There might have been nothing as clear-cut as the calling of a general election to emerge out of Uefa’s meeting with Minister for Sport Shane Ross at Leinster House yesterday — no white smoke, no done deal, and certainly no cheque to the tune of €18m — but, as well as familiar talk of the need for further reform at the FAI, there was no mistaking the sense of accelerated momentum in the increasingly urgent quest to find a solution to the Association’s most immediate financial problems.
To that end, the Uefa delegation went on to meet with Bank Of Ireland officials yesterday evening and, today, Ross and Minister of State with responsibility for Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin, will follow suit, with the FAI’s new chairman Roy Barrett also set to attend that meeting, having discussed the latest developments with his own board in Abbotstown last night.
Uefa sources have suggested that they regard the Government’s meeting with the Bank of Ireland as being of critical importance.
Asked what message he will be conveying to bank officials, Ross said yesterday.
“I want to tell them that the Government is determined to avoid examinership or liquidation, and that we are going to give as much support as we possibly can to the efforts being made to keep Irish football afloat and well and flourishing and healthy. And we are quite prepared to play our role in that.”
He said that, at yesterday’s meeting in government buildings, there had been discussion about “the extent of Uefa’s capacity and willingness to participate in a financial support package”. And, resulting from those talks, he said he was “very encouraged we can now move towards finding a solution”.
But while Ross has indicated that the restoration of state funding of the FAI is still conditional on further reform — in particular, he wants to see “more democracy” in how the FAI Council is elected — there is also a clear recognition on the part of the Government that the ongoing threat to the very existence of the cash-strapped organisation requires a more immediate response.
“There has to be a hierarchy in terms of the needs and the issues that need to be resolved immediately,” was how Brendan Griffin put it.
“Certainly there are further reforms needed but we’ve seen good progress in the last couple of days and I would have great confidence in the new independent directors as well.
“I think there’s a solution mode around the table at the moment. We’re in the middle of a process but I can say I have more optimism now than maybe I’ve had for a long time in relation to this issue.”
Reflecting the gravity of the troubles at its member association, the Uefa delegation in Dublin was a high-powered one, consisting of Theodore Theodoridis, general secretary, Zoran Lakovic, director of national associations, Josef Koller, financial director and Thierry Favre, deputy director of national associations.
While it had been flagged that the FAI’s chairman Roy Barrett, executive lead Paul Cooke, and board member Martin Heraghty would also attend the meeting with the Ministers, only Barrett was invited to sit in on the discussion.
“The main focus of the meeting was the discussion between Uefa and government, and we felt it was advantageous to have Roy there,” Griffin explained.
“He has gone in relatively recently and he has a big task on his hands, but he has got off to a very good start, he has got stuck in. We feel he has a huge role to play into the future, so we felt it important that he would be there.”
Griffin also said that while the threat of examinership or liquidation remained — “it’s always there, you can never rule anything out until it’s absolutely, categorically off the table” — every effort was being made to avoid such an outcome.
“That is the ultimate doomsday scenario we have been trying to avoid since day one, we couldn’t possibly countenance that,” he said.
On how a general election and possible change of government might impact on securing an FAI rescue plan, Shane Ross said: “I see no reason why any change of government would make any too much difference because everybody has the interests of Irish football at heart. This is not a political football. This is something which I have received nothing but support for from opposition people as well.”
He also reiterated that time is of the essence.
“I think we’re talking about a very intensive time of negotiations and talks between the four parties in the next few days,” he said. “I don’t think we’re talking about months or weeks. I think we’re talking about something happening fairly soon and getting a good result in the near future.”
Meanwhile, Kieran Lucid has said his All-Island League Group will be seeking meetings with the FAI and the IFA as well as government on both sides of the border, as their project “proceeds apace” despite the Northern Ireland football authorities having said it would not allow its clubs to take part in an all-island league.
"The All-Island group yesterday announced four “stakeholder summits” late this month, facilitated by the Dutch sports consultancy Hypercube, to “research the appetite for and viability of” a cross-border league.