dancing scandal | 

Judges accused of trying to fix Irish Dancing competition results for children aged under 10

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar warns of possible ‘reputational damage’

Irish Dancing scandal© Paula Mackin

Ellen CoyneIndependent.ie

Judges embroiled in the Irish dancing cheating controversy were allegedly trying to fix competitions for children as young as 10 and under.

Texts seen by the Irish Independent also show judges appeared to be trying to fix scores for up to 25 of their students at a time.

It comes as senior Government ministers called for a full investigation into the scandal, with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar suggesting it could cause “reputational harm” to Ireland.

This week, the Irish Independent revealed that An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG), the global body that governs Irish dancing, was handed screenshots in July that allegedly showed a dozen Irish dancing teachers arranging to fix competition scores.

The Irish Independent has seen further screenshots that appear to show another eight teachers engaged in the same practice.

The CLRG has launched a formal investigation into the claims. Some of the judges accused of “feis fixing” have been allowed to adjudicate dancing competitions since.

On a number of occasions, Irish dancing teachers were texting judges and appearing to ask to rig dance competitions involving young children.

Messages seen by this newspaper show teachers regularly sending judges the details of children who were competing in under-10 and under-12 dance competition categories.

In one case, a dance teacher sent a list of 25 of their students to a judge.

Teachers accused of cheating could have done so by using a document known as “the book” to tell judges what number their students would be wearing in an upcoming competition.

On other occasions, the teacher would send details of the colour of a dance costume or hair colour. This appeared to be an attempt to mark out the student. Teachers would also mention previous titles dancers had won.

The scandal is the largest ever to hit the global, multi-million-euro world of Irish dancing. The CLRG declined to respond to a number of queries yesterday.

In an email to its members, which has also been seen by the Irish Independent, the CLRG “strongly advised” its comhairle and council members to direct anyone asking about the scandal to its official statement.

“In order to preserve the integrity of the ongoing investigation, no further comment can be made at this time,” the email said.

Arts and Culture Minister Catherine Martin said she would be writing to the CLRG to ensure trust was restored in competitive Irish dancing. The CLRG does not get any funding from Ms Martin’s department.

“I welcome the fact that we have a retired judge investigating these matters. I think that’s really important,” said Ms Martin.

“I will also be writing to the organisation involved to seek assurances that they are taking every step necessary to restore confidence for families right across the world, that their children and their young people are being treated fairly.”

Ms Martin’s comments came after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said all allegations should be investigated properly so that reputational damage was not risked.

“It is very concerning, very worrying that anything like that would happen. And I do believe it needs to be properly investigated,” he said.

“It needs to be fully and thoroughly investigated so we can find out what the facts are and if people have been engaged in any wrongdoing, [they should be] held to account.”

The Tánaiste said he would have to talk to fellow ministers to assess whether the Government had a role to intervene in the scandal.

“Potentially, it could cause reputational harm,” he added. “But the solution is not to cover it up, it’s to deal with it and investigate it properly and hold people to account.”

The allegations about Irish dancing were described as “shocking” by the Arts Council.

The Oireachtas Arts and Culture Committee may discuss the controversy next week, according to Sinn Féin.

Imelda Munster, the party’s spokesperson on arts, said the allegations were serious and alarming.

“In any competitive sport or activity, people should be able to expect transparency and fairness,” Ms Munster told RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime.

“It’s not fair on any child who attends a feis and gives it their all that they would not be given an equal and fair chance in any competition.”

In a statement this week, the CLRG said its ethics committee had “received allegations, with supporting documentation, of several grievous breaches of our code of conduct.”

“Such unethical behaviour cannot and will not be tolerated by this organisation,” it said.

The CLRG said that due to the “potential extent” of the allegations, it had hired a former Court of Appeal judge “to oversee and supervise the immediate investigation into these matters. They will have full and open access to the resources and records of CLRG”.

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