Sports Minister Nelson McCausland last night made it plain and simple ahead of this evening’s Irish FA EGM: “Change the structures of the association before an independent review and you can kiss goodbye to millions of pounds which could benefit football in Northern Ireland.”
All week intense lobbying has been going on and meetings have been taking place in preparation for tonight’s showdown at the Stormont hotel.
Could the setting be any more ironic? It’s just a brisk walk away from Parliament Buildings which of course has seen many a debate in recent years.
Talk to those going tonight and many of them are predicting the EGM will be explosive.
Effectively the battle lines will see the junior clubs in football here, who make up most of the 800 IFA members, taking on the senior sides with the intermediate or Championship teams siding with the latter. Other votes from the likes of the Women’s FA are believed to be up for grabs.
Ballymena and District League side Dunloy are putting several proposals to the EGM. They want to decrease the influence of senior football on decision making committees at Windsor Avenue and half the number of independent members who sit on the supposedly all powerful IFA Executive Board.
There are two at present but, if passed, Dunloy’s proposals would mean there would only be one, acting as chairperson.
It should be noted that to get proposals passed, 75% of the vote is needed, not just a majority.
This EGM comes on the back of the unfair dismissal case of former IFA Chief Executive Howard Wells, which cost the IFA in the region of £500,000.
McCausland has stated that no government money will be handed over until the IFA proves itself to be a fit for purpose body and Raymond Kennedy removed as President, though that may have to wait for another day.
The Sports Minister wants an independent review before he dishes out around £23million for the refurbishment of Windsor Park, with more money to come to enhance other facilities.
McCausland told the Belfast Telegraph: “The IFA, as I have already said, needs to move swiftly to regain the confidence of all concerned.
“This will require, in the first instance, the Association to press ahead with a full, rigorous and independent review of the IFA's structures and governance arrangements. Any changes to the organisational structures in the absence of such a review could further damage the organisation. This would clearly be a retrograde step and would add to the view that the organisation is operating in a way which is placing public funding at risk.”
No messing about there.
This week Dunloy officials met with senior clubs and their Championship counterparts, but no agreement over the proposals was reached. The battle is well and truly on with McCausland eagerly awaiting the outcome.