Dromintee CEO at centre of Di Canio fascism row

April 8, 2013

By Christine Keighery

Dromintee native, Margaret Byrne, who became one of the youngest chief executives of a Premier League football club when she was appointed CEO of Sunderland AFC in 2011, has become embroiled in the media storm over the political views of newly appointed Manager, Paolo Di Canio.

Solicitor Margaret, a past pupil of Sacred Heart Grammar School, was just 31 when she was appointed Sunderland Chief Executive, having stepped up from her four year role as legal director and company secretary at the club.

Following her appointment in the top job, former Republic of Ireland International and Sunderland Chairman, Niall Quinn, described her as a “true driving force at the club,” who, as its CEO, would “continue with the fantastic work that has gone before and will play a key role as the club continues to grow.”

Di Canio’s arrival into management in the world’s richest football league has been marked with revived controversies which have followed him during his career as a footballer. Remarks he made to an Italian magazine back in 2005, where he admitted to being a “fascist, not a racist” coupled with a seemingly fascist salute he made in front of his Lazio team in the same year, have led to much criticism over his appointment and the resignation of the club’s non-executive vice-chairman, David Miliband.

As CEO of the club, Ms Byrne has been forced to defend Di Canio’s appointment and, in a statement released on Sunderland AFC’s official website, the South Armagh woman rebuked those “trying to turn the appointment of a head coach into a political circus.” She also denied Di Canio is a fascist or a racist.

“Naturally it’s been very disappointing to read some of the reaction to Paolo’s appointment” she said.

“Anyone who has met Paolo and spoken with him personally, as we did in depth before making this appointment, will know that he is an honest man, a man of principle and a driven, determined and passionate individual. To accuse him now, as some have done, of being a racist or having fascist sympathies, is insulting not only to him but to the integrity of this football club.

“Paolo has spoken emotively and at length in order to clarify some of the misconceptions that surround him and historical comments and actions attributed to him in the past.

“My role and that of the Board is to act in the best interests of this club at all times and in appointing Paolo Di Canio we feel we have done just that.

“We are a football club and now want to allow Paolo and the team to focus on the rest of the season.”

The CEO confirmed that neither Sunderland AFC, nor Paolo Di Canio, would be making any further comment on the matter.