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Dublin: 5°C Wednesday 3 March 2021

Ruth Coppinger calls on FAI Board to step down in wake of Oireachtas Committee frustration

She referred to John Delaney’s decision not to engage with all questioning as turning the meeting into ‘Hamlet without the Prince.’

FAI accounts should be opened up, according to Dublin West TD. (File pic)
FAI accounts should be opened up, according to Dublin West TD. (File pic)
Image: Leah Farrell

RUTH COPPINGER, TD and member of the Joint Committee of Tourism, Transport and Sport that met with a delegation from the Football Association of Ireland yesterday has called for the Association’s board to step down. 

Coppinger was among the committee members frustrated by the FAI’s Executive Vice-President John Delaney refusal to answer most questions sent his way during the meeting, citing legal advice. 

The committee were unaware that Delaney intended to read an opening statement at the beginning of the meeting, as he had not submitted his remarks by the Monday deadline for advance reading. 

In his statement, Delaney said that “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.”

Toward the end of the committee meeting, Coppinger expressed her frustration with Delaney’s position by saying that, while Delaney was physically present, his failure to answer all of the questions the public expected of him rendered the Committee meeting as akin to “Hamlet without the Prince.” 

Speaking to the media out of session after the conclusion of the Committee meeting, Coppinger repeated her frustration. 

“These late statements brought in at the last minute hadn’t been shown to us and weren’t even going to be shown to us, he was planning on giving it and handing it out.

“It’s quite frustrating that you can’t ask about his salary and his expenses, we were limited to Sport Ireland and that aspect of their funding.” 

Coppinger says that the submission of statements ahead of the Committee hearing is necessary for those asking questions to do research, and says Delaney’s producing of a statement today having not given advance notice is unprecedented. 

“Usually there is a deadline, you are asked to send your opening statements so people can read them and do research. I did along with one of my colleagues, do some research.

We didn’t actually know John Delaney was going to make an opening statement, we hadn’t been told that. So obviously it’s good [that he did give a statement], but all he said was ‘this is all I’m saying’.

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“But to introduce them like that and bring them along at the last minute is unprecedented.” 

Coppinger has now cast doubt as to whether the public will ever learn the full detail behind Delaney’s €100,000 bridging loan to the FAI in April 2017, saying that “I don’t know if we will ever get to the bottom of this loan and why it was given.

“But I do think this is something really serious for the FAI, this is the first time in their history they have had their funding withdrawn. And they do need it, they made that clear in their own statement.” 

When asked if she had any faith in the FAI Board, Coppinger replied, “No. I think the Board should all step down, and I think the books should be opened up completely in terms of expenses – it’s not just salary, expenses can actually amount to more.”

7036 John Delaney_90568383 John Delaney and some of the FAI delegation arrive at Leinster House. Source: Leah Farrell

Coppinger also accentuated some of the things the committee did learn during the course of their lengthy meeting with the FAI. 

It was confirmed during the meeting that the only Board members aware of Delaney’s lodging a loan worth €100,000 at the time it was granted in April 2017 were Delaney (then CEO), Tony Fitzgerald (then-president) and then-Honorary Secretary Michael Cody. The rest of the Board were informed about the loan on 4 March 2019, which contradicts an 18 March statement by the FAI which claimed that “The Board of the FAI has been kept fully informed in relation to this matter at all times.”

The FAI were unable to confirm to the committee who signed off on the publishing of that statement. 

“We did find out that the board claimed they were in the know earlier in this controversy, but they actually weren’t”, said Coppinger. 
That has to be explained, they are in trouble over that. Who sent the press statement? Why did the three who did know this never tell the board?

“It’s actually worse than I thought before the committee meeting because I thought the Board did know about it and it had been discussed. It was a decision of three people.”

Coppinger also said that “the pressure is increased on the FAI” as a result of the suspension of Sport Ireland funding, and asked “how long can it continue that individuals use sports organisations as their personal fiefdoms on very inflated salaries and expenses relative to the size and success of that sport.”

Sport Ireland and Sports minister Shane Ross are due to meet the Oireachtas Committee again next Tuesday. 

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Gavin Cooney

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