FAI president admits Aviva Stadium debt may not be cleared before 2030

Saddled with debt: Donal Conway was less optimistic about paying off the FAI’s obligations than John Delaney. PHOTO: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

FAI president Donal Conway has admitted that it could be more than 10 years before the organisation is free from debt.

Mr Conway said an update on the FAI's financial position is imminent in the next couple of weeks, but did not deny that cutbacks are on the way.

He was speaking at the launch of the Governance Review Group report into the football body - a 130-page document which made 78 recommendations, including a radical overhaul of the board and accountability structures.

The FAI refused to take questions on anything related to sidelined executive vice president John Delaney.

Reviews into the affairs of the FAI were kicked off by the revelation that Mr Delaney gave his employer a €100,000 loan in 2017. Finance is now the main issue facing the hierarchy, with staff fearing for their futures.

But debt arising from the association's commitment to the Aviva Stadium is a bigger problem than the costs created by ongoing investigations. Uefa is providing the FAI with financial support.

At last year's AGM, it was reported that stadium debt stood at €29m.

Throughout his time as chief executive, Mr Delaney had targeted debt-free status by 2020 and said the FAI could achieve that aim if it wanted.

The message from the top has now changed dramatically, with Mr Conway stating that the FAI could be saddled with Aviva Stadium-related debt for another decade or longer.

"It won't be debt-free by 2020. As part of the financial plan, we will decide on what is the most appropriate term to run out the remaining debt on the stadium," said Mr Conway.

"It could be pushed out 10 years and further."

He met with the FAI's workforce yesterday to discuss the governance report and address concerns about the health of finances.

Mr Conway said the FAI was a "lot of the way through" devising a "more sustainable financial plan".

He said he was not in a position to offer detail when it was put to him that references to sustainability sounded grim.

The Governance Review Group established between Sport Ireland and the FAI has proposed establishing a new 12-person board with four independent directors and four female representatives. It will need to be voted through by 140 out of 206 attendees at next month's AGM.

Review group chair Aidan Horan said that "behaviour and attitudes" in the FAI need to change.

However, questions related to the position of Mr Delaney and the status of the role of executive vice president were batted away by the FAI.

Reporters were told questions related to a "particular employee" going through a process would not be answered.

Mr Conway was asked if the position of executive vice president would be retained. Proposed reforms will abolish the roles of honorary secretary and honorary treasurer, which were previously held by Michael Cody and Eddie Murray, respectively.

"That's a member of staff that I think we have said earlier... that's not what today is about," responded Mr Conway. "Today I am talking about the Governance Review Report."

The FAI's communications director Cathal Dervan intervened to add: "Sorry, we can't take any questions on that subject."

He repeated that line in response to further queries on the timeline and FAI statements released at the time.

Mr Conway said the FAI has also yet to complete its investigation into a cyber-attack that affected staff emails and internal financial records.