Silent John Delaney leaves many questions unanswered
FAI delegation would have been relieved to return to Abbotstown after a long day
FAI president Donal Conway and FAI executive vice-president John Delaney arriving at Leinster House to give evidence to the Oireachtas Committee on Sport. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
FAI president Donal Conway told members of the Oireachtas Committee on Sport that the association’s current board would step aside if that was what it took to have Sport Ireland restore its €2.9 million in annual State funding.
However, despite calls from several of the politicians present for them to do just that there was little sense that anyone on the organisation’s delegation feels they will be going anytime soon.
In what was a deeply damaging day for the association’s institutional reputation, Mr Conway repeatedly deferred questions on the basis that he and his fellow directors were awaiting separate reports by Grant Thornton and Mazars respectively into the financial management and corporate governance of the organisation.
Meanwhile, John Delaney generally declined to respond to the committee’s question on the basis, he said, of legal advice.
One of the odder moments on a strange day came when Mr Conway was asked to identify all of the members of his delegation, and seemed to struggle to get the solicitor’s second name.
It was that sort of day, though. After seven hours Jonathan O’Brien TD, a former chairman of Cork City football club, reflected on just how many questions were still unanswered.
Ruth Coppinger suggested that the proceedings had only served to highlight the backwardness of Irish parliamentary democracy, and the committee’s chair, Fergus O’Dowd, highlighted the fact that Mr Conway had repeatedly avoided directly addressing the issue of whether the FAI would allow a forensic audit of its accounts.
“It’s all about credibility,” said Mr O’Dowd, “[and] I think that is what is needed to restore confidence. But I asked him [Conway] three times today, and he didn’t answer.”
Mr Conway doggedly stuck to what was, for an organisation hoping to restore public confidence, a deeply unpromising script. But what was far more striking was the sight of Mr Delaney sitting silently through the sort of proceedings that would long have been seen as made for his particular skill set.
In his statement he revealed that he had told just two other board members, then president Tony Fitzgerald and still serving honorary secretary Michael Cody, of the fact that he had loaned the association €100,000 in April 2017 when the association’s cheques, he suggested, were about to start bouncing due to an acute cash flow issue.
None of the three, it seems, felt the need to inform either the rest of the board or the association’s auditors, and the other directors were only eventually told in March of this year after the Sunday Times started making inquiries about the transaction.
Asked by Noel Rock whether he had felt undermined by this failure and the fact that he had subsequently signed off on accounts that were not entirely accurate, honorary treasurer Eddie Murray said no. “Really?” asked the Deputy, clearly a little exasperated. “Why not?”
It was also only after the newspaper got in touch for the first time, it transpired, that the Jonathan Hall report was commissioned. Within a couple of weeks it had provided the justification for the creation of a new role for Mr Delaney.
Mr Murray did not end up having the best of days. He claimed that €100,000 was a small amount easily missed by those overseeing the books of an organisation of the FAI’s size. Asked at one point how many bank accounts the FAI has, he replied “I think one”. The correct answer turned out to be 24.
Meanwhile, recently installed finance director Alex O’Connell repeatedly found himself having to apologise for having little knowledge of what had happened beyond his time. He still must have finished the day happier than his predecessor Eamon Breen, though.
In his statement Mr Delaney said that Mr Breen had alerted him at next to no notice of the impending cash flow crisis, and that after he had written the cheque for the €100,000 he had asked the then finance director, who departed the association at the end of March, what the reporting obligations were.
Having taken us that far, Mr Breen’s reply was one of the things Mr Delaney declined to discuss.
Quite how the FAI’s finances are supposed to have reached the point where the association had no better option than to borrow that sort of money from its own chief executive was never remotely adequately explained. Nor was the decision to transfer the money by cheque or any number of other related matters.
Inevitably those present were asked about who had signed off on the press releases suggesting the board had been kept up to speed on developments but nobody seemed able to provide an answer.
When Robert Troy returned to the subject late in the day after having realised that communications director Cathal Dervan was present, Mr Conway said he was not sure whether the former Sun sports editor had started in the job on the dates in question.
He had and Mr Dervan eventually said that he would provide an answer although only after returning to Abbotstown.
The entire delegation, you felt, would be relieved to get back out there after a long day in which their collective credibility had been badly damaged, and any claims of good governance at the association had been comprehensively undermined.
Out in Abbotstown, as long as their sponsors don’t walk, they are still untouchable, it seems, and there is little that the politicians can proactively do to prompt the “regime change” that Mr O’Dowd and a few of the others repeatedly made clear they feel is desirable.
Mr Delaney, though, used to say when it suited him, that you couldn’t fight City Hall, and the organisation he has dominated for almost two decades now may finally have been careless and incompetent enough to get itself into a scrap it has little chance of winning.