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'Apologies have been made' - FAI board present united front at the end of a rancorous week

Optimism is growing that the reforms necessary to avoid insolvency will be voted through at the end of the month.

Gerry McAnaney and Roy Barrett.
Gerry McAnaney and Roy Barrett.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Updated Aug 8th 2020, 3:37 AM

AS COUNCIL MEMBERS gathered after days of rancour and division at the FAI, even the meeting was split. 

There are no doubts about the mandate for this one, mind – social distancing meant some members had to be accommodated in a separate function room at the Red Cow Hotel, with each room streamed live into the other. 

Ultimately this emergency meeting of Council passed without the further sowing of any significant discord, with independent chairperson Roy Barrett describing it as “positive” and expressing optimism that the terms of the government bailout will pass an EGM at the end of the month. 

The meeting was initially called to discuss the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Barrett and then-sports minister Shane Ross on 30 January in return for a government bailout of the debt-laden organisation, but arrived in the shadow of a week of internal chaos. 

The main sticking point that led to the calling of the meeting is a rule that will see the board change to an even divide of six elected football directors and six independent directors, with opponents seeing it as a ceding of the FAI’s sovereignty.

Predictions of a split along those lines were then overshadowed by the real thing on Wednesday night, when the eight football directors on the board issued a personal statement publicly rebuking interim CEO Gary Owens over his claim the board fully approved the MoU prior to Barrett signing it. 

The board presented a united front at yesterday’s meeting, however. 11 of the 12 directors were there – Dick Shakespeare was absent – and when asked from the floor to raise their hands if they consider the board to be unified, all 11 did so. 

President Gerry McAnaney sat alongside Barrett in a press conference after the event and said unity had been restored, hinting at regret about the statement without using explicitly stating so. 

“That issue has been put to bed now. Apologies have been made, and as far as we are concerned the matter is closed. People felt strongly that there was a misrepresentation which in the cold light of day there was more of a misunderstanding. If everyone else had their time back again they might not have taken the same course of action. We’d love to have 2020 [vision] on everything but you can’t have it in this world.

“I regret loads of things in my life. The way I look at it, if things need to be flushed out they need to be flushed out and it will make us stronger as a board and make the executive stronger.” 

When asked whether Owens had apologised to the board, McAnaney said that was his understanding, but he “had to step out of the room at that particular moment.” 

Owens, sitting at the back of the room, said “We dealt with the matter in the meeting.” 

Another big issue in the lead-up was the signing of the MoU by Barrett. 

In a statement on Thursday, Barrett revealed he had received the MoU by email on the evening of 29 January, the day before it was signed, and sent it board members at 9.02am the following morning. He signed the MoU at lunchtime.

Barrett said he couldn’t recall whether he saw the MoU in his email inbox on the evening he received it. 

“I can’t recall whether I saw that email on that night, Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t. I sent it on to the board, they received it at 9am the following morning. “ 

When it was pointed out this is a very significant email to be unable to recall, Barrett replied, “It was a very busy time for me. Both in terms of my work with the FAI and in my day job [as Managing Director with Goodbody Stockbrokers]. If I had seen it at 8.58 pm, I would have sent it on straight away.”

Barrett maintained he had the authority to sign the deal. 

“We had a board meeting on the evening of the 28th [of January, two days before the MoU was signed] where we discussed the proposal we had put to government around the funding package.

“We knew there would be conditions and further reforms required. In the media that day there was a report that this six and six [directors split] would be part of the whole package. The mandate from the board was clear: ‘Listen, we need the money’, and that was what was important. I felt and believe I had a mandate from the board to go and sign the MoU, and bear in mind with the MoU that it needs to be approved by members.”

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When asked by Council member Paul Walsh, board member and Vice-President Paul Cooke said he did not believe Barrett was given the explicit permission to sign the MoU. 

roy-barrett-and-paul-cooke-after-the-meeting File photo of Roy Barrett (left) and Paul Cooke. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Elsewhere, Barrett said the six/six split is not up for renegotiation, despite a call from MEP Mick Wallace at the Council meeting to break it out from the MoU and subject it to a separate vote.

“What Roy Barrett argued was that is a point the government insisted on. I find that a bit rich, given the government struggle to run a piss up in a brewery, and now they’re experts in how a football organisation should run”, said Wallace after the meeting. 

He remains opposed to the six/six split, but expects the bailout deal to be approved.

“It was put to members, “Listen you’ve got to go allow what the government wants, we’ve no money and we’ll be out of business.

“This is the same government that bailed out useless, broke banks for billions and they’re prepared to let the FAI go insolvent for a couple of million? They’re going to lose a billion on the Children’s Hospital. The idea they’d let FAI go insolvent because we wouldn’t agree to 6/6, I don’t think they’d allow it to go insolvent.

“It looks like we’re going to accept their threat and bow to their six and six, which is giving independent directors a controlling lifeline on how football is run in this country.” 

There may be a change to the MoU rule forcing members of Council with more than 10 years’ service to step aside this year, replaced with a fit and proper person test that won’t consider longevity.

Though Owens and Niall Quinn gave a different impression earlier this week, Barrett said this has not yet been agreed, but that the FAI are discussing it with the government and Fifa. He maintained that this is an interpretation of the agreed rule, rather than an outright change. 

During the meeting, the 11 present board members were asked if they support the terms of the MoU as they presently stand. All said yes, although Cooke and Ursula Scully said they don’t support the terms though accept them based on fiduciary obligations. 

The Council meeting lasted just short of four hours, with 69 of 79 members in attendance. Owens was present, although his deputy Quinn was not,  instead doing Champions League commentary for Virgin Media Sport. 

While these meetings were famously mute in the latter half of The Delaney Years, yesterday’s meeting was, in the words of McAnaney, “a full and frank discussion.” The board were challenged on the FAI’s employment of PR firm Q4, and disagreed with the suggestion Goodbody’s use of the same firm represented a conflict of interest. 

Shelbourne’s Andrew Doyle led questioning as to why the Finance sub-committee of the board have not yet met, while Nixon Morton and James Kelly – members who led the revolt against the six/six split – tackled Barrett on the timeline and the terms of the MoU. Council sources say Barrett dealt with both exchanges calmly and effectively. 

After the meeting, Barrett said he has never considered resigning from the FAI, as was recommended by Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry. 

“If people wanted to call for my resignation, then, fine. I am committed to this, I am committed to staying with this because there’s an awful lot to be achieved.” 

With unity on the board restored – at least in public – the prevailing mood suggests the reforms will be passed at the EGM on 31 August, and it seems the waters have been calmed.

For now, at least. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from the Red Cow Hotel

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