Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said an “investigation” is needed into how the Football Association of Ireland is spending taxpayers’ money amid ongoing concerns over the transparency of the soccer group.
Mr Varadkar confirmed that Government grants will remain frozen until the checks take place, as he hit out at the FAI’s ex-CEO John Delaney’s failure to answer any questions at an Oireachtas sports committee this week.
While accepting Mr Delaney was legally within his rights to refuse to answer questions, Mr Varadkar said no one can be satisfied with what happened.
He was speaking as the fallout over Mr Delaney’s €100,000 loan to the FAI continued, with sponsors piling pressure on officials to adhere to corporate governance best practice.
Answering questions from reporters in Midleton, Co Cork, Mr Varadkar said while the majority of the FAI’s money comes from private sources, an “investigation” is needed to ensure the money was spent on what it was allocated for.
“Well, first of all the most important thing from the Government’s point of view is to ensure that millions of euro in taxpayers’ money we give the FAI has been used for the purpose intended.
“That’s facilities around the country, investment in youth, investment in women’s sport. So we need to carry out an investigation now to ensure that money has been properly used,” said Mr Varadkar, adding that this is a prerequisite before funding resumes.
“I’m actually very keen to restore funding for the FAI, because we want that money to flow again to local clubs, and youth and women, but we just want to check to make sure it’s being spent appropriately.”
Government officials did not clarify what such an “investigation” would involve last night.
It has been suggested the Taoiseach’s remarks are linked to Sports Minister Shane Ross’s upcoming appearance before the Oireachtas sports committee alongside Sport Ireland next Tuesday.
Earlier this week, Sport Ireland confirmed it is freezing €2.9m in promised funding to the FAI as a direct result of the soccer group’s ongoing failure to explain a series of financial issues at the organisation.
Mr Delaney, the FAI’s newly appointed vice-president, and other officials refused to answer key questions during a 10-hour Oireachtas sports committee this week.
Commenting on Mr Delaney’s refusal to answer questioning other than to read out a prepared statement to politicians this week, Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t think anyone would be satisfied by it.
“I think the public, taxpayers, football fans, would have like those questions being answered.
“In terms of John Delaney, the FAI’s actually not a public body, it’s a private organisation, a company, so he’s within his legal rights not to account to the Oireachtas because he’s not a public servant.
“But the FAI will have to account to the ODCE and to Sport Ireland — they have questions to ask, and John Delaney and the executive board will have to answer them,” he said.
Last night several Oireachtas sports committee members told the Irish Examiner the FAI had failed to send written answers to questions it was told to respond to within days.
It has separately emerged that a number of the FAI’s 18 sponsors are putting increasing pressure on the organisation to enact corporate governance best practice.
Fine Gael TD and sports committee member Noel Rock last night welcomed “investigation” plans, saying “the pressure is mounting from regulators, sponsors, and now the Taoiseach” and that “changes are needed”.
Meanwhile, Cork City FC fans voiced their frustrations with the FAI during last night’s tie with St Patrick’s Athletic.
Some fans refused to take their seats in the Joe Delaney Stand, named after John Delaney’s father, and supporters groups unfurled banners calling for Delaney to resign his position with the FAI.
Videos posted on social media appeared to show some supporters clashing with stewards and gardaí as banners and flags were removed, with several supporters reported to be ejected from Turner’s Cross during the match too.
Additional reporting by Olivia Kelleher
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