FAI chairman Roy Barrett predicts sense will prevail at EGM

Soccer group’s council holds four-hour debate ahead of crunch August summit

FAI chairman Roy Barrett is predicting sense to prevail at an EGM to restore State funding for the organisation.

During four hours of debate at a meeting of the FAI council at the Red Cow Hotel on Friday, questions were levelled over Mr Barrett’s handling of the terms related to the deal for a State rescue package for the organisation.

However, by the end, following a week of rancour within the boardroom, Mr Barrett and his president Gerry McAnaney emerged displaying a united front.

Whether it’s enough to convince two-thirds of the 203-strong EGM to ratify the changes on August 31st remains to be seen.

At stake, they stressed, is €35 million of Government grants and funding that has been frozen since the organisation plunged into crisis in the latter stages of John Delaney’s era in the FAI in 2019.

Mr Barrett stressed his confidence that fears over two independent directors joining the 12-person board at the expense of two members elected through soccer constituencies have been allayed.

“Ultimately the vast majority want to do the right thing and make the right decision,” said the chairman.

“It’s clear that parts of these decisions are difficult but, in the round, I’m confident that people will make a decision in the best interests of Irish football.

“This was a very, very positive meeting, with a full and frank exchange of views of everyone.

“They were glad to have that opportunity to express themselves.”

Left open

Government Ministers remain adamant about requiring changes by the organisation as part of the deal, though Mr Barrett left open the question of a change to the requirement for FAI council members with 10 years or more of service to quit.

The Goodbody Stockbrokers managing director left the door open on flexibility for that particular clause, which would wipe out 30 members.

“I’ve never agreed with the concept that people should be precluded from being on a committee,” he said.

“Right now, the 10-year rule is there, but there’s ongoing dialogue around the interpretation of that.

"We are talking to Sport Ireland, the Department [of Sport], and also Fifa. Hopefully we will have clarity by the time we get to the EGM on August 31st."

Mr Barrett asserted a view that he had ultimate authority to agree the reform measures with then minister for sport Shane Ross on January 30th.

The eight soccer directors on the FAI board released a statement on Wednesday evening refuting a claim made by interim CEO Gary Owens in midweek. Mr Owens had said that they had approved and signed off on the terms of the rescue package in advance.

Despite Mr Barrett receiving a copy of the terms on the eve of signing the rescue agreement, he didn’t share the details with the board until the next morning.

“I received the email on 8.58pm but didn’t see it,” he said.

“It was a very busy time for me; both in terms of my work with the FAI, but also in my day job.

“If I had seen it at 8.58pm, I would have sent it on straight away. We needed the funding and I was mandated by the board to sign the MoU [Memorandum of Understanding].

“I took a lot of comfort from the fact that the members would ultimately decide if it was acceptable or not.”

Casting vote

Part of the concerns among delegates is that Mr Barrett would retain the casting vote at board level should the 12-person board be split.

The non-executive director insisted he had no problems if members vote to transfer that golden ticket to the president.

More importantly, he added that the stakeholders to the rescue deal – the Government, Uefa and Bank of Ireland – wouldn't object either.

“They have no business in that,” said Mr Barrett. “The casting vote is not a condition of the deal, so I have no issue with members changing that. None at all.”

Wexford Youths founder and MEP Mick Wallace has said decision making must be kept in the hands of soccer personnel.

“It’s a bit rich for the Government to insist on independent directors having greater influence on Irish football because the State have struggled to run a piss-up in a brewery.

“They’ve blown a billion on the children’s hospital, €10 billion on Nama, so I don’t think they’d allow the FAI to go insolvent because they don’t agree with boardroom changes.

“Now they’ve suddenly become experts on Irish football.”