Political Football Produces 0-0 Draw

As is so often the case, the greater the hype the more the sense of let down.

The FAI and the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport effectively played out  a 0-0 draw in Committee Room 4 yesterday.

In football terms, it was more Mourinho than Klopp, with John Delaney as the main attraction electing instead to make a statement at the outset that effectively put him on the bench throughout.

That’s the substitute’s bench rather than the legal variety. In his statement, he did outline the basics of the €100,000 loan, how the need for a short term injection of cash was required to prevent the FAI exceeding it’s agreed €1.5 million overdraft with its bank, and how that had been managed.

He also said that “I regret the embarrassment that this entire issue has caused to (volunteers, employees and players) and the Association.

If the politicians ranged in semi-circle format in front of him though had expected to dive deeper into the why and the how rather than the what they were to be disappointed.

They had not been expecting an opening statement from the former CEO. They needed to adjourn to read its content before he delivered it so we were even deprived of the throwing of a pencil when he said “On legal advice I am precluded from making any further comments at this hearing in relation to the finances of the Association or my former role as CEO or the €100,000 payment either directly or indirectly. In the interests of fair procedures and natural justice, while I have made this statement to the Committee and have attended this meeting voluntarily as I have attended many Oireachtas Committees in the past, I am not in a position to answer any such questions here at this time.”

The recent Supreme Court ruling into the extent to which Committee’s can probe following the Angela Kerins case was mentioned and that was effectively it.

Committee Chair Fergus O’Dowd had to play referee on a couple of occasions as different members sought to give a little nudge to provoke a response but Delaney has seen enough games and played enough cards in his time to know that in this case, he was to hold his position and not venture forward an inch.

The only time he spoke at any length was in engaging with Kevin O’Keefe, an ally of years gone by when he spoke of personal sacrifice, weekends and nights foregone attending club events up and down the country as well as across Europe.

Trump

We got one smile of any note when reference was made to similarities between his personal fan base in the grassroots game being akin to that of Donald Trump in the US.

Other than that though it felt like the hours to 6 pm would stretch rather than fly.

Donal Conway proved strong in answering on a factual basis but deflected when things came closer to areas of contention.

We did learn a few things that were perhaps already known but still gained something in being told.

The €100,000 was needed because if all the cheques and bank debits that were scheduled for that week in late April of 2017 were cashed, the overdraft would have been exceeded.

It’s a story that will resonate with many individuals and small businesses. Cashflow can be a devil to manage at times.

Noel Rock suggested which individual creditor it was that insisted on a payment that might have been the actual spark for the crisis but while he is covered by parliamentary privilege we will leave it to you, dear reader, to go back over the transcript to see who it was.

We learned that the Honourary Treasurer of the FAI was unaware at the time of the crisis and we will have to assume that the first part of his title is somewhat dominant over the second. A feeling reinforced in discussion over the number of bank accounts the Association has, which had to be clarified by Alex O’Connell, only weeks into the role of Finance Director but having been in the Department so aware of the banking details.

There are 24 as it happens, but one that is the main one for payment of creditors and the one that had to be supported.

UEFA

We didn’t get to hear had the bank been approached to see if they would extend the overdraft. We didn’t get to hear if any discussion had been taken over an approach to UEFA or to Sport Ireland to cover what was likely only a matter of days or weeks.

There was plenty we didn’t get to hear but was the Committee Room of the Oireachtas the place we were ever going to?

To be fair, the questioning was sharper than is often the case, though still hampered and constrained by technicalities and process.

Ruth Coppinger, always one member whose questions deserve tuning into more than many, perhaps summed up the frustration when she said late in the day that the events will have done little to dampen public cynicism over the political process or the governance of the FAI.

John Treacy and Sport Ireland are back again next week. God help anybody in Tourism or Transport that is looking for committee time in April, but it is hard to see what other nuggets might emerge then.

Promises were made to furnish further information on who signed off a press statement which said that the board had been kept informed. Insertion of the two words ‘Members of’ is probably something which Communications Director Cathal Dervan might wish had been done but most of those present know how it was signed off and there will be no surprises.

ODCE

The one real area of concern must be the investigations of the Office for the Director of Corporate Enforcement. If shortcomings in the way the Association was managed as a company are brought forward then that is where action could be taken against the Board or individuals.

We know that Sport Ireland funding will be turned on once the Mazars report is complete and action is taken to implement any recommendations.

It may make things a little harder to manage financially for a period but the Olympic Council have bee there in this current Dáil, as have a number of other sporting bodies and it is a tool which Sport Ireland uses to get organisation to tidy up their operations. They will work with the FAI to get a solution.

The mood from the FAI and from John Delaney yesterday was that the work he will now undertake with UEFA and FIFA is important, will reap significant reward for Ireland and the FAI and, to be honest, kind of needs to be got on with.

He was described as being the best qualified and most suitable person for the role but it would have been easier had it not been so quickly put together.

Is that a crime worthy enough to see his stepping down? Different factions will have different feelings on that but as we stand John Delaney remains in place as Executive Vice President, Rea Walshe as interim CEO and Donal Conway as President.

Will that remain the same as the dust settles and the political spotlight begins to move on or is there more?

Rumour

The swirl of rumour that surrounds the FAI has been there for years. I was told categorically in recent days that John Delaney would have been sacked before the hearing, that he would be gone by midnight last night, that he will be gone by lunchtime today. None of them have proven to be the case.  Where are the facts though to back it up?  Whetehr you like someone or not is perhaps not the best basis on which to determine their future.

There will be a full round of fixtures in the SSE Airtricity League this weekend as there will be at underage level in every town and county in the country.

Eyes will be thrown up to heaven either at the legal defence, at Michael Healy-Rae’s bizarre contribution or at the fact that other people keeping on sticking their noses into ‘our game’.

Sport fires passion. It moves quickly. It needs to be administered. All those things are as true today as they were in April 2017. All those things are happening today just as they were yesterday.

Meanwhile Brexit will take out chunks of the public service for at least another six months, the Childrens Hospital will nudge closer to a €2 billion spend and the Sport for Business Digest needs to be published.

 


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