When I was a child, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would reply that I wanted to be a zookeeper, or an airline pilot, or a racing driver. My love of animals and planes and fast cars has not abated, though sadly, I did not manage to fulfil any of those childhood dreams. But if I could go back now, and tell that six year old me what he should want to do when he grows up, I would tell him “John, your life’s ambition should be to resign in disgrace from some Government funded organisation. You will never have to work again, and you’ll have enough money, if you want, to open your own zoo”.
John Delaney, it is reported by the Sunday Times (who have been dogged and excellent in pursuit of this story) will walk away with a reported half a million euro pay-off. In addition, he retains, for now, a €160,000 per annum role on the Governing body of UEFA, the European Football Governing body.
Now, naturally, everybody in the country is outraged about this – including, I must confess, yours truly. Delaney, after all, presided over nearly two decades of disaster. His €3,000 a month rent was paid by the FAI, and he racked up massive bills in the world’s best hotels, all while the Irish women’s national team had to get changed for a match in the toilets.
How did this go on, you might reasonably ask, for so long? There were plenty of people in the FAI who knew full well what Delaney was earning, and the extent to which his hand was, albeit perfectly legally, in the till. Reports of his massive salary did not suddenly emerge – he was asked about his then €400,000 per year annual salary on Irish radio as far back as 2011, when the rest of the country was in the depths of a recession. As Ken Early, who put the questions, recalls:
“After a while we got around to asking him how he, as the CEO of a small and financially struggling sports body, could justify his €400k salary. The mood darkened. He said we were “boring the audience”, who had no interest in such trivia. I didn’t agree, but I do remember a shout from the audience – “I thought this was a football show not an economics show!””
The truth, of course, though we all do not like to admit it, is that as many people in Ireland admire the likes of Delaney as are angry about it. Oh, sure, we’re all angry about it now, when the man is (deservedly) down and on the receiving end of a good kicking – but there are a great many people condemning Delaney today who, if in his position, would be off to the four courts to demand their fair and equitable severance package faster than you can say “offside, ref”.
Ireland, after all, has a long record of this kind of thing. Angela Kerins, one-time CEO of Rehab, believed her €240,000 salary was perfectly justified, and her €84,000 annual bonus – which she, of course, managed to achieve nearly every year – was “within the boundaries of what is expected”.
Colm O’Gorman, in charge of Amnesty Ireland, has overseen a decline in that organisation’s finances to the extent that it runs a deficit of over a million euros – and yet, he is in receipt of a substantial six figure salary, which Amnesty members, of course, voted to maintain.
Some years ago, my good friend Jason O’Mahony published a piece he called “the guide to the Irish scandal”. It is worth reading it in full, but I hope he will not object to my publishing it here:
- Issue emerges. Country particularly mortified at how the British media cover it.
- Public gasps at details. Sunday papers revel in particularly gory details. Fintan O’Toole writes a pithy piece which explains the cogent details very succinctly, and then drizzles it in extra-virgin head shaking like a nice salad.
- Opposition call for unspecified action (“Something must be done! We need action!”) or specific action outside the power of the government. (“Bishops must resign! The effect on water of gravity must be reversed!”)
- Government shakes heads, and promises that said event (Clerical child abuse/flooding/banking corruption/asteroid crashing into the Earth) must never be permitted to happen again, and calls for commission to investigate report of commission which investigated incident.
- Media, political establishment, voters, realising that they actually play golf/went to school/are second cousin of individuals named in report, start calling for “due process” to be observed, and instead focus on details of events as if they were some abstract natural disaster.
- The lawyers get involved. People’s right to “their good name”, passing of time, death of witnesses, gums up process of pursuit of actual criminals, drags investigations, trials, etc, in and out of high court for years.
- Government takes money off people who did not commit these crimes (Taxes), and gives it to victims. The perpetrators contribution is eaten up in legal fees.
- Some public officials take early retirement, on full pension. Which is pretty much the equivalent of a modest win in the National Lottery. Nobody goes to jail, except maybe a journalist who reveals how this thing is panning out, and is done for contempt of court.
- In general election, Irish people vote for same people who allowed scandal to occur, on basis that although he/she failed to act to prevent sexual assault of children/building houses underwater, etc, he/she was always “very good for the area.”
- In 10 years, another commission reports on poor handling of this scandal. Reset to step 1.
The truth, as Jason implies, is that everyone in Ireland does well out of a good scandal, and nobody particularly wants to take the steps necessary to ensure that such scandals are not repeated. The reason nobody raised the red flag about Delaney in the FAI is very simply that Delaney looked after them all.
Everyone is a winner here. The papers sell more copies. The FAI gets to pretend that there is some sort of new dawn for Irish football, now that the bad guy is gone. The viewing public gets to feel better about the villain being vanquished. And Delaney walks away, financially set for life.
Like I said – when I grow up, dear lord, please, please, give me the chance to resign in disgrace. In this country, it’s about the best thing that can happen to you.