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Some compromise on the cards ahead of crucial FAI vote on bailout deal

A virtual vote to effectively rescue the FAI from insolvency will go ahead next Monday.

FAI HQ at Abbottstown.
FAI HQ at Abbottstown.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

THE FAI’S CRUCIAL vote on rule changes necessary to release state funds will go ahead next Monday evening, although it will be a virtual vote staged at Abbottstown in line with the government’s latest Covid-19 guidelines. 

The rules need a two-thirds majority to pass. 

The FAI must adopt a series of rule changes as agreed in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Independent Chair Roy Barrett and then-Sports Minister Shane Ross to release some €30.75 million in state funding to rescue the football body from insolvency. 

Discord and division erupted in public earlier this month over both the terms and the signing of the MoU, resulting in a stormy meeting of the FAI Council at the Red Cow Hotel three weeks ago. 

A proposal to change the board of management from a split of eight elected football directors and four independent directors to an even six/six split caused the greatest controversy, as critics claimed this would lead to the Association’s sovereignty, given the independent chairperson has the casting vote in the event of a split vote. 

Forecasts of a split between the two sets of directors were then overshadowed by the real thing ahead of that Council meeting, as the eight football directors issues a personal statement rebuking interim CEO Gary Owens over his claim in an interview that the football directors signed off on the MoU in advance of it being signed. 

roy-barrett Roy Barrett. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

This wasn’t the case: they saw the MoU the morning it was signed, with Roy Barrett putting pen to paper in spite of emails from board members raising issue with some of its terms. Barrett says he had the mandate to do this, as previous board meetings made it clear to him his job was to rescue the FAI from its dire financial situation. 

Board unity was restored – in public, at least – at the Red Cow Hotel meeting, as all present board members raised their hands when asked from the floor whether they considered the board united. 

That unity was further strengthened last night, as voting members were informed last night that the full Board endorses the rule changes necessary to enact the state bailout. 

There has, however, been a couple of compromises ahead of the vote, as the hierarchy seeks to diminish fears of a potential loss of sovereignty at the FAI. 

The six/six split remains, but the FAI are proposing a future rule change to give the casting vote in the event of a split vote back to the elected President rather than the Chairperson.

They are also proposing changing the quorum for a board meeting from six to seven people, to eliminate the possibility of decisions being made in the complete absence of a football or independent director. 

Members were also told they have the power to change the six/six split after the MoU expires in 2024. 

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It’s proposed that the national leagues and adult amateur football will each lose a seat on the FAI board under the six/six split, with a new board to be elected at the end of March next year. 

In a set of Frequently Asked Questions around the issues at stake at the EGM, members were told the six/six split was insisted upon by Shane Ross, and that new minister Catherine Martin has said the issue is not open for renegotiation.

There is some ongoing negotiation with Sport Ireland and the government over another term of the MoU, that Council members with more than 10 years’ service must stand down this year.

The FAI hope to replace this with a fit and proper persons’ test that does not take into account longevity, but, as it stands, the government are not for turning on that issue.

gary-owens Gary Owens. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Elsewhere, the FAI hierarchy explained why a number of board sub-committees have yet to either meet or be fully populated, a fact that has drawn intense criticism.

Corporate governance expert Niamh Brennan has raised her surprise that Finance and Audit Committees at the FAI have not been meeting, while Finance Committee member Andrew Doyle resigned in a blistering email to Roy Barrett, labelling the FAI’s governance “appalling.” 

The FAI gave a series of reasons as to why these committees have yet to meet: the sheer amount of work in front of the board, much of which has been dominated by issues of finance and the MoU; the lack of vetting process regarding election to these committees; the changes at CEO and executive level causing a transition process which led to these issues being “parked temporarily”; the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic; and the fact the board are “not 100% convinced in all cases that we have the right configuration of business and football committees.” 

Meanwhile, the process to hire a full-time CEO is continuing. The FAI have not had a permanent CEO since John Delaney became Executive-Vice President on a Saturday evening in Gibraltar in March last year. 

Recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson drew up a shortlist of candidates who were either identified or applied for the job, and they have interviewed candidates for the role. 

Interviews of a shortlist of candidates are expected to take place soon. 

Interim CEO Gary Owens has yet to publicly indicate as to whether he has applied for the role on a permanent basis, and sources indicate he remained coy on the matter when speaking to Council members last night. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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