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Ross 'urgently' seeking clarity on what'll happen to the League of Ireland if the FAI fails

In a statement this evening, Ross’s department said the League of Ireland “would cease to exist in its current format” if the FAI fails.

LAST UPDATE | 18 Dec 2019

MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross is set to meet with UEFA representatives to clarify what would happen to the League of Ireland if the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) fails. 

Ross acknowledged in a statement this evening that should the FAI fail, then the league in its current format would “cease to exist”.

It comes after Ross earlier revealed that the FAI sought an €18 million bailout from the government.

FAI executives and members of the FAI board attended a meeting at Leinster House on Monday night to outline the state of the association’s finances with Minister Shane Ross.

An Oireachtas committee heard this morning that the FAI sought €18 million in a bailout from the government at that meeting. 

Ross said: “That is what they looked for, or they looked for a guarantee of that, and they presented different scenarios… They actually named that figure. It was shocking.”

Ross told the committee the FAI is not fit to handle public funds after an independent audit into the association’s finances was carried out.

Northern Irish firm KOSI was appointed by Sport Ireland earlier this year to conduct a full and extensive look at the FAI’s accounts and to assess the association’s fitness to handle public funds.

The examination of the FAI’s finances took place after it emerged that former chief executive John Delaney had given a €100,000 loan to the association.

League of Ireland

Fears were raised about what would happen to the League of Ireland and the jobs people have within the clubs and the leagues if the FAI should become insolvent.

In a statement this evening, the department said its ministers “wish to clarify matters around the future of the League of Ireland in the event that the FAI’s financial situation should deteriorate further”. 

“The Ministers understand that the insolvency of a national football federation in Europe would be an unprecedented situation and thus it is not completely clear what implications this would have for the relevant national league and consequently international teams,” Ross and Minister of State Brendan Griffin’s statement said.

It is the understanding of the department that if the national association failed, the national league would be impacted and would cease to exist in its current format.

However, they did say it was their understanding that League of Ireland clubs would be in a position to “rebound quickly” and fulfil fixtures in such a situation. 

“In that case, it would avoid a scenario where national teams would be precluded from international competition, provided a replacement national federation would be in place,” they said.

Ross and Griffin said they are seeking to urgently clarify the matter with UEFA ahead of a meeting next month.

“The Ministers recognise the need to have certainty around this point as a matter of urgency and hope that it will be possible for UEFA to provide certainty for the players and support staff employed by the League of Ireland clubs,” they said.

They added that they will also hold a meeting with representatives from League of Ireland clubs and it is hoped that will be scheduled in the coming days. 

‘Steep mountain to climb’

Speaking at an Oireachtas committee today, Ross said while he wished to present the findings of the KOSI report, he was restricted in what he could say as it is with an Garda Síochána.

While I have been advised that to share the full details of the KOSI auditors’ findings would be unlawful, I can confirm that their opinion is that the FAI is not fit to handle public funds.

“They acknowledge that some steps have been taken to address shortcomings, but there is a steep mountain to climb before we can reinstate funding to the FAI,” said Ross.

“Not a single cent will go to the FAI – either directly or indirectly – until we are fully satisfied that all weaknesses in governance and financial control have been fully addressed. / YouTube

“The funding will be channelled through a payroll processing company who will make payments directly to the development officers themselves. The payroll processing company will also ensure the payment of deducted taxes, PRSI and expenses as appropriate,” he said.

Criminal proceedings

The FAI turned down a second invitation in the space of a week for its representatives to appear before the committee to discuss the issues.

Ross said he had taken legal advice from his department’s legal adviser and also from the Attorney General and they insisted that it would be unlawful for him to provide the committee with a copy of the report.

“I have also consulted with An Garda Siochana who have advised me that matters outlined in the KOSI Report are central to their investigations and those of the ODCE, and that to make the report public at this time could have serious implications for any criminal proceedings subsequently brought by the Director of Pubic Prosecution.”

Ross said while he would like to share the report, it was clear that even a heavily redacted copy of the report would undermine the work of gardai.

He said he hoped to share the report with the committee at some point in the future, when the investigations currently under way are concluded.

State funding

Ross said no funding from the department’s Sports Capital Programme would be provided until the corporate governance and financial control issues had been resolved to their satisfaction.

I regret that that position remains unchanged today, notwithstanding the good efforts of Sport Ireland, the IPA and the professional firms advising the FAI through this process.

He said he can confirm that the KOSI auditors found that state funding given to the FAI was expended for the purposes it was given.

The minister said the Governance Review Group recommended that an independent chair and three other independent directors should be appointed in the FAI, but they had not done so.

He called for the appointments to happen as soon as possible in order to restore public confidence in the FAI.

“It is a source of great and ongoing frustration to me that, five months later, these independent directors have not yet been appointed,” he told the committee. “I have not received a satisfactory explanation as to why this has not yet been completed.”

“This should have been one of the first things the FAI did, in order to start the process of restoring trust in the association. Instead, we find ourselves approaching the end of the year, still waiting for these vital appointments,” he said.

Ross said grassroots football “must not suffer because of the mistakes of those at the top of the greasy pole”.

He said his sympathies are with FAI staff who face an uncertain future: “The staff at the FAI have endured pay freezes and more over the past 10 years, and have been shocked to learn about the previously undisclosed pay agreements with the former chief executive.

“They are not the ones who have caused this problem and deserve recognition, not victimhood, for their service.”

Revised accounts published earlier in December show the FAI had liabilities of 55 million euro at the end of 2018.

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