| 14°C Dublin

A Rock and a hard place: How John Delaney pinned FAI to sign deal

Terms of former CEO's lucrative deal were drawn up on notepaper at luxurious Gibraltar hotel

Close

Former FAI Chief Executive John Delaney. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Former FAI Chief Executive John Delaney. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Former FAI Chief Executive John Delaney. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Former FAI chief executive John Delaney pressured association president Donal Conway to sign off on a lucrative pay package in March 2019 and swore on his "daughter's life" that there would be no future revelations that would cause him to regret doing so.

The claim is made in a new book by journalists Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan which charts Delaney's stewardship of the FAI, his controversial departure and the crisis which has engulfed the association for the last 18 months.

The authors had a series of revelations in March and April last year in The Sunday Times, including details of a €100,000 personal loan by Delaney to the FAI, which was not properly recorded in the accounts.

Close

23 March 2019; Enda Stevens of Republic of Ireland during the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier Group D match between Gibraltar and Republic of Ireland at Victoria Stadium in Gibraltar. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

23 March 2019; Enda Stevens of Republic of Ireland during the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier Group D match between Gibraltar and Republic of Ireland at Victoria Stadium in Gibraltar. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

23 March 2019; Enda Stevens of Republic of Ireland during the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier Group D match between Gibraltar and Republic of Ireland at Victoria Stadium in Gibraltar. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

On Saturday, March 23, 2019, just six days after that revelation, and with questions swirling about the FAI's finances, Delaney, Conway, then honorary secretary Michael Cody, and other officials were in Gibraltar to watch the Republic of Ireland's 1-0 away victory in the European Championships qualifier.

In the hours before the evening kick-off, rumours began to circulate that Delaney was considering resigning from the position he had held for over 14 years. Media organisations were scrambling to find out exactly what was happening in Gibraltar, and even some board members who had not travelled to the Rock were unsure as to what was going on. As events unfolded, an important qualifier match against one of the minnows of Europe was becoming a mere sideshow to events taking place behind closed doors in a plush hotel.

It soon emerged that rather than resigning, Delaney was intending to vacate his chief executive role to take up a newly created position of executive vice-president, with Rea Walshe, the chief operating officer, becoming interim CEO.

In the book Champagne Football, published this week by Penguin, it is claimed that Delaney insisted to Cody and Conway that his new lucrative deal had to be signed and sealed that day in Gibraltar. The deal included Delaney's new pay arrangements, as well as a commitment to honour previous pledges around pay and bonuses he said had been made to him.

Conway, according to Tighe and Rowan, was very reluctant to agree a deal in Gibraltar, saying during a meeting in Delaney's hotel room in the Rock Hotel that they would have to wait until they got back to Ireland to sign off on it. Delaney, though, was adamant that Cody and Conway had the authority to conclude it there and then. Conway recalls seeking reassurances from Delaney that there would be no future revelations that would make him unfit for his new role, or make his position untenable.

"I am asking you straight up. We have worked together a long time," the book quotes Conway as saying to Delaney, who replied: "No way. On my daughter's life you are not going to hear that."

Conway agreed to sign the deal, which was drawn up on hotel notepaper. It was headed: 'Heads of Agreement on Contract between the FAI and [John Delaney] in relation to the former CEO's new role in the association as Executive Vice-President.'

Under the terms of the handwritten agreement, Delaney would remain on his CEO salary of €360,000 per year until the end of 2019, at which point it would then drop to €100,000. He would be entitled to bonuses of up to €200,000 a year, the terms of which were set out and based on agreed objectives. Furthermore, he would hold on to his office in Abbotstown, his company car and parking space, his credit card and mobile phone, and his personal assistant. He would get two VIP tickets and two box tickets for all home internationals, a further 10 match tickets to purchase, and travel with the official party for away games.

Delaney also insisted that financial commitments made to him by the FAI in 2014 had to be honoured. The book claims that while Cody was aware of those commitments, he struggled to recall them. Conway, though, was in the dark.

Under the 2014 agreement struck with Cody and then-honorary treasurer Eddie Murray, an extra €3m was to be paid to Delaney if he saw out the term of his contract as CEO until the end of 2020.

Despite sitting on the FAI board since 2005, before becoming president in 2018, Conway knew nothing of the agreement until this meeting in the hotel room. He suggested the agreement be finalised upon their return to Dublin after he had a chance to review the paperwork. Delaney insisted the new deal had to be signed immediately. Eventually, it was agreed Delaney's new terms would 'reflect two previous agreements' made 'in respect of bonus and pension arrangements'.

In the days up to the agreement, there had been concern expressed about Delaney by board members. Delaney had sought an injunction the week before in the High Court to prevent details of the controversial loan he gave the association two years earlier being made public. On the way to Gibraltar, Delaney seemed distracted and before and after landing he spent a lot of time on his phone.

In Gibraltar, there was a series of meetings between Delaney, board members, and FAI staff. The proposed new role, it was claimed by the FAI, had been created as part of a governance review of the association which had been ongoing but Sport Ireland had no knowledge of it.

Crucially, the new role would allow Delaney to remain a part of Uefa's influential executive committee - a post worth €100,000 a year.

Board members, some of whom were back in Ireland and included in conference calls, were not clear if the meetings that took place were formal board meetings. Some also complained that they could not hear the discussions properly over the phone.

Asked about this on Friday by the Sunday Independent, an FAI spokesman said: "No comment."

In Gibraltar, Delaney was constantly looking at his phone and calling people. Among those he called on that evening were Sport Ireland chairman Kieran Mulvey and then sports minister Shane Ross to inform them of his new role. In December, at an Oireachtas hearing, Mulvey said the call had been "a courtesy" but he denied a suggestion from one deputy that he had offered the embattled CEO advice on the call.

Before the travelling delegation boarded a flight home following the game, details of the executive vice president role were announced by the FAI but Delaney's salary was initially kept private. Delaney had continued his phone activity during the game.

The following day, the Sunday Independent reported the FAI had become the subject of a complaint to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), and it was revealed in The Sunday Times that Delaney had been living in houses rented by the FAI for a decade. The perk was paid on top of his salary. The same newspaper also revealed Delaney held a €69,000 James Bond-themed 50th birthday party for himself in Mount Juliet, Kilkenny, in 2017 with the FAI picking up the tab. Delaney eventually repaid €50,000 to the association.

At an appearance at the Oireachtas Sport Committee a few weeks later, Delaney made a brief statement but declined to answer questions put to him by TDs and senators, citing legal advice. Within weeks, his grip on the association loosened as more details surrounding his salary, perks, and the perilous state of the FAI's finances were revealed. Delaney had famously promised the FAI would be debt-free by 2020 but by last Christmas it was €62m in the red and needed a government bailout in January with the help of Uefa and Bank of Ireland to secure its future.

Numerous probes were launched to examine corporate governance and the association's financial affairs. The FAI commissioned separate reports by auditors Grant Thornton and Mazars. Sport Ireland asked Northern Ireland accountancy firm KOSI to examine the FAI's affairs. The Mazars and KOSI reports have since been referred to gardaí. The ODCE investigation remains ongoing.

Delaney could not be contacted yesterday for comment.

Sunday Independent