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Dublin: 1 °C Wednesday 26 February, 2020

FAI turn down latest invite to appear before Oireachtas Sport Committee

Minister Shane Ross and Sport Ireland will appear at Leinster House tomorrow, however.

An FAI delegation arrive for an Oireachtas Committee meeting in April.
An FAI delegation arrive for an Oireachtas Committee meeting in April.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

THE BOARD OF the Football Association of Ireland have turned down an invite to appear before a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport tomorrow. 

In a letter to the Committee earlier today, FAI Chief Operating Officer Rea Walshe wrote that the FAI are not in a position to appear at Leinster House tomorrow, as the board’s “undivided attention” must instead go to “the financial restructuring necessary to safeguard jobs, the FAI’s financial future and the appointment of an Independent Chairperson and three independent Directors” to the FAI board. 

These are the same reasons as were given for the FAI’s turning down an invite to appear before the Committee last week. Ms. Walshe wrote today that the FAI will be happy to appear before the Committee once these measures are complete. 

Committee chair Fergus O’Dowd said he was “very disappointed” by the FAI’s absence, adding “I believe a number of very important questions on the future of football in Ireland need to be addressed as soon as possible.”

Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien, also a member of the Committee, said he is “deeply frustrated at the attitude of the FAI in once again refusing to attend and answer the many, many questions that need to be asked and answered.

People have legitimate and urgent questions including the workers at the FAI and the thousands of volunteers. The questions must be publicly answered. The FAI’s reply stated they will attend when issues have been sorted out. That is an undefined period and is unacceptable.”

The Committee invited all members of the FAI board to appear before them, attaching particular importance to the presence of outgoing president Donal Conway, given he is the last remaining board member from John Delaney’s tenure as CEO. 

Although the FAI will be absent, tomorrow’s Committee meeting will be attended by Minister for Sport Shane Ross, Minister of State Brendan Griffin, and Sport Ireland. 

The minister is expected to further outline plans to restore state funding to grassroots organisations in a way that circumvents the FAI. 

The FAI last night met with Ministers Ross and Griffin, which the football body described as an “open and honest meeting”, at which they laid out their current financial position and ongoing process of reform. 

Accounts published earlier this month show the FAI are carrying net liabilities of €55 million, and are negotiating a refinancing package with their bank. The seriousness of their financial position is underlined by the fact the Association’s auditors Deloitte refused to sign off that the FAI remain a going concern.

Minister Ross offered more details of the 90-minute meeting afterwards, saying the FAI’s reform process is “still far from complete.”

A crucial landmark in the reform process is the appointment of independent directors to the FAI board, which is being held up as the nominated chairperson analyses concerns and issues within the football body. The other three nominated independents will be briefed on those concerns. 

Some sources indicate the nominated directors are baulking at accepting their roles until they see the independent KOSI audit of the FAI, which was commissioned by Sport Ireland earlier this year and was last month referred to Gardaí. 

The report has not been submitted to the Oireachtas Committee by Minister Ross under legal advice, and Donal Conway has referred to the report as being in “quarantine.” 

Minister Ross said last night that the KOSI audit found the FAI are “unfit to receive government funding”, and added he will seek a meeting with European governing body Uefa in the coming days. 

The FAI are being at least partly kept afloat by the early drawdown of funds payable by Uefa. The Minister refused to countenance a government bailout of the FAI.

Siptu representatives are to meet Ross tomorrow to seek assurances for the future of workers employed at the FAI.

In a statement released in advance of the meeting, Siptu Sector Organiser Denis Hynes said: “The financial and management situation of the FAI is in a critical condition and its hard-working staff, who played no part in creating this crisis, require assurances that their jobs and livelihoods will be protected.

“We are hoping that we can explore all options with the minister at the meeting tomorrow and that these workers can obtain some assurance that that their jobs will be protected, notwithstanding the changes required to the structures and management of the FAI.”

The meeting will also be attended the Siptu’s Divisional Organiser Teresa Hannick and by representatives of the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland, which is affiliated with Siptu.

Additional reporting by Christina Finn and Órla Ryan

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Gavin Cooney

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