Top level resignations could rock the Irish FA after a ‘damning’ Government-ordered inquiry into the controversial sacking of former Chief Executive Howard Wells.
President Raymond Kennedy and his No2 David Martin are again in the firing line over the affair that cost the IFA £500,000 in settlement of Wells' unfair dismissal claim.
The Belfast Telegraph understands the Sport NI-compiled report condemns the IFA as ‘not fit for purpose’ and ‘needing structural change.’
Those findings could now affect Government funding of the proposed new 20,000 all-seater rebuilt Windsor Park national stadium.
Government sources are believed to have told the IFA that they will not commit public money to the stadium project without fundamental changes in the running of the IFA at the top.
IFA Executive Board members, who studied the report in midweek, may now decide to exercise their power to demand resignations.
The report is sharply critical of the two top officials, holding them responsible for exposing the IFA to the half million loss in the Wells case by sacking him against legal advice. Both survived an attempt to censure and remove them when a threatened vote of no confidence failed to materialise.
More uplifting news for the IFA emerged last night when Linfield members gave their blessing to a draft agreement between the club and the football body regarding the future redevelopment of Windsor.
The agreement sees a £200,000 index linked rental payment paid to Linfield annually, the creation of a new stadium management company with up to 40 years of a lease on the new stadium, with Linfield retaining ownership of the land and the right to continue to play at the ground unencumbered by any maintenance costs.
Pressure mounts on Irish FA chiefs
By Jim Gracey
Irish FA President Raymond Kennedy and his No.2 David Martin were last night on the verge of being forced to resign from their posts as the top two rulers in Northern Ireland football.
They are under renewed pressure to go after Government paymasters made clear that desperately needed funding for a new Windsor Park national stadium could be withheld if they remain.
It follows a sharply critical Government-ordered inquiry into their roles into the controversial sacking of former IFA Chief Executive Howard Wells in October 2008.
That led to almost £500,000 going out of Northern Ireland football in settlement of an unfair dismissal claim by English-based Wells earlier this year.
The still to be made public report, compiled by Sport NI investigators, was this week put before members of the IFA's ruling Executive Board, finally forcing their hand on the issue.
An insider described its contents as ‘damning' of the IFA and its administration, condemning the IFA as ‘not fit for purpose’ and ‘needing structural change’.
Top level meetings were yesterday held on its contents by officials at the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) who will be expected to provide majority funding for the planned new 20,000 all-seater Windsor national stadium.
DCAL asked for the report before committing public money to the Windsor project.
The report confirms what became clear in the aftermath of the Wells settlement — that the IFA President and vice-president acted beyond their powers in unilaterally removing Wells from his £105,000 a year job, with two years of his contract to run, and in contravention of legal opinion from the IFA's solicitors.
On doing so they exposed the IFA to that half million pounds loss, putting them in breach of the Association's own constitution.
That was known by IFA members when they quietly returned the two officials, unopposed, at their annual general meeting last month.
The two had earlier survived a rougher ride at a meeting of the IFA council, made up of 54 members from all levels of Northern Ireland football.
But a threatened vote of no confidence never materialised and, despite a welter of media criticism, the top men appeared confident of riding out the storm, especially when they sailed straight back into power two weeks ago.
But that was before the ticking time bomb of the Sport NI report exploded in the faces of the Executive Board this week.
That body has the power to demand resignations and it seems now they have.
They will have been prompted less by the top office bearers' actions over the Wells affair, having failed to previously censure them, and more by the fear of losing vital stadium funding with the dream finally coming close to reality.
Some may call it a threat and point to world football governing body FIFA's frowning upon perceived Government interference in the business of national associations.
But DCAL's position is clear in that they will not lavish taxpayers' money on a body so careless with its' own.
Were they to go, it would represent an upheaval of seismic proportions in Northern Ireland football.
In effect, it would be the un
precedented impeachment of the President and his No2, within two weeks of their re-election.
Their four-year reign, however, has been fraught with controversy since Kennedy's deposing of former President Jim Boyce in 2006.
That culminated in the sacking of Wells whose reforms of the antiquated IFA, originally backed by Kennedy, had come to be increasingly resented by the Windsor Avenue old guard whose perks and positions were under threat.
For proud President Kennedy, a North West football stalwart from Limavady, stepping down would be a powerful personal blow, having risen through the ranks of FIFA to serve on this World Cup's disciplinary committee.
He has been criticised for his globe-trotting, too, though, to places like Australia, Bermuda, Chile, the USA and South Africa twice in the last month.
Before that, he had opposed Boyce on the basis the former supremo was away too much and that the IFA needed a stay-at-home President to deal with here-at-home issues.
In the final analysis, though, the abiding impression is of a well-meaning individual, with football's interests at heart, caught up in a vortex of IFA politics that spun out of his control.
The real power behind the throne has always been his less-public No2 David Martin, from Dromore in Co Down, a man steeped in Amateur League football and a Co Antrim FA leading light.
His power base comes from the junior football ranks, who hold the biggest voting bloc at the IFA and who have solidly backed him. He would never be voted out and would have to step down voluntarily.
The pressure to do so is now increasing on the two men, with no obvious successors to fill their shoes at this critical time and funding and new stadium issues requiring urgent attention and steady and capable hands at the helm.
Elections for a new President and vice-president would have to come through the IFA Council. To stand for office, a candidate must be a member of council and be proposed and seconded by council members.
The IFA would have to set a date for the receipt of nominations and these would then go before a full council meeting to be voted on by secret ballot. Naturally, if there was only one nomination for each or both posts, those persons would be elected unopposed.
The IFA would want the posts filled quickly and certainly before the new season begins. Hence, it might require an emergency council meeting during July.