The FAI is box office and it is dominating both front and back pages this week. The team selection to play the opening rounds of the Euro 2020 Qualifiers away to Gibraltar and at home to Georgia are of special interest with Mick McCarthy in charge for the first time.
The focus though across most newsrooms is on matters off the pitch with the loan of €100,000, paid back in full two months later, from CEO John Delaney to the Association.
Each night since the story broke at the weekend there has been a statement issued by the FAI’s new Communications Director Cathal Dervan outlining how questions are being addressed as they arise.
Last night at 19:33 we received the following statement:
“The Football Association of Ireland confirms that a reply has been sent to John Treacy, CEO of Sport Ireland, in relation to a letter received on behalf of Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross on Tuesday.”
“The FAI has answered all queries raised in the letter from Mr Treacy and looks forward to his response.”
“The FAI are also willing to meet with Minister Ross and Sport Ireland to discuss these matters further.”
“The FAI has also written to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement offering clarification on any issues raised by a 2017 bridging loan made by Chief Executive Officer John Delaney to the Association and will answer any questions that the ODCE may have.”
“The FAI also acknowledges that we are invited to appear in the front of the Oireachtas Committee on Sport on Wednesday, April 10.”
The story is covered by all media this morning but in an unusual turn based on previous history, nobody has published any leaks from the response to the Sport Ireland letter.
Most media play the story straight, reporting the facts but the Independent and the Times take a different perspective on comments from an Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Both report his comments that he thought the loan was ‘a bit unusual’ but only the Times goes on to report his answer to a follow-up question that it was a matter for the FAI board to resolve and no, he did not think it was a matter where the CEO should step aside.
The Independent instead focused in its headline on ‘FAI Refuses to Clarify if Delaney will attend Oireachtas hearing.’
In fact, an FAI spokesperson merely refused to go beyond the statement, which is hardly unusual. We consider it highly unlikely that Delaney would not appear before the Committee and while we will acknowledge that we are wrong if he does not appear, the insinuation in the headline goes beyond fair reporting.
In another dig the same paper questions the invitation of members of the committee to ‘a drinks reception’ in early April. Is the suggestion this is some form of softening. Actually, it is the draw for the Euro U17 Tournament being staged in Ireland this year, one of UEFA’s biggest events of the summer and bringing sixteen teams from around the continent to Dublin, Longford and Waterford. Surely reason enough for a political appearance alongside UEFA’s big guns.
The inclusion of the ODCE in the mix is natural given the strict guidelines that surround company law and it has to be hoped that whatever clarification around the loan was offered will head off any further investigation.
We have sat in on a number of Oireachtas Committee hearings and while much of them are taken up with the procedural right of all members to be heard, there will be a higher than usual spike in those looking to attend on April 10th as well as in those watching on Oireachtas TV.
It can only be hoped that events on the field will have delivered six points in the race to compete in Euro 2020 on home soil by the time the Committee’s pencils have been sharpened.