Gary Owens: No-one is going to take over the FAI

The concerns from some sections of Irish football stem from an agreement that six independent directors would sit on the FAI Board
Gary Owens: No-one is going to take over the FAI
FAI interim CEO Gary Owens responds to media questions at FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Gary Owens, interim CEO of the FAI, has stressed that the governance demands being placed on the body by the Government and Bank of Ireland are not “onerous” and that the final say in football will remain with their own members via the AGM.

The FAI needs to ratify the reforms laid down in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the State and the bank in question in order to continue receiving funds amounting to €52.5m, all of which has stemmed from the disastrous governance of the old regime and the financial fallout.

Key to the governance reforms is the agreement made by all parties earlier this year that the FAI Board would now consist of six directors from within the football fraternity and another half-dozen 'independents'. Independents are regular presences on the boards of sporting bodies though rarely if ever in such volume.

With Roy Barrett already in situ as an independent chairperson, this has led to fears from some sections of football here over where real power would lie ahead of a meeting called by the FAI's National Council this Friday and an EGM on August 31 when this will all be decided.

“They have been very clear, they gave us the money on the basis the EGM would endorse the changes required,” said Owens at a media briefing in Abbotstown on Wednesday. “The government are also telling us that and have reinforced that to us.

Those demands are not as onerous as people think. People are suggesting that someone is going to take over the Association. That’s not true. The supreme body is the AGM and they will always have control over the decisions the Association make.

“What’s happening is the people lending us the money are saying these are the terms you have to comply with. There is really only one condition which has been debated a lot, which is the six independent directors.” 

The Government had initially endorsed an 8/4 split between football and non-football directors after a governance review group but Owens explained that the six-six replaced it when the KOSI Report was delivered and laid bare the full extent of the governance and financial issues faced.

Also contained in the Memorandum of Understanding signed last January was a clause that Council members should be limited to a ten-year term, which would see enormous change to that body, but the line on this is less clear than that of the breakdown of directors.

The FAI have since decided to instigate Fifa's electoral code which states that candidates for these roles should be 'fit and proper', have no conflict of interest, and possess a skillset required to contribute to their role in Council or on a designated committee.

Owens confirmed that Council members who passed this test but who had been on the body for more than a decade could therefore stay on beyond that but he didn't quite agree that this was a big shift from the clause contained in the Memorandum.

“The MoU is the MoU. We’re basically making sure that anybody that’s on any committee or board will have a fit and proper test,” he said.

“It’s the way we’re interpreting it,” he added when pressed further. “We’ll find the words that we’ll give you around that but broadly speaking that’s the principle.” 

Owens neglected to say whether he would seek the CEO role on a permanent basis, preferring instead to concentrate on the business at hand. Niall Quinn, his interim deputy CEO, has been asked to extend his six-month term through to the EGM.

“I’m happy to do that,” Quinn said. “I have other interests as well which I’ve put on hold. I can’t answer further than that.”

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