Wednesday 22 November 2017

Community group rejected deal to end Croke Park row

The long-running dispute between the GAA and the management committee of the Irish Handball Centre is at the heart of the row over the Garth Brooks concerts.
The long-running dispute between the GAA and the management committee of the Irish Handball Centre is at the heart of the row over the Garth Brooks concerts.

John Greene and Aisling Crowe

A deal brokered by mediators to end the bitter and long-running dispute at the heart of the row over the Garth Brooks concerts was rejected by a community group, the Sunday Independent has learned.

The dispute between the GAA and the management committee of the Irish Handball Centre has been running for several years, since the GAA announced its intention to demolish the centre and rebuild it on another site. It is now the subject of legal action.

The deal put forward two months ago, after intensive mediation between both sides, would have brought an end to the civil action taken by Páirc an Chrócaigh Teoranta, the company owned by the GAA which runs Croke Park, against the management committee of the centre and its members. The action was instigated in 2012 after they refused to vacate the premises, a move which led to a significant deterioration in relations between the two sides.

“The elephant in the room is Páirc an Chrócaigh Teoranta is suing 570 members of the community and there is a lot of bitterness,” said Eamon O’Brien who is treasurer of the handball centre committee, and also chairman of the Croke Park Streets Committee, which had vociferously objected to the Brooks concerts. “They are pretending to be a community organisation but are trying to grab our property,” he added.

Kieran Mulvey, who recently mediated between the GAA and residents to find a package which would allow the five concerts to go ahead, has also acted as a mediator in this feud.

The deal brokered by Mulvey allowed for a licensed bar in the new centre, along with handball facilities, function rooms and recreation areas while the GAA also agreed to allow the members to have full use of the existing centre until the new one was built.

Furthermore, the GAA agreed to work with representatives of the Irish Handball Council Sports Centre management team to agree an ownership structure for the new facility.

“We had four or five fairly intensive meetings between the members of the management committee of the handball centre and representatives of Croke Park,” said councillor Nial Ring, who is a member of the handball centre. “I felt, and I think anyone who was at those meetings would agree, that we were very close to an agreement but for issues relating to the ownership and management of the proposed new community centre.

“It is regrettable that it didn’t work out and in fairness to Kieran Mulvey, and his assistant Senan Turnbull, they really did as much as they could to try and find a solution. Most of the residents and members of the local community outside the immediate cordon around the stadium want the Garth Brooks concerts to go ahead. Susan Mangan and her committee have got almost 1,000 signatures so far on their petition calling for the concerts to go ahead. The people want the money, the jobs, the business that the events will bring and the injection of money by the GAA into the community with the proposed new community and handball centre in Croke Villas. The GAA give a lot of jobs to people in the local area.

“There is no agreement and I don’t know if there will be one in the future. There is a lack of trust between the GAA and the handball centre and if they won’t speak to each other then there cannot be any resolution. Local people are afraid they will be left with nothing.”

The proposed new centre will be part of a major regeneration project to be underwritten by the GAA to the tune of €11m, including refurbishing derelict houses and improving streetscapes. In the separate negotiations with residents over the Garth Brooks concerts, held prior to Dublin City Council’s decision last week to grant licences for three shows instead of five, the GAA committed to provide the area with a once-off legacy fund of €500,000.

“We would love to see the concerts go ahead for the good of the local community and the wider economy of Dublin,” said Ring. “The bigger picture involved here is the total regeneration of the area and that is almost at stake. If the Croke Park villas aren’t developed by the GAA or anyone else then they will probably be left derelict.”

It’s understood that after at least one meeting, at which O’Brien was unavoidably absent, all sides thought they had reached an agreement only for the handball centre committee to have a change of heart.

“I discussed the meeting with the chairman and vice chairman of the handball club committee and we decided they should go and see what was being offered,” O’Brien confirmed.

“Provided that Croke Park honour and protect our rights as they exist then that would go a long way to removing some of the bitterness created in the community by the idea that they can sue 570 families. Park that issue and say we’ll sort out the Garth Brooks concerts and then return to the other problems. That’s just a ludicrous idea.

“The GAA knows as much about community relations as a pig does about a clean shirt,” said O’Brien. “Croke Park played poker with the five concerts and lost. If they want to play poker with the local stakeholders then they need to get better players. I like Garth Brooks but I like my community more.”

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