Sport Gaelic Football

Thursday 22 March 2018

Inside track puts paid to Gallagher

Eamonn Sweeney

The utterly dysfunctional state of Irish sports funding is perfectly illustrated by the tale of Seán Gallagher and his five grand. It was revealed during the week that a few years back the presidential candidate had charged GAA clubs in Louth €5,000 for 'help' with and 'advice' on their applications for government sports grants.

A member of one of the clubs told the Irish Independent, whose reporters Fiach Kelly and Barry Duggan performed a notable public service by breaking the story, "He was inside with Fianna Fáil and the ministers and he had the inside track. He had been Rory O'Hanlon's secretary. Once you got him to do it, you were going to get the grant." Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

I'll pause here to note that there is no suggestion that Gallagher did anything illegal. But one of the most sickening features of Irish life is the way politicians earn political capital by telling people they, 'got the grant for them'.

Sports funding is a classic example of this. When Brian Cowen was Minister for Finance, sports funding in Offaly increased dramatically. The same happened in Donegal when Jim McDaid was Minister for Sport and in Kerry when John O'Donoghue had the job.

The Department of Sport, Tourism and Whatever Else Is Bolted On To It At The Moment tells us that the grant applications are independently assessed and are free of political influence. We all believe that of course.

But, while it's bad enough to see politicians making ordinary decent people feel beholden to them by this kind of behaviour, at least they don't ask for money.

And what would really add insult to injury would be if a class of middlemen sprung up to extract cash from clubs on the basis of their political connections.

If that did happen, it would be a very worrying development indeed. And I wonder if there actually are cases of Fianna Fáil-connected jackals seeking a pound of flesh in this way. Surely not.

Because I'm certain Seán Gallagher acted completely honourably when he was dealing with Cooley Kickhams and St Patricks.

He apparently put in as many as 20 hours' work into one application, giving him a measly return of €250 an hour for his efforts. And the clubs got their grants. Which must have come as a surprise.

But, if the grant system is so complicated that clubs need to spend their hard-earned money on 'advisers', perhaps it should be simplified.

A form which costs five grand to be filled out properly surely has something wrong with it. But top marks to Seán. This is, I suppose, the famous 'entrepreneurial spirit' we hear so much about. You see a chance to make a handy few bob and you take it.

Seán Gallagher lives near the clubs involved. It didn't seem to occur to him that he might have provided his specialised services for free, as many, many people in the GAA do.

That's what keeps the show on the road, this outpouring of voluntary communal effort which epitomises everything that is best about this country.

Whereas Seán Gallagher epitomises . . . (finish the sentence yourselves.)

Yet, if this gom hadn't said the word 'envelope' last Monday night, he'd be our President now, Honestly folks, we'd want to be more careful sometimes.

I notice too that Gallagher was comprehensively outpolled by Michael D Higgins in his own backyard. Perhaps people felt their obligation ceased once the money changed hands.

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