Sports committee ‘agrees’ entire FAI board should resign

FAI board meets on Monday to take ‘urgent steps’ over governance issues

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

 

A member of the Oireachtas Committee on Sport said on Monday it had been “agreed across the political spectrum” that the entire board of the FAI must resign.

Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy said it was “very disappointing” the length of time the FAI board was taking to get back to the committee with answers it could not provide at last week’s meeting.

Six out of 11 board members have been in their roles for more than the set down time limit of eight years, with four granted exemptions “to provide continuity and avoid a brain drain”.

“Sorry, but a brain drain at the level of the FAI, I don’t think anyone should be avoiding that,” Mr Troy said.

Outstanding questions include who signed off on a press release last month that stated that the entire board were aware of the controversial €100,000 payment from John Delaney to the FAI, which Mr Troy said was subsequently shown to be inaccurate.

“There is an effort, in my opinion, by the board of the FAI to conceal information that has been requested of it by the Oireachtas committee and members of the media and the general public at large,” he told RTÉ Radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.

“I don’t have confidence that the existing board has the ability or even the desire to get to bottom of the information,” Mr Troy said.

Mr Delaney told the Oireachtas committee in January 2017 that a new governance committee with independent members on it had been set up then, and it had since been shown that it “is not doing its job”, the Fianna Fáil TD said.

The FAI board is meeting on Monday evening to take what it called “urgent steps” in response to its mounting governance crisis. 

In a statement issued on Sunday night, after a weekend of intense internal talks, the association said it was taking “many urgent steps to address its current governance and financial issues”.

The statement also promised a “root and branch review” and said the FAI would furnish additional information about a €100,000 loan given by Mr Delaney to the FAI in 2017 to prevent it exceeding an overdraft. The loan was subsequently repaid. The information was requested by an Oireachtas committee examining governance in the association.

However, the statement was silent on the position of Mr Delaney, the former chief executive, who last month took up a newly created role of executive vice-president. Informed sources said talks had focused on a possible severance arrangement for Mr Delaney, with several board members also stepping down. However, it is understood the talks finished inconclusively.

Grant freeze

The statement was issued some hours after Minster for Sport Shane Ross threatened to freeze FAI applications to a new €100 million grant scheme for large-scale sports projects to any sporting body with inadequate corporate governance. This refusal comes on top of Sport Ireland’s decision to suspend State funding to the FAI, worth €2.7 million per annum.

“The FAI has not answered the questions that were necessary [on] corporate governance,” said Mr Ross.

“If they are not addressed we will take the necessary action… We will rule out any body which is not in good stead in corporate governance from getting large capital sports grants.

“We are talking about large amounts of money,” he said. If the funds were frozen, it would affect major FAI projects such as the redevelopment of Dalymount Park; a regional centre in Glanmire, Co Cork; and redevelopments in Drogheda, Co Louth; and for Finn Harps in Ballybofey, Co Donegal.

‘Regime change’

At a hearing of the Oireachtas Committee on Sport last week, chairman Fergus O’Dowd called for “regime change” after Mr Delaney refused to answer any questions, and other FAI representatives adopted what Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy described as a “minimalist” and evasive approach.

On Sunday night, the FAI said a new governance committee would have additional independent members, and a board committee examining the €100,000 loan and other issues would also include an independent person.

“The FAI wants to ensure that all those who play football across Ireland do not suffer as a result of the actions of the association,” it said.

A former board member and senior employee, John Byrne, said on Sunday the board needed to stand down and be replaced with a four-person commission that would run the organisation until it had reconstituted its corporate governance. Mr Byrne, the former FAI director of special projects, called for a forensic independent audit to be conducted.

Meanwhile, Siptu has warned that dozens of grassroots FAI workers are fearing for their jobs with funding for the roles expected to run out over the coming months.

Some 52 football development officers, who work with children and young adults around the country, are paid directly from grants received from Sport Ireland, which has temporarily withheld further funding to the FAI pending an auditor’s investigation into its finances.

Denis Hynes, Siptu organiser, said the football development officers “are essential for the progression and survival of football” in Ireland.

“Because of the way finances have been running for last couple of years, the FAI has had to draw down early (the State funding),” he said.

“If that present trend was to continue into 2019, and they were to look for the funding now sooner, then we could be in real trouble come the summer.”

Mr Hynes said the next grants from Sport Ireland were due around late summer or autumn.

“The jobs could be in real threat here,” he said.

The football development officers only had their salaries fully restored in January this year - with average annual salaries of €35,000 - after cuts of up to 15 per cent in 2012.

“The staff are absolutely disgusted with everything they have been listening to and reading about (the FAI controversy),” Mr Hynes told RTÉ radio.

“These are the workers that make the association survive and push it on, and they feel embarrassed by the whole situation. It is absolutely desperate for them at the moment.”

Mr Hynes said the staff want to see Sport Ireland “brought back on the pitch” and “they also feel maybe the time is up for the board.”