French cheat Thierry Henry has escaped any punishment for the Paris handball that ended Ireland’s World Cup hopes in November -- and is free to play in the finals in South Africa this summer.

A FIFA hearing on Monday found no process under which to punish the Barcelona striker and French captain for the blatant and illegal use of his hand as he set up the match winning goal for William Gallas.

Henry will now lead France into the World Cup finals despite the global condemnation of his act of treachery that was slammed by the Irish players and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) for weeks after the event.

The FAI, which failed in a bid to have the game replayed and were also unsuccessful in attempts to be added to the World Cup finals as a 33rd team, refused to comment on the FIFA decision on Monday.

But Irish boss Giovanni Trapattoni was said to be annoyed but not surprised by the world governing body and its president Sepp Blatter’s failure to take any action against Henry.

Preston defender Sean St. Ledger summed up the anger within the Ireland camp when he told BBC Radio 5 live on Monday, “I’m shocked but not surprised really.

“Obviously I don’t want to see players getting banned but at the same time it promotes, ‘if you can get away with it, then do it’. I saw it, the handball, again today and I still believe the second time he intentionally handballed it.

“Across the board we are all hurt from it. I think it’s appalling that FIFA said they’ve got no legal foundation but they still have the power to change the rules and introduce the seedings as they did before the playoffs.

“If they’ve got the power to change that rule I don’t understand why they haven’t got the power to change the rule here. So, confusing but not surprising.

“It won’t surprise me if France go on and win the World Cup.”

Irish fans never expected FIFA to ban Henry but they did expect to see at least a fine imposed on the player who will doubtless march behind the Fair Play banner at this summer’s World Cup finals in South Africa.

FIFA discussed the matter at length at a disciplinary meeting in Switzerland on Monday, but could find no process under which to charge Henry with breaking any football law or rule.

“Handling the ball cannot be regarded as a serious infringement as stipulated in the FIFA disciplinary code,” said a FIFA statement released after the meeting.

“There is no other legal text that would allow the committee to impose sanctions for any incidents missed by match officials.

“The disciplinary committee reached the conclusion that there was no legal foundation for the committee to consider the case because handling the ball cannot be regarded as a serious infringement as stipulated in article 77a of the FIFA disciplinary code.”

Meanwhile, the FAI have confirmed that Trapattoni’s team will kick off their 2010 fixture list with a London friendly against Brazil at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, March 2.

The association has come in for stick from Irish fans for moving the game away from Dublin, with the GAA reportedly prepared to do a cut piece deal for the rental of Croke Park.

But the FAI signed all rights to the game away when they signed a contract with the English sports agency Kantaro before Christmas and will receive a flat fee for their services no matter where the game is played.