Friday 23 August 2019

FAI staff want Donal Conway and Noel Fitzroy to withdraw nominations ahead of weekend AGM

FAI president Donal Conway. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
FAI president Donal Conway. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

John Fallon

THE FAI’s unionised staff want Donal Conway and Noel Fitzroy to withdraw their nominations for the respective roles of President and Vice President of the Association.

Both officers are running for re-election at Saturday's AGM – Conway unopposed to retain his position as President – but that decision has incensed Sport Ireland.

They will only consider reinstating government funding when there's a full clearout of board members that worked around the table with deposed former chief executive John Delaney.

The recently-published governance review report recommends that a maximum of two current board members should be retained for a further 12 months for transitional purposes. 

SIPTU Services Division Organiser, Karan O'Loughlin said: "SIPTU members in the FAI have called for the full implementation of the Governance Review recommendations in order to provide a fresh start for the Association.

"Our members are also alarmed at a statement to the media made by Donal Conway after the EGM on Saturday, warning of potential staff redundancies.

"This kind of unspecified, casual threat to the livelihoods of loyal and hard-working staff across the organisation is unacceptable and in breach of their basic employment rights. There are legal obligations on the organisation to consult with staff and with their trade union on any proposals for redundancies within the FAI.

"Our members in the FAI insist that it complies with its obligations in this regard. FAI staff have continued to show the utmost professionalism in very testing times and have always put the game first. It is time for others to do the same."

Sports minister Shane Ross said on Sunday that the ratification by members of governance reforms at an EGM on Saturday night didn't go far enough.

For the annual Sport Ireland grant, €2.9m this year, to be restored, only a clean sweep of the old guard will appease their paymasters.

That largesse goes towards paying the salaries of development officers, most of whom are members of SIPTU.

Mr Ross reiterated this warning yesterday, arguing his stance does not constitute the type of third-party interference which FIFA and UEFA have indicated could result in sanctions on the FAI.

Conway has been a member of the FAI board for over 14 years.

Defending his tenure at the weekend, the retired schoolteacher explained how he first got involved at a senior level within the company in the roll-out of the Genesis Report.

That blueprint, triggered in 2002 by what Conway called "Saipan-gate", contained a core recommendation of appointing two independent directors. For 17 years, that advice was ignored by the board.

It was only when Conway appeared before an Oireachtas hearing in April, as the crisis began to deepen, that this was publicly countenanced.

The new 12-person board will have four independent directors.

They will be joined by the President and Vice-President and six others proposed through various constituencies that will come from FAI council. Those names have to be submitted to the association by tomorrow.

Should Conway be re-elected on Saturday, he will chair the "nominations committee" tasked with selecting the independent quartet for a year.

Fitzroy was elected to the board as Vice-President at the last AGM in August 2018. A weekend media report revealed details of a board meeting in early March where Fitzroy spoke in flattering terms about Delaney's ability to balance his workload.

Only two months ago, the FAI said they were "shocked and disappointed" at claims by SIPTU of the organisation's "precarious financial position".

In response, the association claimed that "UEFA's support…will ensure there's no threat to FAI staff".

That position appears to have shifted following remarks made by Conway in the aftermath of the EGM.

Refusing to rule out job losses, he said: "It's not something absolutely that's signed off on yet. We have to build a sustainable financial model going forward."

That update, coming amid ongoing speculation about the extent of the FAI's financial troubles, has worried employees.

Their anxiety levels weren't eased by a circular issued to staff on Monday morning by Noel Mooney.

The interim general manager, on secondment from UEFA till November, referenced in his email the ongoing challenges facing the FAI without providing any assurances around job security.

According to the last set of accounts, up to the end of 2017, staff costs at the associations amounted to €12m.

Their highest earning executive, Delaney, was placed on gardening leave on April 15 and continues to receive his full salary pending the outcome of various investigations.

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