Thursday 23 January 2020

'What are the FAI afraid of?' - Anger as soccer chiefs refuse to attend Oireachtas Committee grilling

The FAI refused to appear at the Oireachtas Committee on Wednesday
The FAI refused to appear at the Oireachtas Committee on Wednesday

Philip Ryan and Aidan Fitzmaurice

The chair of the Oireachtas Sport Committee Fergus O'Dowd has asked "what are the FAI afraid of" after the association cancelled their appearance at a hearing which was due to take place tomorrow.

Over the weekend the Oireachtas committee invited the FAI and the Minister for Sport, Shane Ross, to appear before that committee, though Ross said it would be "premature" for him to attend before the FAI had spoken and he agreed to go before the committee a week later.

Oireachtas officials sent out confirmation that the FAI would appear at 4.30pm on Wednesday but on Tuesday morning, the FAI confirmed by press release that they were not in a position to attend, leading to disappointment from politicians.

Mr O'Dowd said the committee's clerk was ensured by the FAI on Sunday that they would be appearing at the hearing and said he was surprised by their decision to cancel.

"I don't know what they are afraid of," the Louth TD said.

"Yes, there will be significant scrutiny but we will be looking to the future of the association," he added.

Mr O'Dowd said the FAI was assured that questioning would not impact on any garda investigation or on people's right to due process.

"We still want them to come in and they have offered to come in at a later," he added.

"The FAI were invited by the committee, they agreed to come in yesterday, the clerk of the committee spoke to Rea Walsh, the FAI's company secretary, all the arrangements were made and hey presto, they are not showing up," Mr O'Dowd told RTE radio.

"We can't compel them to attend but I do know the public have a huge interest in what is happening and what will happen, people are disgusted with what has gone on, they are shocked and horrified, we were anxious to put pressure on the FAI to have the new directors appointed. An independent chair is a key issue.

"I have to accept that they are not coming. We sought assurances that key members of the board would be coming, that assurance was given and obviously something has changed.

"What's important is that the board is gone, in terms of former members who were there when all these things happened and we need a new independent chairman.

"You need a new face and a new names but of the eight on the board now, two served in a capacity during the period of controversy, what people want is a whole new leadership, it needs to be gender-balanced."

The committee are likely to be angered by the FAI's decision not to attend, which they announced in a press release today.

"The Board of the Football Association of Ireland has this morning informed the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport that it is unable to accept an invitation to appear before the Committee on Wednesday, December 11th," the statement said.

"The focus of the Board at this moment in time remains the refinancing package that will guarantee the future of the FAI and safeguard jobs, as well as the appointment of an Independent Chairperson and Independent Directors.

"As key Board members and senior executive staff are required at meetings vital to the financial restructuring and the appointment of an Independent Chairperson, it is not possible for the FAI to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on this occasion. The Board remains committed to appearing before the Committee on a date when the appropriate representatives are available."

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