Politicians question FAI’s confidence in Hill’s role as chief executive

Public Accounts Committee members unimpressed by the explanation of payments made to the CEO in lieu of holidays as a ‘miscalculation’

Members of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) appear at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday, February 22nd, 2024

Confidence in Jonathan Hill’s role as chief executive of the FAI has been questioned by the joint-Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC), while the association’s newly-elected president Paul Cooke also failed to offer Hill his unqualified support.

Hill continues to state that a €11,500 payment in lieu of holidays not taken, that he received in 2022, was a “miscalculation” by the FAI.

On discovery of these payments to Hill, including an additional €8,000 in travel expenses by a Kosi audit last year, Sport Ireland temporarily suspended €6.8 million in funding as the CEO’s salary must not exceed the amount paid to a Secretary General of a Government department.

That rule was agreed before the FAI received a €30 million rescue package from Government in 2020. Hill’s basic salary is €258,000. In 2022, he received €282,812 but the former commercial director of the English FA has repaid almost €20,000.


Hill attempted to absolve himself from the controversy by differentiating between “suggesting” he be paid the money, rather than “requesting” it from former FAI finance director Alex O’Connell.

“Is Mr Hill’s position tenable?” Alan Dillon TD asked Tony Keohane, the association’s independent chairman, during a tempestuous 3½ hour session in Leinster House on Thursday morning.

“It has, regrettably in my view, taken the spotlight away from the good work being done by the FAI,” Keohane responded. “Yes, I have confidence in Mr Hill, but I do recognise there has been a slip up.”

Dillon: “It is more than a slip up.”

The former Mayo footballer described heavily redacted FAI emails that had been sent to the PAC, and the 24 hour delay in sending them to the politicians, as a “strategy of containment”.

Cooke, when asked if he had confidence in Hill, replied: “We have confidence in the senior leadership and the board. Jonathan is part of that leadership team.”

When pressed to specifically support Hill, Cooke added: “My confidence has certainly been challenged by these events.”

Hill’s explanation of the payment, that O’Connell misinterpreted a “suggestion” to give him money instead of holidays as a “request,” does not appear to tally with an email exchange between the pair on December 19th, 2022, when the finance director wrote at 2.37pm: “I think we’re looking to try pay them (as per your request) however would go through Roy for approval so let me know if that’s ok with you?”

“Perfect,” Hill replied at 2.38pm.

“[O’Connell] evidently regarded this as a request and he then passed this on to the former Chair [Roy Barrett],” said Hill. “Discussion ensued between the director of people and culture [Aoife Rafferty], former finance director and the chair. I was not party to these discussions.”

Members of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) appear at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday, February 22nd, 2024

In December 2023, Hill told another Oireachtas committee that he “never contemplated the possibility of asking for cash in respect of holiday payments . . . I did not push it and I was not asking for it”.

On Thursday, he also revealed his comment to a junior member of staff about pay instead of holidays – “Can you negotiate the same for me please!?” – was a “throwaway line”.

FAI board member Liz Joyce, a former Bank of Ireland director of HR, wrote in an email to Barrett on December 6th, 2022 that “normally it is bad practice to allow employees cash in holidays” and that “any exceptions” must have clear grounds.

Without Joyce or the full board’s knowledge, Barrett agreed the payments. Hill states that Barrett did so “in good faith”.

“For me, this was not a formal request,” Hill insisted. “It was Mr O’Connell’s interpretation.”

Paul McAuliffe, the Fianna Fáil TD, responded: “That’s an extraordinary situation to put a colleague in. And to come before an a joint-Oireachtas committee, and put all the blame for of all this on a misinterpretation in a line you put in an email.”

The PAC also established that the FAI redirected almost €1 million in Covid relief to pay off a legacy debt. The committee then questioned the oversight of Sport Ireland, with its chief executive Dr Una May criticised during the hearing.

“€1 million of funding that is very clearly stated, not be used to pay back debt, was used to pay back legacy loans to FAI creditors,” stated James O’Connor TD. “Dr May, what do you think of that?”

Dr May responded: “I think this is a mischaracterisation of the purpose of the Covid funding.”

O’Connor: “It is in your own guidance!”

Describing the hearing as “farcical”, Deputy O’Connor subsequently asked an Tánaiste Micheál Martin to investigate concerns around the “misappropriation of funds from Government” by the FAI.

Martin replied: “It is becoming a bit challenging that increasingly the Oireachtas and the Government seem almost to have as its responsibility the micromanagement of organisations of sport and dare I say, broadcasting and other areas.

“This is a matter we should reflect on. We set up bodies, in this case a sporting body, that seek Government support. We provide the support at a substantial level. It is very high now. There should be adherence to it.”

The focus on erroneous payments prevented FAI plans to lay out their case seeking €40 million via a betting levy increase. And there is more financial hardship ahead for Irish football as an outstanding €7.63 million loan, to pay the Aviva Stadium licensing fee, means that their Government grant will be reduced by €1 million per annum until 2031.

Afterwards, on Kildare Street, Hill refused to speak with reporters, as one salient question was left unanswered.

“Jonathan, do you expect the country to buy that explanation?”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent