Belfast Telegraph

Football Association of Ireland ‘sought 18m euro bailout from Government’

Minister for Sport Shane Ross said the FAI will not receive ‘a single cent’ of public money until its finances are sorted.

Shane Ross (Nick Ansell/PA)
Shane Ross (Nick Ansell/PA)

By Aine McMahon PA

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) sought an 18 million euro bailout from the Government, the Minister for Sport has said.

FAI executives and members of the FAI board attended a meeting at Leinster House on Monday night to outline the state of the association’s finances with Minister for Sport Shane Ross.

An Oireachtas committee heard on Wednesday morning that the FAI sought 18 million euro in a bailout from the Government on Monday night.

Mr Ross said: “That is what they looked for, or they looked for a guarantee of that, and they presented different scenarios… They actually named that figure. It was shocking.”

Mr Ross told the committee the FAI is not fit to handle public funds after an independent audit into the association’s finances was carried out.

Northern Irish firm KOSI was appointed by Sport Ireland earlier this year to conduct a full and extensive look at the FAI’s accounts and to assess the association’s fitness to handle public funds.

The examination of the FAI’s finances took place after it emerged that former chief executive John Delaney had given a 100,000 euro loan to the association.

Speaking at an Oireachtas committee on Wednesday, Mr Ross said while he wished to present the findings of the KOSI report, he was restricted in what he could say as it is with an Garda Siochana.

“While I have been advised that to share the full details of the KOSI auditors’ findings would be unlawful, I can confirm that their opinion is that the FAI is not fit to handle public funds.

“They acknowledge that some steps have been taken to address shortcomings, but there is a steep mountain to climb before we can reinstate funding to the FAI,” said Mr Ross.

“Not a single cent will go to the FAI – either directly or indirectly – until we are fully satisfied that all weaknesses in governance and financial control have been fully addressed.

“The funding will be channelled through a payroll processing company who will make payments directly to the development officers themselves. The payroll processing company will also ensure the payment of deducted taxes, PRSI and expenses as appropriate,” he said.

It is a source of great and ongoing frustration to me that, five months later, these independent directors have not yet been appointed. I have not received a satisfactory explanation as to why this has not yet been completed Minister Shane Ross

The FAI turned down a second invitation in the space of a week for its representatives to appear before the committee to discuss the issues.

Mr Ross said he had taken legal advice from his department’s legal adviser and also from the Attorney General and they insisted that it would be unlawful for him to provide the committee with a copy of the report.

“I have also consulted with An Garda Siochana who have advised me that matters outlined in the KOSI Report are central to their investigations and those of the ODCE, and that to make the report public at this time could have serious implications for any criminal proceedings subsequently brought by the Director of Pubic Prosecution.”

He said he hoped to share the report with the committee at some point in the future, when the investigations currently under way are concluded.

Mr Ross said no funding from the department’s Sports Capital Programme would be provided until the corporate governance and financial control issues had been resolved to their satisfaction.

He confirmed that the KOSI auditors found that state funding given to the FAI was expended for the purposes it was given.

He said the Governance Review Group recommended that an independent chair and three other independent directors should be appointed in the FAI, but they had not done so.

“It is a source of great and ongoing frustration to me that, five months later, these independent directors have not yet been appointed. I have not received a satisfactory explanation as to why this has not yet been completed.”

Mr Ross said grassroots football “must not suffer because of the mistakes of those at the top of the greasy pole”.

He said his sympathies are with FAI staff who face an uncertain future: “They are not the ones who have caused this problem and deserve recognition, not victimhood, for their service.”

Revised accounts published earlier in December show the FAI had liabilities of 55 million euro at the end of 2018.

Junior Minister for Sport Brendan Griffin said the FAI’s liabilities are 62 million, euro, not 55 million euro when funding and loans owed to Uefa – European football’s governing body, are taken into account.

Mr Ross confirmed the government meeting with Uefa will take place on January 14 to discuss “what can be done to save Irish football.”

Sinn Fein TD Jonathan O’Brien said the state of the FAI’s finances could have grave implications for the League of Ireland.

“My guess is that if the FAI goes, the League of Ireland goes the same way,” he said.

“I have deep concerns about it. I am particularly concerned about the League of Ireland and I can say that with absolute sincerity,” he said.

Fine Gael Senator Frank Feighan says the FAI is now a toxic brand and suggested it may need a name change such as “Football Ireland.”

He called for an all-island football association instead of having one for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Mr Ross said he “would love to see” an all-island football association but questioned whether the Northern Ireland association would want to be associated with the FAI.

Solidarity People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger criticised the “caviar culture” at the top level of the FAI.

“Prawn cocktail wouldn’t even get on the menu by the sounds of things. And yes, the public was part financing this organisation. I’m just wondering why it’s taken so long for the powers that be, to react,” she said.

PA

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