There is no question that this has been a most interesting year.
As has been the policy in previous years the ICU continued their financial support for weekend tournaments around Ireland such as Bunratty, Kilkenny, Galway, the City of Dublin, Limerick and Cork.
In July the D4 Hotel in Ballsbridge played host to the Irish Senior championships, an extremely hard fought tournament which saw Cork's Alex Lopex emerge as a worthy winner. As this event had no sponsor, the event proved more expensive to run than the ICU had previously hoped. As the Irish championships is the landmark event of the Irish chess calendar, the ICU provided such financial support as was necessary to ensure a quality standard in both tournament conditions and play.
This year also saw a highly creditable performance by the Glorney and Faber teams and here thanks are due to John Delaney who coached them. Irish juniors competed and will be competing in numerous International individual events, thereby gaining valuable international experience, but as always more work needs to be done to give our junior players opportunities to play abroad and develop their game. In this respect, securing sponsorship for junior chess is an ongoing concern of the ICU.
In coming weeks, the Irish men's and women's teams will travel to Khanty Mansysk for the Chess Olympiad. The Olympiad will also play host to a series of important elections for both the FIDE and ECU Presidencies. After receiving a personal invitation from the Short camp to attend the Olympiad, I have decided to attend the event at no cost to the Union.
On a positive note, this year saw some notable and impressive individual performances. After winning his first Irish championships in July, Alex Lopez scored his second IM norm at the Dun Laoghaire Chess Festival. This event also saw the return to form of IM Mark Quinn who finished clear second in the GM event. After a highly respectable joint third place in the Irish Senior championships, sixteen year old Ryan Rhys Griffiths flew the Irish flag at the British Championships where he beat GM Aaron Summerscale and was on one of the top boards of the competition going into the last round. The most outstanding individual result was scored by IM Sam Collins, who made his second Grandmaster Norm in Norway in July and needs just one more norm to become a Grandmaster.
The Dun Laoghaire Chess Festival that took place in late August was a major new event for Irish Chess and involved two high profile closed tournaments that received significant internet media coverage. Thanks are due to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County council and the Dun Laoghaire Cathaoirleach Lettie McCarthy for providing vital sponsorship and the Dun Laoghaire Club for making their premises and facilities available for the duration of the Festival. All chess events, no matter how big or small, require help to run and the Dun Laoghaire festival was no exception. In this regard, in no order of importance, I would like to thank Michael Crowe, Nicky Benson, Mark Quinn, Herbert Scarry, Gerry Graham, Pat Fitzsimons, Alexander Baburin, Shane Lee and last but not least Una O'Boyle. Una also launched the first book on chess to be published in Irish during the Festival, a significant landmark that will undoubtedly make the game more accessible to anyone with an interest in the Irish language.
Here, I would also like to note the important contribution made by chess teachers engaged in private tuition in schools around the country. These teachers promote the game without any financial support from the ICU or the Dept of Education and succeed in getting more and more children playing chess each year.
Despite the above positive events and minor and major successes, the year did have a downside. Despite being vocal on many issues, it is difficult to find enough members who are willing to contribute to the running of the day to day requirements of the Union and work at committee level in organizing events. There is a general apathy that needs to be challenged if the game is to continue developing in Ireland. In this respect, new blood is required to reinvigorate the Union.
There is still no sponsor of the Irish Chess championships since Michael Crowe independently secured three years of generous sponsorship from Island Oil and Gas. This will be a major concern that the incoming executive will have to try and address. The Irish Chess Union has no strategic links or affiliations with any other sporting organizations. In addition, no meaningful progress has been made on securing recognition for chess as a sport in Ireland. This provides an obstacle to gaining government funding.
This year was also marked by a spate of libellous online publications that involved continual bickering, anonymous personal attacks and occasional intimidation of ICU officials and players. This was an extremely negative and counterproductive development that can only damage the standing and perception of Chess in Ireland. Personally, I have no problem with constructive criticism but John Alfred's observation that some of the content was unsafe for children to be reading speaks volumes. The existence and tolerance of such incendiary blogs implies that personal and libellous attacks and character assasinations are not just acceptable but the norm. I would hope that the incoming committee will take a strong position on this matter. Whatever people's opinions about my tenure as ICU chairman or the ICU committee's performance individually or as a whole, the correct forum for holding people to account is the AGM and not the public airwaves. Here is it is worth remembering that these are voluntary and time consuming efforts by dedicated people who have attempted to the best of their abilities to promote Chess in Ireland. Using the Internet for non-constructive and occasionally vicious personal attacks is unacceptable.
Anyone who has ever served on any public body or the ICU will know that despite the importance for transparency in the running of the Union, it is not always in the interests of Chess to release the full details and background to every decision. This is one of the many responsibilities that anyone seeking a position on the ICU or any public body for that matter will soon realise. As such it is my opinion that many of the personal attacks on ICU members were both ill-advised and uninformed. The forthcoming executive will have to address this issue as a matter of urgency.
That being said, while there is much work to be done and difficult decisions to be made, I genuinely wish the incoming Committee and new Chairman all the best in the coming year. In particular, they will need a good team to ensure that Ireland's hosting of the Glorney Cup is a success. This event requires about 10,000 in funding and/or sponsorship.
My thanks to Michael Crowe and Nicky Benson who are retiring from the ICU. After thirty-two years of involvement in chess at local, regional and national levels, serving on committees and in different positions such as Treasurer, President, Honorary Chairman etc., it is also time for me to step down and retire from chess organization. I am looking forward to playing more and will be competing at the forthcoming World Senior Chess Championships in Italy.