FAI boardroom divisions deepen as football directors refute claims by interim CEO Owens

DIVISION IN THE FAI boardroom has deepened tonight as the board’s eight football directors took the remarkable step of issuing a statement calling on interim CEO Gary Owens to withdraw statements he made earlier today regarding the board’s awareness of the contentious Memorandum of Understanding with the government signed by independent chairperson Roy Barrett. 

In a statement released by themselves rather than through official FAI channels, the eight directors – referring to themselves as “elected directors” – say they are “alarmed” at comments made this morning by Gary Owens, and called for him to immediately clarify his remarks. 

In a media briefing this morning, Owens rejected a claim made by Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry that the MOU was signed by Barrett without being approved by the board. 

“The board members had the opportunity to review what the terms and conditions were, and they did sign off on it”, said Owens. “They didn’t sign off on it afterward, they signed off on it beforehand. [Marc MacSharry] is wrong on that.” 

He continued, “It was approved by the board members in advance of it being signed. I would say reluctantly approved, but it was approved.”

In response, the football directors write that they “wish to state on the record that they did not approve the MoU before it was signed, therefore Mr MacSharry’s statement is correct. The facts are that they only received a draft copy of the MOU at 9.02am on the 30th January and immediately raised concerns regarding some of the conditions with the Chairman and received no reply.”

It is signed by all eight football directors: Paul Cooke, John Finnegan, Martin Heraghty, David Moran, Gerry McAnaney, Joe O’Brien, Richard Shakespeare, and Ursula Scully.

This statement makes tatters of a call for unity within the FAI made by Niall Quinn earlier today, as it formalises and entrenches division between the independent and football directors in the FAI boardroom. 

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There are 12 directors on the FAI board, four of whom are independent. They were identified by external recruitment firm Amrop and hired by the FAI’s Nominations Committee, a sub-committee of the main board. The remaining eight directors were elected from various football constituencies at an EGM last year. 

It comes at a particularly bad time for the FAI as they seek to pass a suite of reforms through an EGM on 31 August, upon which the State bailout of the Association is contingent. 

The most controversial of those reforms is a move to change the composition of the board to an even split of six independent directors and six football directors. Given that independent chairperson Barrett has the casting vote in the event of a split vote, some Council members have expressed a concern that this is tantamount to the FAI losing its independence.

In a letter last month to fellow Council members, James Kelly, a Fianna Fáil councillor, called this proposed rule change a “ticking time bomb” that “threatens the very existence of our Association as a sovereign body.” 

Kelly called for the assembly of a special meeting of Council to discuss the rule changes, which will take place at the Red Cow Moran Hotel on Friday afternoon.

Barret wrote to Council members last night urging them to pass the reforms, stating the FAI would otherwise face insolvency. 

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