Monday 26 September 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Michael Ring can't wash his hands of this disgraceful NAMA episode

It's not too late for the minister to act in Spawell sale debacle

Published 28/06/2015 | 17:00

Michael Ring
Michael Ring
The safest place for children is not on the stand or the terrace but on grass in summer. Photo: Morgan Treacy

There was considerable fallout from last week's piece on NAMA and their dealing, or lack of dealing, with the Dublin County Board in relation to the Spawell site.

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Martin Breheny had more information on the subject in the Irish Independent. He referred to the fact that this august body had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the real world by the courts, who reminded them that they were a public body and could not remain so secretive. The cost to the taxpayer of this case is enormous by the way.

Anyway, what emerged from Martin Breheny's piece is that NAMA, when set up, were charged with a social responsibility to specifically look after things like schools and sports organisations. It is not good enough then for Michael Ring, the Sports Minister, to act like Pontius Pilate and wash his hands of this disgraceful episode by saying that he could not involve himself in the process. Well Minister, that is exactly what you should have done.

Once you became aware that the Dublin County Board wanted this site, you should have had the whole tender process called off and entered into negotiations with them. That is your job and it is also the stated policy of NAMA. One can only speculate if this was happening around Westport whether the social and sporting interest would have prevailed.

The sports minister's job is not just meeting Katie Taylor at the airport, it is primarily to organise sporting facilities for the future. Never again will a minister and Government have such an opportunity to do good for sport and schools. They have failed. Did anyone in any government department look at the land banks and see what could have been useful to schools and sports clubs in the area and offer them first refusal? That is your and NAMA's job.

Instead they stood idly by and allowed an unaccountable body pauperise some of the best GAA supporters and club sponsors while at the same time overseeing the transfer of some of the country's greatest assets to foreigners. This was done by parcelling up some of the most valuable assets into such large blocks that only hundreds of millions would buy them.

Cue the foreign hedge funds, as few Irish people could compete. In the process fortunes have been made for accountants, auctioneers, solicitors, barristers, receivers, liquidators and others who have formed the new golden circle.

The only honourable course of action now for the minister is to approach the buyers of the Spawell site, seek to buy it back and then hand it over to the Dublin County Board. Perhaps the new buyers themselves will have the decency to see that socialism trumps capitalism on some occasions.

This is not about giving Dublin any extra advantage, it is about doing the right thing and supporting those who have a vision of the future which is for the greater good. Some cynic might suggest that the Spawell centre would make an ideal location for the new Dublin South team when the Dubs decide to split into two! Obviously that never crossed my mind but when Dublin win their 28th Leinster title in a row it might cross others.

Two weeks ago I was in Navan. Not an unusual occurrence as I attend most games on my own doorstep. Anyway, the occasion was the first Leinster Championship match there in 20 years, with Meath and Wicklow in opposition. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, the pitch looked like Wembley on a good day and the crowd enjoyed it all. The football was entertaining and Wicklow really put it up to Meath.

Now people will know that the grass banks behind in Navan have been a bone of contention with me for quite a while. Somebody in the GAA has decided that these banks are dangerous and therefore they have been closed. I have made the point many times before that just a few miles away in Slane Castle a different set of rules apply. There you can drink your brains out and sit or roll or whatever takes your fancy on far steeper grass banks. Whoever thinks that it is safer to have children on crowded concrete terraces on hot summer days in Navan rather than on grass needs to have their heads examined.

Eventually good sense prevailed in Páirc Tailteann and the stewards were either bypassed or ignored and families with small children invaded one of the banks. The match was played out to this lovely backdrop of families with children sitting on the grass behind the goals. A bit of sanity restored.

Health and safety is now used to excuse all types of stupidity and, I repeat, the safest place for children is not on the stand or the terrace but on grass in summer. It is time for someone in the GAA to sort out these regulations.

Today in Croke Park the two Leinster semi-finals are being played: Meath take on Westmeath and Dublin play Kildare. A bit like Mastermind on TV - 'I have started so I will finish' with a gripe. Players love Croke Park, naturally enough, but if Meath and Westmeath tossed for home advantage and played yesterday evening there would have been some atmosphere. Alternatively, play it in Tullamore and there would probably a bigger crowd at one of these venues and it would be far cheaper on the spectators.

Having the two games live on TV from the same venue is not a good idea. If the public could not see both with the feet up and a cup of tea then it would entice them to travel. Especially as the main game looks like one of Dublin's normal Leinster exhibition matches. Jim Gavin can make all the right noises, and it probably does not matter what he says as the competition among the Dublin panel for places is so intense there is little likelihood of complacency.

In fairness, Kildare rediscovered their mojo against Laois in the replay. In the drawn game the form that took them to Division Three prevailed and it is amazing what confidence is gained from getting a draw from adversity and completing the job at the second go. Yet the Dubs are not Father Christmas and anything other than a clear win would be a shock, an absolute shock.

The other match is for real. Westmeath have never beaten Meath in the championship but every team at club or county have to make their own tradition. Otherwise everything would stay the same - and it doesn't. Meath won the league match earlier in the year by 4-10 to 0-11 but I would not pass any remarks on that. In the first half of that match on a windy night Westmeath were much the better team but leaked goals in the second half.

When Meath struggled to beat Wicklow in Navan two weeks ago, Westmeath disposed of Wexford a bit easier but the scoreline was deceptive and it was in the balance until near the end.

Today, Meath have a number of players back from injury and look physically stronger than against Wicklow, but this is not a game to take for granted. Far from it.

I hope and may even pray for Meath but this is one of Westmeath's better chances of grabbing the hand of history.

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