GAA propose €8m back to work scheme
Munster chief Fitzgerald aims to take 400 club players off dole every year
Hard times demand brave decisions and, in the case of the GAA, that involves paying out €8m over the next five years to help club players who have fallen victim to the recession.
That's the view of Munster CEO Pat Fitzgerald, whose proposal to introduce a €1.6m-per-year support scheme for unemployed club players is one of the most far-reaching in GAA history.
It means, in effect, that the GAA would subsidise employers to the tune of €4,000 per person to hire an out-of-work club player for a year. It would be paid as part of the salary, providing a four-way gain for the player, the business, the GAA and the state.
The player would benefit from becoming re-employed; business would be boosted by having a salary subsidised by €333 per month, the GAA would retain players who might otherwise emigrate, while the state's social welfare bill would be reduced by over €3m per year.
"The GAA has always been more than a sporting organisation," said Fitzgerald. "We're deep-rooted in our communities and, at a time of crisis such as the country is going through at present, we need to figure out a way of helping people in a practical way. This scheme wouldn't solve all the ills of the country, but it would do an awful lot for the 400 unemployed players -- and their clubs -- who benefited."
Fitzgerald envisages that, from a business viewpoint, the scheme would be attractive to employers with a strong interest and/or involvement in the GAA.
"There are plenty of them out there and some may be in a position to hire a player if they got some financial help. If the €4,000 payment to an employer made the difference between taking on somebody or not, then it would be money well spent from the GAA's viewpoint," he said.
"It's heart-breaking for families and communities and devastating for clubs to see so many young people emigrating and I believe that we in the GAA have a duty to try something that will help the cause in whatever way we can. We can't stop the drain of talent through emigration, but if we were able to keep 400 club players at home each year, it would be something at least."
Fitzgerald doesn't anticipate any major administrative hitches as the qualifying rules would be tightly managed, while the scheme would be run by the provincial councils and, if required, Croke Park. Clubs would provide details of their unemployed players and only those currently on the dole would be eligible. County boards would identify businesses with a GAA leaning, after which the matching process would proceed as in any regular job application situation.
The €4,000 grant would be paid directly to the employer so that everything was above board on all fronts.
Fitzgerald believes that the €1.6m required to fund the scheme could be diverted from grants for facility development in clubs. He estimates that if even one quarter of that money was re-directed towards the job-support fund by the provincial councils it would come close to raising the €800,000 required. The rest would be paid from a similar Croke Park fund.
"What I'm proposing is that, after investing heavily in developing grounds and other facilities in clubs over several years, we invest in people at a time of great need," he said. "I'm not saying we should end all development, but we've got to scale it back to what's appropriate in these changed times."
Fitzgerald plans to put his proposal before fellow provincial CEOs Michael Delaney (Leinster), John Prenty (Connacht), Danny Murphy (Ulster), GAA director-general Paraic Duffy and the heads of the various Croke Park departments over the coming weeks. That group meet regularly to help streamline administration nationally.
Fitzgerald, a former Limerick county board chairman who took over as Munster CEO in 2008, believes that the devastating impact of emigration on the GAA won't be fully realised until some of the smaller clubs, especially in rural Ireland, are unable to field teams.
"We have to do something to keep as many of our players as possible at home," he said. "The GAA is a great organisation for contacts and networks and we should use it at a time like this. There are people who will say that playing games should be our only business, but there's more to it than that.
"We are a community-based organisation and, at a time like this, when the country is going through such hardship, we should harness everything we have in the GAA. As far as I'm concerned, that involves making a financial contribution if it helps create jobs for some of our unemployed club players."