Governance review group’s report on the FAI eagerly awaited
The proposed make-up of the new board and council set to be a key issue for all parties
FAI HQ in Abbotstown: Morale among the staff is said to be, understandably, at a low ebb. Photograph: Inpho
If it had a marketing spend behind it the publication at 11 o’clock on Friday morning of the governance review group’s report might be sold as some sort of Year Zero for the FAI. As many amongst an all too suspecting public will recall, though, the association has had one of those before and the reboot didn’t quite go as originally intended.
It was, of course, John Delaney’s failure to fully implement the 2002 Genesis report that did so much to land the organisation in its current plight. The former chief executive took a selective approach to implementing its recommendations.
The hope this time is that Aidan Horan and his four fellow committee members will succeed where Alistair Gray failed 17 years ago, and set out a governance structure that ensures the association cannot be used again as a vehicle for the ambition of any one administrator.
Delaney still casts a long shadow over everything out at Abbotstown but the situation at the association now seems worse than even his long-standing critics seemed to imagine it could become during his reign.
The financial situation is said to be perilous with rumours of redundancies to come at the end of the summer and staff morale is, entirely understandably, said to be on the floor.
A board that has been widely vilified lost another member this week as John Earley resigned and there is sense that after the loss of so many senior personnel in recent years there is no one at executive level to provide the leadership that is so desperately needed.
Just now, though, most of the staff would probably settle for getting their emails back after a hack that has hampered the functioning of just about every department, apparently, and added to the general sense of chaos.
That absence of anyone who might serve to unify factions and start to drive things forward is one reason why there are those who strongly suspect that whatever is proposed by the governance review group today will not ultimately receive the support it needs to get through the association’s AGM in July.
The Schoolboys Football of Association of Ireland certainly look set to oppose it after their chairman, Earley, resigned over, it seems, the lack of direct representation his sector is set to have on a reformed board.
If even a couple of the provincial associations follow suit then it will effectively be doomed, Government funding would continue to be withheld and the crisis may actually get worse.
That the wider board accepted the report suggests they will go out and sell it but a good deal will clearly depend on what it is they are asking the leagues and affiliate to buy.
Many of the proposals will be regarded as rather mundane matters of administration which, while important in terms of enabling the association to function like a modern governing body as well as a company with an annual turnover of €50 million and around 200 employees, will not attract much interest.
The proposed make-up of the new board and council has the potential to be a key battleground, however.
It is widely expected that a slightly expanded board, of 12, will be proposed with four of its members to be independent directors and at least four to be women. That would inevitably mean a loss of representation at the top table for a couple of constituencies and in an organisation that has a strong culture of clientelism that is bound to cause some concern.
There is clearly some too over who exactly might be considered “independent” and who will get to appoint those directors. There is already resentment in some quarters that it might be Sport Ireland.
There are those who believe that the minimum number of women required is excessive given the extent to which men numerically dominate just about every aspect of the game and it seems entirely possible that the most of outside appointments will have to be women in order to achieve that number.
There is some concern that one of the report’s authors, Niamh O’Donoghue, a former civil servant who has been on the association’s council for 28 years and its board for two years, might end up being one of those to benefit from the expected recommendation that two of the current board stay on to provide some measure of continuity.
Such a recommendation would, if it is included, fly in the face of the very strong preference expressed by Minister for Sport Shane Ross and most of the politicians on the department’s Oireachtas Committee for every one of the current directors to go. Within the game, though, O’Donoghue is a particular issue – she is widely regarded as capable but divides opinion beyond that – but she is far from the only the only one.
If she and her co-authors really have come up with a plan of improvement and reform that can be put in place in a matter of weeks, though, they will have proven quite a sceptics wrong. We will be a little bit closer to knowing by noon.
Putting a precise number on investigations currently going on into one aspect or more of the FAI’s operations is tricky at this stage with much depending on what exactly you decide to count. There are five major external organisations on the case, however.
The appointment of international auditing group Mazars to conduct an “in-depth external review of all matters” back at the end of March was greeted with a certain amount of eye-rolling by seasoned observers when it was first announced. The report has yet to arrive but the ground has shifted hugely since the work started.
Donal Conway sprang a bit of a surprise when he announced that Grant Thornton had been called in “to conduct an internal review of the Association’s books, records and ledgers,” in his address to members of the Oireachtas Committee for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Once again, however, the association was paying.
Office of the Director for Corporate Enforcement
News that the ODCE was taking an interest in events at the FAI must have been a little chilling for some of its key figures over the past few years. There has already been legal action over access to documentation as well as interviews and there is, it is believed, the very real possibility of prosecutions.
Sport Ireland said it struggled to find anyone who could, or would, take on the task of conducting the forensic audit of the FAI accounts that the politicians were demanding but they eventually appointed this Newry-based firm to “examine in detail the FAI’s wider financial administration and internal control environment, including an assessment of the FAI’s fitness to handle public funds”.
The consulting firm is said to be prominent in the investigation in the hacking of the FAI’s computer system which, contrary to initial claims, has caused huge disruption due to huge volumes of emails having been lost, at least temporarily. There is a belief amongst some staff that an attempt to secure payment for the return of the data was made by the hackers.
Oireachtas Committee for Transport, Tourism and Sport
The politicians are set to have the FAI’s leadership back in to answer more questions in early July. The association’s previous appearances had been regarded as something of a charade but the committee, chaired by Fergus O’Dowd TD, played an important part in this process and John Delaney’s behaviour contributing to the perception that he would have to go.