FAI CEO Jonathan Hill arrives at government buildings. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Political Football

FAI CEO Jonathan Hill sees his pay rise by 23%

Hill and the FAI appeared before an Oireachtas Committee this afternoon.

THE SALARY OF Jonathan Hill, the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), has increased by almost 23% to €258,000 since he first took the job in 2020, he told an Oireachtas Sport Committee today. 

Hill was part of a delegation from the FAI meeting the Committee on what was initially supposed to be a discussion about their infrastructure plan, but instead came to be dominated by a governance issue that saw State funding to the football body suspended for a period this year. 

Under the terms of the 2020 State bailout [MOU] of the FAI, the CEO’s remuneration must not exceed that of a secretary general of a government department. A Sport Ireland audit earlier this year found that Hill’s pay was approximately €20,000 over the permitted threshold, owing to benefit in kind on travel expenses along with cash paid in lieu of holiday days not taken. 

State funding to the FAI was suspended as a result, but was resumed on 1 December after Sport Ireland were satisfied that the issues had been addressed by the FAI, and Hill had repaid the €20,000. The FAI said this was an “unintentional” breach of the bailout agreement. 

In his opening statement, Hill issued an apology for the episode. 

“While we have made strong progress on governance reform, we recognise that those events have placed the spotlight on Irish football for all the wrong reasons and have evoked memories of the recent past which we know Irish football needs to move on from.”

Under questioning from TD Alan Dillon, Hill revealed his gross annual salary across the four years in which he has been CEO of the FAI. In 2020 it started at €211,000, and then increased to €217,000 in 2021. In 2022 it jumped to €250,000, and in 2023 it came to €258,000. There is a further pension and benefit allowance on top of that, and FAI accounts show Hill’s total remuneration in 2022 was €282,812.

It was explained that Hill’s salary has increased in line with increases granted to secretaries-general across those years. Deputy Dillon questioned whether the FAI’s benchmark figure is “the target or is the limit” of Hill’s salary. The bailout agreement states that the CEO’s remuneration “will be in line with government pay guidelines (i.e. no greater than the remuneration of officers in the grade of Secretary General).” 

Speaking to reporters after the meeting and outside the Committee room, Hill was asked if his salary rises in line with that of a secretary general. 

“That’s what my contract says”, he replied. “It has to be approved by the board and discussed by the board. It’s exactly what my contract says, yes.” 

During the Committee meeting, Hill said the average pay increase across all employees at the FAI since his appointment was 12%. Hill was asked by reporters after the meeting whether these differences in pay increase may impact staff morale. 

“I think staff are now fully aware of it because it is fully reported in the media”, he replied.  “That was not something I asked for, it was something that was offered as part of the contract negotiation, as part of the MOU. That’s how the contract is structured. As always, the board will look at that and review it.”

Much of the meeting focused on how and why Hill was granted the payment in lieu of holiday pay that contributed to the breach of the MOU. Hill was allowed to convert 12 days of untaken holiday leave into a net cash worth of approximately €6,000 despite the fact that is forbidden under the terms of the FAI employee handbook. 

Hill said the issue first arose in 2022, beginning with a discussion regarding a separate junior member of staff who was unable to take holiday leave owing to exceptional circumstances. Hill said this conversation involved former chairman Roy Barrett, former finance director Alex O’Connell, and the current people and culture director, Aoife Rafferty. 

Hill said he first found out the payments would be made to him in March but added that he was aware of the earlier conversation about the junior member of staff in December. He said he had “never contemplated the possibility” of seeking cash for his holiday days.

Asked if he had asked to be paid for the unused days off, Hill said: “I didn’t push it, I wasn’t asking for it.”

He told the committee that the FAI was not “aware of the implications” of coming out of compliance with the MOU at the time the decision was made.

Alan Dillon called this a “cock and bull story”, and called for the FAI to submit all of the relevant emails to this issue in advance of their scheduled appearance before the Public Accounts Committee next February.  

Meanwhile, much focus was placed on the role played by former chairman Roy Barrett, who took responsibility for the issue at the FAI’s AGM on Saturday. 

In December last year, Barrett sought the opinion of FAI board member Liz Joyce – a HR expert who chairs the FAI’s remuneration committee – as to whether the FAI should give Hill cash in lieu of holiday days. 

She told today’s committee, “my opinion was it wasn’t good practice and I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Barrett nonetheless granted the money in February of this year, believing he had the discretion to do so, saying it was a decision “made in good faith and in the best interests of the Association.” 

roy-barrett-and-david-courell Roy Barrett (left) and COO David Courell arrive at Leinster House. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Liz Joyce said she assumed the money wasn’t granted as she heard nothing more about it until September of this year, when it was subject to the Sport Ireland audit. “It was a surprise to me”, said Joyce. 

Another board member, Packie Bonner – who joined the meeting remotely via Microsoft Teams – revealed he wasn’t informed about the holiday pay until 1 November this year, nine days before it broke in the press. “That’s disappointing for me”, Bonner told the committee.

Barrett said he did not make a conscious decision to withhold the information from the board, saying he assumed the executive would inform the FAI’s remuneration committee about the decision. 

Chris Andrews TD called the episode a “throwback to the John Delaney era”, while Imelda Munster TD said she “didn’t get the vibe that lessons have been learned” at the FAI. 

Sport Ireland CEO Una May said her organisation are “disappointed” by what she termed as “missteps”, but said the FAI have made “phenomenal progress” on embedding a suite of governance overhauls, saying the FAI have so far complied with 97% of the 163 MOU recommendations. 

Meanwhile, Chris Andrews praised the FAI’s infrastructure plan as a “strong and positive document.” Following an audit of the country’s football facilities, the FAI say they require €893 million over the next 15 years to bring infrastructure up to the standard of other European countries. As part of that plan, the FAI are requesting €517m from government. 

Cian Ó Lionáin, assistant secretary with the Department of Sport, was also in attendance at today’s meeting, and described the FAI’s infrastructure plan as “very ambitious, in the context of current funding levels.” 

He pointed out that under the plan, the FAI’s ask of central government alone is €34.46 million per year, which is almost exactly the entirety of the annual sports capital and equipment programme budget (€34.535 million.)

He nonetheless said the FAI’s document is “useful” ahead of upcoming talks with the Department of Public Expenditure, as they seek to greatly enlarge their share of the State coffers, and thus what is available for sports infrastructure projects. 

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