Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

£500,000 legal threat to IFA chiefs

Irish FA President Raymond Kennedy flies back from Montenegro today to a £516,000 legal threat from his disaffected Windsor Avenue colleagues.

Chief Kennedy and his No2 David Martin will be told at an IFA crisis meeting tonight that they must quit to allow £23million Government funding for a new Windsor Park to be released.

Otherwise their former allies at the IFA are prepared to take legal action to recoup from them the half million pounds they cost football over their botched sacking of former Chief Executive Howard Wells.

Both men initially agreed to resign last month after condemnation in a Government-ordered Sport NI investigation into their roles in the Wells fiasco.

But they continue to cling to power and mixed messages in recent days have led to a new ultimatum from Sports Minister Nelson McCausland over committing public money to a new £30million, 18,000-seater national stadium.

Minister McCausland confirmed: “I would have great difficulty in placing further public funds in the hands of an organisation where these individuals remain in a senior position.”

A Windsor Avenue insider revealed: “The greater good of football is at stake. If the top brass don't now accept their time is up, the soft landing they were promised of continued roles will be removed. The IFA could even launch a bid to recoup the £516,000 their actions cost the association.”

Minister McCauland's bottom line is that, on the grounds of accountability, he will not risk committing such a vast sum of public money to football while those who presided over such a calamitous loss in the Wells case remain in charge.

If they choose to remain, or are kept in office by elements loyal to them and in particular junior football kingpin Martin's powerful voting lobby, there will not be Government funding for football, and by definition no new national stadium for football, while rugby and gaelic games press ahead.

And lest anyone in their IFA heirarchy believes a game of bluff is being played, Sport NI has already been put on notice to freeze ALL future grants and funding to the game at all levels. The choice is simple and stark.

Both men initially signalled their intention to resign after an acrimonious, day-long meeting with Executive Board colleagues, early in July, immediately after the bombshell of the Government ultimatum was delivered.

That followed a DCAL-ordered Sport NI inquiry into the IFA's handling of the Wells case and subsequent £516,000 payout in legal and out of court settlement costs to Wells.

Fellow Executive Board members, who two weeks earlier had endorsed their unopposed re-election to the top jobs, and, at the time of the Wells sacking, rubber stamped their decision to oust him, suddenly turned turtle on Kennedy and Martin.

To say the pair felt betrayed by their committee brethren would be an understatement.

Nevertheless they appeared to bow to the inevitable and agreed to go.

A requested stay of execution allowed Kennedy to remain in office until next month's meeting of the IFA Council when he pledged to resign amid public fury at FIFA and UEFA perks and positions he sought to keep. An additional hoped-for consultancy place on the new stadium steering commitee was rejected out of hand by Minister McCausland.

David Martin, whose resignation was announced ‘with immediate effect' last month, is also believed to have secured a package of continued roles within the IFA.

But Martin then reappeared, unchallenged, to take charge of a meeting last week of the Executive Board which was supposed to have sanctioned him.

Since then mixed messages have surrounded both his and, especially, Kennedy's intentions.

At the same time junior football inspired proposals to restructure the Executive Board raised suspicions at DCAL and Sport NI and also among the IFA's pro-change factions that an exercise in moving the goalposts was underway.

Again, determined Minister McCausland has made clear, that in terms of his release of funding to the IFA, he would not countenance any changes that do not involve both Kennedy and Martin leaving office.

So it is make your mind up time all round at the IFA — for Raymond Kennedy; for David Martin; for those with the power to keep them in office and those who believe the two leaders now have to be sacrificed for the greater, long term good.

Hence the attempt to bring about an end game at an IFA meeting tonight that will call on both men to declare their hands.

It could also turn into a game of hard ball with the soft landing option of staying involved in some shape or form removed if they refuse to go on the terms previously agreed.

And, more drastically still, an attempt to claw back that £516,000 from them. If the IFA cannot sort it out for themselves, the men in wigs could yet again be called upon to do it for them.

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