The Irish Football Association has been asked to launch an independent investigation into Gerard Lawlor’s recent resignation from the top table of Northern Ireland football, the IFA Board.
The Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) Chief Executive stepped down from the ruling Executive Board last month.
However, some representatives on the IFA Council shared concerns about Lawlor’s resignation and the events that led up to him removing himself from the powerful body.
And at an IFA Council meeting on Wednesday night, Glentoran Chairman Stephen Henderson, on behalf of the Senior Clubs Committee, called for an independent investigation into the matter to clarify if undue pressure was placed on the former Cliftonville Chairman to step down.
In one of a number of testy exchanges between the floor and the top table, IFA President Conrad Kirkwood countered: “We’ll take some independent advice in the first instance.”
Sunday Life Sport understands Henderson’s concern is that senior football has lost a strong voice on the Board and Lawlor’s vacant position may be filled by another representative from the junior game.
Lawlor has been a member of the Board for several years but his appointment as Chief Executive of NIFL last month caused friction at the highest level of power in Northern Ireland football.
After a series of talks between Board chairman Stephen Martin and Lawlor, the NIFL man tendered his resignation on October 14. Martin was asked for clarification on whether pressure was applied on Lawlor to resign from the Board.
Henderson continued: “Gerard was elected by this Council and still had term to serve, it is my understanding. He didn’t want to resign, senior football didn’t want him to resign and we believe due respect hasn’t been paid from a governance perspective to this Council, who elected him, and we believe pressure may have been brought to bear on him to resign.
“He was and is a representative of senior football and senior football would like to request an independent investigation.”
Chairman Martin responded: “Gerard wrote to me on October 14, 2021 to tell me that formally he had decided to step down from his position on the Board due to work pressure.
“He felt he couldn’t commit and provide the significant time required for the role.”
Henderson was quick to respond with: “It’s the circumstances leading up to his resignation that gave us concern about pressure.”
Martin, clearly irritated, rapped: “So, let’s note that he resigned on the basis of work pressure.
“I am absolutely satisfied that there was a significant situation of conflict of interest.
“It was recurring. I spoke to Gerard face-to-face on two occasions, I spoke to him on the phone on a number of other occasions to address it, and there were two ways of addressing it — either manage it on a meeting by meeting basis or by him resigning.
“He took the decision to resign on the basis of workload and pressures.”
Henderson commented that if it were in an employment environment, a case for constructive dismissal could be made, which Martin dismissed quoting section 175 of the Companies Act, and opined that everyone has a conflict of interest to some degree.
“It’s obviously something you are very passionate about, Stephen (Henderson),” interjected President Kirkwood. “Perhaps the proper way to do this would be for us to take some independent advice, I think that would be a reasonable step forward.
“I’m happy for us to stand aside and look for that if that’s okay, Stephen?”
Former President David Martin then asked: “The very first comment made by Stephen Henderson, is he referring to a different type of pressure than the Chairman of the Board referred to?”
Henderson made it clear that he had asked for an independent investigation precisely because he was not making allegations, to which Kirkwood replied pointedly: “As I say, we’ll take some independent advice in the first instance, thank you kindly.”
Sunday Life Sport understands both the IFA and senior football representatives will take legal counsel ahead of the next Council meeting in January, when it is expected the matter will be raised again.
In terms of conflict of interests, a number of Board members are also representatives of clubs or associations.
IFA Vice-President Colin McKendry is Chairman of Coleraine and a NIFL Board member, IFA First Deputy President Neil Jardine is Chairman of the Fermanagh and Western League and Cheryl Lamont is President of the County Antrim Football Association.
Mr Lawlor did not attend the Council meeting and was unavailable for comment.
But he previously told Sunday Life Sport: “I am disappointed at having to leave the Board but I wish the IFA all the best for the future.”