Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has ruled out a taxpayer bailout of the Football Association of Ireland, as the FAI outlined that its liquidation is a serious possibility should such a move fail to materialise.
At a fraught FAI AGM at Citywest in Dublin yesterday afternoon, reconvened from last summer in order to present amended accounts for 2016 and 2017, the association’s executive lead, Paul Cooke, said the possibility of examinership or liquidation could not be ignored should it fail to receive a bailout from the Government.
The FAI said that, should its roadmap to financial health be followed, it could expect to be “cash positive” by 2023.
Key to this would be the receipt of an €18m bailout from the Government, a figure already refused by Sports Minister Shane Ross at a closed-doors meeting this month.
Were the association to go into liquidation, it would “call into question our membership of Fifa, Uefa, and international competitions”, according to outgoing FAI president Donal Conway.
It suggests fears expressed for the future of the Irish national teams and the League of Ireland itself at the Oireachtas sports committee in mid-December were well-founded. Mr Conway acknowledged it had been a “difficult year” for the association.
Mr Varadkar has insisted the State will not pick up the tab for the FAI’s debts, whose liabilities have been revealed as totalling at least €62m.
“This is something I am genuinely worried about at the moment,” said Mr Varadkar.
The grassroots clubs, the League of Ireland clubs, the schoolboys and schoolgirls and all the rest of it, I want to make sure that continues as normal and also our national male and female sides.
"So we want to make sure that we don’t see a situation whereby the association of football collapses in Ireland and if Government has a role to play in ensuring that, the Government will play a role in ensuring that.”
Mr Varadkar added that “we don’t want to be in a situation where we are somehow asking the taxpayer to bail out the FAI and take on their debts and liabilities and maybe their pensions too. We’re not going to do that.”
Mr Varadkar said that meetings between the FAI and European governing body Uefa early in the new year would be aimed at coming up with “a plan that allows us to protect soccer and protect football in Ireland”, but insisted that providing “a blank cheque” to “pay for the mistakes of the past… wouldn’t be the right way to go”.
It remains unclear what options would be open to the FAI should the Government fail to intervene in some shape or form.
In a statement issued last night, Mr Ross said the Government does not see either liquidation or examinership as a “viable option” for the FAI. He will shortly meet with Uefa, representatives of all League of Ireland clubs, spokespeople for the trades unions, and the directors of the FAI, he added.
The association has been rocked by scandal and controversy consistently since last April when it first emerged that former chief executive John Delaney had provided it with a previously undeclared “bridging loan” of €100,000 in 2017. Mr Delaney resigned his post with a payoff of €462,000.
He had previously claimed that the association would be debt-free by 2020 — in reality the FAI’s debts total more than €60m with yesterday’s AGM being told that the sale of its stake in the Aviva Stadium in order to bolster its finances is unlikely given a bid of €50m would be required in order to make fiscal sense.
The association’s auditors, Deloitte, also confirmed it would not be seeking re-appointment to that role next year. Deloitte declined to confirm the FAI’s status as a going concern in its restated accounts.
The revised accounts presented at the AGM, meanwhile, restated the 2016 figure from a profit of €2.3m to just €0.07m with 2017’s figure dropping from a surplus of €2.8m to a deficit of €2.9m.
In a statement last night, the board of the FAI issued an apology to those “involved with Irish football at all levels of the game, to the Irish public, and to FAI staff”.
Mr Conway said: “The clear message from our delegates today is that Irish football wants to move forward and we apologise to all our stakeholders for the mistakes of the past.”