John Delaney’s easy ride in front of Dáil committee
Joint Committee on Sport learn little of any substance from meeting with FAI’s CEO
John Delaney: batted away the issue of the €5 million rather casually, insisting concluding that the FAI had issued a detailed statement about it at the time. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
John Delaney would have known from experience that he had nothing much to fear from his date with the members of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport and, sure enough, they got little or nothing of interest out of him over the two hours he spent at their first meeting to explore the topic of ‘Sport In Ireland: Challenges, Strategies and Governance’.
Most, to be fair, did not seem to be trying very hard but those who did seem to have made a bit of an effort to acquaint themselves with a few of the issues on which the FAI’s chief executive might reasonably be said to have questions to answer, were not helped by a format that made life extremely easy for him.
In last year’s American presidential election, Hilary Clinton’s campaign cited her 11 hours at the House Select Committee on Benghazi as evidence of her stamina but Delaney could happily have endured days of this: with large numbers of questions, both good and very bad, taken together in a manner that allowed him to give each and every one equal time – a matter of seconds – and treat them as though they were all of equal importance.
One of the key areas up for debate, it had been said beforehand, would be the issue of women on boards and the possibility, raised before Christmas by Minister of State for Sport Patrick O’Donovan, of gender quotas being introduced for national governing bodies. If you were to judge the respective abilities of the genders here then you would probably just clear all of the men out because really only Social Democrat Catherine Murphy and Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster emerged from the proceedings with much credit.
After opening statements from the three “witnesses” called in to address the committee – Delaney, Philip Browne of the IRFU and the GAA’s Páraic Duffy – the committee members were obliged to focus their attention first on the FAI’s man as he was due back at Abbotstown for a function relating to the late Milo Corcoran.
The upshot was that eight committee members asked all of the questions they wanted to direct at Delaney in one go and the die was cast when the first, Fine Gael’s Peter Fitzpatrick, rattled off something like six – it was a little difficult at times to tell where the pleasantries ended and the questions actually began – some of them so soft young children could happily snuggle up to them at night.
Munster, to be fair, asked some topical stuff about the Association-backed restructuring of the league and Murphy touched on the Fifa €5 million – an issue big enough 18 months ago that the Transport and Sport Committee almost, but not quite, hauled Delaney in just to answer questions just about it.
In the face of clear opposition to O’Donovan’s proposal, Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy did make a half decent attempt to ascertain whether the FAI has any equality targets of its own at board level but the Longford Westmeath TD was uncertain when he suggested that the Association only had one female board member, allowing that he might be mistaken. He was, it is none, with the addition of Niamh O’Donoghue, a product of the merger with the WFAI, still some months away and the names of the 10 men, average age 65, were listed on the copies of Delaney’s opening address which had already been distributed to members.
Murphy also raised the issue of the board, its current composition and lack of member turnover suggesting that it not only falls short of best governance practice but runs completely contrary to the recommendations of the Genesis report.
Delaney replied that the Genesis people were “more than satisfied” with the way their report had been implemented but it is difficult to imagine how given that their report states: “We strongly recommend that the number of directors does not exceed five and that consideration be given to the appointment of at least two non-executive directors from outside Irish football.” That suggests at least 40 per cent of the board being made up of outsiders. Instead, it is twice as large as it was supposed to be and there are none.
Nor are there any meaningful term limits, something that is contrary to Sport Ireland’s recommendations but that didn’t get a mention either.
The expansion of the World Cup to 48 teams did (the FAI is in favour for what it is worth) while a couple of half hearted attempts were made to ask about the widespread press criticism of the organisation’s AGMs, although nobody seemed to have read the various articles very closely and John O’Mahony’s: “Every year there seems to be issues with the League of Ireland clubs. Is that an issue for you?” was unlikely to trouble Delaney even before the former All Ireland winning Galway manager started to distance himself from his own question by saying he was only going by what he reads in “the media”.
As it was, with more than 30 questions to address in one go Delaney would have been genuinely hard pushed to shed any actual light on the inner workings of his organisation in the available time even if he had wanted to and there was, as it happens, little enough to suggest that he did.
He batted away the issue of the €5 million rather casually, for instance, concluding that the Association had issued a detailed statement about it all at the time. Sadly, nobody seemed to know or care enough to explore some of the many inconsistencies between that statement, the various comments that accompanied it and his stated views on Sepp Blatter’s way of doing business when the pitifully short amount of time allowed for follow up questions came around.
Fitzpatrick used some of that to ask Delaney his view on Dundalk’s success and Murphy presented him with something of an open goal by mistakenly suggesting that the Association does not make public its accounts.
And then he took his leave. Perhaps it was just as well. Everyone involved surely had something more productive than this to be doing.