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FAI boardroom divisions deepen as football directors refute claims by Interim CEO Owens

The eight elected directors have taken the remarkable step of releasing a statement calling on Gary Owens to clarify remarks about their awareness of the controversial MOU with the government.

Gary Owens.
Gary Owens.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

DIVISION IN THE FAI boardroom has deepened as the eight football directors took the remarkable step of issuing a statement calling on interim CEO Gary Owens to withdraw statements he made regarding the board’s awareness of the contentious Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the government, signed by independent chairperson Roy Barrett. 

In a late-night statement released by themselves rather than through official FAI channels, the eight directors – referring to themselves as “elected directors” – say they are “alarmed” at comments made earlier in the day by Gary Owens, and called for him to immediately clarify his remarks. 

In a media briefing, Owens rejected a claim made by Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry that the MOU was signed by Barrett without being approved by the board. 

“The board members had the opportunity to review what the terms and conditions were, and they did sign off on it”, said Owens. “They didn’t sign off on it afterward, they signed off on it beforehand. [Marc MacSharry] is wrong on that.” 

He continued, “It was approved by the board members in advance of it being signed. I would say reluctantly approved, but it was approved.”

This angered the football directors, who replied, “The Elected Directors wish to state on the record that they did not approve the MOU before it was signed, therefore Mr MacSharry’s statement is correct.

“The facts are that they only received a draft copy of the MOU at 9.02am on the 30th January and immediately raised concerns regarding some of the conditions with the Chairman and received no reply.”

They called on Owens to immediately clarify his remarks, and the statement is signed by all eight football directors: Paul Cooke, John Finnegan, Martin Heraghty, David Moran, Gerry McAnaney, Joe O’Brien, Richard Shakespeare, and Ursula Scully.

This statement makes tatters of a call for unity within the FAI made by Niall Quinn earlier today, as it formalises and entrenches division between the independent and football directors in the FAI boardroom. 

There are 12 directors on the FAI board, four of whom are independent.

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They were identified by external recruitment firm Amrop and hired by the FAI’s Nominations Committee, a sub-committee of the main board. The remaining eight directors were elected from various football constituencies at an EGM last year. 

It comes at a particularly bad time for the FAI as they seek to pass a suite of reforms through an EGM on 31 August, upon which the State bailout of the Association is contingent. 

The most controversial of those reforms is a move to change the composition of the board to an even split of six independent directors and six football directors. Given that independent chairperson Barrett has the casting vote in the event of a split vote, some Council members have expressed a concern that this is tantamount to the FAI losing its independence.

In a letter last month to fellow Council members, James Kelly, an independent councillor, called this proposed rule change a “ticking time bomb” that “threatens the very existence of our Association as a sovereign body.” 

Kelly called for the assembly of a special meeting of Council to discuss the rule changes, which will take place at the Red Cow Moran Hotel on Friday afternoon.

Barrett wrote to Council members last night urging them to pass the reforms, stating the FAI would otherwise face insolvency. 

Meanwhile, the FAI hierarchy may be facing another potential headache as The42 understands the Department of Sport are unhappy with the FAI’s tweaking of a proposed rule in the MOU.

It was agreed that any Council members with more than 10 years’ service would leave their role at the next AGM, but they will now be allowed to remain on if they pass a Fifa-designed fit and proper persons test. 

New Minister for Sport Catherine Martin wrote to the FAI on 9 July to tell them the MOU would not be renegotiated by the new governement, and the Department re-affirmed this stance last week. 

Sport Ireland are expected to meet with the FAI later today to seek clarity on the issue. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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