Wednesday 1 March 2017

'Nobody intimidated me' - Pilot wasn't influenced into not flying anti-John Delaney banner

Cormac Byrne

Cormac Byrne

Ireland fans with a banner calling for John Delaney to be removed from his position as CEO of the FAI, the banner was due to be flown over the AVIVA stadium before kick off in the game between Ireland and Scotland.Pic: Paddy Cummins/PCPhoto.ie
Ireland fans with a banner calling for John Delaney to be removed from his position as CEO of the FAI, the banner was due to be flown over the AVIVA stadium before kick off in the game between Ireland and Scotland.Pic: Paddy Cummins/PCPhoto.ie

The anti-John Delaney protest was grounded after the pilot refused to fly the contentious banner over the Aviva Stadium during Ireland's 1-1 draw with Scotland on Saturday.

A large number of Irish football fans raised almost €1,000 to fly a banner which read: 'Enough's enough: Delaney Out' but it was absent from the skies over Dublin on Saturday evening.

It was due to take off from the National Flight Centre at Weston Airport in Leixlip, Co Kildare but pilot Captain Kieran O'Connor decided to the ground the plane because of the nature of the banner.

O'Connor was pictured alongside fans on Friday with the banner but changed his mind overnight and decided against towing it.

A Garda spokesperson confirmed that the had attended Weston Airport ahead of the take-off but Captain O'Connor stated that there was 'nothing untoward' about that and because of regulations, the gardai regularly attend the airport.

"Nobody intimidated me," he told Independent.ie.

"Somebody else took the booking but we don't fly contentious banners, as a rule we just don't do it.

"We are asked to do it all the time but we just won't do it.

"I don't know Mr Delaney from Adam, he could be a very nice man. Flying that banner would be like taking 30 pieces of silver to cast aspersions on a man I don't know.

"The amount of aggro going on about the yoke.

"As I've said before, I'm a rugby man myself."

Captain O'Connor, who has 45 years experience in the aviation industry, claimed there would be a lot of money to be made from flying such banners but he took the decision to not get involved in such issues.

The pilot said that he regularly flies banners for marketing events and marriage proposals but would never fly a message that was political.

He confirmed that the fans who booked the flight would be reimbursed fully.

One fan who contributed towards the fund to pay for the protest said he was 'disappointed' with the pilot's change of heart.

"I wasn't going to the Aviva but I live in Kildare and I went to the airport to see it the plane taking off," he said.

"I don't know what happened, he was fine with it one day and the next he's not.

Another fan, who also wished to remain anonymous, said: "We got the go-ahead, the banner was made.

"We paid for it and everything was legit. If the pilot didn't want to do it then we shouldn't have been strung along.

"This set-back is not going to stop us from planning further protests in the future. The leadership of the FAI has to change."

In a statement released on Friday, the supporters who organised the flight claimed to have received 'extraordinary' support for the venture.

They said that the level of support for the venture is an illustration of the frustration that Irish football fans feel towards the FAI leadership.

The FAI ordered the shredding of 18,000 match programmes containing comments from chief executive John Delaney about the FIFA crisis.

FAI chiefs confirmed that the programme for Saturday's Euro 2016 clash with Scotland had been re-printed at a reported cost of 10,000 euros.

A statement said: "John Delaney was entirely unaware of this change to the programme. He had already signed off on it and it was approved for printing.

"The decision to delete his comments where they related to FIFA was an editorial one that was taken by the communications department."

The FAI found itself dragged into the furore surrounding FIFA last week after Delaney confirmed the association had been paid five million euros by the governing body in the wake of Ireland's controversial World Cup play-off defeat by France in 2009.

Stewards moved in to remove an anti-Delaney banner when it was unfurled, while supporters in that section held up smaller cards bearing a similar message.

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