Sunday 18 August 2019

Clean sweep of old guard is only way forward, FAI warned ahead of EGM

Conway bid for president job is 'own goal', says Sport Ireland

Critics: Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy (left) and chairperson Kieran Mulvey arrive at Leinster House for the Oireachtas Committee on Sport. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Critics: Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy (left) and chairperson Kieran Mulvey arrive at Leinster House for the Oireachtas Committee on Sport. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Aidan Fitzmaurice

The FAI has been told that it has scored an "own goal" by its insistence on having at least one, and maybe two, of its current directors on the new board of the association.

It faces the prospect of losing its State funding on a long-term basis. Sport Ireland and members of the Oireachtas Committee on Sport have backed the call by Sports Minister Shane Ross for current FAI president Donal Conway to withdraw his nomination to take on the role for another year.

"The State has made it clear that unless the stable is cleared, there will be no funding. We are withholding our grant until we are sure that the FAI is governed properly," Sport Ireland's Kieran Mulvey told the Oireachtas committee yesterday, as the FAI was repeatedly told that the re-election, unopposed, of Mr Conway as FAI president would not be acceptable.

State funding of the FAI will not be back in place until the end of the year, adding to the financial burden on the association which is receiving Uefa funding.

The FAI was not represented at the Oireachtas hearing as it was Sport Ireland which was involved, but it was still a bruising day for the association, which holds a controversial EGM this Saturday ahead of its AGM a week later.

Even before TDs and senators had an opportunity to speak, there were a couple of blows landed on the FAI.

Growing pressure: FAI president Donal Conway. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Growing pressure: FAI president Donal Conway. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Committee chairman Fergus O'Dowd TD revealed that, in advance of the hearing, he'd been contacted by Mr Conway, who had requested a private briefing, but Mr O'Dowd refused and insisted any meeting would be on the record.

"This has to be upfront, transparent and accountable, I said 'no'," said Mr O'Dowd. He added that, acting on a request from the Soccer Writers Association of Ireland, and Association of Sports Journalists in Ireland, he would write to the FAI to ask that media have full access to the EGM and AGM.

"There is an oversight role to be played by Oireachtas committees, but equally there is an oversight role done by the media. They have to be allowed to do their job," said TD Catherine Murphy.

The state of the FAI was laid bare in the three hours that followed. Sport Ireland revealed it had struggled to appoint someone to carry out an investigation into the FAI as firms feared "reputational damage" from being involved. Finally, Belfast firm KOSI was appointed, with its probe to be completed by September.

Sport Ireland said it was "disappointed" to be told by the FAI at a meeting last week that Mr Conway, a board member since 2005 and president for 12 months, was being nominated for the post again, and one of the three candidates for vice-president was the current holder of the role, Noel Fitzroy.

John Treacy, Sport Ireland's CEO, said hiring ex-FAI staffer Noel Mooney as interim general manager was a "missed opportunity" to choose an outsider.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said that holding an AGM where accounts would not be presented was "a major problem" and he called for the EGM and AGM to be delayed for four months.

"To be pressing ahead with such a level of rule changes is madness in the extreme without having the detail that has to come," Mr MacSharry said.

Aidan Horan, chair of the Governance Review Group, claimed the recommendation that at least one current board member stays on would help with "inside relationships and corporate memory". He added: "Having transition is safer than having none at all."

But Tuesday's letter from Minister Ross on the eve of the Oireachtas meeting was a game-changer as Sport Ireland called for Mr Conway to drop out of the race.

"I think the minister is right, and that it is time for the entire board to step aside, a clean sweep is probably best," Mr Treacy said. "They've taken steps forward and they've taken steps back. And they've scored own goals along the way."

Irish Independent

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