Wednesday 17 July 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Turkeys will have to vote for Christmas if FAI is to pass reforms'

End of road nears for long-serving Council members who are being asked to approve sweeping changes

FAI president Donal Conway at the launch of the Governance Review Group report at the Football Association of Ireland, National Sports Campus in Abbotstown. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
FAI president Donal Conway at the launch of the Governance Review Group report at the Football Association of Ireland, National Sports Campus in Abbotstown. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The timing was remarkable. As members of the press arrived for the launch of the Governance Review Group report at FAI HQ, the car park sign for the 'Chief Executive' was in the process of being removed.

John Delaney's name was off limits in the three-hour briefing that followed, but the document that was published on a sunny Friday morning lays out the roadmap for a number of his long-term allies to end their FAI journey.

They just have to vote for it first.

There are a lot of words and recommendations in the 130-page production that joins the anthology of FAI-centred blueprints.

What's striking about this version is the finality. We already knew that the FAI board's days were numbered, even if one or two might hang in there for another year despite the protests of that well-known football revolutionary Shane Ross.

What we now know is that FAI Council members that have served for more than a decade can only stick around for three more years.

Given that the list of Council members would provide most of the necessary characters for a stage re-enactment of Irish football administration's 'Reeling In The Years' then that's quite a departure - pardon the pun.

President Donal Conway, who has conceded that he will not see out his ceremonial four-year term, acknowledged that a roadshow selling this idea might just face some uncomfortable moments.

"That would be one aspect of the challenge," Conway said.

Turkeys voting for Christmas springs to mind. Of course, turkeys might have made more noise at recent general meetings than the FAI's delegates so it's hard to sympathise. And the alternative is not exactly attractive either.

State funding will likely remain suspended if fewer than 140 out of 206 attendees at July's AGM say yes to the proposals.

That jeopardises important capital projects around the country. Opponents of the plan would need to lay out coherent reasons for their stance that go beyond accusations of self-interest.

What has changed is the concept that a seat around the FAI's top table is a reward for years of service. That is the language that has accompanied recent appointments.

The introduction of new layers below the new 12-person board carves up areas that used to be handled en masse by the old hierarchy.

Ultimately, the point was made that an association with a turnover of over €50million should have business people making business decisions. There should be an internal audit system, for example. A qualified person should be assigned to the role of Company Secretary.

It wasn't mentioned yesterday but it's fair to say that if the Honorary Treasurer doesn't know how many bank accounts there are, then the system probably isn't working quite so well. There is no Honorary Secretary or Honorary Treasurer anymore. It could be argued that Michael Cody and Eddie Murray were irreplaceable.

On paper, a lot of the reforms read well but Review Group chair Aidan Horan acknowledged that it comes down to behaviour and attitudes.

This is fair enough as sections of the Genesis Report read well on paper and then weren't implemented.

The FAI have managed to bring first Roy Keane and then Mick McCarthy back into the fold before embracing the concept of independent directors.

Gender balance proposals will play well with the public, but the females brought into positions of power have to be new faces too - some names mentioned have been in or around the FAI during the past decade or so.

Perhaps some of the leading figures in the senior women's strike of 2017 should be sought out for opinions.

Indeed, the addition of just two player representatives to the FAI Council seems low, although there were suggestions that the make-up of that body will be reviewed in time.

We will wait for actions to follow words.

A track record for false starts has earned the FAI the sceptical reaction to promises of progress. Conway said he wanted the FAI to be viewed as a "gold standard" for governance. They've a fair bit of work to do to even get to bronze. Between now and July 27's AGM, there are more reports to come.

Professional services firm Mazars are due to deliver an initial update. The probe into the cyber-attack needs to be completed. Sport Ireland are due back in the Dáil within the next month.

Their chief John Treacy was present yesterday and admitted that it may be the other side of the summer before the implications of the audit they have commissioned becomes clear - he also hinted that they share Minister Ross's concerns regarding Noel Mooney as a stopgap.

Crucially, Conway confirmed that big decisions on financial sustainability are coming down the tracks.

Proclamations that the FAI could be debt-free by 2020 have been replaced by the admission that Aviva Stadium borrowings might not even be paid off by 2030.

If an academic sits down in the distant future and tries to chronologically map the history of the FAI through the prism of the speeches at the AGM, then 2019 will deliver the biggest plot twist since Dallas viewers were shocked to see Bobby Ewing alive and well in the shower .

It remains to be seen if this process will bring the FAI back to life.

FAI reforms the key points

The six governance principles proposed by the Group should be adopted by the FAI Board as appropriate and relevant to the functioning of all facets of the Association, from clubs through to Board and Council.

The six principles are: good governance, effective leadership, accountability and transparency, ethical behaviour and integrity, stakeholder engagement and professionalism.

A selection of the recommendations are listed here:

• The Board should consist of 12 members: four independent Directors of whom one would be the Chairperson of the Board, the President, Vice-President and six members representative of the football community.

• The positions of Honorary Secretary and Honorary Treasurer should not be part of the revised structure and should cease to exist.

• There should be a minimum 33.3 per cent of both genders within 24 months.

• It should be an objective of the Association that this gender balance can also be reflected at Council, Committee and AGM level and this should be achieved within three years.

• The composition of the Board should include independent Directors of whom one would act as Chairperson of the Board.

• A Nominations Committee be formed by the Board to select candidates for election as independent Directors.

• The limit for all members of the Board should be eight years, 4 x 2-year terms.

• There should be a maximum term limit of 10 years for members of Council.

• A further 21 positions created on the FAI Council to bring membership up to 79. This will be reassessed in time.

• Player and supporter representatives will be given two spots each on the Council as part of the increase.

• All Board and committee members should receive formal induction training.

• Work clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Executive and other senior executives should be undertaken and reflected in an updated schedule of delegations from the Board to the executive

• The Chief Executive should not be a member of the Board.

• An Executive Performance and Remuneration Committee should assess the work of the CEO.

• The Board should undertake an annual review of its own effectiveness and that of its committees.

• The Board are required to have and should prioritise the implementation of a comprehensive risk management system.

• The Board needs to ensure a robust culture of 'holding to account' operates and is seen to operate within the organisation.

• The Association should immediately make arrangements for the establishment of an internal audit function.

• The Chief Executive should present a bi-annual report to the Board confirming that all of the governance and compliance requirements of any service level agreement entered into between the FAI and Third Parties have been met and that funding is used solely for the purposes included in the original approval.

• The Board committees should be restructured so that the Board is supported by a number of committees, some of which will support the Board in the business elements of their role and some of which will support the Board in the football elements of their role.

• There will also be a Football Management Committee with a specific brief in the area of football matters and whose membership will include the chairpersons of the Football Committees.

• The representative imbalance in the current make-up of Council be addressed by provision for a further 21 positions which would see the Council with a membership of 79.

• The appointment of an interim Board for a period up to the AGM in July 2020. This new Board would be appointed in accordance with the structures proposed in the report.

• For handover and transition purposes, at least one or possibly a maximum of two current board members might consider putting themselves forward for positions on the interim Board.

• There should be a review into the operation of any and all joint ventures or significant partnerships including the Aviva Stadium.

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