Friday 22 November 2019

Is Congress just a waste of time?

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

AS an exercise in democracy, it ticks more boxes than a Census form, but as a means of reaching the decisions required to keep such a massive organisation as the GAA moving smoothly, Congress is as awkward as a drunken camel.

It's too big, has too many humps and lacks balance. As for neck, there are always a few contenders who attempt to match the largest camel. It has undergone some adjustments over the years but still retains its essence, involving varying numbers of delegates from the 32 counties, overseas units plus some other affiliated parties.

Question is -- how relevant is Congress? Is it fit for purpose? Would it be missed if it didn't exist and all its powers were transferred to the much smaller Central Council?

In broad terms, there's a need for Congress but not in its current bloated format where probably only around 15pc of the delegates will have to utter a single word over the three sessions. The representation could be halved without in any way weakening the democratic element or running the risk of making bad decisions.

Even more important is the need to review the issues which come before Congress. Last year produced a real beauty when Cavan demanded that cups and trophies be altered (presumably with the use of a drill!) so as to prevent them being filled with alcoholic drinks.

Bizarrely, it was passed. A few months later, it emerged that modifying cups really wasn't really all that practical. The point is that such a daft, unnecessary motion should not be on the agenda in the first place.

Restoring semi-finals to Division 1 of the leagues is neither daft nor unnecessary and will probably be passed unanimously today, but it shouldn't have to come before Congress.

It's on the agenda because it requires a rule change, but how's this for inconsistency? Restoring league semi-finals has to be approved by a full Congress, yet Central Council can decide on the future of the inter-provincial championships -- competitions which were first introduced in 1927.

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It should also be unnecessary for Congress to adjudicate on matters such as whether beaten provincial football finalists should have a 13-day break before the qualifiers, and whether the club championships should be completed earlier.

Congress should be confined to major policy issues, not the administration of competitions and other trivial asides.

There are 49 motions on today's agenda, but many of them are of a technical nature and hold very little interest for the majority of GAA members.


The presidential election is usually a Congress highlight on a three-yearly basis, but even that's missing this year following the scattering of the field, leaving Liam O'Neill as the only candidate. He was installed as president-elect last night and while it was a great occasion for the Laois man, he would surely have preferred a contest.

Ever since losing to Christy Cooney three years ago, O'Neill was favourite to win this time but found himself with no opposition following the withdrawal of Con Hogan, Tom Daly and Sheamus Howlin.

There's a lesson to be learned so as to avoid a repetition in future. Candidates should have to declare their intention to run six months before the election. That would give everybody a clear view of the overall scene, unlike this year when three candidates withdrew in a short space of time, leaving it too late for anybody else to challenge O'Neill.

Selection, rather than election, is neither good for the presidency nor the GAA.

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