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Unrest in FAI as senior Council member writes to FIFA and UEFA over Interim Board concerns

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FAI Interim Deputy Chief Executive Niall Quinn

FAI Interim Deputy Chief Executive Niall Quinn

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FAI Interim Deputy Chief Executive Niall Quinn

A member of the FAI's Senior Council has written to UEFA and FIFA to warn that a 'titanic battle for the heart and soul of football in our country' is imminent because the terms of the interim FAI Board's rescue deal with government will result in a 'loss of sovereignty' that is 'unique amongst the 211 FIFA nations.'

The claims are made in a detailed submission by Nixon Morton, a member of the FAI Schools National Executive, who wrote to representatives of world football and European football's governing bodies to say that 'a number of my Senior Council colleagues and other members across football...are very concerned by what is happening to the game in Ireland under the stewardship of the existing Interim Board.'

It is argued that 'outside forces' will have 'ownership' of the game here going forward.

His central complaint arises from the events of January when the new FAI powerbrokers led by independent chair Roy Barrett agreed a rescue deal with government, UEFA and the banks to keep Irish football afloat.

The Memorandum of Understanding stipulated changes to the terms of the governance reforms voted through by FAI delegates last year in the aftermath of the traumatic end of the John Delaney years.

It included the increase in the number of independent directors on the FAI board from four to six, and a clause that FAI Council members who have served for ten years or more should step down this summer - rather than after a further three years as was written down in the governance reforms.

Independent.ie has contacted Morton in an attempt to seek clarity on how many people's views he is representing given that his submission to FIFA and UEFA begins with the line that 'we write to you as members of the Football Association of Ireland.'

In this letter, seen by independent.ie, Morton flags concerns under four headings.

Firstly, that the FAI's new interim CEO Gary Owens and deputy Niall Quinn were both 'key associates' of Barrett as members of Quinn's Visionary Group that made a submission to the governance review process last year. The delay in the sourcing of a new permanent CEO is also raised.

The letter says: "The concern being expressed here is with the process around these (interim) appointments and did this process meet the highest standards of Governance? We are not questioning the abilities of those appointed or their commitment to the game of football in Ireland."

Secondly, the view is offered that FIFA, UEFA and others stakeholders should have been given 'timely sighting of the Memorandum' before it was signed given the wide ranging implications, although it is acknowledged that a UEFA official was present.

Thirdly, with a reference to changes in the exit date for veteran Council members - which was brought forward in the backdrop of Minister Shane Ross insisting it was time to 'excise the old guard' - Morton offers the view that changes to the process of renewing and refreshing Council should 'not be done as a consequence of the influence of or publicly stated view of an external party.'

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Nixon Morton (left)

Nixon Morton (left)

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Nixon Morton (left)

He adds that 'clearly stated parts of Recommendations approved and adopted democratically by the members have been arbitrarily ignored by those persons who designed the Memorandum.'

Finally, unease about the change in board composition to make it 50 per cent independent director and 50 percent elected football representatives is framed in the context of the FIFA Statute, Article 19(1) which states that 'each member association shall manage its affairs independently and without undue influence from third parties.'

Sunday Times comments from Owens indicating there would be no changes to the Memorandum were also included.

In a lengthy summary and overview, Morton expressed the wish that the document gives 'a sense of the grave and genuine concerns that we have for the future of the game in Ireland.'

He asserts that 'we are faced with a titanic battle for the heart and soul of football in our country' and that 'as ordinary football people we resolutely object to the new conditions being foisted upon us. We do see the need for change, the requirement for reform, but do not think it is necessary to cede ownership of the game of football to outside interests.'

Another paragraph states that 'We also recognise the urgent need for reform, a journey we embraced wholeheartedly. This journey seems to have stalled.'

In an e-mail to all other members of the FAI Council this morning, also seen by independent.ie, Morton cited a responsibility under the FAI rules to be 'responsible for monitoring the activities of the FAI and for monitoring the Board's Governance of the Association.'

He said that he had prepared the submission outlining member concerns (although he again did not detail how many people he was speaking for) and sent it to UEFA and FIFA last Thursday May 28 and subsequently to the FAI's 'democratically elected' President Gerry McAnaney, before distributing it all 79 Council members for consideration.

McAnaney is one of the FAI Council members that would have to stand down this summer.

Morton added that the consequences of acceding to a number of the 'key demands' in the Memorandum of Understanding were 'extraordinarily serious' and that comments made by Owens to the Sunday Times had intensified concerns.

"If we have learned anything over the past year it is surely the fact that Council must scrutinise, question, challenge the Board," he told Council colleagues.

"I hope you accept that the voice of Council must be heard on this and other matters and that it must not be ignored or extinguished."

Morton's overseas points of contact were Sarah Solemale, FIFA's Governance Services Manager and Yann Hafner, UEFA's Statutory Regulatory Expert.

The missive to UEFA and FIFA included attachments of the FAI's Governance Review Group report, the Memorandum of Understanding in the FAI/Government deal and Quinn's Visionary Group document.

In March, the Sunday Times reported that FIFA had received an anonymous complaint from amateur football officials about the conditions of the rescue deal.

It was claimed that three former board members had attended a meeting in Dublin to discuss the topic - with a ban on former board members sitting on committees another demand from Minister Ross in deal negotiations.

The FAI have yet to hold the EGM to vote through the amendments that would result in the government releasing the funds with the Covid-19 crisis placing the Association into fresh financial jeopardy.

In response to queries from the Irish Independent, an FAI spokesman said: "The Board of the FAI is aware of the letter and has no comment to make."

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