Niall Quinn with Gary Owens (right) at yesterday's announcement of a package to save the FAI. Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Moving On

FAI chief Owens explains process of hiring Niall Quinn and gives further clarity on salary

Quinn, meanwhile, compared the saving of the FAI from financial implosion favourably to his playing days.

THE FAI’S NEW Interim CEO Gary Owens has explained the process by which Niall Quinn was appointed to a role with the Association last week. 

Quinn, having made it known he would be interested in assuming a role with the FAI while ruling himself out of becoming full-time CEO, was appointed as Interim Deputy CEO of the FAI last week. 

The creation of such a role was not among the governance reforms recommended by the Governance Review Group report of last year, and the role was not publicly advertised. 

Speaking yesterday, after the government’s financial rescue package of the FAI was announced, Owens told reporters that he went through a “very difficult nomination process” and then proposed to the Board that Quinn be appointed as his deputy on an interim basis. 

That decision was ratified by the FAI Board. 

“As a chief executive I decided that we are only in on an interim basis”, said Owens, “we need to hit the ground running and I need the best people around me and I decided that I needed to bring in Niall, because we need to regain public trust with all of the stakeholders, including sponsors, and he was the best person that I could think of to come in.

“My strengths are going to be on restructuring, reorganising the Association to the way that it should be organised. Niall is great on the brand and the sponsorship side and as a team I think we are very strong.

“I put it to the board and it was passed. It is an interim position. Bear in mind that anything that we want to do in the long-term will have to go through a very rigorous process.” 

Earlier, Owens described Quinn as “a good public brand with sponsors” in the context of restoring public trust and confidence in the FAI. 

When he was appointed, Quinn said he would take a salary that is “a fraction of what the old gang were paid”  and he had deferred it until there was clarity around redundancies at the Association. 

Yesterday’s funding announcement led Owens to say that he expects few, if any, redundancies at the FAI, but he did not clarify as to whether Quinn would now begin to draw his salary. 

He did say, however, that his own remuneration is around a quarter of the €360,000 paid annually to former CEO John Delaney, while his and Quinn’s combined pay amounts to “about a third” of Delaney’s salary. 

gary-owens Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“Niall and I are taking a combined salary that is significantly less than anybody has ever taken”, said Owens. “It was less than they even offered us.” 

Owens and Quinn are past associates: both were listed as members of a self-titled “Visionary Group” that last year published an ambitious blueprint for the development of Irish football. Independent FAI Chairperson Roy Barrett was also a member of this group, and Owens was asked if he understands some supporters’ doubts and suspicion given the trio’s relatively sudden arrival.

“I understand everybody’s suspicion”, said Owens.

“Listen, I could work in the commercial world for a lot more money than I’m actually getting for this. I started playing football a long time ago at St Joseph’s, I love the game, I go to international matches, so we’ve came together to try and make change.

“So time will judge us. Ultimately you only win people over by doing the right things. We’ll be absolutely open and transparent in gaining trust.” 

With the FAI in deep financial trouble having racked up debts of €62 million and needing an injection of around €18 million to meet short-term debts, they have received a financial rescue package from the government, Uefa and Bank of Ireland. 

The contribution of the latter pair was not disclosed at their request, but the government have doubled the FAI’s State funding to €5.8 million from 2020 to 2023, and also agreed to give the Association an annual, interest-free loan of €2.54 million across the next three years to meet their debts on the Avivia Stadium.

The loan will be paid directly to the stadium holding company that is joint-owned by the FAI and IRFU, and is repayable from 2024 with a date by which the loan must be fully repaid not yet set. 

Sports Minister Shane Ross said this is not a State bailout of the FAI, but instead “a highly conditioned loan and grant.”

Among the conditions are that former FAI Board members are not allowed to be appointed to any FAI Board Committees (former Board member John Earley was recently appointed to the FAI’s High-Performance Committee); that the number of independent directors on the 12-person FAI Board be increased from four to six; that all low to middle-income FAI employees are insulated from mandatory redundancy for 18 months; and that the remuneration of the CEO is kept in line with the government’s pay guidelines. 

Quinn does not agree that these conditions are onerous. 

“No, because they’re for the right reasons and they’re the right thing to do to reach best practice”, Quinn told reporters. 

“We must be seen to have the best governance that’s available coming out of the previous chaotic regime.

“We must rebuild trust with all stakeholders and to do that the government have put some serious tasks in front of us to achieve. But that’s the great bit: we’re here talking about achieving tasks in football that we couldn’t have done 48 hours ago.”

Quinn, once Ireland’s record-goalscorer, compared yesterday’s announcement favourably to his playing career. 

“Truthfully? I left this morning and my wife said I haven’t seen you like this since you played. And I think she’s dead right. This is a brilliant day for football in Ireland. It’s manna from heaven, really. It’s the chance to put Irish football back on track. And what a deck of cards to be given to play with.We’re not holding a bad hand anymore. We’re now holding a good hand.” 

Among the commitments the FAI have made in return for government funding is that they will “support clubs in leveraging all sources of capital funding to improve League of Ireland grounds throughout the country”, and Quinn made clear that he will consistently make the case for investment in Irish football. 

“Our value has never been recognised in this country”, said Quinn.

It’ll start in 2020 when the exchequer, who gave us some money today, will get €30 million [from Euro 2020 games staged in Dublin]. That’s the start, through League of Ireland, grassroots, amateur football, ladies football, which we’ll be investing heavily in. We will get to see far bigger impacts on social economy.

“I’ll not be shy, whether I’m still here as Deputy CEO – you’ll see from the terms, I’m not even sure if that role will exist in time – wherever I am, I’ll still bang the message. If it’s on TV where all of this started, or if it’s here representing the Association or in Dáil Eireann, I’ll be letting everyone know in time the value of football to this country.

“We got the support today and we will build on it and pay it back in abundance.” 

roy-barrett Roy Barrett. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Quinn echoed a message that Shane Ross has voiced in recent weeks, that the arrival of independent directors Barrett, Catherine Guy and Liz Joyce on the Board has changed the mood music in discussions to save the FAI. 

“As Gary and I were appointed it was felt this journey was moving in the right direction. Uefa have said as much: that these last few weeks changed everything, and the banks will say the same thing. If you were to pick one hero it’s Roy Barrett, whose skillset is phenomenal.

“I know there’s been good people in the Association previously but we’ve never had a person of his ability to lead from the front.

“We’re lucky to have him. He’s the one that’s given us the all the confidence that this could happen. It mightn’t have been a bad idea that there was an election around the corner either.” 

A fourth independent director is due to be appointed to the FAI Board, and Roy Barrett said yesterday that his/her arrival remains “a number of weeks” away. 


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