judges is also set to increase by €100, which would raise over €200,000 for CLRG.

Another motion proposes trying to hold most of CLRG’s future meetings over Zoom in a bid to save money.

According to its accounts, CLRG has arranged for external financing that is “contingent” on the above measures being put in place.

Those looking at CLRG’s accounts, which are only available up to the end of 2022, are struggling to see how it will be able to comfortably afford to stage the world championships next year. They are due to be held in Dublin, which can be one of the more expensive cities in which to stage the high-profile competition.

It is a difficult situation for an organisation that is supposed to be the guardian and custodian of one of our most important cultural exports.

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