Donal Conway set to defy growing chorus of calls to step aside

Sports Ireland back Government’s call for FAI president not to seek re-election

Donal Conway: looks likely to stand again for election as FAI president at the association’s AGM on Saturday week.  Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Donal Conway: looks likely to stand again for election as FAI president at the association’s AGM on Saturday week. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

 

The divide between the Government and FAI looks set to deepen over the coming weeks with Donal Conway set to defy the growing chorus of calls to step aside by allowing his bid to retain the presidency of the association to go to a vote at Saturday week’s AGM.

Sport Ireland chief executive John Treacy and Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Fergus O’Dowd, both echoed Minister Shane Ross’s call on Tuesday for Conway, and vice presidential nominee, Noel Fitzroy, to withdraw their candidacies in order to allow a completely new board to be elected when delegates gather in Trim.

There has been no suggestion, however, of any shift in attitude at Abbotstown since the association responded to Ross’s letter with a statement defending Conway’s decision to stand again on the grounds that the Governance Review Group had suggested that one or two board members staying on for a year might be helpful.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Committee for Sport a majority of the committee’s members made it abundantly clear that they feel Conway and Fitzroy should honour what they (the politicians) regarded as the commitment given in April that everyone would go and Ruth Coppinger TD suggested that the “problem has been created by this recommendation”.

Aidan Horan, the chair of the Governance Review Group, stood by the portion of the report at issue but emphasised that it had only been a “suggestion” and not one of the report’s 78 actual “recommendations”.

While a couple of members argued that the two FAI officers are effectively only doing what was asked of them, others talked about the way in which the election process might somehow be halted.

Afterwards, both Treacy and O’Dowd suggested that the pair simply reconsider with the Sport Ireland CEO remarking that: “They need to take cognisance of what was said today. I have a lot of respect for Donal Conway in terms of what he’s done over the last three months. I think he’s really led from the front and shown real leadership and that has to be commended. But I think the Minister is right, and that it is time for the entire board to step aside.”

One of the concerns being expressed is that with so many reports to come in the coming months, some of them expected to report findings that are damaging to all who were on the old board, somebody who stays on now might have to go later, in more difficult circumstances.

“There is going to be various investigations coming down the tracks,” said Treacy, “and you wouldn’t want anyone being in the dock that would be on the board [then] answering for any questions they may have. I think a clean sweep is probably best.”

Despite that, nobody involved in the association who spoke to The Irish Times yesterday felt that Conway would back down. The association had not, at the time of writing, responded to a request for a response from or on behalf of its president.

Firm impression

Conway, some said, appeared to be under the firm impression that he had persuaded Sport Ireland at a meeting last Friday of the basis for him staying on and he appears to have received some support for the position he is adopting within the game.

He is said to be confident that the governance reforms will be passed with the necessary majority at Saturday’s EGM in Dunboyne and while not everyone is so sure, there is a fair bit of manoeuvring already in progress as sectors of the game eye up the board positions that will come up for election.

There is undoubtedly a touch of mayhem about it all, a point raised by Catherine Murphy TD as she sought (but did not really receive) assurances that the nominations for president and vice president are even valid under the association’s rule and Marc McSharry TD described it as “madness” to proceed with the pushing the reforms through when all of the reports currently being compiled might yield information that might better shape them.

Behind closed doors, however, the newly formed football constituencies were starting to take shape with the one that includes the universities, colleges, school, referees, professional players, armed forces and supporters set to produce at least two candidates for the board, at least one of whom, Stuart Gilhooly of the PFAI, will not even be entitled to a position on council until the rules are changed, assuming they are, at the weekend.

The association’s financial position clearly remains a major issue. Sport Ireland chairman Kieran Mulvey told the committee he believes the FAI has a letter of comfort from Uefa effectively guaranteeing the provision of funding for the next year or so but Treacy said he believes this money will come out of future TV revenues, something that would only kick the organisation’s problems further down the road.

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