Miriam Lord: Delaney becomes a slave to silence as TDs go bonkers

Former FAI chief spoke only when modestly outlining his great work on behalf of Ireland

After hours of questions at an Oireachtas committee former FAI CEO John Delaney stuck to his opening statements and avoided further questions. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

For his own sake, it was just as well that John Delaney is such a shrinking violet.

On Wednesday, the celebrity administrator bravely endured in silence as a room full of politicians grilled his adjacent colleagues about something he had done and could have told them all about in a matter of minutes.

A more garrulous individual might have cracked under the pressure. But the self-effacing former chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland said nothing as he struggled under a self-imposed gag on the instructions of his solicitor.

Delaney insisted he was legally precluded from explaining the details of how he came to give a temporary “loan” to the FAI while boss of that organisation, a transaction which seemingly went unnoticed in headquarters until a journalist found out about it last month.

Funnily enough, this happened around the same time that the organisation coincidentally embarked on a wave of new appointments at senior level. Even Delaney bowed out from the top job, moving to a different top job and off the board of directors.

This turned out to be unfortunate timing for the FAI because it meant that the new arrivals, while most anxious to assist the Oireachtas Committee on Sport in its enquiries, knew nothing about what happened during the Delaney era.

And so a new king pin was answering the questions. John sat wordlessly beside him, only speaking when modestly outlining his great work on behalf of Ireland on the international stage. Or when reluctantly pointing out he is so busy working for Irish soccer that he hardly has a minute to see his family.

How he must have inwardly wrestled to keep his counsel, seven hours a slave to silence, as an inconsequence of FAI witnesses battled to produce useless replies in the absence of the simple explanations he could have provided.

Seven farcical hours in Leinster House basement room trying to get to the bottom of a single straightforward transaction. But the celebrity administrator, The Man Who Wrote the Cheque, couldn’t provide enlightenment.

What could he do? Being “legally precluded” from explaining his selfless gesture of generosity to the FAI, born of a lifetime of love for The Beautiful Game.

All he could convey to the politicians, with a heavy heart, was that his “precautionary payment” was a pure act of passion, executed in the interest of Irish football.

John Delaney could say no more than that.

After explaining this in an opening statement, he more or less withdrew from the committee’s investigation into what he did. The chairman should have given him a colouring book and crayons and left him to his own devices at this point, for all the use he was to the committee after that.

All day, in all manner of ways, the TDs and Senators had the same question: Who, but who would know anything about the big personal cheque Delaney gave to the FAI?

They asked former board members and current board members and staff members if they might be able to explain how Delaney (that would be the fella with the swept back hair sitting in the middle of them all) came to write a personal cheque for €100,000 to the FAI so that organisation with an annual turnover of €50 million could pay an urgent bill. And how they paid it back in full a couple of months later.

That was two whole years ago. But – and not many people know this – the FAI works in dog years. For the people who run Irish soccer, 12 months is equal to seven years and so on.

Once the public understands this, it becomes much easier to comprehend how the FAI has totally forgotten how it cashed this very large cheque from its then chief executive to cover a pressing demand from a creditor, then paid him back promptly through the normal banking channels in a transaction which, presumably, went through the books in the usual way.

Dónal Conway, the president of the organisation, took all the questions but gave few answers. The transaction “was managed the way it was managed”.

But what was so urgent that this cheque had to be paid out so quickly? Did the FAI not have the funds in one of its many accounts?

Was the organisation completely on its uppers? Could it not have had a word with the bank and sought a temporary overdraft extension? Who was the creditor? Who got the money? Was it for a club? An infrastructural problem? Is there a paper trail?

Why wasn’t the board told? Why wasn’t Sport Ireland informed? Why did a press statement go out when the the Sunday Times got the story, saying the board knew all about the cheque at the time?

So many questions.

Dónal. Dónal. Look beside you. It’s John. Can’t you just ask him what happened. He is The Man Who Wrote the Cheque

Delaney’s head swivelled from side to side as the questions piled up and Conway said they had people in doing reviews and everything would be great “going forward” and the FAI would “learn” from the incident of which they appear to know very little.

But the great thing is that “Grant Thornton is on site” and the accountancy firm will be able help them find an explanation about the €100,000 loan “going forward” so whatever happened will not happen in the future.

“That would be one of the upsides of Grant Thornton work with the finance department at the moment.”

Dónal. Dónal. Look beside you. It’s John. Can’t you just ask him what happened? He is The Man Who Wrote the Cheque.

Even better news, but another firm of management consultants and accountancy experts, Mazars, has also been engaged and is working on the case of the Delaney cheque.

Meanwhile, the celebrity administrator was working his way through the carafes of water on the table like a camel in an oasis. He had to leave twice for “a comfort break”.

The whole episode was bonkers. All the FAI people promising to find out everything they could about this cheque written two years ago and paid back two months later by their former chief executive who was sitting beside them in the chamber. And him with his lips clamped together like an unhappy clam.

One after another, the politicians tried to pierce the shiny carapace of the FAI top brass. Might the treasurer shed any light on the financial conundrum? Eddie Murray (79) thought there was only one FAI account (it later transpired there are 24). President Conway suggested that the FAI’s new financial officer should give evidence.

So young Alex O’Connell stepped up to the plate. What about the €100,000 cheque? Alex, apologetically, said he’s only two weeks in the job. “My responsibilities are mostly future based.”

Michael Healy Rae, who isn’t a member of the committee, waited for half the day to have his say. He then proceeded to tell Delaney he is a great man who has done a lot for Kerry and there will be a welcome in the Kingdom anytime.

“You’re a joke,” Ruth Coppinger told him.

Nobody seemed to have a clue about where Delaney’s cheque might have been in the accounts. “My confidence is in Mazars and Grant Thorntons,” said Dónal Conway, again.

Then there was the statement sent out by the FAI after the cheque surfaced in the media (as opposed to the FAI accounts). This said the board was aware of what happened. This was later corrected.

Where did the statement come from? Nobody before the committee had the foggiest idea. Probably the media director, it was ventured. Somebody pointed out to the FAI president that their media director was behind him. The president didn’t think he was in the job at the time. Did Cathal Dervan authorise it?

Dervan spoke up. “I’m happy to get back to you with the answer”.

The whole session was a joke, and it wasn’t the fault of the politicians.

“I hope the public will notice how toothless parliament has become because of legal threats,” fumed Coppinger.

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