Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross speaks about the future of Irish football, following a meeting with members of UEFA on Tuesday.
It was the year the whole rotten house of cards came tumbling down. 2019 proved to be an annus horribilis for the FAI and rightly so.
Starting with news about a mysterious loan given by ex CEO John Delaney to the association, the information which has come to light in recent months about the antics of those at the top table of the FAI has been nothing short of shocking.
Initially I asked politely for explanations. Transparency was badly needed. Last May the head honchos were asked to come into Leinster House and tell us what exactly they thought they were doing with public money.
They treated the elected politicians of this country – and consequently the public who voted them in – to a high handed display of arrogance and disdain. The FAI elite, many who had held powerful positions in the organisation since God was a child, believed themselves too important to answer questions from mere politicians or the public we represent. This was beyond a disgrace.
It was obvious that the FAI were not complying with certain funding conditions and we had no choice but to withhold their funding.
The clamour for change came from the length and breadth of this footballing nation. The dam of pseudo deference to the old guard had been breached and suddenly everyone had an FAI tale of terror to tell. From the grassroots to the League of Ireland, football lovers began to share their stories of dissatisfaction with the way the FAI had handed affairs in recent decades. Not just years. Tens of years.
And still the main men refused to budge. Refused to realise that the game was up and needed to go and close the door behind them.
A supposed caretaker board thought they could look after their own interests by appointing FAI die-hard fan Noel Mooney as interim general manager. But then the KOSI report outlined problems serious enough that it was turned over to the Gardai.
Then it was revealed that the FAI had debts of over €60million – at the same time as a furious public heard that former CEO John Delaney had received a €462,000 settlement from that beleaguered organisation.
It was obvious that the FAI were not to be trusted with public money until serious changes were made. Minister Brendan Griffin and I sat down with them in December 2019 and they asked us for €18million to tide them over. We said no.
We declined to see good public money being put into an organisation which had yet to sufficiently reform itself. The board needed to be completely refreshed. The old guard needed to be totally excised.
Early January saw the beginnings of a future. Independent Chairman Roy Barrett and independent directors Catherine Guy and Liz Joyce were appointed and a 4th independent director will follow later this month.
I met them in my office in the Department of Sport and congratulated them on their bravery and their commitment to returning Irish football to the grassroots who love it.
This week I met with members of UEFA in Leinster House. It was the day the Dail was dissolved but the work of reforming the FAI will continue.
We discussed UEFA’s capacity and willingness to participate in a financial support package, as proposed in recent meetings with the FAI Board. It was a good, frank, constructive discussion. A meeting with the Bank of Ireland was agreed to further progress a solution. Time is of the essence.
There are dedicated, hardworking FAI employees who need to know that their future is secure. And there are football players, supporters and volunteers up and down the land who deserve a football association that is fit for purpose. There are still plenty of reforms needed, but the future is starting to look brighter for Irish football.
And about time too.