Sport Soccer

Wednesday 29 January 2020

'If the FAI goes, the League of Ireland goes' - stark picture painted as Shane Ross says FAI sought €18m 'bailout'

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Minister for Sport Shane Ross says that the FAI sought an €18m 'bailout' at a meeting at Leinster House earlier this week.

But the request was knocked back because he does not feel it is a 'credible' solution to the troubled football body's crisis.

The FAI came looking for support as they attempt to draw up a refinancing plan.

They were accompanied by experts from Grant Thornton with Ross revealing that things are so grave at Abbotstown that - in the words of the minister - the FAI have 'done some work on the consequences of examinership.'

Ross was speaking in front of the Oireachtas Committee on Sport and said he was 'dismayed' the FAI declined an invitation to appear at the sitting.

He repeated his message from Monday that he is seeking a meeting with UEFA about the Association's dire financial position - that is pencilled in for January 14.

The minister said that the FAI delegation came to Leinster House earlier this week 'seeking a bailout of €18m.

He added that a meeting is scheduled for tomorrow between department officials and the IRFU to discuss whether they are in a position to help with the FAI's €29m stadium debt.

As reported by the Irish Independent earlier this month, UEFA officials believe that the FAI should consider selling their stake in the stadium.

The options would be for the IRFU to take it over or for the government to step in.

"There are a lot of players involved in this, including UEFA, the FAI, Sport Ireland. I don't think that they (FAI) have in any way accepted there's some sort of doomsday situation," said Ross.

"They were coming to us to warn us how bad it was, to give us some figures, and to see if there was any money available from the state.

"My guess is they will now have to come up with a new plan which may or may not be viable. UEFA is funding them at the moment and that's where the solution would lie."

Ross asserted that a delay in the appointment of four independent directors was a major concern to government.

"If the four independent directors are appointed, I think we will find there is a new atmosphere in this whole situation," he said.

"The fact they are not there at the moment, means there is a blockage because the appointment of the independents will release a dynamic which will be followed very quickly by a process to appoint an independent chief executive and also a process which will introduce a new independent chairman."

Under questioning from Sinn Fein TD Jonathan O'Brien, the minister acknowledged that the financial collapse of the FAI would have grave implications for the League of Ireland.

"My guess is that if the FAI goes, the League of Ireland goes the same way," Ross said.

Deputy O'Brien later added: "League of Ireland supporters for years have been trying to explain exactly how the FAI operates. They have ridiculed us, they have laughed at us, they threw some of us out of football grounds.

 "We were not the problem child. The FAI were the absentee fathers who didn't give an absolute bollocks about the League of Ireland."

In response, Minister Ross said he would look to discuss the League of Ireland's position in their talks with UEFA.

He was accompanied by Brendan Griffin, the Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Griffin was asked by Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy if he was aware of that the absence of a League of Ireland would mean the FAI would not be eligible to field international teams.

"I'm not 1000pc certain about that," he said, "I'd have to check it up and see. "This is the doomsday scenario which we are all trying to avoid."

UEFA statutes say that would be the case.

Earlier, Minister Ross said that the KOSI report into the financial situation at the FAI has found that the cash-strapped association "is not fit to handle public funds".

"There is a steep mountain to climb before we can reinstate funding to the FAI," he added.

The report, which was commissioned by Sport Ireland, was referred to the Gardai last month followed a forensic audit of the FAI.

The minister has confirmed that he has been advised it would be "unlawful" to share the report with the committee, or to publish the report.

"I have also consulted with An Garda Síochána who have advised me that matters outlined in the KOSI Report are central to their investigations and those of the ODCE, and that to make the report public at this time could have serious implications for any criminal proceedings subsequently brought by the DPP," said the minister in his opening statement to the committee.

"While I would very much like to share the report, it was clear from the reply from An Garda Síochána that even a heavily redacted copy could undermine their work."

He added: "I can confirm, and I am somewhat relieved to confirm, to the committee that the KOSI auditors found that state funding given to the FAI was expended for the purposes it was given. This was of course one of the key questions we were seeking the auditors to answer."

Ross has also confirmed that the government will next month arrange funding to ensure 60 development officers all over the country can continue to work on youth field development.

"I would like to confirm at the outset that not one euro of this funding will go to the FAI," said Ross.

"Not a single cent will go to the FAI – either directly or indirectly – until we are fully satisfied that all weaknesses in governance and financial control have been fully addressed. The funding will be channelled through a payroll processing company who will make payments directly to the development officers themselves. The payroll processing company will also ensure the payment of deducted taxes, PRSI and expenses as appropriate.

"The development officers play a vital role in supporting clubs throughout the country. The last thing I would want to do is to disrupt their important work. Grassroots football must not suffer because of the mistakes of those at the top of the greasy pole."

However, Ross was later asked by Deputy O'Brien if he was conscious that the 60 FAI development officers mentioned actually work in tandem with office staff for administrative support.

The minister acknowledged that he would take those comments on board.

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