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Thursday 23 January 2020

'We'll help save FAI but not with blank cheques', says 'genuinely worried' Leo

Leo Varadkar said the taxpayer should not assume FAI debts
Leo Varadkar said the taxpayer should not assume FAI debts

THE Government is prepared to help save the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) - but will not be providing a blank cheque, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned.

Mr Varadkar said soccer in Ireland will not be allowed to fail but the taxpayer should not have to assume the debts and liabilities of the FAI.

Before Christmas, Mr Varadkar said he was "genuinely worried" about the situation.

He added that there will be meetings with the FAI and Uefa in the new year in a bid to work out a plan that allows the Government to protect soccer in Ireland.

State funding was suspended earlier this year after it emerged that former chief executive John Delaney gave a €100,000 loan to the FAI in 2017.

The association has more than €65m in liabilities and officials admitted yesterday it is possible the association could be liquidated if its Aviva Stadium debt is called in.

Mr Varadkar said earlier this month: "St Mochtas, Castleknock Celtic and Verona FC... are hugely popular clubs in my constituency and so many people play soccer in my constituency and I want to make sure that continues. Grassroots

"The grassroots clubs, the League of Ireland clubs, the schoolboys and schoolgirls, all the rest of it, I want to make sure that continues as normal - and also our national male and female sides.

"So we want to make sure that we don't see a situation whereby the association of football collapses in Ireland and if government has a role to play in ensuring that, then government will play a role in ensuring that.

"But we don't want to be in a situation where we are somehow asking the taxpayer to bail out the FAI and take on their debts and liabilities - and maybe their pensions too. We're not going to do that.

"We're going to try and work out a plan that allows us to protect soccer and protect football in Ireland but in a way that avoids the taxpayer being asked to provide a blank cheque to pay for the mistakes of the past."

Mr Varadkar said he is "very happy" with how Sport Minister Shane Ross and Junior Sport Minister Brendan Griffin have dealt with the controversy and said the Government is "deeply engaged".

"It is the most popular sport in the country and when the team is doing well in particular, it unites the country and people of all backgrounds from all parts of the country," he said.

Apology

"We're not going to allow football in Ireland to fail but we need to get it right because I don't think the taxpayer would like us to take on debts, liabilities and pension costs that aren't theirs."

Meanwhile, Mr Ross yesterday issued an apology for a tweet posted over Christmas referring to the FAI while holding a roasted goose.

He tweeted: "Guess who cooked my goose? The FAI? The Judges? The Vintners?"

The minister came under fire over the post given the potential for job losses at the association. He told the Sunday Independent he apologised if any FAI workers felt he was "making light of a highly serious situation".

"They can rest assured that their interests are my top priority," he added.

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