The FAI AGM instantly became a standoff between general assembly delegates and Roy Barrett, the association’s former chairperson, who has admitted to sanctioning payments to chief executive Jonathan Hill.
Barrett refused to apologise for paying Hill €20,500 to cover commuting costs and cash for holidays not taken, despite a discovery by the Sport Ireland-Kosi audit prompted the CEO to repay the FAI in full.
Barrett signed off on the payments to “retain, motivate and incentivise” Hill despite the decision leading to €6.8 million in Government funding being temporarily withheld.
“I don’t apologise for the decision,” said Barrett. “I believe it was the right decision. I still think it was, I believe I had the authority to make the decision.”
Hill, however, repeated the apology he “unreservedly” provided to FAI staff in front of the general assembly members at Saturday’s AGM at the Radisson Blu hotel in Booterstown, Co Dublin.
Throughout 2023 Hill has paid for his own weekly commute between London and Dublin.
Stuart Gilhooly, a solicitor representing the professional footballers association of Ireland (PFAI), began an hour-long examination into how the FAI board deemed it acceptable to make additional payments to the CEO on top of his €282,812 remuneration in 2022.
Barrett stepped to the podium, providing a preview of what he will tell the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media next Wednesday in Leinster House. The former Goodbody Stockbrokers managing director and current chairman of Sherry Fitzgerald answered most questions, that were directed towards Hill, while repeatedly highlighting the damage caused by board members leaking information to the media.
“I’ll take full responsibility for the decision,” Barrett said. “I’ll tell you something, I will not take responsibility for the media leaks. I’ll take responsibility for what I do. But don’t put on me the general public perception of the FAI going back a number of years.
“I am as disappointed as anybody with how it has played out in the media, how it got into the media but I am not surprised with that.”
Last week, a source told The Irish Times that “there is a concerted effort out there to remove Jonathan Hill” and that the entire repayments situation is “about people trying to take back control of the FAI board”.
Brendan Dillon, the former chairman of the League of Ireland, refused to accept Barrett’s reasoning, even stating that the role of the FAI chair needs to be clarified.
Michael O’Regan, from the Munster FA, asked Barrett to reveal who else on the board agreed to extra pay for Hill before suggesting that the CEO’s position was “untenable”. Barrett reiterated that he is responsible for the payments, adding that three years of progress by the FAI since a Government bailout is being “undermined by the small few”.
“Most people in this room only want what is good for the game,” Barrett told delegates. “However, what I have observed is the politics. There are some whose interest and where they lie within the power structures in the game is more important [to them].
“I have had a ring side seat for four years and the one fundamental thing that is holding back this game are the factions. ‘Take back control’ – how many times have I heard that? [Control] from who? It is the one thing that is going to stop progress in this country.
“Unless that is dealt with this game will not make the progress that should be made. And ...”
At this moment, several voices of dissent came from the floor.
“He’s giving us a lecture,” said Dave Moran, a returning board member.
Barrett sat down. Moments later he quietly walked out the door.
Former Tesco CEO Tony Keohane became the FAI’s new independent chairperson.
“I left the room there for a moment and people came after me asking where I was going,” said Keohane. “Don’t worry, I’m still here, I’m made of tougher stuff than that.
“My style will be one of listening. I am a team player, I am collaborative. I think they are important qualities to bring the best out of the board. I promise I will be transparent.”
Dave Moran and Tom Browne were returned as directors, with 111 and 102 votes respectively, and Nixon Morton was added to the board for the first time with 99 votes for and 12 against. Independent board members Catherine Guy and Liz Joyce were also re-elected for second terms.
Paul Cooke saw off Joe O’Brien, 89 votes to 21, to replace Gerry McAnaney as FAI president while John Finnegan was elected uncontested as vice-president.
“I stood up when the FAI was in crisis in 2019,” said Cooke, who previously served as the association’s interim chief executive. “We’ve work to do.”