Sunday 26 March 2017

Flynn eyes GAA credit union to help clubs

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

A former All-Ireland medal-winning footballer has proposed the establishment of a GAA credit union to help the myriad of clubs in financial trouble to sort out their lending crises.

Bernard Flynn, an All-Ireland medal winner in 1987 and '88 with Meath and a regular RTE analyst, claims that the situation among clubs is getting so serious that some club secretaries he has knowledge about have resigned over the last 12 months because of the stress involved in dealing with aggressive financial institutions.

Flynn believes the communal power of the 2,000 GAA clubs and approximately 800,000 members should wield sufficient clout as a unit to challenge these institutions.

"It is about time the GAA community really woke up to the power that they have. They have to come together on this. There is no way any bank should dictate to an amateur, non-profit, voluntary organisation the extent that they are. They are ringing officers on a daily basis to lodge money.

"Clubs need to come together on this issue and fight it as one. There is no point in buying time or getting breathing space. It must be addressed now.

"They can't fight this in isolation. They have to communicate and fight their corner together."

Flynn was a panelist on the night that RTE's 'League Sunday' featured a number of clubs who are facing serious debt because of property deals that went wrong and he claims he has had calls since from other clubs who are finding the going tough from banks who lent them money.

He also featured recently on a BBC 'Panorama' programme that focused on the Irish property crash where he highlighted some of his own experiences. Thomas Davis in Dublin, Portlaoise in Laois and Clara in Offaly were some of the clubs whose excessive debts were highlighted.

Croke Park's director of finance Tom Ryan recently estimated that 10 to 12 clubs were in serious financial trouble but Flynn feels this could be just the tip of the iceberg.

"There has been no real recession yet for the GAA," said Flynn. "I think it's only going to start in the second half of this year. Fundraising margins have got much tighter, grants are gone. We are going to see a lot more clubs in trouble.

Pain

"Banks have to share the pain on this. They are happy to restructure loans but only at much higher interest rates. If all the clubs came together it would form a much more powerful lobby group.

"They were the ones who were complicit in lending this money and they must share the burden. The GAA is a non-profit organisation. All clubs operate that way. It is the greatest institution in this country and there is no way banks should have them by the neck as they do."

Flynn maintains the plight of a GAA club in debt differs greatly from that of a private citizen.

"If a club defaults, what can any lending institution do? Seize its premises? And then what? Who is going to buy a GAA ground?" he asked.

"The clubs are in a really strong position on this to dictate their terms. The banks are owned by the state and the state has to recognise the contribution clubs make. Clubs did deals on land in good faith -- it was never to make a profit."

Flynn said that lending institutions putting the squeeze on clubs in the same aggressive manner as they deal with private clients should remember the amateur status and volunteer ethos of the GAA club.

"What the state owes the GAA after all these years should be factored into the approach," he said. "I know of clubs who have had to restructure loans to survive but that has meant a higher interest rate. Why should they have to do that?

"I really believe troubled clubs need to come together as one on this. There has to be more communication. There are rural clubs out there without expertise and they don't know where to turn to. GAA clubs and members don't network enough. Together they could be the most powerful group in the land.

"Down the road, I think there is room for a credit union style facility within the GAA."

Portlaoise is probably the worst affected club after their deal with the Firestone development company fell through when An Bord Pleanala refused planning permission at their existing grounds beside O'Moore Park. They are currently grappling with a €6.5m debt. However, the GAA believe the current situation is manageable and negotiations with banks have been productive.

Irish Independent

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