Saturday 16 December 2017

Oireachtas committee blocked probe into €5m FIFA payment over Henry handball, minister claims

Thierry Henry handball
Thierry Henry handball
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

A Fine Gael minister has dramatically claimed that an Oireachtas committee blocked a probe into the €5million payment received by the FAI from FIFA following Thierry Henry's infamous World Cup handball.

In a surprise move, Minister of State with responsibility for Sport Patrick O’Donovan hit out at TDs over their handling of the controversy.

Mr O’Donovan was responding to remarks by Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, who was critical over the presentation of the €5m payment by the FAI through its accounts.

The Limerick TD for the first time revealed that he and other TDs had sought to probe the FAI over the payment ahead of a scheduled appearance by its chief executive John Delaney in 2015.

Mr O’Donovan was a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport Tourism and Sport at the time - the same committee he addressed today alongside the senior minister in the department Shane Ross.

As Mr Ross was responding to Ms Murphy, Mr O’Donovan interjected to say such a move was blocked.

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Patrick O’Donovan. Photo: Tom Burke
Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Patrick O’Donovan. Photo: Tom Burke

“I’ve just had a flashback to the past,” Mr O’Donovan said.

“I was a member of the last Oireachtas committee. Senator (John) O’Mahony was the chairman of it, you were the a member of it chair. We attempted to do that deputy, we were blocked by our own members. Some of them might want to forget that. That was blocked by this committee.”

Mr O’Mahony then interjected and requested to clarify what happened.

The former TD said the “strong legal advice” at the time was that the €5m could not be probed because it wasn’t government-funded.

“We had to act on the legal advice that we got.”

Ms Murphy then referred to a sitting of the committee that took place a fortnight ago, at which Mr Delaney himself appeared.

She said Mr Delaney stated that he had been told he “wouldn’t have to answer that question”. Ms Murphy said she found that response “absolutely unacceptable.”

Later on during the hearing, Mr O’Donovan returned to the issue.

“When Oireachtas committees are charged with probing,  they have an obligation to probe. Certainly walking away from it is not a good idea,” he said.

Revelations in 2015 that the FAI received €5m from Fifa plunged the organisation into chaos.

There was major pressure on Mr Delaney to appear in front of the same Oireachtas committee, however, the hearing never took place.

It was revealed at the time that Mr Delaney contacted committee members expressing his view that his planned appearance would distract from the upcoming Ireland match against Scotland.

A fortnight ago - when quizzed over the issue - Mr Delaney insisted the payment from Fifa was "fully accounted for" by the organisation.

He revealed that the money - paid following Thierry Henry's infamous handball against Ireland in 2009 - was given to the FAI in two separate payments.

Describing the issue as "contentious", Mr Delaney said the funds were fully scrutinised by the FAI's auditors.

"All that money was properly accounted for and signed off by the auditors," Mr Delaney said.

He said that the money was split, with €1m being paid initially, followed by a payment of €4m at a later date.

Online Editors

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