FAI independent chairman Roy Barrett emerged from an emotive council meeting confident state funding will be reinstated.
Over four hours at the Red Cow Hotel, 69 senior council debated radical reforms essential for €35m of taxpayers’ money being released to the embattled organisation.
By the end, following a week of claim and counter-claim from within the boardroom, Barrett and his President Gerry McAnaney produced a united front. Whether it’s enough to convince two-thirds of the 203-strong EGM to ratify the changes on August 31 remains to be seen.
But Barrett stressed his confidence that fears over two independent directors joining the 12-person board at the expense of two members elected through football constituencies have been allayed.
“Ultimately the vast majority want to do the right thing and make the right decision,” said the Association’s first-ever chairman.
“It’s clear that there are parts of these decisions are difficult but, in the round, I’m confident that people will make a decision in the best interests of Irish football.
“This was a very, very positive meeting, with a full and frank exchange of views of everyone. They were glad to have that opportunity to express themselves.”
Government ministers remain adamant of the changes, though Barrett left open of a change to the necessity for council members with 10 years’ service to quit.
Echoing a revelation by interim CEO Gary Owens in midweek, the Goodbody Stockbrokers MD left the door open on flexibility.
“I’ve never agreed with the concept that people should be precluded from being on a committee,” he said.
“Right now, the 10-year rule is there but there’s ongoing dialogue around the interpretation of that.
“We are talking to Sport Ireland, the Department, and also FIFA. Hopefully we will have clarity by the time we get to the EGM on August 31.” Barrett asserted a view that he had ultimate authority to agree the reform measures with then Sports Minister Shane Ross on January 30.
The eight football directors released a statement on Wednesday evening refuting a claim made by Owens that they had approved and signed off the terms in advance.
Despite Barrett receiving a copy of the terms on the eve of signing the agreement, he didn’t share the details with the board until the next morning.
“I received the email on 8.58pm but didn’t see it,” he said. “It was a very busy time for me; both in terms of my work with the FAI, but also in my day job.
“If I had seen it at 8.58pm, I would have sent it on straight away. We needed the funding and I was mandated by the board to sign the MoU.
“I took a lot of the comfort from the fact that the members would ultimately decide if it was acceptable or not.”
Part of the concerns raised by delegates is that Barrett retains the casting vote at board level should the 12-person board be split.
The non-executive director insisted he had no problems if members vote to transfer that golden ticket to President Gerry McAnaney.
More importantly, he added that the stakeholders to the bailout deal – the Government, UEFA, and Bank of Ireland – wouldn’t object either.
“They have no business in that,” said Barrett. “The casting vote is not a condition of the deal, so I have no issue with members changing that. None at all.”
Wexford Youths founder and Member of European Parliament Mick Wallace claimed that must be altered to keep decision-making in the hands of football personnel.
“It’s a bit rich for the government to insist on independent directors having greater influence on Irish football because the state have struggled to run a piss-up in a brewery.
“They’ve blown a billion on the children’s hospital, 10 billion on NAMA so I don’t think they’d allow the FAI to go insolvent because they don’t agree with boardroom changes.
“Now they’ve suddenly become experts on Irish football.
“There’s close to half a million people involved in Irish football. I don’t think they’d allow it all to go down the drain but it looks like we’re going to accept their threat and bow down to them.”
Meanwhile, McAnaney said the dispute over Owens’s version of events was resolved.
“Apologies have been made and that has been put to bed,” he stressed. “The reason we went public with it is that people felt strongly there was a misrepresentation.
“There was an issue between members of the board and something that appeared at a press conference during the week. That happens when people are committed to the cause.”