Sunday 18 August 2019

'It will be harder to play into the corner' - senators and TDs prepare to grill John Delaney

Under pressure: John Delaney, the former chief executive of the FAI, will face an Oirechtas committee on Wednesday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Under pressure: John Delaney, the former chief executive of the FAI, will face an Oirechtas committee on Wednesday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ryan Nugent

Ryan Nugent

The last time John Delaney appeared before an Oireachtas committee, one TD remarked it might be "impossible" to be critical.

But with the eyes and ears of the nation focused on this week's meeting, no politician can afford to plámás the former Football Association of Ireland (FAI) chief executive.

It was Cork TD Kevin O'Keeffe who said criticism might be tricky, after stating "one cannot but praise these organisations" - referring also to the IRFU and GAA.

Mr O'Keeffe is still on the committee and has been in the spotlight after it emerged Mr Delaney had secured two tickets for him for last year's World Cup final. He was also criticised for attending the Euro under-17 draw in Dublin alongside Mr Delaney and FAI officials last week.

The Fianna Fáil TD briefly mentioned governance back in January 2017.

The implementation of the 2002 Genesis report and some financial issues were touched on by Social Democrat leader Catherine Murphy.

TD Imelda Munster questioned how members of the FAI board were appointed, and for details on pay levels for FAI staff and cuts since the recession.

But by the time Mr Delaney got up to leave, the insight of politicians and the public on the running of Irish football had barely changed.

When asked how things went two years ago, Ms Murphy admitted she wasn't pleased, though she said lessons had been learned, as evident in Sport Ireland's visit last week.

"The bulk of the meeting was very unsatisfactory in that the context of inviting him in was around governance and most of the meeting wasn't taken up by that and I thought a lot of it was very deferential," she said.

Part of the problem boiled down to the format for questioning. Instead of a dialogue, a group of questions was gathered together from around the room, and Mr Delaney was tasked with answering them all in one go.

The FAI CEO was able to decide what importance was placed on each question, and left little room for follow-ups.

Fine Gael TD Noel Rock has been outspoken on the need for answers on a €100,000 loan Mr Delaney gave to the FAI in 2017, and has called for the Waterford man's resignation.

He said a back-and-forth dialogue would ensure there'd be no "softball" this week.

"It gives you less room to hide," Mr Rock said. "People can still hide and fudge their answers or play into the corner in football terms, but it's more difficult now."

When asked how he will approach Wednesday's meeting with the FAI, Mr O'Keeffe said he should be seen as one of the most impartial members of the committee and he had made no judgment yet.

Critics argue TDs and senators use committees to chase headlines at the expense of interrogating the issues.

Fine Gael TD and chair of the committee Fergus O'Dowd has said it would not be a witch hunt but a chance for robust debate.

The committee members have received a briefing from the Oireachtas' in-house legal team on their remit, and what they can reasonably expect answers on within that scope.

Members will receive a second round of legal briefings and will also be briefed on best practice in relation to governance ahead of the committee.

Irish Independent

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