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Interim CEO Gary Owens confirms all FAI seat candidates to undergo 'fit and proper' testing

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FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens is pictured during a FAI Board press conference at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens is pictured during a FAI Board press conference at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens is pictured during a FAI Board press conference at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FAI interim CEO Gary Owens has confirmed that Council members with more than ten years service may be able to retain their places going forward - provided they pass a new electoral code.

But Owens and his deputy Niall Quinn have defended a willingness to tweak that element of their contentious rescue deal with government while refusing to bend to the clause that will see independent directors taking six seats on the FAI's top table.

All candidates for FAI seats - be they on the board, Council or the various committees - will have to pass what is effectively a fit and proper persons tests with the Abbotstown chiefs taking guidelines from FIFA that will function as the terms and conditions.

At a press briefing ahead of Friday's special Council meeting, Owens and Quinn said that the process would be rigorous.

Council members with more than ten years service had been previously told they would have to step down immediately.

"What we’re doing is saying, we’re not targeting individuals, we’re basically putting in criteria. The criteria is, ‘are you fit and proper?’" said Owens today.

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FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens and FAI Interim Deputy Chief Executive Niall Quinn, right, during the FAI Board press conference at FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens and FAI Interim Deputy Chief Executive Niall Quinn, right, during the FAI Board press conference at FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens and FAI Interim Deputy Chief Executive Niall Quinn, right, during the FAI Board press conference at FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"And that means you’ve no history in relation to directors of companies or whatever, you weren’t in prison, whatever all the fit and proper tests are. The second one is basically that you have the skill sets to sit. If someone is going to sit on a business committee or a financial committee that they have the expertise or they are a qualified accountant.

"The third one is, they’re not conflicted. So they can’t be involved of some part of the Association that’s actually conflicted with the role they are going to play."

Owens says the changing of one aspect of the memorandum with government is justified because 'the spirit of the interpretation' was that they were going to adopt FIFA principles on governance.

However, he asserted that the partners in the deal that saved the FAI from insolvency were committed to the changing of the board structure.

"The people lending the money are convinced we need six independent directors and six skill sets," said Owens, with a nod to the arrangement brokered with the government and Bank of Ireland.

"We were in a mess. We had €52.5m of debt. We have the worst profile we ever could have had. Any sort of tracking we done of our public profile and public trust, its just not there, so the people lending the money want more diverse skill sets on the board.

"The Bank of Ireland have provided the money on the basis we have signed the MOU - the reforms I’m talking about - and the government has said if you want the money from us, it is also dependent on putting the reforms in place.

"We signed the terms and conditions agreement saying we would put the reforms in place in order to get that facility. If we didn’t get that facility in February/March we would have been bust.

"That will radically change the association. There’s a pretty comprehensive nominations committee, electoral committee coming in place that will assess all that. The electoral committee will have three independent lawyers who will have nothing to do with football and they will assess a fit and proper test."

He said that the findings of the audit by Northern Irish firm KOSI had strengthened the resolve to go that way.

Owens said it showed there was 'serious financial irregularities' and 'serious irregularities in terms of control and the role of the board and the audit committee, all of the things you expect to be in place when you’re running an Association of our size.'

Quinn insisted there had been misunderstanding in terms of the intentions of the new FAI powerbrokers. Roy Barrett came under scrutiny for signing the memorandum without the presence of any of the football elected directors.

The former Ireland striker played down the significance of the Visionary Group relationship between Barrett, Quinn and Owens, adding that the latter had only participated in one meeting via phone.

"Roy became independent chairman, Gary gave me a call and I said, ‘that’s interesting’ then I was brought in," said Quinn, with regard to his appointment as deputy CEO.

"I realised straight away that this was an uncomfortable place ot be in one way. It was in such a poor state. I remember having the conversation with Gary, ‘people aren’t going to trust us, people are going to knock us but let’s do the right thing’. That’s how it came about. The Visionary Group was long gone.

"The narrative has become six v six," continued Quinn, with regard to the board.

"This should be six plus six. There’s nothing wrong with having the correct skill sets independently, with maybe a couple of them having serious football experience and not considered part of a group (voted in by the football community).

"Ultimately, it will always go back to being ratified by the football community. This narrative got off to a really bad start through emotion and through hysteria and where we where. It was almost an us and them position from day one.

"In that debate I think that was lost was, the people in football all felt they were being thrown out of football and new people were coming in and that they had done all the work… there has to be a unification.

“I think Friday is very important for Council members to understand that the division is not as bleak as people make out. We’ve a very good functioning board right now.

"There’s concerns of course. It’s about alleviating those concerns to know that people with good football knowledge can make up part of that independence as well. This is about coming together."

Meanwhile, Quinn said that his own future will be up for consideration after the EGM that is now scheduled for August 31. He said that it's possible he could leave.

"I've been asked to stay on certainly until the EGM takes place because none of us might be here after that if things don’t work out. I’m happy to do that, I have other interests as well which I’ve put on hold. I can’t answer further than that," he said.

Owens is viewed as a candidate for the vacant CEO role but was coy on his intentions, stating that it would be September before the process to appoint a full-time replacement for John Delaney begins.

It was also confirmed at the Abbotstown event that Robbie Keane remains under contract with no progress on resolving his future. Keane is on a lucrative six-figure deal but is not part of Stephen Kenny's coaching staff and therefore has no defined role.

"We’re in discussions with Robbie, I can't say any more than that," said Owens.

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