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'Full and frank exchange' but FAI edge closer to agreement

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FAI independent chair Roy Barrett. Photo: Sportsfile

FAI independent chair Roy Barrett. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORSTFILE

FAI independent chair Roy Barrett. Photo: Sportsfile

FAI independent chair Roy Barrett and president Gerry McAnaney have expressed confidence that EGM delegates will vote through contentious rule changes after an emergency Council meeting that lasted for almost four hours yesterday.

The summit included a call from the floor for the 11 board members that were present to confirm they supported the terms of the rescue deal with Government as it stands.

A change in the structure of the board to 50 per cent independent directors and the exit of Council members who have served for ten years or more are the flashpoints that prompted the Red Cow gathering and led to public statements firing back and forth between board members this week.

However, at a key stage of a get-together which, in the words of McAnaney, featured a "full and frank exchange of views", board members were asked if they supported the rescue deal and answered affirmatively.

It is understood that vice-president Paul Cooke and Schoolboys Football Association of Ireland (SFAI) representative Ursula Scully indicated that they accepted their duty to approve a deal that will deliver €35m in state funding even if they hold reservations.

McAnaney later said in a press conference he wasn't comfortable with the revision of the board structure but said the bottom line was that it was about a "crisis" leading to a funding package which is crucial for the future of Irish football.

League of Ireland nominee Dick Shakespeare was not present at the meeting.

Wexford MEP Mick Wallace, a vocal critic of an arrangement which he views as a ceding of control to outside forces, admitted that he expected the August 31 EGM vote to pass the controversial Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

He wanted the MoU to be split up with separate votes on different aspects of it but that concept was dismissed.

There remains a possibility that the ten-year rule will be replaced by a new fit and proper persons test adopted from FIFA although Government have pushed back on that so far with Barrett hopeful this interpretation can be revisited before the EGM.

He denied that is a concession to current board members that would be affected by it.

Barrett made it clear there is no flexibility on the 6 v 6 independent director v football elected director clause.

The possibility of the casting vote switching to the president remains live but that is not covered in the MoU.

"I don't think they (Government) would allow it to go insolvent," said Wallace, explaining his stance for voting no.

"This is the same government that bailed out useless broke banks for billions and they're prepared to let the FAI go insolvent for a couple of million?

"They can threaten to do it and it looks like we're going to accept their threat and bow to their six and six, which is giving independent directors a control how football is run in the country."

Barrett disputes that argument and says that the stakeholders in the rescue deal are adamant that it's a key condition that must be met.

He has come under fire for signing the deal without gaining approval from a board meeting, and claimed that he didn't read an email containing the MoU that was sent to him on the evening of January 29 before he sent it to the rest of the board the following morning.

"It was a very busy time for me, both in terms of my work with the FAI and in my day job," said the managing director of Goodbody Stockbrokers. "If I had seen it at 8.58pm, I would have sent it on straight away."

The deal with the Government, the banks and UEFA was signed the following day, after certain board members had expressed dissatisfaction about the 6 v 6 clause in the morning when Barrett had forwarded them the details.

Barrett stands over that, stating he was mandated to sign the deal because the need for financial support was urgent and it was all still conditional on ultimate approval at an EGM.

"I've no ambiguity in my mind that I was told to go and get the funding," he said.

The timeline of that period is a central element of issues this week with the eight elected directors releasing a statement seeking clarity about comments from interim CEO Gary Owens which suggested they had "signed off" on the deal before it was agreed.

McAnaney said the matter of this week's conflicting statements had been "put to bed" and "apologies" had been made without going into specifics.

"The reason the eight football directors went public with it is that people felt strongly that there was a misrepresentation which - in the cold light of day - was more of a misunderstanding," said the president, who was criticised by Barrett for putting his name to the elected directors missive having publicly welcomed the MoU at the time.

Involved

"If everyone involved had their time back again, they may not have taken the same course of action," said McAnaney. "These things happen when people are committed to the cause we are committed to. If things need to be flushed out, it will make the executive stronger."

In the meeting itself, which was attended by 69 people and spread across two rooms with a live stream in operation, Barrett faced direct questioning from Council delegate Nixon Morton who - earlier in the day - had sent around legal advice he had sought on the actions of the independent chair.

Meeting sources said that Barrett dealt with the queries in a manner that was "calm and composed", repeating statements about his mandate and that the EGM floor will have the final say.

While Barrett received criticism from various strands of the game, numerous sources reported that the tone was more upbeat at the end of the meeting with calls for unity even if dissent lingers.

His fellow independent director Catherine Guy was vocal in exchanges related to the slow construction of committees.

It was conceded by the hierarchy that communication around certain areas could have been better.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry has publicly called for Barrett to resign but he said the thought hadn't crossed his mind when it was put to him.

"Have I ever thought of resigning? No," said Barrett.

"Firstly, I took this role on for a particular purpose and we've got to see that through, there's a good bit to go on all of that.

"As to how long I'll be here? I said at the outset to anybody who wanted to listen that I will stay as long as I think I am adding value and as long as people want me to be there. If people wanted to call for my resignation, then, fine. I am committed to this, I am committed to staying with this because there's an awful lot to be achieved.

"We are only at step one here and that's getting to a point of financial stability; that's only a starting point."

Barrett admitted it wasn't ideal that the football directors were not invited to the signing of the memorandum, which caused disquiet and fuelled the perception of a divide.

He said that then Minister for Sport Shane Ross had firm views on who should be there.

"I was genuinely encouraged by the questions that were raised (in the meeting)," said Barrett, when asked specifically if he thought the MoU would gain the required votes to trigger the release of vital funds.

"Ultimately, the vast majority want to do the right thing and make the right decision. It's clear there are parts of this decision that are difficult but am I confident that people will make a decision in the best interests of Irish football? Yes, I am."

McAnaney added: "The one thing that football people always do is do the right thing by football, even if it might hurt them locally, nationally and regionally. I would hope, in this case, they will continue in that vein."

Irish Independent