Thursday 23 January 2020

Inside the FAI AGM: Tempers fray as silent trust goes out of the window

Under fire: FAI executive lead Paul Cooke (right) and president Donal Conway at the AGM at the Citywest Hotel, Dublin. Photos: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Under fire: FAI executive lead Paul Cooke (right) and president Donal Conway at the AGM at the Citywest Hotel, Dublin. Photos: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Richard Howard of Deloitte said the auditors were misled. Picture: Sportsfile

The silent trust fostered by FAI delegates for so long had clearly died as tempers frayed at a heated AGM.

The association is haunted by massive debts, but here is where the exorcism was supposed to get started.

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One man at the back merely held his head in his hands, but others rounded one by one on the board, sitting at a table at the top of the room.

Delegate Denis Bradley said: "I was on the board a few years ago and I was shocked.

"I went into a room where 60 people sat and if anyone asked a question, it was like Oliver asking for food.

"So talking about blame, we know where the main blame lies - with the council, for not doing the job we were appointed to do."

A young man, David Nolan, from St Pat's CY FC, stood up. He was infuriated. He told the board: "Let people police the game who care about it. A number of people in this room ignored what was going on, didn't ask the right questions at the time."

Water was handed out. It was unlikely this would ever cool any tempers.

One delegate said: "In the past, we have had the withholding of information, which largely contributes to the mess we are in…

"We need to not be updated by the newspapers, we need to be kept up to date. If we need to dispose of assets, so be it."

The media was no longer the enemy, for journalists helped uncover the truth of this financial scandal.

Another delegate said: "I'd like to thank the media for bringing this out into the open, there must be 100 questions today, it's brilliant."

It's doubtful the apology issued by the board to the "hundreds of thousands" of people involved in Irish soccer at all levels of the game would have resonated, as one delegate asked: "For how much longer will it [the FAI] be a going concern?"

FAI executive lead Paul Cooke admitted there was a "serious possibility of examinership or liquidation", admitting later that examinership would be preferable.

Mr Cooke added: "We are talking to Government, we meet it regularly, we are not constrained, we can carry through without the independents (directors.)"

The outgoing president Donal Conway frankly admitted: "I cannot say that nothing else is going to appear."

Meanwhile, Mr Cooke said: "Anything could come out" of a Revenue and ODCE investigation.

"We can't say today, there could be other issues."

Mr Cooke also told the room if the FAI received an €18m package the organisation could be "cash positive" by 2023.

However, the room was also told that after a number of investigations, including that held by the ODCE and Revenue, "unrecorded liabilities may arise".

One delegate told the board: "It seems to be you're up against a stone wall, you can't rely on Uefa, the road is narrow.

"Deal with what seems to be a lack of trust between the political establishment and you. Say 'what can we do to give them that sense of trust?'"

Auditors Deloitte also came under scrutiny for the handling of the FAI accounts.

Richard Howard, from Deloitte, said that "information was not provided to us and, in our opinion, we were misled".

"We now know contracts were withheld from us, the FAI failed to maintain accurate books," he said.

Don Donnelly, from Newbridge Town of the Leinster Senior League, told the meeting: "The auditors have just thrown the board under the bus.

"I find it totally unbelievable what's been said by the auditors. We are not a toxic brand, we can't be allowed to be referred to that way.

"We are down on our knees and certain people are taking pleasure in kicking us into the ground.

"We need to control the agenda and not be frightened."

Gerry Sweeney, from Mayo Football League, said his club "are looking at a cost of €20,000 to upgrade lights, some of the payment to solicitors and auditors would pay for that job 120 times over - it would put a fair few lights up and around the country".

Another delegate added: "It's easy to jump on a bandwagon and at the moment, it's fashionable to kick the FAI.

"There are thousands of volunteers, all these people have a stake in what's going on and have an interest in a satisfactory outcome."

Irish Independent

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