Friday 20 September 2019

Now the FAI casts doubt on Delaney's €100k 'loan'

New statement by football’s governing body fails to offer clarity to Dáil probe

John Delaney pictured at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Gerry Mooney
John Delaney pictured at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Daniel McDonnell and Laura Larkin

The FAI president has admitted the organisation’s previous explanations for the €100,000 loan by former CEO John Delaney did “not accurately reflect the board’s level of awareness” about the money.

A statement prepared by FAI president Donal Conway for tomorrow’s Oireachtas Committee showdown with the board offers no extra clarity on the circumstances leading to the €100,000 loan.

The 22-page statement – seen by the Irish Independent – does not use the term “bridging loan” to describe the matter. Instead, the 2017 transaction is referred to as a €100,000 “payment” and “issue”.

Mr Conway’s planned address says the FAI has advised Sport Ireland that recent public comments by the FAI “did not accurately reflect the board’s level of awareness of the existence of the €100,000 payment to the association in 2017”.

The FAI has confirmed Mr Conway, Mr Delaney, plus senior board members Páraic Treanor and Eddie Murray and interim CEO Rea Walshe will appear – as requested – before the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport tomorrow.

The meeting was originally scheduled for earlier this year with governance issues on the agenda, but it is now expected to be dominated by questions over the loan, which FAI statements last month had attributed to a short-term cash flow issue.

Mr Conway will remind committee members of their remit, as well as the legal obligations and the need to respect the privacy and data protection rights of employees.

In the statement, there is no further detail on the circumstances of the €100,000 loan or the absence of a record of it in the financial statement of the organisation that year.

But Mr Conway will outline the steps taken by the FAI in response to the disclosure of the loan.

Ahead of the release of the statements, Mr Conway and Ms Walshe sent an internal memo to staff to prepare them for a further day of media stories about the organisation.

In the letter, which has been seen by the Irish Independent, they thanked staff for the efforts they "undertake on behalf of Irish football every day" and told them to refer any media requests to the FAI's communications department.

Two separate reviews have been put in train by the FAI. A review by global auditing firm Mazars has been commissioned, and Grant Thornton have been on-site at the FAI since April 2 to carry out a review of the organisation's ledgers, books and records.

"The involvement of Grant Thornton also allows the addressing of queries raised regarding the €100k issue from 2017 to ensure the response to queries is comprehensive and accurate," Mr Conway's statement reads.

One TD who sits on the committee, Fine Gael's Noel Rock, has said that the suggestion that recent FAI comments did not reflect the board's awareness of the €100,000 issue raised more questions.

He said: "This opens up a clear line of questioning: what did the board know about the loan, when did they know it, how many of them knew about it, how did a loan take place without the board being aware of the terms of it and - crucially - when they unanimously approved the appointment of Mr Delaney to the position of executive vice president, had they been appraised of the full facts with regard to this loan?"

Sport Ireland - who oversees the administration of State funding to the FAI - were not made aware of the loan or any material deterioration in the financial status of the FAI in 2017, something which the terms and conditions of its grant funding requires.

Mr Conway's statement appears to concede that the FAI fell short in this regard. He says that the FAI acknowledges "certain circumstances arose in April 2017 which were not reported to Sport Ireland".

"We will work with Sport Ireland in order to establish a process to ensure the FAI are, in future, fully compliant [with a clause on further reporting of deterioration in finances]."

In a new letter to the Oireachtas Committee last night, Sport Ireland chief Mr Treacy said that Sport Ireland understood that Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement inquiries on this issue were "substantial" and that the FAI said they were engaged with the corporate watchdog.

The FAI and Sport Ireland met last Friday in what Mr Treacy described as a "constructive" meeting which he said "shed more light" on processes under way in the FAI.

Mr Conway says he "regrets" that the FAI could not provide more help to Sport Ireland when they requested it and that it is moving as fast as it can on matters.

Mr Conway is to tell the committee that "sport is a very different business to others. Financial fluctuations are the norm and cashflow is often irregular". He will point to the disappointment that followed the failure of the men's senior team to qualify for last year's World Cup, which had "a major impact on match attendance and, subsequently, cashflow".

While acknowledging the need to build trust and the difficulties facing the organisation, Mr Conway will also move to outline the recent successes of the FAI.

A review by external expert Jonathan Hall, which looked at governance in the organisation and ultimately recommended that Mr Delaney be moved to the new role of executive vice president, has also been provided to TDs ahead of the hearing.

Mr Conway says Mr Delaney's appointment to a new role will be "to the benefit of Irish football".

Irish Independent

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