Saturday 25 January 2020

Duffy on mission to sort out illegal payments dilemma

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

TACKLING the controversial issue of illegal payments to managers is back on the agenda and -- this time -- the GAA authorities are insisting that it's going to be sorted out.

But the question is how? What will be different this time? Tracking down the payments is just like trying to catch an eel with soapy hands in the dark. What's more, the eel has been tipped off that the hapless pursuer is approaching.

It's nearly 20 years since rumblings of illegal payments to managers first emerged, but various attempts to deal with the growing trend has yielded nothing. As far back as 1993, a special committee was set up to investigate it, but didn't make much progress.

They recommended the establishment of an audit committee with the power to investigate club or county accounts; supporters' clubs and fundraisers for county teams to come under the control of county boards; unofficial fundraising groups to be discontinued; counties to receive approval from Croke Park for the terms of appointment of managers.

It all sounded very impressive -- but it produced very little. The key recommendation that county board and club accounts be inspected by an audit committee was fine in theory but, at a practical level, proved useless.


If counties or clubs were paying managers illegally, it was hardly going to appear on the books, so even if they were investigated by a battalion of top accountants, their figures would come up cleaner than an Anglo Irish Bank audit during the boom years.

Finding hard evidence of illegal payments still remains an issue. It's easy to keep them off the balance sheet, leaving investigators deep in frustration. Then again, maybe there are alternative means of solving the problem.

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Former GAA director general Liam Mulvihill suggested in 1998 that a limited form of payment to inter-county managers might be appropriate.

"There have been persistent rumours about payments to coaches at club and county level. Unfortunately, no proof has been forthcoming," he wrote in his annual report. "While I agree that team managers (coaches) should remain amateur (and that the regulations should be strictly enforced, there is a strong case to be made for paying county team managers an allowance for all the preparatory work necessary for coaching a team in the modern era."

Coming from the director general, it might have been expected to provoke some discussion at Congress but it didn't. Clearly, it wasn't seen as a solution at that time. A dozen years on, it may get a more favourable reaction if it features on the proposals which are to be put forward in the autumn.

Illegal payments to managers became such a wearying issue over the years, that it tended to fall under the 'things to do, but not now' heading.

But Paraic Duffy has made it one of the priorities of his tenure as director general and is determined to put structures in place which satisfy the GAA's rules on amateurism, while also tacking account of the changing dynamic within the Association.

"Over the past 10 years, the need to address this issue has been raised without ever resulting in an effective response," said Duffy. "The option of implementing a strictly amateur code demands that clubs and counties be prepared to accept it and be willing to impose penalties on those who breach the rule.

"That is not happening. In fairness, many officials at all levels of the Association would like to address the issue, but there is absolutely no consensus as to the best way forward."

A review of the amateur status rule would need to deal with much broader issues than payments to managers.

The rule states that it's an offence for GAA members to "accept payment in cash or in kind in conjunction with the playing of Gaelic Games."

Inter-county players are hired on virtually a daily basis to promote a product which is linked with the opportunity for interview by the media.

Players are paid handsomely for the appearances which have resulted from their association with hurling and football. In strict terms, it could be argued they are in violation of the rules on amateurism.

Nobody wants players to lose out on the perks which arise from their recognition as GAA stars, so amending the rule on amateurism has to take account of the changed times.

A review of the entire rule is likely to be on the agenda later in the year, although it won't deviate very much from the core principle that the GAA is an amateur organisation.

But how that can be woven into the recommendations which Duffy puts forward remains to be seen, but he is certainly determined to address the payments to managers issue in a manner which moves it out of the shadows and sets parameters for the future.

Irish Independent

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