Embattled FAI reports threats made against staff to gardaí

Association’s decision to cancel Oireachtas committee appearance described as ‘disappointing’

Gardaí are investigating a series of threats made against staff at the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), which has increased security measures on its campus at Abbotstown in west Dublin in recent days.

In an email sent to staff last Friday, FAI interim executive lead Paul Cooke said the organisation was “working in close partnership” with gardaí from Blanchardstown “in relation to a number of postal incidents”.

It is understood a number of threats were made in letters received last week, when the FAI published revised accounts showing it had liabilities of some €55 million at the end of last year. Questions have since been raised about its viability in the face of such a level of debt.

A Garda spokesman confirmed the force was investigating correspondence received by the FAI.

Mr Cooke told staff that the association had put “certain safety measures in place purely as a precautionary mechanism”. He said staff were cooperating with the Garda investigation and are being supported by the FAI.

A full review of security is being undertaken with an increased presence of security staff in Abbotstown.

“A number of our programmes may be disrupted over the coming weeks as we continue our risk assessment,” Mr Cooke wrote.

Committee appearance

The FAI was expected to come before the Oireachtas sport committee on Wednesday to discuss its financial and other issues but cancelled the appearance on Tuesday. It said it made the decision as the board was focused on securing a restructuring package it hopes will “guarantee the future” of the association and “safeguard” its 200 employees.

“As key board members and senior executive staff are required at meetings vital to the financial restructuring and the appointment of an independent chairperson, it is not possible for the FAI to appear before the Oireachtas committee on this occasion,” the FAI said in a statement.

“The board remains committed to appearing before the committee on a date when the appropriate representatives are available.”

Committee chairman Fergus O’Dowd said he was disappointed the meeting is not going ahead but he had no power to compel FAI representatives to attend.

“We are ready to meet with them next week and are ready do come back early after Christmas if needs be because we want them to be accountable, to know how they are going to change,” he said.

Something changed

Mr O’Dowd, a Fine Gael TD for Louth, said he had sought assurance that key members of the board “would actually be present and that assurance was actually given but something obviously has changed”.

The committee was due to question FAI management on a number of issues relating to its financial difficulties, particularly the future direction of management.

“The problem is there is no confidence in the association. Up and down the country people are absolutely livid and they want to see transparency and real change, ” Mr O’Dowd said. “They are in a bunker now; a bunker mentality.”

Meanwhile, a media briefing on the fallout from the FAI controversy has heard that its employees may not know until after Christmas what impact its funding problems could have on their jobs.

Staff at the association have been invited to a briefing with FAI executive lead Paul Cooke in Abbotstown on Friday. He said he would give an overview of the current situation and try to answer any questions staff might have.

Concerns have been raised about the future of FAI development officers, who earn between €35,000 and €43,000 per year.

Modest incomes

Denis Hynes, the Siptu staff representative at the FAI, said there were over 100 such officers around the country who were doing “incredible” work on “modest incomes”. They work in schools, with local clubs, with disabled children and in areas of social exclusion.

“This is stuff that they do that is not really well known,” Mr Hynes said. “For those parents of those kids...it’s not about turning out the next Robbie Keane or Roy Keane, it’s about their kid being involved.”

Stephen McGuinness, general secretary of the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI), said he believed “a generation of players are going to feel the pain for what’s going on here”.

Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who organised the briefing, said the organisations that come out of controversies best were those who “put their hands up completely” and try to restore their reputations.

“And if you don’t seize an opportunity to come within the houses of the Oireachtas to start that process well then the feeling out in the general public would be that this organisation doesn’t want to change,” he said.