They came, they sat, they parked the bus. A nation had held its breath as John Delaney and the FAI lined up before members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Tourism, Transport and Sport in committee room four . Then, the visitors dug in stubbornly for the sort of stalemate that satisfied precisely no one.
Delaney had topped the billing, but he was an almost silent partner yesterday, his input limited for the most part to an opening statement and his insistence that, due to legal advice, he would not be discussing further any matters relating to his 14 years as CEO or his 2017 loan of €100,000 to the FAI.
Association president Donal Conway assumed the armband in his place, fielding the vast majority of questions over a marathon eight-hour public session that left senators and TDs, for the most part, frustrated and, in some cases, fuming.
It started badly, with three lengthy stoppages needed within the first 90 minutes due to statements introduced by the FAI which had not been made known or available to committee members beforehand, as is expected under normal codes of practice.
“The former CEO has behaved disgracefully today,” said Deputy Imelda Munster of Delaney.
He came in with a last-minute statement. He knows the procedures for the committee.
"He has furnished us with the statement, but is refusing to answer any questions in relation to the statement and he is also refusing to answer questions that are ongoing and in relation to his time as CEO.
“And, I would have imagined, it is an absolute disgrace and farcical what has gone on here. The only good thing is that the public out there have witnessed it.
"And I would have thought that anybody would have been glad to be handed the opportunity to put the record straight, but you haven’t taken up that opportunity Mr Delaney.”
His response? “I note your comments, Deputy Munster.”
The Sinn Fein TD also accused the FAI of giving the “two fingers” to Sport Ireland, among others, with their defensive approach.
Deputy Ruth Coppinger summed it up thus: “Today’s proceedings reaffirm people’s cynicism about the political process and the FAI. You’ve come armed with lawyers & legal advice and given the most minimal answers. Mr Delaney is here physically and covered himself that way but it’s Hamlet without the prince.”
Robert Troy TD accused the FAI of being “evasive, vague, non-committal and ambiguous” and of hiding behind reports from Grant Thornton and from Mazars.
Grant Thornton has been employed by the FAI to conduct an internal review of the association’s books, while Mazars, an independent consultancy, has been asked to conduct an in-depth review on the issues of concern raised about the association.
Add in the constrained nature of the committee’s remit, the fact that the FAI is currently dealing with the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the unwieldy nature of a body made up of public representatives across the political spectrum and it made for a trying day’s work.
Nuggets of real interest and worth were uncovered only intermittently.
What Delaney and the FAI did make clear in their opening statements was that the former CEO’s €100,000 loan, made in April of 2017, was issued in the form of a personal cheque, which was then cashed to meet a bill from an unnamed creditor due to cash flow issues.
Only three members of the FAI board at the time — Delaney as CEO, president Tony Fitzgerald and honorary secretary Michael Cody — were aware of this transaction, which did not appear in audited accounts. It was almost two years before the rest of the board was fully informed.
This was in contrast to an insistence on the part of both Delaney and the FAI in recent statements that the board had been kept fully abreast of all such financial details at all times. Conway also admitted that the FAI were in breach of State funding rules by not informing Sport Ireland.
The current president also confirmed that the Jonathan Hall report, which recommended a new role as executive vice president for Delaney last month, had not been commissioned until after the first media queries into the 2017 €100,000 loan which he had given to the association.
Deputy Noel Rock was one of those to probe the timing and nature of events surrounding the appointment of Delaney to this new role, while Jonathan O’Brien TD was persistent, if frustrated, in his attempts to understand the intricacies of the €100,000 loan.
Other contributions were less useful. Time and again questions were met with stonewalls or pleas that those best equipped to respond were not present or no longer with the association. Honorary treasurer, Eddie Murray, said the association had one bank account. The number was later clarified as being 24.
This was long after Deputy Catherine Murphy claimed she was “astonished” at how the FAI had gone about its business, though the committee’s own workings were hardly enhanced by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae’s gushing defence of Delaney.
“You’re an embarrassment,” said Deputy Coppinger to her Dáil colleague.
Overseeing all this was committee chair Fergus O’Dowd TD who, on those occasions when he wasn’t refereeing and allotting air time, suggested the FAI chiefs should consider their own position and the possibility of “regime change”.
When asked if the board and/or others would step down if so requested, Conway stated that the FAI “would take whatever actions we have to take” to ensure the association’s State funding — which has been suspended by Sport Ireland — is restored .
The problem with that is the likelihood that Uefa will not take kindly to such levels of government interference in one of its member bodies. Just another possible complication in a story that looks set to run for some time.