22 October ~ If you thought Northern Ireland's 1-1 draw with the Faroe Islands was embarrassing, then consider the farce that's been played out over the past year within the Irish FA. IFA president Raymond Kennedy resigned from his position on Tuesday, the day after losing vote of no confidence by his organisation's ruling council. The IFA has been in turmoil for almost 12 months now, ever since Kennedy and his association were criticised in an independent report into the sacking of former chief executive Howard Wells. That unfair dismissal case cost the IFA over £500,000 in legal fees and a settlement with Wells, but it also had far wider financial ramifications.
Nelson McCausland, Northern Ireland's Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, fiercely critical of the IFA in the wake of the Wells payout, declared that £23 million earmarked by his department for football in Northern Ireland would not be handed over until the association got its house in order.
"If I am to invest very large amounts of money – and we are talking about very large money here – not just in stadium development, but in other aspects of the sport, then it's important that the recipient of that money is a body fit for purpose," McCausland said earlier this month, reiterating his position for the past year. "That has to involve change – change at the top but also change right through the organisation. That is why we have said the key to this is an independent thorough review."
The IFA wants to refurbish the north and west stands at Windsor Park and totally redevelop the south and east stands, enlarging the capacity from 13,500 to 18,000. To do that it really needs the money currently withheld by the minister.
This month, when the minister chose to sit in the stadium among the fans at the Euro 2012 qualifier against Italy, he happened to be just a row or two behind a rather large banner emblazoned with "25 Million [sic] Reasons to resign…Goodbye Mr Kennedy". The local media had a field day with that.
What has been remarkable is the amount of time it has taken the beleaguered president to fall on his sword. With the IFA criticised by the minister as far back as last November, Kennedy stayed in power for almost another year. Even after the emphatic vote of no confidence this week, by 29 votes to 14, Kennedy asked for another 36 hours to consider his position and review his legal options. However, by the morning after the vote, he had accepted his time was up and stepped aside.
The time it has taken to reach this point may yet prove very costly for football in Northern Ireland. The independent review of the IFA's structure, McCausland's precondition for releasing the government millions, is yet to even start at time of writing. We are also, of course, in a belt-tightening period when government budgets are no longer guaranteed – the Treasury's anticipated £2 billion cut to Northern Ireland's block grant effectively means all bets are now off.
Speaking to the BBC earlier this month, Kennedy claimed he had no intention of jeopardising the government funds: "The bottom line is that, come what may, I will not put any money at risk." Yet, it took the vote of no confidence to force Kennedy's hand and it remains to be seen if the IFA's slow progress to reform will now come at an even greater cost. Haydn Parry