SOCCER LICENSING COMMITTEEA LETTER from the FAI's chief executive, John Delaney, and its president, Paddy McCaul, addressed to Independent Licensing Committee chairman Derek Dee in which they suggest the committee should have attached conditions to the granting of Limerick's licence to participate in the league this year appears to severely undermine the association's repeated claims regarding the integrity of a process it has always steadfastly insisted it did not interfere with.
In the letter, dated March 20th of this year, which has been seen by The Irish Times, the contribution made by the licensing committee through its work is acknowledged and its independence hailed as a virtue before reference is made to the fact its decisions “have to be managed ultimately by the board on an ongoing basis”.
In the case of Limerick, it suggests, this has been made more difficult by the failure of the committee to require the club’s chairman and owner, Pat O’Sullivan, to lodge 50 per cent of his funding for the current season in a non-recourse back account prior to the start of the campaign as it had in 2011.
The letter alleges a number of previous threats by O’Sullivan to withdraw his support for the club and take a legal action against the association’s bank and says Delaney and McCaul “believe that information on both of these issues may not have been presented sufficiently strongly at the decision meeting in February”.
It goes on to suggest the decision not to reapply the sanction: “causes the association some difficulty as there is concern among the board that, given the history of Mr O’Sullivan’s relationship with the association, there is a real and continuing risk that he may follow through on his threat to withdraw support from the club mid-season”.
This, it is pointed out, would likely to lead to the club’s collapse “resulting in major embarrassment and calling in to question of the league, the licensing process and ultimately the association. “The board,” the letter concludes, “would like the committee to take this into account when dealing with Limerick FC in future”.
The letter marks another chapter in the association’s increasingly difficult relationship with Limerick, or more specifically the club’s various owners. Three of the club’s most recent chairmen: Danny Drew, Jack McCarthy and now O’Sullivan, all of whom invested very substantial sums to keep the club afloat, have ended up being involved in court actions against the FAI with the latest dispute centring on the club’s freedom to organise friendly games against high-profile overseas outfits at Thomond Park to generate income.
More significantly, though it would appear to provide firm evidence of an attempt by the association’s most senior officials to interfere in a process they have long insisted is entirely independent.
“That sounds like interference of the highest order,” said O’Sullivan upon hearing of the letter’s contents this week although he would not elaborate on the matter yesterday and the club simply issued a statement to the effect it had not previously been aware of its contents which it is now reviewing.
The FAI refused to comment on the matter.
Derek Dee, meanwhile, is currently on holidays and could not be contacted.
A significant proportion of the league’s clubs have fallen foul of the licensing process at one point or another since it was introduced eight years ago.
While there is no evidence to suggest the committee was in fact influenced in any way in its deliberations or decisions, this letter suggests the association, for all it’s claims to the contrary, wasn’t above trying.