FAI staff told of deepening crisis as Paul Cooke takes on ‘executive lead’ role

Minister of Sport Shane Ross sticks to red lines on the restoration of funding

Paul Cooke has stepped in as ‘executive lead’ of the FAI. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

FAI staff have been told that the deepening financial crisis at the association will have consequences for them over the coming months, although it was not specified how many jobs might be lost or what other cost-cutting measures will be implemented as the organisation tries to get a total debt believed to comfortably exceed €50 million under control in the new year.

The message was delivered at Abbotstown on Tuesday afternoon by the association's president Donal Conway and vice-president Paul Cooke, who had just taken on the role of interim CEO, or "executive lead" as it is to be called this time.

The move appears to have exacerbated the association's ongoing issues with Minister for Sport Shane Ross but in the wake of John Foley's decision to step away on Sunday night, the prospect of heading into such an important period without anyone obviously running the management side of things clearly persuaded the board that it had little option but to proceed.

The official word was that the Waterford-born chartered accountant and former media executive might only hold the position for a couple of weeks. The suggestion is that his term will end after an independent chair of the board is appointed and they come up with a successor; none of which, right now, feels like it is quite so imminent.


Ross is thought to have made his dissatisfaction with the appointment of Foley known in the days before it was due to take place, which became a major impediment to him taking up the post, and was the cause of significant frustration in the FAI. The Minister viewed Foley’s past association with the FAI – he was a member of it National League Executive Committee while it was under the control of Delaney – as problematic, while having no personal or professional objection to Foley’s standing.

In the Minister’s view, the same concerns could be applied to Cooke – and Ross was not thought to be well disposed to the idea of the accountant taking up the role of chief executive, a job that Cooke was actively lobbying for.

In a statement issued on Tuesday evening, the Department made it clear that it has not resiled from its red lines on the restoration of funding, which it says cannot be restored until independent directors and an independent chief executive are in place.

Ross’s preference is for the independent directors to be appointed, and for them to play a key role in selecting a new chief executive without pre-existing ties to Irish football, most particularly to the FAI.

In the meantime, the association has, however compelling the circumstances may have felt at Monday night’s board meeting, managed to land itself back in a position for the moment where its de facto chief executive is also a director; a situation that prevailed until March when Delaney stepped away from the CEO role and relinquished his place on the board in what came to be seen as an effort to preserve his longer term position at the organisation.

Cooke, a long-time Waterford United delegate to FAI Council, is clearly well regarded and seen as having done significant work on the financial front since going into the organisation on a voluntary basis in May. But the rest of the board had opted against giving him this role barely a month ago when Foley was still seen as an alternative.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on Sport Marc MacSharry nevertheless underlined the ongoing division between members of the Oireachtas Committee for Sport and the Minister by welcoming the appointment of Cooke although he suggested that the “Executive Lead” should answer to the entire board rather than, as appears to have been set out by the association, just Conway.

Cooke will not take a salary while in the temporary position.

Foley was understood to have agreed a deal worth around €15,000 a month for the six-month period he was expected to be in place.

That is roughly half what Delaney had been paid (before his various add-ons and expenses) when in the job. The accumulated value of his various benefits may become a little clearer on Thursday when the accounts are published as they are likely contain some detail of the settlement reached by the association with the Revenue Commissioners in respect of VAT, income tax, employer’s PRSI and benefit in kind.

None of which is likely to make for pleasant reading for the staff Delaney left behind. Just 10 months after the majority of them finally succeeded in having the 10 per cent of their rather more modest pay restored, they are heading into Christmas wondering what price they will end up paying for the years of mismanagement this time.

Their union, SIPTU, had not succeeded in setting up a meeting with Ross by Tuesday night and it is not actually clear what even a full restoration of public funding at this point would mean in terms of those “consequences” at this stage.

SIPTU organiser Denis Hynes expressed frustration on Tuesday, observing that given the scale of the crisis Cooke’s appointment felt like a “sticking-plaster solution”.