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Thursday 23 January 2020

Government to meet with FAI lenders on Wednesday after 'positive' UEFA meeting

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

Daniel McDonnell

Minister for Tourism, Transport & Sport Shane Ross says that the government will meet with the FAI's lenders Bank of Ireland tomorrow to discuss solutions to Irish football's problems.

Ross declined to expand on the specific purpose of that meeting after describing talks with UEFA officials as positive, a mood that was echoed by the four officials from European football's governing body as they left Leinster House.

In a statement released this evening, the Department of Sport said the parties can now 'see a potential path to a solution for the FAI'. Minister Ross said the meeting 'discussed the extent of UEFA’s capacity and willingness to participate in a financial support package, as proposed in recent meetings with the FAI Board.'

UEFA are understood to hold reservations about providing more advance funds to the FAI after keeping them afloat last summer, and feel the initiative should be taken from the government side.

In their brief official statement, UEFA said they 'met with the Irish government and the FAI with a view to finding a way forward for the FAI’s finances. The UEFA delegation was encouraged by the positive meeting and the willingness of all parties to find a solution. UEFA will continue to work with all stakeholders in the coming days and weeks.'

Speaking to reporters at Leinster House immediately after the conclusion of the summit, Minister Ross said all parties are determined that the prospect of examinership or liquidation is off the table, but stopped short of saying he could guarantee anything 'at this stage' of the process.

"I'm fairly confident the goodwill is there to ensure it doesn't," said Ross, predicting a swift resolution to the crunch negotiations.

"I don't think we're talking about months or weeks, I think we're talking about something happening fairly soon and getting a good result in the near future."

It was anticipated that today's talks would centre around a 'risk sharing arrangement' to provide certainty to the FAI's principal creditor Bank of Ireland about their ability to pay off debts.

The UEFA delegation were accompanied by the new independent chair of the FAI board, Roy Barrett, with Ministers Ross and Griffin requesting that he was the only Abbotstown representative at talks.

Executive lead Paul Cooke stayed in the nearby Buswells Hotel while the meeting with Ross took place, having held discussions with the visitors earlier in the day.

UEFA's General Secretary Theodore Theodoridis said the meeting was 'positive, constructive and that's all I can say', indicating that a joint statement would follow with more detail.

Barrett also spoke briefly, adding that "I think everyone wants to find the right solutions and that's the path we are on."

He simply replied 'We'll see' when asked if the FAI were closer to a deal now than they were 24 hours earlier.

When pressed on whether the task he had inherited was more difficult than he had envisaged when appointed a week ago, the managing director of Goodbody Stockbrokers replied: "Ask me in a week's time, we'll see."

Ross said that 'intensive talks' would continue over the coming days. However, the UEFA team will fly home tomorrow.

The minister was tight-lipped on the nature of any solution, again reiterating the line that a bail-out was out of the question.

He spoke in terms of annual state funding when pressed on the figures. Last month, the FAI came to the government looking for €18m and were knocked back.

"What we’ve said quite specifically is we’re anxious to restore the funding, which we had taken away from them, in order to benefit grassroots soccer," said Ross.

"We have absolutely maintained rigidly that we’re not going to bail out anybody. That is not on the cards. What we are going to do is to ensure the future for the volunteers, the young people.

"We anticipate that within days we’ll have another meeting, possibly with members of UEFA and, finally, if we do get substantial progress we’ll hopefully have another meeting with all of the stakeholders together," said Ross.

"We think the constructive nature of the meeting indicated that all four stakeholders are absolutely united in their determination to do what has to be done for Irish soccer, particularly, from our point of view, for the grassroots.

"We’re determined that should be done and it should be done with the momentum that has built up over a period."

Ross has said that he would like more evidence of reform in the FAI at the levels below the boardroom with the Council coming under scrutiny.

When asked about that subject, Barrett said: "There has been significant reforms through the governance reform process and that has involved an awful lot.

"It's the job of the board to get on with that reform programme."

Meanwhile, Ross said that ex-FAI CEO John Delaney's position on the UEFA Executive Committee did not come up but stated that 'I presume that will be dealt with in due course.'

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