Sunday 18 August 2019

Cormac McQuinn: 'Reforms package a first step in long path to restore trust in FAI'

State funding on the line for association at today’s EGM

Off the pitch: Former FAI chief executive John Delaney, who
stepped aside from his new role as executive vice president. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Off the pitch: Former FAI chief executive John Delaney, who stepped aside from his new role as executive vice president. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

It's more than three months since former Football Association of Ireland (FAI) chief executive John Delaney appeared before TDs to offer an explanation for the €100,000 'bridging loan' he made to the organisation.

He gave an account of the transaction to the Oireachtas sport committee, saying he wished an "overdraft" issue had not arisen at the FAI in 2017 and he regretted the "embarrassment" it had caused.

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But there was frustration when he said he couldn't answer questions on the loan or the FAI's finances, citing legal advice.

Mr Delaney is now off the pitch after he voluntarily stepped aside from a new role as executive vice president.

The FAI is still dealing with the fallout from the controversy and the broader issues it raised about governance as its members assemble for an emergency general meeting (EGM) today.

For one thing, its State funding of around €2.9m a year is still suspended.

And there's a renewed storm over FAI president Donal Conway's bid to be returned to the role at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) next week.

The move has been opposed by Sports Minister Shane Ross, Sport Ireland and the Oireactas Sport Committee, with its chairman Fergus O'Dowd calling for a "clean sweep" of the FAI board.

Mr Conway signalled in recent days that he will consider not standing for office but last night he didn't address his intentions on that front in an interview posted online by the FAI.

He did speak of the immediate matter facing EGM delegates today when they will be asked to support 78 recommendations for reform drawn up by the Sport Ireland/FAI Governance Review Group.

The recommendations include issues around good governance, effective leadership and transparency, and Mr Conway appealed to delegates to back the reform package, saying "change is absolutely necessary". He also said the problems facing the FAI were "our own fault so it's up to the FAI to solve it".

Mr Conway added: "There's a demand from our members that the day of lurching from crisis to crisis is over."

The sheer number of issues it says the FAI has to address - as evidenced by the dozens of recommendations in the governance group report - shows the scale of the challenge facing the organisation.

Adoption of the report will be a key first step in the FAI's State funding being restored.

Fine Gael TD Mr O'Dowd last night said "the important thing is to get those reforms through this weekend".

He said after that he would welcome clarity on Mr Conway's view on seeking to be reappointed as president.

Mr O'Dowd said adopting the reforms would pave the way for hiring a new chief executive who would hopefully be "internationally renowned".

He added that "everybody in this country backs the Irish team, we back our local teams. We want to make sure the FAI has our support as well".

Another member of the Sport Committee, Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats, argued that in the past the FAI board had allowed the former chief executive Mr Delaney to "run the show".

She pointed to how the majority of the board had not been aware of the bridging loan. Ms Murphy had pushed for the committee to probe FAI governance even before that controversy erupted amid concerns over how the association was run.

She said the 78 recommendations being considered at the EGM today "aren't a menu" and that the FAI must adopt the whole package. She added: "With the best will in the world, the Oireachtas Committee is not the avenue to have oversight on this and neither is Sport Ireland. Football itself has to do the oversight on this." She warned "without rebuilding trust, the public funding won't be restored".

The FAI faces difficult days ahead. There's an ongoing probe by the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE). It will have to await the results of an independent audit of its finances commissioned by Sport Ireland before funding can be restored.

Today's EGM is merely one step in the long path the FAI has to take to restore the public's confidence in the way the people's game is run.

Irish Independent

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