The financial and governance farrago which has engulfed the Football Association of Ireland could see the country’s international teams and the League of Ireland driven out of existence.
That was the stark message delivered at the Oireachtas committee convened yesterday to discuss issues of governance and alleged financial impropriety at the FAI — but once again, the association declined to attend.
At the committee, Shane Ross, the sports minister, outlined how, at a meeting with the FAI board on Monday, the association had sought an €18m bailout from his department. The minister said he found this “shocking”, reiterating that such a bailout is impossible.
The game, as supporters know it in Ireland, could be under threat, as are the FAI’s membership of European governing body Uefa and the existence of the Irish international side.
Mr Ross would not be drawn on whether liquidation or examinership is a possibility for the FAI, but said that, should the association cease to exist, then in all likelihood the League of Ireland “goes the same way”.
Last night, in a joint statement, Mr Ross and junior minister Brendan Griffin said they were “enormously concerned” for the future of the League of Ireland. They said, however, that they “understand” the country’s clubs “would be in a position to rebound quickly” should the FAI fail, to avoid a situation where Ireland was precluded from taking part in international competition.
The ministers added they would be seeking to clarify the matter with Uefa in advance of their upcoming meeting with the governing body next month.
Per Uefa statutes, if the governing body in a member country is dissolved, its membership of the association ends immediately. Theoretically, that would mean no international sides, and no domestic sides competing in European competitions.
The minister would prefer if the FAI would “rise from the ashes” of its predicament, but said the fact that fresh independent appointments to the association’s board had yet to be made was “incredibly frustrating”.
The FAI’s decision not to attend the six-hour hearing was criticised by all TDs and senators in attendance. The association told the committee by letter that it could not be at the meeting as getting its financial and governance issues in order is its top priority, a fact for which TD Ruth Coppinger said the committee “doesn’t have patience and understanding”.
She said it is essential that the FAI appear before the committee before the end of next month, when Donal Conway, who was present at board level for the duration of the crisis, steps down.
In a statement last night, the FAI said it noted “with deep disappointment” some of the comments made at the committee meeting.