FAI council member raises concerns about governance of organisation

Nixon Morton has written to Fifa and Uefa about concerns of potential outside control

Gary Owens is currently in the role of FAI CEO with Niall Quinn as interim deputy CEO. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Gary Owens is currently in the role of FAI CEO with Niall Quinn as interim deputy CEO. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

A member of the FAI’s 79-strong Senior Council has made a submission to both Fifa and Uefa outlining what he suggests are widely held concerns about the governance reforms being championed by the association’s current CEO, Gary Owens. In a seven-page document, FAI Schools’ representative Nixon Morton claims that the organisation faces the prospect of being the only one of Fifa’s more than 200 affiliates around the globe to be effectively subject to outside control.

Morton circulated the document to fellow Council members on Monday, telling them that it had been submitted to the two international federations last Thursday. In his covering note, he says that he felt bound to act under rules of the association which state that Council: “shall be responsible for monitoring the activities of the FAI and for monitoring the Board’s governance of the Association.”

His concerns centre on the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Government when an agreement on additional funding was reached at the end of January, and which has since been ratified by its current board.

Among other things, he points out, this provides for a change in the composition of the board which was only revised to include four independent directors for the first time last year on foot of recommendations of the Governance Review Group. Under the Memorandum of Understanding those appointed from outside, rather than elected from within the game, will be required to comprise half, or six members, of the board.

As things stand, the independent chair, currently Roy Barrett, holds the casting vote in the event of a tie. If that arrangement persisted then the association could, in effect, come to be controlled by directors appointed by outside agencies.

Concerned individuals

In his submission to Uefa and Fifa, Morton claims to be speaking on behalf of a group of concerned individuals although it is never made clear who its other members might be. He did not respond to efforts by The Irish Times to contact him in order to clarify this and other matters on Monday. There are certainly those, though, who will be happy to see somebody say what he has.

Aside from the balance of the board – which others have suggested might be addressed by handing the casting vote to the association’s president rather than its chairman – Morton raises the issue of those Council members with more than 10 years’ service, approaching a third of the total, being pushed out more quickly than originally envisaged.

He also raises concerns over the manner in which outside directors, including Barrett, were appointed. The subsequent appointment of Owens – who did not respond to a request for a comment either – and Niall Quinn – both of whom had previously been linked to Barrett through their involvement in the “Visionary Group” – to interim executive positions are also potentially of issue, according to Morton.

With regard to the appointment of the independents, he says, “what should have been an independent process may have been subject to inappropriate influence”.

In relation to the subsequent appointment of Owens and Quinn, he suggests that there are concerns about whether the process involved met “the highest standards of Governance?”

He goes on to highlight the drawn out process of filling the CEO role on a full-time basis and points to the fact that Owens has declined to rule himself out of the running.

All of the concerns are expressed, he says at some length, in the context of the Governance Review Group’s recommendations, quite a few of which, it seems, the current leadership of the association are intent on discarding less than a year after they were approved following a lengthy process of persuasion. They say the report was hurried and flawed. Aidan Moran, the chair of the committee that compiled it, has previously declined to comment on that assertion.

The process to sell the report to members was overseen by then president of the association, Donal Conway, who, like Morton, came from the Schools sector of the association.

Speaking over the weekend about his agenda for continuing reform within the organisation, Owens said: “The association is very fractured and it’s about creating one FAI...There will be no more nonsense. We’re going to join up the dots between the grassroots, high performance, the League of Ireland and the international teams.”

Fractured

The association certainly remains fractured with the schoolboy sector – a separate and much more influential entity than the schools one – still actively fighting for control of elite level youth development.

There was some suggestion that their unhappiness with current developments would be made apparent on the last occasion there was a meaningful Council vote, which in the middle of March when the refinancing package was approved, but the consequences of failing to approve the deal seemed so stark that it ultimately went through without any votes against.

The approach to getting the changes agreed under the Memorandum of Understanding with the government is likely to be the same ahead of a planned EGM although the membership might not be quite so convinced that the plug would be pulled this time.

The wider concerns regarding the current leadership seem likely to persist either way.

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