In his statement on behalf of the FAI board on Wednesday, the Association’s President Tony Fitzgerald sought to draw a clear line under the controversy caused by the revelation that John Delaney had sung the Republican ballad ‘Joe McDonnell’ in a Dublin pub following the recent Ireland-USA game at the Aviva Stadium, writes Liam Mackey.
“We are happy to bring the matter to a close,” said Fitzgerald, before going on to stress the board’s wholehearted backing for their embattled chief executive.
However, a unilateral attempt at closure is virtually meaningless so long as serious questions arising from the incident remained unanswered to any convincing degree. To paraphrase someone else who might be partial to the odd rebel song: this hasn’t gone away, you know.
The Wolfe Tones canon might not be to my particular taste — musically or politically — but I don’t question John Delaney’s right to sing one of their songs. Nor, I would suggest, is there any reason to doubt his insistence that he is “not someone who supports violence at all”.
He made this remark in an interview on RTÉ 2fm and, apparently by way of confirmation of his good intentions in this regard, went on to say: “In fact, over a large number of years I have been working closely with cross-border initiatives in football to break down barriers.”
And there’s the rub. For all his efforts at getting down with the Irish supporters in recent years, John Delaney is not just another ordinary rank and file member of ‘The Green Army’. As the chief executive of the FAI and someone, by his own admission, sensitive to the need for mutual respect on this island, he ought to be acutely aware of the risks involved in singing a song which, if evidence were ever to enter the public domain, would be sure to create turbulence beyond Dublin 4.
Which, of course, is precisely what happened, with former IFA President — and now Fifa vice-president — Jim Boyce responding to the incident by saying that he was “totally shocked and saddened that someone I have known for many years should get involved in such stupidity”, adding, “this type of behaviour from the chief executive of the FAI has to be condemned.”
Subsequently Boyce did, however, accept Delaney’s apology for any offence caused. “We all make mistakes,” he said. “I’m sure John himself, when he’s sitting and reflecting on it today. I know he’s already apologised, and I’m glad to hear that he’s done that...and I think that apology should be accepted.”
Which is probably where the matter would now lie, were it not for the fact that John Delaney’s apology was preceded by legal threats against two newspapers and one website on the basis the man seen and heard singing in the offending clip was not, in fact, John Delaney.
The man himself made an apparent reference to this development in a statement on the FAI website on Tuesday: “I now understand that while I was travelling and uncontactable there was some confusion through a third party around the background of a video which appeared and where it happened which led to misunderstanding”.
It should now be obvious — if not much else is — why I used the words “apparent reference”, since, far from clearing up any “confusion” or “misunderstanding”, this paragraph served to add another layer to the puzzle.
And it’s one for which we still await clarification, either from Delaney or the FAI.
When he opted to sing ‘The Ballad Of Joe McDonnell’ in a Dublin pub, the chief executive was guilty of poor judgment, not only for the reasons already mentioned but also because he ought to have known that a pub — the hint is in the name — can never properly qualify as a private place, and perhaps especially not for a man whose own colourful history of YouTube appearances should make him more conscious than most of the instrusive, all-seeing capabilities of technology and social media.
But his lapse of judgement in that regard was not, in my opinion, a resigning or sacking offence, even if its ripples can be expected to return as bigger waves in the run-up to the visit of England in June.
But far more serious, and of much more urgency, are the questions which, thus far, remain unanswered about the background to the legal threats which were made before he offered his public mea culpa. It’s this issue which puts John Delaney’s credibility, and that of the board which has backed him, on the line.
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