The FAI: John Delaney’s Donkeys Exposed

by | Dec 23, 2019

There is a theory that John Delaney’s finally-ended reign at the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) had two distinct sections. That he, like Ireland itself, flourished as the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy flourished, only, like Ireland itself, to recklessly overspend and fall to debt-riddled earth when the money ran out.

Yet the former FAI Chief Executive was worse, albeit in the microcosmic terms of a minority sport rather than a national economy. Ireland had to come to (harsh bailout) terms with its excesses and reign them in. Delaney, the Sunday Times and the Irish Sun newspapers have in particular revealed, never did. And the extent of this was horribly exposed by this month’s revelations that the FAI was in a scandalously worse financial position than contemporaneously recorded.

The FAI has been in scandal-management mode since the St. Patrick’s Day revelation by Sunday Times journalist Mark Tighe of a €100,000 “bridging” loan BY Delaney TO the FAI in April 2017. Delaney’s attempted cover-up of this act of apparent philanthropy in Ireland’s High Court, triggered a drip-feed of financial revelations by Tighe and others which ended his FAI career, though he only finally f**ked off on 28th September, having been on ‘gardening leave’ on what can best be described as ‘full pay, FFS’ since 15th April.

Meanwhile, his major enabler, FAI president Donal Conway, broke a promise to stand down along with the rest of the board this summer. Indeed, he was re-elected unopposed at the FAI’s July Annual General Meeting by a depressing majority of delegates (134-6). He will go on 25th January, having initially adopted a Jeremy Corbyn-ite attitude to f**king off and staying away for ever.

Conway announced his departure at a 6th December press conference, a day before the FAI’s true finances under his presidency were revealed (he clearly knew what was coming). “I can’t ask about anything if I am not told it” was how he ‘explained’ his inadequate scrutiny of Delaney’s consistent over-remuneration, an apparent “a sin of commission” not “a sin of omission.” And his refusal to apologise was peak-Corbyn. “The apology thing doesn’t weigh with me,” he said. “It’s not a failure to appreciate or apologise. I don’t think it’s a particularly meaningful act.”

The “cash-strapped” or “financially-stricken” FAI is currently running on a mix of fumes and a multi-million euro bail-out from European football governing body Uefa (more parallels with the nation). Annual state funding of €2.9m was suspended in April, with sports minister Shane Ross demanding a clear-out of the old FAI regime and sweeping governance reforms before any re-instatement.

“A completely new board, without exception, is required to tackle previous corporate governance deficiencies and restore public confidence,” he told the Sunday Times on 30th June, adding some well-directed snark at certain reluctances to leave: “If there is any requirement for corporate memory, all former board members will be expected to be available to assist the new board as needed.”

Eighteen days earlier, in a move the Sunday Times reported as “designed to assuage” Ross, a report by a Governance Review Group (GRG), jointly-commissioned in March by the FAI and Irish sports development authority Sport Ireland, made 78 fairly standard reform recommendations for organisations in governance difficulty, such as clear terms of reference and clear job descriptions for officers.

The new board would include “four independent directors, one of whom would be the Chairperson.” The Honorary positions, secretary and treasurer, would “cease to exist.” There would be “a minimum of 33.3% of both genders.” And there would be “a process of evaluating the performance of the CEO.” If only somebody had thought of THAT one before.

However, the FAI has a history of reform prevarication. The appointment of two independent directors was recommended by the Genesis report, which was commissioned in the wake of Ireland’s fraught World Cup preparations in…2002. And the FAI is currently delaying reform, while waiting for other investigations into their conduct to finish, which, for various concerning reasons, could take a while (see below).

The FAI has been more generally obstructive too, especially in their attitude to document requests from corporate watchdog, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE). This has been a High Court battle since the ODCE began investigating the FAI in March, after the loan revelations, as the FAI has withheld documentation, citing legal privilege.

Meanwhile, insolvency fears, dismissed when raised in May by FAI staff’s union Siptu, have resurfaced. Yet Delaney was paid €462,000 to f**k off, thanks to a “service-related employee bonus” and a “deferred pensions arrangement” agreed in 2014 by a “remuneration committee” of two Delaney loyalists, the ironically-entitled Honorary Treasurer and Secretary, Eddie Murray and Michael Cody. These agreements were not contemporaneously shared with the full board and only became public in Neil Cotter and Craig Farrell’s Irish Sun newspaper exclusive on 9th May.

Worse still, “restated” 2016 and 2017 accounts revealed that “the FAI had seriously overstated its financial position.” The 2016 accounts declared a €2.3m profit “when it only made €66,000.” In 2017, a declared €2.8m profit was actually a €2.9m loss (some spelling mistake, that). In 2018, the FAI lost €8.9m, including “underpaid employment taxes and VAT.” And €28.2m bank loans (in “technical default” because of the accounts’ errors) made total liabilities €55m.

FAI auditors Deloitte reported “negative operating cashing” since December 2018, subsequent “continuous financial support” from Uefa to help meet “ongoing operations” and “advanced discussions” with FAI bankers to provide short and medium-term “financial stability.” All of which created the dreaded “material uncertainty” over the FAI’s ability “to meet its liabilities as they fall due.”

However, Deloitte were criticised in Ireland’s parliament, Dail Eireann, having failed to spot the accounts bombshells. Social Democrat member Catherine Murphy wondered if they were “really” independent “after 23 years doing the same job.” A theory supported by Taoiseach (PM) Leo Varadkar. “The deputy asks a very good question and makes a very good point,” he declared. “It is a principle of good corporate governance that organisations shouldn’t be audited by the same people for ever-and-ever again.”

Things could be worse still. The first completed FAI investigation was from Northern Ireland accountancy firm Kosi Corporation, who were commissioned in May by Sport Ireland to undertake an “extensive audit,” examining “in detail the FAI’s wider financial administration and internal control environment, including an assessment of the FAI’s fitness to handle public funds.” But their report went straight to Garda Siochana, Ireland’s state police

The FAI had commissioned their own “independent” look at what they enormously understated as “issues of concern…expressed by members of the football family, supporters, commentators, politicians and the public” (i.e. everyone). On 31st March, They hired French audit consultants Mazars to report “as soon as possible.” Six-and-a-half months on, this report is still awaited. God knows how long they’d be if they’d been told “take yer time, lads.” Alongside this, the FAI had “separately and urgently engaged” more accountants, Grant Thornton, to examine its “books, records and ledgers.”

There’s a LOT to investigate, mind. When we last looked askance at Delaney’s FAI, in April, the Sunday Times Irish edition was a weekly source of embarrassment. The drip-feed has continued since then, earning Tighe the journalist, news reporter and scoop of the year awards at November’s NewsBrands journalism awards (with the paper landing the campaigning and investigative journalism awards).

There was Delaney’s ticket agreement for Uefa events with “unlicensed match hospitality outfit” Marcus Evans Ltd (Ipswich fans, whose club Evans owns, look away now). Uefa said “the activities of the Marcus Evans group of companies in relation to Uefa’s events have been a cause of great concern for years, and Uefa has issued legal proceedings against (the group) in relation to the unauthorised sale of hospitality packages.” But when Fifa investigated, they said the 2010 agreement was too old for their “ethics proceedings.”

There were costly kit sponsorship negotiations. In March, Delaney told FAI directors that he had sought early payment of a 2016 €6.5m kit deal with retail group Sports Direct (SD). This, it emerged, was designed to ‘refinance’ the FAI’s €32m Bank of Ireland debt. However, SD had actually cancelled the deal in March. And under its terms, the FAI is now repaying them €100,000-a-month, in respect of monies advanced.

SD’s deal didn’t feature in the original 2016 and 2017 FAI accounts because of course it didn’t. Thus it was news to current FAI kit supplier Toplion. Their MD, Jonathan Courtenay said any SD deal would “breach the terms of our current contract.” This was extended in July and Courtenay was “disappointed” that the SD deal didn’t come up in negotiations. “If, of course, the FAI negotiating team were aware of this alleged deal at the time,” he added, mischievously. Toplion have withheld €1m in contract payments from the FAI. And the ODCE are now investigating.

There were multi-stories about Delaney’s lavish 50th birthday party, which reportedly cost the FAI €69,000, was staffed by FAI employees and is now being investigated by Mazars. The final destination of a €60,000 “agent’s fee” paid to Delaney’s then girlfriend Susan Keegan six years ago remains unclear, with suggestions that “at least some” it “went into a bank account…not under her control.” And more general FAI misbehaviour emerged, too many to detail here. Simply google “FAI John Giles Foundation” and marvel at the nominative determinism of “Con” Martin’s involvement. Oh…AND Delaney wanted €3m to bugger off and stay away forever, despite all of the above.

Bad news has flowed from all directions, however. On 5th December, telecoms company Three announced the end of their five-year sponsorship of the national team because, Chief Commercial Officer Elaine Carey said: “Having recently reviewed our sponsorship portfolio, we have decided to consolidate our sponsorship investment in the area of music.” Handily-timed review, cynics may think. Meanwhile, energy firm and League of Ireland sponsor SSC Airtricity noted that “ongoing governance developments at the FAI are a serious concern which we are continuing to monitor.”

This, in turn, followed the FAI’s latest recruitment fiasco. “Barring a last-minute hitch,” the Sunday Times’ Paul Rowan reported on 24th November, “new interim chief executive, John Foley, is expected to be introduced to staff this week.” Cue last-minute hitch. On 2nd December, Foley said he wouldn’t take the job as “it was not clear that the support for my appointment across key stakeholders was at the level required for me to succeed.”

He didn’t name names. But past connections to Delaney were too much for some. In 2007, Delaney brought Foley in as a League of Ireland executive member. And League clubs were reportedly among the opponents of his FAI appointment…although only a cynic would link the two. Nonetheless, this insufficient-level of support for Foley seemed like a distancing from the Delaney era.

Foley was due to replace Noel Mooney, whose six-month secondment from Uefa as “General Manager” ended on 30th November. Mooney was appointed at least in part for his “expertise in finance,” possibly to check on Uefa’s bail-out cash. But it was noted by some that in 2011, he called Delaney “an inspiration to work with.” And at the FAI’s 2017 AGM, he said Delaney had made the FAI “fit-for-purpose” and “one of our most progressive and well-run federations.”

Mooney’s role had been earmarked for chartered accountant Paul Cooke, who was elected FAI vice-president in July and is now it’s “executive lead.” But Cooke was a Delaney critic, a rare questioner at FAI AGMs, as a former FAI Council member. And sports minister Ross was damning as to why Mooney initially got the nod, writing in the 26th May Sunday Independent newspaper: “Mooney (is) an FAI loyalist to his fingertips. [He] is one of the last people on God’s earth suitable for this job. Going to Mooney is going back to the dark ages.”

Ross is NOT considered an enlightened figure. The “Mallow News” twitter account, a vicious satire of Irish public ‘personalities,’ made he and Delaney “sports w****r of the year” finalists in their recent annual ‘awards.’. He was pilloried for photobombing Irish boxer Katie Taylor’s triumphal return from a world title fight in June. But his ‘damn-them-all’ view of Delaney-era FAI acolytes resonates widely, especially given the FAI’s on-going refusal to attend parliamentary committee meetings on their governance issues

The scale of FAI mismanagement is difficult to comprehend, so commonplace have the revelations become. Indeed, while I was typing this, the Tighe and Rowan Sunday Times double-act reported on a(nother) FAI “rescue package,” €650,000 which Delaney scrounged off various provincial, amateur, associations, including the Leinster FA, last December. One shudders to think what could possibly be next.

But it is as difficult to believe that no-one will be held to serious legal account, both for the financial skulduggery which appears to have taken place and for such a collective enabling of it, either through sins of “commission” or “omission.” Delaney might yet get away with his excesses and those who let him get away with it while he was an FAI employee may in turn get away with it too.

The fear is that, with investigations on-going and completed investigation reports going straight to the police, we have almost certainly heard nothing like the full story yet.