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Comfort breaks, a Healy-Rae and Brexit? John Delaney's 'long' day at Leinster House

Ruth Coppinger said that Delaney’s refusal to fully engage with all questions, citing legal advice, turned today’s hearing into “Hamlet without the prince.”

John Delaney arrives at Leinster House with President Donal Conway.
John Delaney arrives at Leinster House with President Donal Conway.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

JUST AFTER 6PM today, John Delaney brushed by the journalists waiting to ask him questions as he left Committee Room 4 at government buildings, explaining that he had a “long day.”

Long… but hardly taxing.

Delaney was described by the FAI’s Honorary Life President Denis O’Brien in the John the Baptist documentary as being “made of different characters really; he is a collage of people”, but today this sporting administrator of infinite versatility allowed the other characters in the room to do the talking.

The FAI delegation arrived at around 9.45am; Delaney among them wearing a Uefa-branded jacket. The committee meeting began at 10am and was twice adjourned within its first hour.

First, President Donal Conway unexpectedly produced a Grant Thornton ‘verified’ report about the €100,000 loan, to which the committee took 10 minutes to read.

Then it was announced that John Delaney would make an opening statement, which also hadn’t been anticipated.

Although Donal Conway’s address had been submitted to the Committee on Monday, Delaney’s oddly wasn’t. So the committee took another 15 minutes to read Delaney’s statement…and then took another 15 minutes in private session to consider its implications.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The kicker line: “On legal advice, I am prevented from making any further comment in relation to the finances of the Association or my former role as CEO or the €100,000 payment either directly or indirectly.”

At the resumption, Delaney read the statement. 

Then, at 11.52am, he faced his first question, from Catherine Murphy.

There was a brief pause as Delaney wrote on the notepad in front of him, then he laid down his pen, lifted his head and replied, “Deputy, I’ve made it clear from my statement that on legal advice, I can’t add anything to what I’ve said.”

President Donal Conway then took on the job of answering the questions that came the delegation’s way.

When Robert Troy pressed Delaney for an answer in response to a question about Bray Wanderers, Conway said he’d respond; a back-and-forth ended with Chair Fergus O’Dowd flicking over Delaney’s statement and deciding that Conway should take the question.

Delaney remained mute until 12.24pm, when he asked to leave the room for a “comfort break.”

This was presumably meant as a break from the comfort.

Later, Ruth Coppinger asked Delaney whether he felt it is fair he is answerable to the general public, to which he replied, “I’ve read my statement as it is”, and left it at that.

At the lunch-time interval, Delaney’s score of Questions Answered to Comfort Breaks Taken read 3-2: he took another as Senator Mark Daly argued that he deserved more time after a rambling, confusing oration on the need for gender equality.

It veered via Brexit  - “all the women” would have solved it by this stage, apparently – and didn’t end in a question, so he spent much of his allotted time foostering about, forlornly foraging for a full stop or a question mark in conduct unbecoming of a man who finished third in a reality TV show called Treasure Island.

Amid it all, President Donal Conway did the talking.

We learned at least that three members of the board – then-CEO John Delaney, then-president Tony Fitzgerald and then-Honorary Secretary Michael Cody – knew about the April 2017 cash flow issue and Delaney’s decision to loan the Association €100,000.

The rest of the Board learned of the issue on 4 March this year, which contradicts the FAI’s 18 March statement saying that the “the Board of the FAI has been kept fully informed in relation to this matter at all times.”

The FAI, however, couldn’t confirm who signed off on this public statement, with Director of Communications Cathal Dervan saying that he will furnish the Committee with that information when he returns to work at Abbottstown.

When questioning Conway about the loan, Catherine Murphy contended that the issue was “managed out of sight of the board”, to which the President replied with an FAI quote for the ages.

It was managed the way it was managed.

Put that over the door at Abbottstown.

We broke for lunch with Chair Fergus O’Dowd asking the FAI to consider “regime change” during lunch, albeit probably not expecting them to enact it over the course of 75 minutes.

After lunch, a lot of the attention switched away from Delaney and Conway, although Michael Healey Rae didn’t get that memo as he launched a lengthy hagiography of Delaney, declaring that if the former CEO was guilty of anything, it was of working hard for the Association; promising Delaney “what I call ‘the mother of all welcomes when you come to Kerry.”

Coppinger retorted by calling Healy-Rae a “joke”, given he hadn’t actually asked a question. Healy-Rae isn’t a member of the committee, but was entitled to turn up and he had sat patiently in the room since 10am to deliver his support to Delaney.

Having not spoken during the first half of the day, Honorary Treasurer Eddie Murray was then brought into the fray by Noel Rock and Jonathan O’Brien, and Murray’s squirming under questioning brought a series of startling revelations.

As the FAI’s Honorary Treasurer, he said he didn’t feel undermined having not been informed about the loan, and he could not independently say whether the FAI have always had an active tax clearance certificate. 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The Honorary Treasurer also said that he believed the FAI had one bank account; the Association’s delegation clarified just less than an hour later that they have 24 of them.  

Just the 23 off, then.

Elsewhere, when pressed repeatedly on whether the FAI Board would step down if Sport Ireland make it a condition of the reinstating of their funding, Conway eventually said that “we will not jeopardise sports council funding, so we’ll take whatever action we have to take.”

There was one final break, during which a group of schoolchildren arrived into the Committee room on a tour. The FAI delegation returned before they left, allowing Delaney to shake the hand of every student in a brief return to the kind of work he may find himself denied in his new role.

Frustration fomented among the committee members across the day: Robert Troy decried the FAI for being “evasive and non-committal”, saying that the outside perception is that the Board is a “cartel”; Imelda Munster reckoned there were people looking on saying ‘scarlet for ya’ and said she believed Delaney had behaved “disgracefully”; Ruth Coppinger said that while Delaney was present physically, his refusal to answer the questions the public expected of him meant the whole show was akin to “Hamlet without the Prince.”

With its full cast, Hamlet is considered a tragedy.

What do we call this?

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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