CAVAN referees will meet with county board officials tonight, with speculation mounting that they are ready to go on strike in a dispute over match expenses and the possibility that they could be exposed to new tax liabilities.
Michael Brady, chairman of the local referees' sub-committee, insisted that this is just a routine meeting to organise fixtures and make arrangements for the coming season, and said there was "absolutely no truth" to speculation that a strike is imminent.
However, one local referee told the Irish Independent that there is disquiet in Cavan over a recent Revenue Commissioners clampdown on the GAA, which has created fears that it could bring the taxman down on referees.
And Brady acknowledged that many local officials would be unwilling to submit their PPS numbers to the county board, which is now a mandatory requirement under new payment arrangements for referees in some counties.
The Revenue Commissioners' increased interest in GAA matters in the past year has caused anxiety that referees are now being targeted.
Revenue initially investigated the issue of under-the-table payments to team managers. The Irish Independent understands that back-room team members who charge fees – doctors, physios, masseurs and even regular caterers – have also come in for scrutiny, and that referees are down the pecking order of Revenue's targets.
Aidan Shiels, chairman of the Leinster Referees Committee, said yesterday that they have received assurances from "central authorities" that any new payment systems for referees will not affect them tax-wise.
Wexford and Longford were two counties who threatened referees' strikes last year when new expenses systems were suggested, but Shiels said a potential threat from Revenue no longer appears to be worrying their members.
"We met the co-ordinators from all of our counties in early December and no one raised any objections or problems then," he said.
One thing that contributed to referees' anxiety was that no official directive came out of Croke Park on the issue. This is partly because counties use a variety of systems to reimburse their referees, which means that no single process can be recommended for dealing with them.
At national level, referees have to submit vouched expenses, but at club level, many counties pay a flat fee – usually between €40-€50 per match – to cover travelling and match-day expenses.
In some counties – Dublin and Kildare for example – referees are paid on the day of the match either by the clubs involved or, in the case of championship games, by the county board. In others, referees submit their expenses claim to the county board and clubs pay a levy to the board to pay these.
It is understood that instances where counties pay out these expenses in one lump sum at the end of the year were the cases that initially raised a red flag for Revenue. But it is also understood that tax officials have largely been satisfied by the GAA's assurances.
Boards themselves can reportedly benefit from a reduced tax liability (from 45pc to 25pc) on referees' expenses if they provide Revenue with their PPS numbers, and it appears this is why some counties have made this compulsory.
This has happened in counties like Roscommon, Longford and Wexford, where referees have been given assurances that this will not affect their personal tax liabilities.
In the past year, Longford and Wexford referees separately threatened to go on strike when changes were initially suggested to satisfy Revenue, and referees in Tipperary also formally sought clarification from their own board on the matter.
Revenue reportedly wanted counties to install a Civil Service-type system that would be mileage-based (50 cent per mile), with an additional match expense of €13.71 per game.
But several counties pointed out their small size geographically meant that a mileage-based system would leave their referees out of pocket and that a flat fee is a fairer system.
Like many counties, Cavan referees saw their expenses cut last year – reportedly to €40 per match – but Brady said this was understandable given the economic situation, and had not become an issue.
However, the impact of a new expenses structure for match officials who are receiving welfare benefits/ entitlements is still an issue worrying some referees.