Wednesday 7 December 2016

Alan Kelly insists FAI chief John Delaney's backing was within rules of the game

Published 20/01/2016 | 02:30

Environment Minister and Tourism Minister Paschal Donohoe announcing of the €40m in European Regional Development Fund grants for local authorities around the country. Photo: Collins
Environment Minister and Tourism Minister Paschal Donohoe announcing of the €40m in European Regional Development Fund grants for local authorities around the country. Photo: Collins

All at once, our politicians have collectively burst into life. Visiting houses and businesses, pressing the flesh, dropping leaflets.

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All at once, our politicians have collectively burst into life. Visiting houses and businesses, pressing the flesh, dropping leaflets.

Sometimes even calling on old friends in high places to come with them for the spin. But it isn't canvassing - they're just being sociable.

An election hasn't even been called. So it doesn't count.

Is it appropriate? It is "completely appropriate". Alan Kelly was quite clear about that.

There was nothing at all underhanded about one local lad from Tipp who done good helping out another local lad from Tipp who done good when all they were doing was visiting a few football clubs, getting a bite to eat and meeting a few people here and there.

Faced with a suspiciously full room at Government Buildings for a fairly innocuous announcement on capital works schemes, the minister suggested that they "kick off", then made a little joke about how they would "start the football commentary now".

Repentant? Not likely.

He let the press conference roll by - with some €40m earmarked for the Designated Urban Centres Grant Scheme to support local authorities in improving their urban environments and revitalising urban areas.

The mayor of Clare, Cllr James Breen, arose in outrage at the paltry amount the county had received - until Mr Kelly pointed out that €1m was also being designated for a new county library in Ennis. "But I can take it back," delightedly quipped Mr Kelly and the mayor sat down, mortified.

Afterwards, Mr Kelly stepped off the stage to explain how what had happened with Mr Delaney was all "completely appropriate".

Mr Delaney was visiting a number of soccer clubs with him and they discussed "an awful lot of things" in relation to the future of the leagues there, said the minister, noting that the FAI's AGM is on in Tipperary this year.

"There are thousands of clubs across Ireland" and Mr Delaney has "visited most of them".

And if the FAI boss had also happened to encourage people to vote for Mr Kelly?

"What somebody does in their own private life is their own business - whether they're the chief executive of the FAI or whether they're involved in any other organisation," he sniffed.

The idea that Mr Delaney was going around Tipperary stopping people and asking them to vote for him directly "simply did not happen", he claimed, adding that to say he was going around actively canvassing "would be a long stretch of the imagination".

There was no mention of the photo of the minister, awkwardly wielding a scissors in the local barber's.

"If John Delaney feels it appropriate that the people of Tipperary should vote for me, that's fine by me.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with that," concluded the minister.

Having tactfully stepped to the side to avoid criticising his Government colleague from the top table, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe disagreed.

Mr Donohoe said that coming up to an election, it is important that "this space should be left to political figures to have that debate with people and to put their case forward, and those that are involved in leading major sports organisations are not in the political arena when that is taking place".

Tánaiste Joan Burton had no problem with it at all.

But Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea had "never heard anything like it".

"While I know that Alan Kelly could use all the help he is getting from any particular source, I think it is totally inappropriate," he said.

Irish Independent

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