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Ireland FAI crisis: Varadkar now ready to step in

06:45  08 december  2019
06:45  08 december  2019 Source:   independent.ie

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a man wearing a suit and tie: JOHN DELANEY: Massive payouts from the FAI. Picture: Sportsfile © SPORTSFILE JOHN DELANEY: Massive payouts from the FAI. Picture: Sportsfile

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pledged to save grassroots football as fears grow over the potential impact on local clubs from the ongoing controversy surrounding the finances of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).

Speaking to the Sunday Independent last night, the Taoiseach said: “We’ll definitely try to find a way to ensure that grassroots, schoolboys and women’s football doesn’t suffer.”

He added: “The women’s team is being funded directly through a mechanism that bypasses the FAI”.

Mr Varadkar’s intervention was supported by Minister for Sport Shane Ross who said he was “exploring” ways to support clubs which may be affected by the FAI’s financial problems.

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The FAI has suggested an emergency general meeting is held in July to establish a new board. Former FAI CEO John Delaney had offered to step aside on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government shares the anger of football fans and concerns of taxpayers about how the FAI has been run.

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“[The] Government is committed to helping the FAI return to good governance so that public confidence and government funding can be restored,” the minister told the Sunday Independent. 

The minister said he had asked Sport Ireland to help the struggling football association after it was revealed the FAI has a staggering €55m debt following the exit of controversial chief executive John Delaney.

“In the meantime, I am looking at ways to fund programmes through alternative means,” Mr Ross said.

“Only this week, we announced €195,000 for the women’s national team to be paid through an intermediary.

“I am exploring other such options for funding. We also await details of the FAI refinancing plans which will help steady the ship,” he added.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is surprised by the revelations surrounding the Football Association of Ireland and its finances and said questions have to be answered. The FAI has said that John Delaney will take a "substantial" salary reduction after he stepped down as Chief Executive and

The FAI has been in crisis since news emerged in March of a 100,000 euro loan given to the Delaney. A number of investigations are ongoing into the financial affairs of the FAI , and government funding has also been suspended since Delaney's departure from the association in September.

Last Friday, the true scale of the FAI’s liabilities emerged along with details of Mr Delaney’s €462,000 exit package which he received when he stepped down in September.

The dire state of the association’s books will be of huge concern to thousands of football clubs around the country which depend on the FAI for financial support.

There are 2,700 football clubs across the country and around 180,000 registered football players.

The 2017 FAI annual report states that the association’s “development and operating grants were €2.3m — which shows our commitment to providing funding at all levels of the game”.

Speaking on RTE Radio One yesterday, football pundit Eamon Dunphy warned the collapse of the FAI’s finances will have a devastating impact on members of local clubs

“They do it because they love  the game, they love their community and they provide for  young people and imagine what the morale must be like,” he said.

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Gerry Carroll, chairman of Galway-based club Knocknacarra FC, said that the club relies on the FAI to provide a professional development plan for the Galway side.

"If the funding isn't there to provide that plan, it will stall our coaching here or the standard of coaching here. I hope that it won't impact on us, but I expect that it will," he told RTE.

Separately, Siptu has demanded an urgent meeting with FAI management to address the concerns of the 200 staff who work for the organisation.

Meanwhile, senior fraud squad detectives and officials from the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) are due to meet tomorrow to discuss the findings of an independent audit of the FAI's finances.

At the meeting, gardai will determine how and who will investigate concerns outlined in the audit by Northern Irish firm KOSI.

The ODCE has been investigating the football association since last March, and gardai are now seeking to determine whether the findings of the KOSI report may require that the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau set up a separate criminal investigation.

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17 March: News of John Delaney's €100,000 bridging loan to the FAI is reported. 19 March: Sport Ireland say they were not notified about FAI 's financial issues. 21 March: The FAI confirm that John Delaney will appear before the Oireachtas Committee.

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The Sunday Independent has learned that the KOSI report found the FAI covered the cost of Mr Delaney's personal legal actions.

Two sources confirmed Mr Delaney would also keep all damages he received from any legal actions he took against media organisations. The report found the former chief executive did not use any of the damages that he was awarded to cover the FAI's legal costs.

Last Friday, FAI executive lead Paul Cooke insisted the association was solvent and added that he was confident of reaching a refinancing deal on the organisation's €29m bank debts.

Mr Cooke said a "robust" business plan was being put into place and predicted that the association would break even by 2022 or 2023.

Mr Cooke also said suggestions the FAI could sell its stake in the Aviva Stadium were wide of the mark, though the association's debt on the stadium will now be subjected to a 15-year mortgage.

He said an exit package had been agreed with Mr Delaney in September amounting to €462,000. This was made up of a payment in lieu of notice of €90,000 and a contribution to his pension fund of €372,000.

Mr Cooke insisted that this was the "full and final" settlement.

"There is no ongoing liability, relationship, nothing. It has been paid. There is nothing else to be paid," Mr Cooke said.

The settlement, he said, arose out of two contracts given to Mr Delaney in 2014, one for €2m and one for €1m.

Mr Cooke said the first was a pension-type payment kicking in from 2021 and the other was a loyalty bonus "which kicked in immediately".

"This exposed us at the end of 2021 to a potential liability of €3m. This had not been reflected in the previous years' accounts," he said.

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