Noel Mooney comes to the end of his six months as interim General Manager of the FAI this week. He returns to UEFA after Saturday’s draw for the group stages of Euro 2020 having put in a massive effort at nursing the FAI through perhaps the most critical time in its existence.
The Association was formed in difficult circumstances in 1921 when the staging of a replay between Glenavon and Shelbourne in Belfast rather than Dublin was seen as the straw that broke the camels back in terms of a united approach to football on the island of Ireland.
Preparations to mark the centenary have taken a back seat of late though as governance and financial issues have swamped the Association following the enforced departure of former CEO John Delaney.
Mooney might have hoped for a more positive send-off having been in the hot seat through the first stages of repairing the FAI but news broke yesterday that the KOSI Report commissioned by Sport Ireland to independently audit the finances of the Association was now being passed to Gardaí for ‘consideration and review’.
In a litigious world, it is the right thing to do to be careful though such is the heat that surrounds the relationship between the FAI and its stakeholders that the immediate assumption is that there was criminal activity.
We do not know such a thing and it may be some considerable time before we get to see the contents of the report.
Through the early stages of the crisis we could rely on documents being leaked before time, some almost before the ink was dry but this is getting serious now and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport was reticent to say more than the bare minimum last night in either the Department statement or his letter to Fergus O’Dowd, Chair of the Oireachtas Committee which monitors the department work.
Timeline of Statements
The statement from the department Press Office was released last night just before 6 PM in time for the evening news cycle.
“The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross TD, has received the Final Report of the Independent Audit of the FAI, conducted by KOSI Corporation Ltd, on behalf of Sport Ireland. The Minister said that Sport Ireland has today referred the report to An Garda Síochána. The Minister will not be a position to publish the report or make any comment on its findings at this time.”
33 minutes after the release of the statement the Irish Examiner tweeted a copy of the letter which the Minister had sent to O’Dowd explaining why he could not make a copy of the report available to the Committee. “I regret to inform you that I have received legal advice directing that I do not share the final report with the committee at this time, as to do so would place the document in the public domain. I’m sure you will recognise that the importance that I, as Minster, must afford to the principles of natural justice.”
— Irish Examiner (@irishexaminer) November 27, 2019
The Board of Sport Ireland have considered the report as have officials from the Department. They, together with the Minister and now the Gardaí are the only ones other than the authors who have seen what the report contains.
There will be a few eyes scanning this weekend’s Sunday Times, where the stories around this have consistently broken first, to see if the silence is as profound as the legal advisers would recommend t to be.
The FAI issued their own statement last night at 2045, again in time for the main evening news bulletins and this morning’s mainstream newspapers print versions.
The Board of the Football Association of Ireland notes the contents of a statement released today by Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, in relation to the KOSI Report commissioned by Sport Ireland.
The Board has yet to receive the final report from Sport Ireland that was presented to the Minister. As previously stated, the FAI can confirm that all Government money allocated to the FAI by Sport Ireland was spent appropriately and as intended.
The Board of the FAI and FAI staff are already co-operating fully with the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement in its enquiry into the FAI.
The Football Association of Ireland will co-operate fully with any Garda Siochana investigation into FAI affairs on the back of the decision by the CEO of Sport Ireland to refer the report to An Garda Siochana.
What Comes Next?
The report’s delay will impact now on the willingness of the Independent directors that are a critical next step on the road for the FAI, to confirm their willingness to take up their roles.
That itself will hinder the timing of the search for a new permanent CEO and that delays the whole process of reform that is essential and should be accelerating rather than slowing down.
It is not a straight line between those different elements. It would certainly be prudent for individuals to take care before commitment but given that this could now be months over even years before reaching a final conclusion, perhaps it actually requires that some make the leap of faith that the future can be written independently of the past.
Football will carry on but without clarity on the near €4 million of funding for 2020 and in part for 2019 that would otherwise be expected from Sport Ireland, funding which currently remains suspended, there is a danger that the long term damage of the current impasse will run deeper and deeper.
It will not likely impact on the pathway to qualification for the Euro’s on the Men’s Side or the Women’s side. But it will on the confidence of coaches going out to work this morning around the country trying to foster the next generation of talent.
UEFA have stood by their troubled Irish child through the dark days of 2019 and Mooney has been an important link in that relationship. The next phase will be more about rebuilding relationships at home.
It is almost certain that John Foley, once of Athletics Ireland and who sits alongside us on the Board of the Dublin City Sports and Wellbeing Partnership, will take on that role in the short term.
It will not be an easy job. It is seldom that what is most worth doing is. It has become more difficult with the greater involvement of the law.
It has to continue though.