CROKE PARK would face an indefinite period of closure if there were fatalities or serious injuries arising from the contentious pitch invasions after All-Ireland finals.
It could also lead to an instruction to either seat Hill 16 or dramatically cut its 13,000 capacity. Fencing off the stands may also be necessary.
With work about to begin on the erection of barriers in front of Hill 16 in the latest attempt to keep the pitch clear after next month’s finals, Croke Park stadium director, Peter McKenna, has warned of grim consequences if nothing were done to alleviate the problem and a major tragedy occurred.
“Quite simply, the stadium could be shut down for whatever length it took for outside agencies to conduct a full and thorough inquiry. We would have no say whatsoever in the matter,” he said.
GAA director general, Paraic Duffy, was equally blunt, stating that the situation was so serious that they would do whatever it took to ensure the end of pitch invasions.
“The expert advice, plus what we have seen for ourselves, suggests that there is a high risk of death or serious injury if the scenes which applied in recent years are allowed to continue. We certainly don’t want that to happen and then face the very fair question: ‘You knew this was dangerous, so what did you do about it?” Duffy said.
Special barriers, designed by the GAA’s architects, engineers and safety consultants, are currently being manufactured and will be in place in two weeks’ time. The final bill is expected to be in the region of €100,000.
The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) are fully behind the latest initiative, but there’s considerable opposition to the move across various sectors of the GAA, including some county officers.
“We have been shocked by the level of hostility to something that’s being done purely in the interests of public safety. It has come from certain commentators, members of the public and, indeed, some of our own officers. We’re being accused of abandoning tradition, but, if a tradition is dangerous to the public, then it should be abandoned. How could anybody believe that we have any other motivation except safety,” said Duffy.
McKenna said that while everyone is entitled to their views, it is unhelpful that people are “pontificating on something without recognising the consequences of what they were encouraging”.
Attempts to persuade the public to remain off the pitch failed over the last few years, leading to a change of policy this year. Duffy said that the attack on referee Martin Sludden after this year’s Leinster final wasn’t a key factor in the decision to erect barriers.
“It's a much wider issue than that. We’re installing them in front of Hill 16 only because that’s where the main pressure comes from. We’re hoping that will solve the problem, but if it doesn’t we will have to revisit it. What’s beyond doubt is that continuing to allow the pitch to be invaded by anything up to 25,000 people just cannot be allowed. We’re charged with responsibility for keeping people safe and have to deliver on that,” he said.
Government intervention by way of legislation – which is in use in many other countries – has been ruled out. The GAA wrote to the Sports Minister, Mary Hanafin, asking that the Government consider introducing a law making it illegal to trespass on sports grounds but she rejected the proposal, stating that it was the responsibility of the various organisations to look after their own security