FAI officials set to join John Delaney at Oireachtas hearing

TD Ruth Coppinger says that the FAI have given ‘two fingers’ to Sport Ireland

Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy arrives at Leinster House to appear before an Oireachtas Committee regarding funding to the Football Association of Ireland. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy arrives at Leinster House to appear before an Oireachtas Committee regarding funding to the Football Association of Ireland. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

On a day when the chief executive of Sport Ireland couldn’t bring himself to express confidence in the board of the FAI, it was revealed that the Oireachtas Committee for Transport, Tourism and Sport has specifically requested that elected officials of the association appear before it along with John Delaney next Wednesday.

Committee chair Fergus O’Dowd confirmed after Wednesday’s four hour session with Treacy and other leading representatives of Sport Ireland that FAI president Donal Conway, treasurer Eddie Murray and Paraic Treanor – the chair of the association’s Legal and Corporate Affairs Committee – are all included in what is in danger of becoming a very large delegation next week.

Delaney, though, clearly remains the central figure for committee members of all parties after the hearing was told that the FAI had stalled when asked to properly explain the €100,000 he is said to have loaned the association in April of 2017 and account for the fact Delaney was moved to a position created especially for him on foot of a report few had previously heard of – not in Sport Ireland anyway.

Treacy, who had eventually replied: “well, I’m not saying ‘yes’” when pressed by Imelda Munster if he had confidence in the FAI’s board, said it was “extremely disappointing,” that the association had failed to adequately address the issues put to it by Sport Ireland in a letter sent last week. In its latest communication, delivered in the run-up to the Committee hearing, Conway effectively said that the association had commissioned a report and that it would answer the questions when that was in.

‘Two fingers’

When Noel Rock described the response as “insulting”, Treacy agreed. “Two fingers have been given to Sport Ireland by the FAI with that last minute letter saying, ‘this is all we need to tell you: that there is a review’,” observed Ruth Coppinger afterwards.

All talked about the need to obtain answers next Wednesday but, remarked Catherine Murphy: “The Mazars thing… they looks like they are trying to sidestep and it feels to me as though they are trying to brazen the whole thing out.

“It’s very clear that Sport Ireland are not happy with the FAI,” she continued. “There are issues with governance, there are issues with how they are being treated and that’s after them trying to work with the association. They’ve been flexible, they’ve been deferential but the regulation aspect needs to be beefed up because we can’t just keep coming back to this sort of thing every 10 or 15 years.”

The need for Sport Ireland to get additional powers of oversight was the closest thing we got to a conclusion at the end of the session, from the politicians at least …the Sport Ireland people didn’t seem at all convinced.

Kieran Mulvey, the Chair of its board, suggested that with the association being a company limited by guarantee, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement is the body tasked with and best equipped to look into any issues at Abbotstown not directly related to government grant funding which, it was repeatedly pointed out, is as far as Sport Ireland’s remit extends.

The FAI, Treacy revealed, has been repeatedly audited by Sport Ireland but only in order to ensure that the money it gets from government is being properly used. But he made clear that he believes the association provides the state and taxpayer with very good value for money through the programmes its funding is used on, most of them costing a multiple of what the association is given.

Repeatedly, though, committee members found themselves marvelling at the governance shortcomings displayed by the organisation and nobody from Sport Ireland was sticking up for the FAI on that front.

‘Shocking’

Senator Frank Feighan said he found it “shocking” that “17 or 18 years after Genesis recommended them, there are no independent directors” at the association. Treacy said he and his organisation always argued for them.

There was no mistaking his exasperation of another senator, Pádraig Ó Céidig, when he got onto the topic of an organisation of the FAI’s size having to borrow €100,000 from its chief executive. “As an accountant,” he said, “I find it astounding.”

More than once, Treacy said he and everyone else at Sport Ireland had been aware of the acute cash flow issues at the association caused, he believed, by the scale of its long term stadium debt. But on many occasions he had to admit that the flow of information was not what might have been hoped as in 2017 when, he said, the association’s accounts prompted a query.

“You are right in terms of transparency,” he told Coppinger, when asked about it and what it said about the general situation, “but we asked a specific question and they came back with a specific reply. If you looked at it now with hindsight, then you’d probably be looking at it slightly differently.”

Committee members were repeatedly told that they would do well to put particular questions to the FAI next week and repeatedly replied that they would. Mulvey said Sport Ireland would wait until at least then before threatening sanctions with regard to the association’s behaviour so far as its board would want to see how the politicians get on.

They won’t be the only ones.

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