In an early sign of these stressful times for the FAI, President Donal Conway felt obliged to begin Sunday’s reconvened AGM by issuing a warning that questions asked from the floor, if potentially defamatory, could be subject to legal proceedings and that lawyers present would advise if any question or “unfounded comment” was out of order.
He need not have been unduly worried. Questions there were aplenty, in stark contrast to AGMs of the past, but while there was some passion and even defiance, as well as occasional flashes of anger, from the succession of delegates who addressed the top table, the dominant mood might best be described as sober, even solemn, the tone set by Executive Lead Paul Cooke’s reply to the first question from the floor, from PFAI solicitor Stuart Gilhooley, who wanted to know for how much longer the FAI could continue as a going concern without the €18m bailout it needs.
“There is no definitive answer but the situation is very serious,” said Cooke before going on to concede that if the debt on the Aviva Stadium was called in immediately, there was “a possibility” that the FAI would go into liquidation.
As well as formally presenting the accounts which had not been ready for the AGM in July but which had been made public in early December — and which showed liabilities of €62m — Director of Finance Alex O’Connell added the new information that estimated losses for 2019 would be between €3.5m and €4m. But he said that, pending a successful refinancing deal, the Association were still projecting they would be “cash positive” by 2023.
While the organisation has had no shortage of external critics in its annus horribilis, some of the delegates were more inclined to direct their fire at the auditors and government. Auditors Deloitte, one of whose representatives present insisted that they had been “misled” by the FAI, were accused by one delegate, Don Donnelly of Newbridge Town, of “throwing the directors under the bus.” The same delegate also hit out at Shane Ross for his controversial “cooked goose” gag — for which the Minister apologised on Sunday — and then earned the first round of applause of the day by declaring:
We are not a toxic brand and we are going to get through this.
It became clear as the meeting went on that, for a number of those present, the sale of the FAI’s stake in the Aviva Stadium needed to be given serious consideration as part of the solution.
When questioned on the possibility, Paul Cooke put the asking price at €50m. “The Bank (of Ireland) have a €30m charge on the stadium and we need another €20m,” he said. “It would need to be €50m to realise anything for the Association.”
But, while not ruling it out, Donal Conway suggested that such a deal would be easier said than done. “The government have a first charge but there are two shareholders involved,” he said, referring to the IRFU. “In the first instance, the conversation has to be happening between two stakeholders and see where it goes from there. There is not a refusal by the board to consider disposal of assets but it is not easily effected.”
One of the hardest-hitting contributions from the floor came from David Nolan of St Patrick’s CY in Ringsend.
‘The FAI cannot move on until those who cosied up to the former CEO and put out statements in support (of him) get out of the game,” he said.
They all have to go. Let people police the game who care about it. A number of people in this room ignored what was going on, didn’t ask the right questions at the time.
Denis Bradley, of Derry City, said it was a time for the FAI to show “humility” and suggested a statement should be issued “apologising to the people of Ireland and the Irish football family and asking for their tolerance and patience in trying to sort this out.”
Meanwhile, the reconvened AGM saw the election to the Board of Ursula Scully who had been nominated by the Schoolboys FAI (SFAI). Scully is secretary of the North Tipperary Schoolchildren’s League (NTSFL). And notice was also given that the 2020 AGM will take place on July 25 next year in Ballybrit, Co Galway – which, given the extent of the FAI’s current crisis, felt like a major act of faith.