Thursday 5 December 2019

'Somebody the calibre of Packie is suitable' - Oireachtas committee member suggests Bonner role could help restore funding

Former Ireland goalkeeper, Packie Bonner. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Former Ireland goalkeeper, Packie Bonner. Photo: SPORTSFILE

John Greene

Packie Bonner is the ideal person to help facilitate a restoration of funding to Irish football, the Sunday Independent has been told.

State funding to the FAI - which amounts to almost €3m annually - has been withheld by Minister for Sport Shane Ross since April, in the wake of controversial revelations around financial and governance irregularities at the Association.

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On Thursday, however, the minister softened his position on restoring funding for football, saying he now supported a move to channel funding for the women's game "via a trusted independent third party". He reiterated that the Government would not be providing direct funding to the FAI "in the near future".

It's understood that the proposal to use an "independent third party" for the women's game is likely to be extended to other areas suffering since funding was halted.

And Marc MacSharry, a member of the Oireachtas sport committee, believes that Irish football legend Packie Bonner is ideally placed to fulfil that independent role.

"I would suggest somebody of the calibre of Packie, or even someone else of that ilk, would be perfectly suitable for that," said MacSharry. "He is a national icon and is a former technical director of the FAI but he has been out of the Association nearly 10 years so he is far enough removed from that.

"I have been wondering who would make a good independent person, who could that person be that can help - someone from the game, who knows the scene and who would be acceptable to people in football and to the public. Packie is definitely one such person."

The Sligo-Leitrim TD says football on the ground is "suffering badly" as a result of the crisis in the FAI and while he supports the minister's continued block on funding the Association, he says the grassroots is in need of urgent support.

MacSharry, who met with Ross and the junior sports minister Brendan Griffin on Wednesday to put forward an argument for finding a way to restore funding to football, added that the former Celtic and Ireland goalkeeper had the integrity and credibility the role needs at a time when the FAI has lost public confidence.

It's understood there is some support among MacSharry's fellow committee members for the minister's plan.

"A way needs to be found to restore some level of funding to the grassroots," Senator Pádraig ó Céidigh told the Sunday Independent. "We cannot stop everything because of this."

He added: "We mustn't forget that right at the centre of this are the people who have put a lot of time into football. It's not just about the FAI and what's going on there. People are being penalised just because they love football. That, to me now, is the focus: football and kids are suffering."

Meanwhile, the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport remains anxious for the FAI to appear before it as soon as possible to provide an update to members on the various ongoing investigations, and also on the progress of plans to radically reform the cash-strapped organisation.

There is still uncertainty over when the FAI's agm will reconvene, and when its annual accounts - which were due to be presented last July - will finally be available. There was speculation this weekend that the AGM could now be called for the end of this month. Delegates are entitled to 21 days' notice.

The Oireachtas committee hopes to meet with an FAI delegation as soon as possible after the agm. "We are ready, willing and able to hear from the FAI," said MacSharry.

"I've no idea what's going on now," said ó Céidigh. "We are in the dark. I've spoken to other committee members and they are frustrated too. They've no idea what's going on. We know nothing and that's very unsatisfactory from my point of view."

The decision last week by Sport Ireland to refer the KOSI report to the Gardaí caught the FAI and others by surprise, with Noel Mooney, who departs from the role of interim CEO this weekend, admitting it was a "punch in the stomach of the FAI".

Members of the Oireachtas committee believe the Association must come before it as soon as possible, however, despite this latest development. "I believe the committee is owed that and the Irish public are owed that," said ó Céidigh.

"I'm not asking for them to get into things they can't get into. I think it would help to build confidence in the FAI and for the grassroots. I'm not looking for heads on the block here. I just want to know where they are at and what progress they have made so far. It's critically important for the game that people know what's going on."

Committee chairperson Fergus O'Dowd says they want to know the state of play on the Mazars and Grant Thornton reports, which were commissioned by the FAI. He said the committee has a number of questions which need to be answered.

"Has there been any real change since the 76 rule changes were introduced at the AGM" he asked. "Are they being implemented? We all want to back an FAI that is reformed, and changed utterly."

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