By PJ Cunningham
The recently created words ‘Brexit’ and ‘Remainer’ swirled around in my mind quite a bit this week.
Mrs May’s unhappy tenure at the helm of the good ship UK departing the port of Europe played out on one side, while John Delaney showed what a great ‘remainer’ will do by opting out of the top job in the FAI to one specially created for him – Executive Vice President.
An ex-colleague’s tweet on Sunday that ‘Theresa May to become Executive Vice-President of UK’ wonderfully illustrated how British politics is only in the halfpenny place when it comes to imitating Irish sport this past week.
All we need now is for Uri Geller to take credit for getting Delaney to step down from the CEO role he had made his own for over a decade and a half, and we can expect the hapless Mrs May to fall on her sword this week.
Delaney was in Gibraltar watching Ireland ‘hammer’ the locals 1-0 when his announcement was made – a classic rewrite of what it means to be ‘between a Rock and a hard place’.
Mrs May’s problems, though, won’t be given the green light unanimously as happened when Delaney changed position – she has too many groups in her own Conservative Party who basically oppose everything she comes up with as potential solutions.
Chances are that while the Waterford man gets agreement by his board to take the exciting parts of the CEO role and package them away from the day-to-day conundrum of seeing how the League of Ireland lads are doing, Mrs May can’t even get any proposal she makes beyond the people she hand-picked to serve in her Cabinet.
Maybe the lesson of the last week, when it emerged that Delaney had given his employers a €100,000 interest free loan in 2017, is that you can survive in sport – even if a story gets ‘curiouser and curiouser’ – while there is a limit to how far public credulity will stretch in the real world of politics.
We were just trying to un-numb our senses after watching Mick McCarthy’s first match back in charge when the latest plot twist in the FAI saga hit the headlines.
A 1,800 word press release – one of the longest ever in my 40 years journalistic memory – told us that Delaney, seemingly without having to compete for the new position, would assume responsibility for all UEFA and FIFA matters including the proposed World Cup 2030 bid with the UK, the Under 21 Euro bid with Northern Ireland and matters pertaining to the Aviva Stadium from an FAI perspective.
Meanwhile, Rea Walsh, the current Chief Operating Officer at the FAI, became acting CEO from this week while the process of finding a new one began, presumably from late on Saturday night.
Just as there was no visible sense to Delaney trying to injunct the Sunday Times from revealing that he had given the FAI an interest free €100,000 bridging loan the previous Saturday, it seemed somewhat incongruous that the FAI should make this announcement on a Saturday night, rather than during business hours.
Claiming that it would affect Ireland’s performance against Gibraltar would have been risible – rather it appeared to be a move to minimise pubicity because the senior team was playing and vying for coverage too.
It also just doesn’t sit right that a week on from the revelation of the ‘loan story’ that the consultants brought in have not just come up with a solution – but have the man under the microscope – switched out of his lead role.
We are told he will be on a much lower salary … the sum of €120,000 was mentioned instead of the current €360,000 (down from the original €450,000 he was on until eight years ago).
It was further revealed this week that Delaney has had the benefit of a €3,000 a month house paid for by the FAI, though it is pointed out that he has paid Benefit In Kind (BIK) on that nice little perk.
The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, looking at the fact that the FAI is awarded public money, said the recent revelations meant there were “questions the FAI needed to answer.”
He told RTE: “We’ll want to be sure that any government money that the FAI has received has actually gone on programmes that we’ve paid for.”
The trouble is – and it has been a clear annoyance under Delaney – the FAI doesn’t do occasions where they feel the need to answer questions like at press conferences. Instead they issue releases a la Trump and so can’t be grilled on what is happening in their end of Abbotstown where their headquarters is now located.
However, they are due to go in front of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Association says Delaney will lead their delegation to that event on April 10.
This may be a watershed day for both the new Executive Vice President and the FAI as the chairman of that committee, Ferus O’Dowd, has made it clear they will be raising all the issues which have come into the public domain over the past 10 days or so.
Also on that committee is Fine Gael Deputy, Noel Rock, who last week, called for Delaney to resign.
Last week, I finished this column by saying that somehow I didn’t think we had heard the last of this story. What has followed since suggests that we may have only seen the beginning….