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GAA head the list facing a fleecing after FAI bailout

Martin Breheny


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Happier times: Former FAI CEO John Delaney, IRFU CEO Philip Browne, former GAA director general Páraic Duffy and former Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Patrick O’Donovan at Sport Ireland’s investment announcement in 2016. Photo: Sportsfile

Happier times: Former FAI CEO John Delaney, IRFU CEO Philip Browne, former GAA director general Páraic Duffy and former Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Patrick O’Donovan at Sport Ireland’s investment announcement in 2016. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Happier times: Former FAI CEO John Delaney, IRFU CEO Philip Browne, former GAA director general Páraic Duffy and former Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Patrick O’Donovan at Sport Ireland’s investment announcement in 2016. Photo: Sportsfile

In the end, the people will pay. They always do. That's particularly the case with Government and banks. And when it involves both in the same deal, the only question is the amount.

Of course, the full answer never emerges. Wrapped in spin and bluster, seasoned with a pinch of distortion, it's so cleverly concealed that even expert eyes are unable to peel away the many layers.

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Never mind, the people will reach into their pockets to pay for the mismanagement of others. So it is with the FAI bailout, announced with a fanfare flourish last week as if it were a triumph instead of the sad consequence of appalling governance and even worse oversight.

Shane Ross, surely a candidate for the smuggest minister in history, started by lecturing us peasants about how it wasn't a bailout at all. A doubling of the FAI's Government grant, an interest-free loan and bank write-downs were, according to the Minister for Sport, not a bailout but 'a new dawn'.

"All stakeholders felt some pain. I cannot reveal details of the contributions of either Uefa or the Bank of Ireland but understand that our share (Government) is not the largest," he wrote in the 'Sunday Independent.'

Note the use of the word 'understand'. It read very much like a command from on-high to anybody who might have the temerity to question the deal.

But then, Mr Ross is an expert at dispensing condescension. He wrote, too, without any hint of self-awareness, about how "the floodgates opened when Mark Tighe revealed in the 'Sunday Times' that the boss (of the FAI) had lent the toxic outfit a hundred grand". Why did it take a journalist to find out what was going on in the FAI?

Did the Department of Sport ever think of looking under the FAI bonnet before handing over grants every year? Did Sport Ireland raise concerns about FAI governance?

If they had their fingers on the pulse - surely a basic requirement for an expensive, public-funded organisation - they would have been hammering on the Department of Sport's doors years ago.

Are they just poodles who hear nothing? Or do they feel it's not their job to bark or call in braver dogs to not only bark but show teeth?

The role of Sport Ireland, which has staff and retirement costs of over €4million per year, needs to be seriously examined by whatever Government is in place after the election. If it's not to be a robust oversight body with real power, what's the point of having it?

The FAI debacle may, at face value, appear an issue solely between them, the Government and the banks, but of course it's not that simple. Other sports will also feel the impact, albeit without ever fully knowing how much of the cost they are bearing.

Government money for sport is limited, so it's logical to assume that if one organisation - in this case the FAI - has to get emergency funding to effectively prevent it from becoming insolvent, others will suffer.

As the largest organisation, the GAA stands to lose most of all. Their needs are great, too, as they strive to maintain a parish-by-parish presence all over the country, but if the pot has been reduced by the FAI bailout, they can expect funding cutbacks.

And then there's the issue of Bank of Ireland's input into the FAI restructuring. They haven't disclosed the extent of their write-down or the other arrangements, but they have felt some pain.

And when banks hurt, they react by switching it to others, especially smaller customers. How much of the hit Bank of Ireland has taken with the FAI will be transferred, in some form, to other sporting organisations?

Since the GAA has by far the largest network of clubs, pitches and premises, they look especially ripe for a rough plucking.

One wonders what will be the reaction of Bank of Ireland if a club informs their local branch that things are a bit tight financially and asks for a write-down on a loan.

Will citing the FAI example help them? Doubtful. Moral hazard and all that. Sure if we let one club off with even a small write-down, they'll all want it. One way or the other, rest assured that whatever money the bank lost in recent FAI dealings, they will get back, so other sporting organisations need to be very alert with their accounts over the coming years.

As for the Government bailout, Minister Ross has bizarrely attempted to turn it into a good-news story.

"At the beginning of February 2020, we can celebrate in moderation," he wrote.

Celebrate what - even in moderation? That under the unsuspecting noses of his department and Sport Ireland, one of the country's major sporting organisations landed the taxpayer with a massive bill? Yes Minister, let's raise a glass to that. Cheers.

Basketball Ireland fired a few darts yesterday, pointing out that when they ran into financial problems some years ago, there was no Government support.

Other sports will come to realise over the next few years that the FAI deal wasn't a neutral issue for them. Ultimately, they will pay for it in some form.

Irish Independent