Tuesday 14 August 2018

Comment: GAA must resist State-sponsored bullying in wake of Cork controversy

 

'We can disregard Damien Duff’s tirade about GAA ‘dinosaurs’ as attention-seeking'. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
'We can disregard Damien Duff’s tirade about GAA ‘dinosaurs’ as attention-seeking'. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

By midday today, the controversy over the Liam Miller tribute game and Páirc Uí Chaoimh will be over, at least in as much as the GAA's Central Council will grant permission for it to go ahead there.

Media interest will wane, although the GAA can expect more punishment beatings from the usual sources this weekend; Twitter will go in search of another 'meltdown' topic and the show moves on.

That's what happens when an issue like this arises, complete with a splendid capacity to present people who are transparently ignorant of the details to offer definitive opinions. That can be put down to the shallow times we live in, a world where nonsense delivered at maximum volume regularly trumps measured, intelligent consideration.

So we can disregard Damien Duff's tirade about GAA 'dinosaurs' as attention-seeking (Duff hit the jackpot there, so presumably he is happy at having achieved his objective) and also dispatch various other ill-informed rants to the rubbish bin where they belong.

However, we should not allow what appears like State-sponsored bullying that went on this week to go unchallenged. Indeed, this is by far the most serious aspect of the unfortunate affair.

Several Government politicians, led by Minister for Sport Shane Ross, mounted their populist horses and rode them hard into the controversy.

The message to the GAA was unambiguous - do as we say or we'll cut funding in the future.

Ross said he contacted GAA president John Horan and "made it absolutely clear that we wanted to see an early solution to this".

And there was more. "It is vital that money that is given to people, in this case Páirc Uí Chaoimh, should also ensure that the body that receives the money shares those facilities with the community."

Does that mean that the Aviva Stadium, which received far more in Government funding than Croke Park, or Tallaght Stadium, which was effectively gifted by the State to the previously nomadic Shamrock Rovers, will have to be made available for Gaelic games?

Presumably (although don't bank on it) the Minister for Sport knows that soccer/rugby stadiums are too small to accommodate hurling and football.

That applies all over the country so the Minister appears to be saying that any future funding for GAA grounds will be contingent on them opening for other sports, whereas the same cannot apply to soccer or rugby developments because of the pitch dimensions.

Other Ministers, including Eoghan Murphy, Damien English and Brendan Griffin, all had their say too in what appeared a concerted attempt to force the GAA to do as the Government wanted or risk punishment down the road.

The irony of housing duo, Murphy and English, contributing to what is a relatively minor issue over a sports venue is beyond parody. The controversy erupted because the 7,000-capacity Turner's Cross wouldn't be anywhere near big enough to hold the crowd for the Miller tribute game.

Obviously, since it's their area of responsibility, Murphy and English know that Turner's Cross wouldn't come close to holding all the homeless people in the country either but, hey, why not ignore that and have a pop at the GAA?

And then there is the deliberate distortion of facts. The argument that because Páirc Uí Chaoimh received a €30 million Government grant it should be automatically opened to all sports simply doesn't hold up. The grant was made at a time when the IRFU, supported by Government, were trying to attract the 2023 Rugby World Cup, a bid that would not have been remotely possible only for the GAA agreeing to make several grounds available.

Besides, how much of €30 million grant did Government coffers recoup in VAT, income taxes etc from the Páirc Uí Chaoimh project, which cost around €100,000 million.

And how much do overall GAA activities, from the smallest of clubs to the largest of events, contribute to the exchequer?

Around 450,000 people will attend the remaining All-Ireland championship games in Croke Park between this weekend and September 2. What's that worth to the Dublin economy and Government returns?

The GAA's rule on use of its grounds is damaging the organisation in that, up to now at least, it prevented Central Council from considering outside applications. Instead, only Congress could deal with them, which meant that decisions could not be made quickly.

However, that does not entitle anyone - least of all the Government - to attempt to bully an organisation that has done so much for sporting and community life.

Whatever Mr Ross may think of the GAA, the truth is that without the voluntary efforts of its vast membership throughout a 134-year history, the sporting infrastructure of his country would be in a sorry state.

As a controversial week comes to a close, the question of why Manchester United and Celtic, two vastly wealth clubs, haven't made a fundraising venture for Liam Miller unnecessary remains unanswered. Mind you, not many appear to be asking it, even if it's very valid. The FAI have escaped criticism too.

Instead, the GAA, which has deserving causes in its own ranks, has taken all the hits. Truly, a lesson of our times.

Indo Sport

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