The highlight of the Irish Chess Year was undoubtedly the European Union Chess Championships held in Cork in March, when a total of 13 Grandmasters and 20 International Masters competed. This was a wonderful opportunity for Irish players to meet international competition in our own back yard and many seized the opportunity. Irish Chess owes a big debt of gratitude to Michael Burniston, his family and Committee.
On the competitive front, we have had both an Olympiad and a European championship within the one year. In the Olympiad in Calvia, Spain, in October 2004, Irelands mens team were seeded 51st and finished in 43rd place, winning the grading prize for teams in Group C. Sam Collins performance earned him the IM title. The ladies team at the Olympiad were seeded 67th and finished in 80th place. The outstanding performance of Hannah Lowry OReilly earned her the title of Womens Fide Master. She is the first Irish lady to earn any title. Irish chess congratulates both on their achievements. In the European Championships recently held in Gothenburg the men were seeded 32nd and finished in 32nd place. We did not field a womens team.
From an organisational point of view the following were the highlights of the year
(a) The introduction of a Grand Prix series at Senior, Intermediate and Junior levels (we call them Formula One, Two and Three!!)
(b) The introduction of a new much improved web site, for which a thousand thanks are due to Mark Orr
(c) The return of a chess journal. This is a topic for which earlier committees had been criticised. Although it costs a significant amount of our resources, the final product has been much praised and is appreciated by members. Again our grateful thanks to the two young men who took on this job at the last AGM, John Healy and Kevin Burke.
There were some low lights too. The Junior Committee did not function satisfactorily during the course of this year. And the Ulster Chess Union have again withdrawn from the Irish Chess Union. We hope that both these issues will be satisfactorily resolved in the coming year.
Two other issues of note. The Committee have felt the need to suggest some changes to the Constitution of the Union. These are explained elsewhere on the website and will be the subject of an Extraordinary General Meeting, to be held before the AGM.
For many years there have been difficulties between the union and one of its Senior Players, Mr Colm Daly. He was suspended from membership of the Union arising from actions he took in 2002. During June of this year, approaches were made to the executive to try to resolve these difficulties. As a gesture of goodwill during the course of these negotiations, I, as Chairman, lifted the ban on a temporary basis to allow Colm to play in the Irish Championships. The negotiations were later successfully concluded in that Mr Daly has apologised to a number of members for his actions in 2002 and has promised not to behave in a similar way again. As a result of these actions by Mr Daly, the Committee at its meeting on 7th August lifted the ban it had imposed. We hope that this will herald a new era of peace within Irish Chess.
Two years ago the union at its AGM published a five year plan, which included several targets. These are reproduced below, with quantification, where possible of the extent to which targets are being met.
Target : A system of ICU recognised coaches would be introduced. In place.
Target : No of active male players with FIDE gradings over 2200 to be increased to 30 within five years (2003 level 20). 2005 level 22. Slow progress. Average grading of top four players has increased from 2454 to 2460.
Target : No of active female players with FIDE gradings over 2000 to be increased to 5 within five years. (2003 level 2). 2005 level 1. No progress. Prospect of attaining target, which may have been ambitious, nil.
Target : Increased number of weekend tournaments and further increase in participation levels (say 10% per annum) at existing tournaments. These targets are well on way to Achievement. Galway tournament a significant addition to the Calendar, while traditional Leinster based tournaments appear to be recovering.
Target : Substantial increase in women players. There is a significant increase in women participation at under age levels, which is feeding into some increase in women playing at weekend tournaments. Increase could not yet be called substantial
Target : Annual income from all sources of Irish Chess Union 50,000. (18,000 in 2003). Some progress but no sponsorship and prospect of recognition by Sports Council, low. Estimated expenditure in 2005 30,000, achieved through higher fees but more particularly, more efficient collection procedures.
To pillage a phrase from another source : Lots done More to do.
Finally I wish to record the Unions appreciation of the work done by Vincent Bissett, and Shannon Clements, who are stepping down from the Committee at this AGM. Vincent is stepping down from his position of rating officer, after many years service. He also acted as Membership officer for most of those years. Shannon has been Secretary for two and a half years. I dont think members are at all aware of the contribution in time and effort that committee members make and in particular people in these two crucial positions. We owe them a great deal.