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Taoiseach: 'We won't ask the taxpayer to bail out the FAI'

Amid debts of around €62 million, the FAI recently asked government for a bailout of €18 million.

Image: Rollingnews.ie

Updated Dec 30th 2019, 12:07 PM

THE TAXPAYER WON’T be asked to “bail out” the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says. 

Amid debts of around €62 million, the FAI recently asked Sports Minister Shane Ross for a government bailout of €18 million as they seek a refinancing package with their bank to secure their future. 

This was denied, with Ross citing a finding by the forensic KOSI audit that the FAI is not fit to handle public funds. 

The minister made it clear earlier this month that the government will not give the FAI any money at the moment, and Chair of the Oireachtas Sport Committee Fergus O’Dowd has said he believes a bailout from European football governing body Uefa is the FAI’s only way out of the present crisis. 

The government has said it won’t block the FAI from selling its stake in the Aviva Stadium, however, the Taoiseach would not say if the State will buy it. 

“This is something I am genuinely worried about at the moment,” said Varadkar. 

“The grass roots clubs, the League of Ireland clubs, the school boys and school girls all the rest of it, I want to make sure that continues as normal and also our national male and female sides,” he said, adding: 

“We want to make sure that we don’t see a situation whereby the association of football collapses in Ireland and if government has a role to play in ensuring that then government will play a role in ensuring that.”

However, the Taoiseach ruled out writing a blank cheque for the FAI:

We don’t want to be in a situation where we are somehow asking the taxpayer to bailout the FAI and take on their debts and liabilities and maybe their pensions too. We’re not going to do that.

He said the government was “going to try work out with them a plan that allows us to protect soccer and protect football in Ireland but in a way that avoids the taxpayer being asked to provide a blank cheque to pay for the mistakes of the past.

“That wouldn’t be the right way to go.”

Varadkar said he is “very happy” with the way that both Minister Ross and junior minister Brendan Griffin have dealt with the matter to date. 

He said it is something the government is “going to be deeply engaged with because it is the most popular sport in the country and when the team is doing well in particular it unites the country and people of all backgrounds from all parts of the country”.

“We’re not going to allow football in Ireland to fail but we need to get it right because I don’t think the taxpayer would like us to take on the debts, liabilities and pension costs that aren’t theirs,” he concluded. 

Sense of urgency

Speaking to reporters today, Communications Minister Richard Bruton also said there was a sense of urgency in resolving the challenges faced by the association. 

“I think Minister Shane Ross has been absolutely right, he does need to see a fresh start, he needs to see the independent directors, the fresh leadership,” he said. 

“I’ve no doubt, as the minister himself said, he does not want to see examinership or liquidation as the way forward for the FAI, and hopefully there is a space now emerging where the minister can work with the organisation to develop the strategy that we all want to see. 

“I don’t think anyone wants to see taxpayer’s money going into a black hole. It has to be done in a way we can stand over it, and any money given from the taxpayer is accountable in a transparent way.”

Concerns for the staff employed at the FAI have also been raised as, if the association was to be liquidated, it could see employees go unpaid next month. 

“I am not going to comment on the timing of talks. I think there is a sense of urgency on all sides and that recognition is important,” Bruton said. 

“Equally, there are preconditions that need to be met and we’re well on the way. I hope to see some of those met and we can see useful dialogue but I don’t want to comment on the timing or progress of those.”

With reporting from Conor McCrave

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