Ireland

Extra payments to FAI chief began with ‘throwaway line’ in email, committee told

Fianna Fail TD Paul McAuliffe asked the FAI whether ‘a joke in an email went on to become a formal process’.

FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill
Public Accounts Committee on oversight and governance of funding to the Football Association of Ireland FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill arriving at Leinster House, Dublin, for an appearance at the Public Accounts Committee, which is looking at matters related to the oversight and governance of funding to the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) by Sport Ireland and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. Picture date: Thursday February 22, 2024. (Brian Lawless/PA)

The head of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has said that a “throwaway line” was the catalyst for an issue that saw him receive payments above limits attached to Government funding.

FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill received payments for expenses and in lieu of holidays not taken, which brought his pay above limits set with the Government as part of the organisation’s 2020 bailout.

A recommendation set out in term 35 of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreement with the Irish Government states the FAI chief executive’s remuneration should be “in line” with Government pay guidelines for a secretary-general.

The revelation resulted in funding to the FAI temporarily being suspended.

Addressing the Public Accounts committee on Thursday, Mr Hill said the issue of holiday pay arose in the context of another staff member applying via email for payment in lieu, which had been agreed by the then finance director and the chief operating officer.

FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill (right) and FAI independent director Catherine Guy (left) arriving at Leinster House, Dublin
Public Accounts Committee on oversight and governance of funding to the Football Association of Ireland FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill (right) and FAI independent director Catherine Guy (left) arriving at Leinster House, Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

In response to this email, Mr Hill agreed to the request and added a “throwaway line” in an email to a junior staff member: “Can you negotiate the same for me please?!”

He told the committee: “For me, it’s clear that this was not a formal request and it was in an email back to the junior colleague.”

Mr Hill said the then finance director, who was copied in on that email, took this as a request and “uses the email chain” to go to the former chair.

“From then on, I am not part of that process, although I am asked five weeks later, as would be normal at the end of the year, how many days holiday I’ve taken. I reply and ask what is happening with them, saying clearly that I would be happy to carry them over.”

Fianna Fail TD Paul McAuliffe asked whether Mr Hill was suggesting “a joke in an email went on to become a formal process”.

Mr Hill responded to say it was the former finance director’s interpretation of the email and that he followed “what he believed was the right process to make that inquiry”.

FAI president Paul Cooke arriving at Leinster House
Public Accounts Committee on oversight and governance of funding to the Football Association of Ireland FAI president Paul Cooke arriving at Leinster House (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr McAuliffe said: “It’s an extraordinary situation that an organisation would somehow in a train of emails pick up on what is a throwaway line, that they would then initiate a process to cost that organisation money.

“That without any recourse to you they would build a case that meant it was exceptional and unusual that you should receive this, in breach of your own organisation’s HR guidelines, in breach of what is best practice in terms of employee relations, in breach of perhaps legislation, that they would do all of that on their own, and that you had no part in any of that. That they did all of that on their own.”

Mr Hill responded: “I understand your position, I understand your statement, but that is the situation.”

When pressed by Mr McAuliffe if he had confidence in Mr Hill, FAI president Paul Cooke said he has confidence in the senior leadership team and the board.

When pressed further, he added “my confidence has certainly… been challenged by the events”.

FAI chairperson Tony Keohane (left) and FAI independent director Liz Joyce arriving at Leinster House, Dublin
Public Accounts Committee on oversight and governance of funding to the Football Association of Ireland FAI chairperson Tony Keohane (left) and FAI independent director Liz Joyce arriving at Leinster House, Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr McAuliffe also criticised the FAI for documents being sent to the committee late on Wednesday which he said had put committee staff under pressure.

“We’re trying to read redacted emails and thread them together – presented to us in reverse order, by the way, in the timeline – and it’s very, very difficult to string it together or to have a coherent understanding of what is happening.”

He said that usually when documents are provided late to committee that “we go on to find out that there’s information that was being hidden from this committee and I would say to you that you put yourself in that suspicious position”.

Chairman Tony Keohane said they were “extremely sorry for sending in material so late last night” and that it was “in no way meant to be disrespectful” to the committee.

Asked by the chair of the committee Brian Stanley why a letter concerning Mr Hill’s “throwaway” line was so heavily redacted, and why the redaction of the name of the junior staff member would not “suffice”, Mr Hill said the redactions were based on legal advice.

“In relation to my understanding of where the legal advice that the association has received that I’ve not been privy to, that redaction is to protect the junior employee involved, which I actually think from a human perspective is probably the right thing to do, but it was not my decision.”