Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry has called for the resignation of the chairman of the FAI board Roy Barrett and strongly criticised the appointment of high-ranking civil servant Robert Watt to the Abbotstown top table.
ligo TD MacSharry has been vocal on the latest round of boardroom turbulence in the troubled football body with a row that centres around the signing of January’s rescue deal.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that restores state funding has yet to be voted through by FAI members and contentious terms include the addition of extra independent directors and an immediate exit for FAI Council representatives with more than ten years service.
Unhappy FAI Board and Council members have questioned the legal authority of Mr Barrett to sign into that memorandum without the approval of a meeting, and point to this as evidence that board members elected through football constituencies no longer hold any influence.
Mr MacSharry raised the matter in the Dáil last week and that prompted a strong response from Mr Barrett who urged the Sligo-based TD to ‘check his facts’, and asserted that a Council vote in March gave the FAI authority to start drawing down state funding arrangements arising from the rescue deal.
This is disputed by Mr MacSharry who told the Dáil yesterday that his understanding is that the March vote, which took place via e-mail, was only called to approve refinancing proposals with Bank of Ireland, citing correspondence sent by interim FAI CEO Gary Owens about that process.
“How can the independent chairman (Mr Barrett) claim express sanction from the FAI council for a legally-binding state loan agreement that either doesn’t exist, or if it does exist, hasn’t been shown or explained to, or approved by his own board, let alone the council members,” said Mr MacSharry during Thursday evening’s sitting in the Dáil.
“I respectfully suggest that the independent chairman (Mr Barrett) is best advised to do two things. Firstly he should recheck his facts and secondly, having done so, he should resign.”
Hildegarde Naughton, the Minister of State for International and Road Transport and Logistics, responded on behalf of the government to state that the FAI, Sport Ireland and the company which operates the Aviva Stadium had entered into an April memorandum which ‘outlines that a recoupable grant will be paid in installments totalling €2,544,600 annually by Sport Ireland to New Stadium DAC on behalf of the FAI, in each of the years 2020, 2021, and 2022.’
She added that this grant will be recoupable from the FAI from 2024.
Ms Naughton asserted that Sport Ireland and government are awaiting on the FAI membership voting through the January memorandum terms at an EGM before putting the remainder of funding arrangements in place, adding that Sport Ireland had notified her that this EGM may take place in the second week of August.
However, MacSharry described the FAI’s governance as “appallingly bad” and claimed that “as far as I am concerned, the State and Sport Ireland are complicit in an effective coup d’etat where people at the top – so called independents – are dictating what is going on without telling their own Board and we’ve lent money, it seems, to an organisation that didn’t have the express sanction of their Council.”
Mr MacSharry has criticised Mr Barrett’s previous relationship with interim CEO Owens and his deputy Niall Quinn.
He also publicly registered his objection to the appointment of Mr Watt, the Secretary-General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, to fill a spot on the FAI top table that was left vacant after the appointment of Mr Barrett and his fellow independent directors Catherine Guy and Liz Joyce.
The outgoing Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport Shane Ross was opposed to Watt’s appointment when the idea was floated earlier this year because he felt it represented a conflict of interest.
Mr MacSharry voiced his disapproval at a Fianna Fail parliamentary meeting on Wednesday and there is understood to be disquiet in Fine Gael circles over how other sporting bodies might interpret it.
He said it was ‘inconceivable’ that in the midst of the pandemic crisis, ‘the biggest in the history of the globe since the Spanish flu’ that the general secretary of the ‘most busy department’ would have the ‘spare capacity to go off and pad out his own CV for the exit strategy to the private sector.’
“The reality is it’s a clear conflict of interest,” said Mr MacSharry in the Dáil.
“He’s not our man on the board, he’s doing it in a private capacity. He’s got a fiduciary duty to the FAI while he’s on the same board and, at the same time, he’s the one providing the money from the department of public expenditure. Government should reverse this.”
Ms Naughton replied that Mr Watt’s appointment was made in accordance with the FAI’s rules and that neither the ministers for sport in the current and previous government or their departments had any role in it.
It is understood that Mr Watt’s arrival has actually been well received by some members of the FAI Board and Council that have criticised the controversial government-driven move towards a 50 per cent representation of independent directors on their top table, given that he does have a link with the game through an association with his local club Drumcondra FC.
“He’s a smart man,” said a senior FAI source. “They are the type of people you want on a board. You would like to think somebody like him could come through the football route.”
Another delegate said that Mr Watt’s presence would give the FAI an insight into the workings of the state that other sporting organisations have enjoyed.