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Board of the FAI issues public apology 'for the mistakes of the past'

The apology was made after a request had been made to FAI President Donal Conway at today’s AGM.

Updated Dec 29th 2019, 7:14 PM

John Fallon reports from CityWest Hotel

OUTGOING FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION of Ireland President Donal Conway has released a public statement of apology on behalf of the embattled organisation.

Mr Conway agreed to the request for an act of contrition at today’s reconvened Annual General Meeting at Citywest Hotel in Dublin.

donal-conway FAI President Donal Conway at today's AGM. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The summit, attended by 140 delegates, was required to be held after the FAI were unable to furnish completed accounts for 2018 at their original AGM in July.

Financial controller Alex O’Connell confirmed the recent disclosure from Sports Minister Shane Ross that an urgent €18 million bailout is essential to rescue the FAI.

The FAI is currently burdened by rising liabilities of €70m, making the prospect of selling their stake in the Aviva Stadium a live option of last resort.

With the Irish Rugby Football Union ruling out taking over full ownership, it seems only the government could supply the intervention.

“The government have a first charge on the stadium but there are two shareholders involved,” said Conway, who is due to resign on 25 January.

“In the first instance, the conversation has to happen between two stakeholders and see where it goes from there. There is not a refusal by the board to consider the disposal of the asset but it is not easily affected. There is very little room to manoeuvre.”

The FAI’s executive lead Paul Cooke, also vice-president, added: “The Bank (of Ireland) have a charge of €30m on the stadium and we need another €20m. We would require €50m from the sale to realise anything for the association.”

At the end of a traumatic year for the FAI, in which a full board clearout is near completion, today’s gathering lasted almost two hours.

a-view-of-the-fai-agm Today's FAI AGM took place at Dublin's CityWest Hotel. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Unlike AGM’s under the reign of former chief executive John Delaney, there was plenty of audience participation, with the role of auditors Deloitte a hot topic. Ultimately, however, it was the inaction of board and council members which contributed to the malaise.

John Earley, who earlier this month quit as board member, described the financial fallout of the controversies as “catastrophic”.

Seven new members of the new FAI board, including the first female — Ursula Scully from the Schoolboys FAI (SFA) — were seated at the top table.

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“I’d like to give my 100% backing to all the current board, with the exception of Donal Conway,” said David Nolan of Leinster Senior League club St Patrick’s CY.

“There’s a lot of talk here today about toxicity and trust. For me, the organisation cannot move on until all those people who cosied up to the former CEO, who released statements of support for him this year, go.

“Every last one of them have to leave and that includes a lot of people in this room. They ignored what was going and didn’t ask the right questions at the right time. We should let people come in who really care about the game.”

Conway, as the last surviving board member from the Delaney era, was requested by Derry City representative Denis Bradley to make a statement.

“The FAI should apologise to the Irish people for what’s gone on and appeal for patience,” he said. “That will have more of an influence on politicians than banging them on the head, claiming they’re not doing their jobs.”

ursula-scully FAI board member Urusla Scully. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

At the end of the meeting, Conway agreed to the plea. The subsequent statement, which was issued by the FAI this evening, reads:

The Board of the Football Association of Ireland has tonight issued an apology to the hundreds and thousands involved with Irish football at all levels of the game, to the Irish public and to FAI staff. The apology was made following the reconvened AGM of the FAI at the CityWest Hotel in Dublin, where delegates were presented with the financial statements for 2018. President Donal Conway said: “The clear message from our delegates today is that Irish football wants to move forward and we apologise to all our stakeholders for the mistakes of the past.”

The 2018 accounts, finally unveiled on 6 December, were accompanied by revised financial statements for 2016 and 2017. Deloitte, the FAI’s auditors, refused to declare the FAI as a “going concern” in the recently-published accounts.

Stuart Gilhooly from the Players’ Football Association of Ireland (PFAI) queried the repercussions of this status to the FAI’s survival.

“I can’t give a definitive answer to that but the situation is very serious,” said Mr Cooke. “There is a possibility of liquidation if the stadium loan is called in.”

Deloitte, who have resigned as the FAI’s auditors after 23 years, were represented at the meeting by Richard Howard and Niall Walsh. They read a prepared statement contending they were misled by the FAI’s former directors but refused to address specific questions from a number of delegates.

Deloitte had approved all yearly accounts up to 2017 but in April of this year lodged a H4 complaint under the Companies Act.

They accuse the FAI of not keeping proper records after details emerged of a €100,000 bridging loan given by Delaney to his employers in 2017. The loan, repaid later that year, was concealed from most of the board and omitted from the annual accounts.

“I feel that the auditors have thrown the FAI board under the bus here,” noted Don Donnelly, attending as a representative of Newbridge Town.

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John Fallon

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