The entire FAI board is facing cross-party demands to quit after politicians insisted that John Delaney’s decision to “step aside” while an FAI review takes place fails to go far enough.
The majority of Oireachtas sports committee members will demand that Sports Minister Shane Ross and Sport Ireland remove the FAI board at a crucial meeting today, saying the FAI needs to be swept clean to restore trust.
However, despite the demands, the Irish Examiner understands Sport Ireland will tell TDs it cannot remove every board member without risking legal action or potential Fifa sanctions against the Irish football team under political interference rules.
After a third behind-closed-doors crisis meeting with Mr Delaney in four days, the FAI board released a statement last night saying its ex-chief executive has “offered to voluntarily step aside” from his new role as executive vice-president.
The FAI statement said Mr Delaney has “offered to voluntarily step aside... pending the completion of an independent investigation by the association”, adding that honorary secretary Michael Cody and honorary treasurer Eddie Murray have departed.
However, despite the apparent breakthrough, the statement was immediately criticised for leaving a series of questions unanswered, including:
Whether, and what, Mr Delaney will continue to be paid pending the FAI review;
Whether this review refers to the Mazars or Grant Thornton reports — both of which are FAI funded — or a third review;
And if Mr Delaney will be allowed to return if cleared by the review.
The lack of clarity — just hours after Sport Ireland warned the FAI it faces a wide-ranging independent audit unless it acts — came as Mr Delaney refused to take questions as he left the board meeting at the Carlton Dublin Airport Hotel, leading to a furious political response.
In separate statements to the Irish Examiner, sports committee chair and Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd; Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy; Fine Gael TD Noel Rock; Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy, and Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster, among others, all called for the board to go.
Ms Murphy said the FAI statement shows that it “is completely misreading what’s needed” and “removes any doubt the whole board should go, they’re living in cloud cuckoo land”.
Mr Rock said officials should be “scattering around P45s”; while Mr Troy said there is cross-party agreement a clean sweep is needed; and Ms Munster said “State funding should not be restored until they are gone”.
Asked if the FAI statement went far enough, committee chair Mr O’Dowd said “no”, before adding when asked if the board should leave “yes, absolutely, there is an opportunity to start anew and they should take it”.
However, the Irish Examiner understands that Sport Ireland will today tell the committee that despite the cross-party demands, removing all board members may be impossible.
Senior sources said that although politicians “can hop up and down all they like”, any board removals can only happen if there are clear breaches of corporate law — a matter outside Sport Ireland’s terrain.
And while Sport Ireland will ensure the FAI adheres to the rules, sources said any mass removal could lead to court action and see Ireland’s soccer team face Fifa sanctions over political interference.
Although Mr Ross had yet to comment last night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar echoed Sport Ireland’s concerns in an interview with thejournal.ie.
Despite saying an “investigation” will happen, Mr Varadkar said he would be “disinclined to tar everyone with the one brush”, adding: “When you replace an entire board, you can create a new problem, because you have a new board of 15 people with no experience or memory of the organisation.
“Often what you’ll do in that kind of situation is maybe keep half the board and bring in new people to strengthen it. But again, that is really a call for the FAI.”