Tuesday 20 August 2019

John Delaney's €100,000 'loan' costs FAI grassroots €1m

  • Sport Ireland cuts funding over finance concerns ahead of crunch showdown

  • FG TD criticised Oireachtas committee colleague over FAI comments last year

  • Bosses will face questions at committee as TDs voice their concern over latest developments

John Delaney with FAI president Donal Conway. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
John Delaney with FAI president Donal Conway. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Laura Larkin and Daniel McDonnell

The FAI is set to lose out on more than €1.4m this year after Sport Ireland suspended funding to the association amid concerns it did not obey State funding rules.

Sport Ireland, which is responsible for the administration of taxpayers' money to sporting bodies, has moved to "suspend and withhold future funding" from the embattled organisation as questions continue to swirl around a €100,000 payment made by the former chief executive John Delaney to the FAI in April 2017.

The payment - labelled a "bridging loan" to address a cash-flow issue by the organisation - was not notified to Sport Ireland, nor was any "deterioration" in the FAI's finances as is required under funding rules.

The decision by the statutory body heaps further pressure on the FAI, which will send a delegation of senior officials, including president Donal Conway and Mr Delaney, to meet with an Oireachtas committee today.

In his opening statement to the committee, the contents of which were revealed by the Irish Independent, Mr Conway is to highlight the fact that despite being obliged to, the organisation did not relay "certain circumstances [which] arose in April 2017" to Sport Ireland.

Mr Conway is to commit the organisation to set up new processes to ensure that the FAI is "fully compliant" with the clause that stipulates organisations must report any material deterioration in their financial situation to Sport Ireland.

He will say: "All other clauses within the terms and conditions are met. We have also invited Sport Ireland to satisfy itself on this matter by meeting our colleagues."

Sport Ireland has already paid out 50pc of an estimated €2.9m funding to the FAI this year and said it will consider lifting the suspension when all reviews into the FAI are complete.

Two separate reviews have been triggered following the emergence of detail on the €100,000 loan - Mazars has been contracted by the FAI to carry out a review and Grant Thornton is also on-site doing a review of the FAI's ledgers and records.

Meanwhile, it has emerged Fine Gael TD Noel Rock, who has been a vociferous critic of John Delaney, sought the former FAI CEO's help to get tickets for Ireland football matches in March and October 2017.

Click to view full size graphic
Click to view full size graphic

Internal FAI correspondence also claims Mr Rock texted Mr Delaney in November last year saying he was "happy to push back against" a proposal from Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy for the then-FAI chief to appear before the Oireachtas Transport, Tourism and Sport Committee. Mr Rock said last night he did not recall such an exchange.

Last night, the FAI expressed its disappointment at the decision to suspend the funding which Mr Conway said was "crucial to the development of an inclusive approach to football in Ireland".

He said the organisation was keen to restore confidence and rebuild its relationship with Sport Ireland and he was "fully confident" that through the processes in place the FAI would be able to satisfy Sport Ireland on governance and finance issues to ensure that funding can be restored

In a private memo, staff were told it is "business as usual" despite the decision taken by Sport Ireland. President Donal Conway and interim chief executive Rea Walshe echoed public comments, telling employees the board are confident their relationship with the statutory body can be repaired. Mr Conway and Ms Walshe sent a co-signed email to FAI staff after the decision became public knowledge.

"In light of today's news regarding Sport Ireland funding, we would like to assure you that it is business as usual for you and for the Football Association of Ireland," the memo said.

"As you will know, we have already received 50pc of our funding for 2019 from Sport Ireland and this decision is to suspend and withhold payment of the remaining 50pc while the FAI takes steps to reassure Sport Ireland in the areas of compliance and governance.

"This has no immediate impact on the funding or activities of the association as the next tranche of funding is not due for some months."

The senior officials also moved to reassure staff they had a productive meeting last Friday with Sport Ireland. For its part, Sport Ireland said the decision would be reviewed at each of its future board meetings and noted the FAI had taken "positive steps" in recent days.

"The board of Sport Ireland will consider the reinstatement of funding once all ongoing reports commissioned by the FAI have been completed and the recommendations adopted, and the board of Sport Ireland is satisfied that all necessary processes and controls are in place to ensure the FAI's ongoing compliance with the terms and conditions of grant approval," the body said.

Sources last night indicated to the Irish Independent that funding would not be restored until there was an overhaul in the organisation. Part of the motivation in the decision is understood to be an effort to "tie the [FAI] down to a reform programme that will be delivered".

The payment of the first half of the State funding gives the FAI time to complete the reviews it has committed to and implement reforms.

Sports Minister Shane Ross did not respond to a request for comment last night but TDs sitting on the Oireachtas' Transport, Tourism and Sport committee highlighted their concerns at the latest developments.

Noel Rock, who previously called for suspension of the FAI's State funding, said it was "appropriate" for the funding to be pulled. He said the move was necessary given what he called the "unwillingness and inability of the FAI to be forthright with Sport Ireland despite having a variety of opportunities to do so".

Fianna Fáil's Robert Troy said he would be seeking "comprehensive answers": "Once again we see a situation where the failure of senior executives in an organisation impacts the grassroots hardest."

Members of the organisation will also face questions on what level of awareness the board had about the €100,000 in 2017. Previous statements said "the board has been kept fully informed in relation to this matter at all times".

Mr Conway said the organisation had "advised Sport Ireland that recent public comments made by the FAI did not accurately reflect the board's level of awareness of the existence of the €100,000 payment in 2017".

Irish Independent

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