Oireachtas Committee appearance a victory, but questions that remain will prove own goal if not answered

John Delaney.

The FAI may feel that Wednesday's Oireachtas Committee appearance was a victory, but the questions that remain will prove to be an own goal in time if they are not answered. Here are the issues that remain, despite the lengthy exchanges in Committee Room 4 of Leinster House, writes Joe Leogue.

How did the FAI find itself worrying about its overdraft?

A mystery that the members of the committee repeatedly attempted to solve was the nature of the financial predicament that the FAI found itself in back in April 2017.

It is one of the many brick walls the Committee came up against on Wednesday, with the FAI unwilling to even categorise the nature of the outgoings that was to test the Association’s overdraft limit.

They refused to state whether the creditor in question was Dundalk FC, which was owed European prize money which the FAI had collected from UEFA.

They declined to give as much as a broad indication about the nature of the creditor in question; whether it was a club, a supplier, or someone who had provided a service to the Association.

So what happened in April 2017? Was there an unforeseen expense that arose, or was there a failure within the Association to forecast its finances appropriately?

Does the FAI retain prize money won by League of Ireland clubs? If so, for how long and why?

On Wednesday, John Delaney revealed how he was informed of the potential cashflow issue in 2017.

“At the meeting I expressed my concern and surprise as to how the FAI could have arrived at this position,” Mr Delaney told the Committee.

Many observers would be equally concerned and surprised that the FAI could find itself in such a situation unbeknownst to its long-standing CEO.

Why the rush in moving John Delaney from CEO to ‘Executive Vice President’?

The FAI said a review by Jonathan Hall Associate led to the creation of the position of executive vice-president, to which Mr Delaney moved on March 23.

It was commissioned after the Sunday Times contacted the FAI with its queries about the €100,000 bridging loan it received from Mr Delaney.

A copy of the report was circulated to TDs, and included a recommended timeline for the creation of the new position.

It reads:

April/May/June – recruitment process runs, appointment of new Chief Executive (subject to availability) and formal transfer of current Chief Executive to the new Executive Vice-President role.

It should be noted that the FAI appears to have put the cart before the horse.

On Wednesday, the FAI told the Committee that it had received the Hall report on March 22.

Mr Delaney was appointed executive vice-president on March 23 - before the suggested April start date for the entire process, and before the appointment of a new chief executive.

That this move came so quickly proved rather unfortunate for the Oireachtas committee which was keen to grill Mr Delaney.

On Wednesday, Mr Delaney told the committee that he would only answer questions related to his role as executive vice-president - a position he has been in less than three weeks - and would not respond to queries relating to his 14 year stint as CEO.

What now for Oireachtas Committees?

The FAI’s appearance before the Oireachtas Committee on Wednesday was the first notable example of the outcome of the Kerins case in action.

Last February the Supreme Court found that the Public Accounts Committee acted “significantly outside its remit” in its questioning of former Rehab CEO, Angela Kerins - and this ruling was an elephant in the room throughout Wednesday's exchanges.

Mr Delaney threw a last-minute spanner in the works of the Committee by only providing his statement - and declaration of the limits of his cooperation - leaving TDs and Senators scratching their heads as to how to proceed.

The executive vice-president cited both the Kerins case and his legal advice as the basis upon which he was basing his stance. Mr Delaney is, of course, entitled to his legal advice. But by playing that card at the very last minute, the committee was left scrambling, with little time to obtain substantive legal advice of their own as to how to respond to this development.

It was clear through his cautious interventions throughout that committee chairman, Fergus O’Dowd, had been well warned on the limits of his committee’s powers in a post-Kerins landscape.

Meanwhile, there was an irony throughout the hearing as the FAI officials who filibustered their way through opening proceedings by covering irrelevant topics ranging from the Under 21 results to children’s summer camps suddenly deemed meatier subjects ‘off topic’ when they eventually came under questioning.

In reality, the FAI played the Committee, to the frustration and despondency of those who sought to use their time to tease out answers to many unanswered questions.

In footballing terms, the FAI delivered a defensive masterclass, parked the bus, and gave little away to their opponents.

They demonstrated the tactical blueprints others can follow should they want to give as little away as possible to an Oireachtas Committee.

But at what cost?

If the FAI wanted to get out of that meeting by giving away as little as possible, job done.

But what has it done for the Association’s already battered image?

Sport Ireland is unlikely to have been moved closer to releasing the suspended funding off the back of Wednesday's performance.

Obfuscation and evasiveness will not play well with the thousands of disillusioned football fans across the country, who showed their willingness to up their demonstrations with their much-maligned tennis ball protest at the Georgia match last month.

Casual observers could be forgiven for mistaking that action as the genesis of a protest movement among the fans, but, in reality, it was the cumulation of a longer malaise that has been aggravated, not appeased by the FAI’s approach to the Committee.

Supporters have long complained about having banners protesting the FAI’s custodianship of the sport seized at matches both home and away.

A familiar chant targeting those in power can be regularly heard at international and League of Ireland games - a chorus delivered with extra gusto for the benefit of televised fixtures.

The aftermath of Wednesday’s meeting has seen increased online chatter about sponsor boycotts and more organised protests.

The Mazar and Grant Thornton reports can’t come soon enough for large swathes of supporters who will take matters into their own hands if the powers-that-be fail to enact meaningful change.

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