Monday 26 February 2018

Half-baked proposal gets new minister off to an inauspicious start

Dublin chairman Sean Shanley. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin chairman Sean Shanley. Photo: Sportsfile
John Greene

John Greene

Silly season in the GAA swung into overdrive last week. If the new junior minister for sport had us scratching our heads in bewilderment, the Dublin County Board chairman had us positively rolling in the aisles.

Sean Shanley told The Herald that it was "totally unfair" that Tipperary had home advantage over Dublin for last night's All-Ireland hurling qualifier. He said that prior to last Monday morning's draw, Dublin had been told the games would be at a neutral venue. Maybe Dublin were hoping their game would be in Croke Park, like most of Dublin's games, because of course it is a neutral venue. The fact that it is located in the heart of Dublin city is neither here nor there because we have been assured it is most definitely a neutral venue.

If it's any consolation to Shanley, life can be tough at the top, but it's even tougher at the bottom. A couple of years ago I was getting updates via text messages and Twitter while on holiday on Longford footballers' Leinster championship game with Dublin, and I remember thinking the same thing: I wish the game had been at a neutral venue. The game was played in Croke Park and Longford lost by 27 points.

Shanley's ill-advised protestations that Dublin had been very harshly treated by being forced to travel to Thurles last night rang hollow. This is not a complaint about Dublin's footballers getting to play so often in Croke Park - they are a box office team, attracting the numbers to justify it, but they are in no position to complain about life being unfair. "Totally unfair," said Shanley, who also took to RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime to air his grievance. "And we're the only ones suffering."

In fairness to the Dublin board, it is not known for putting its foot in its mouth too often . . . which brings us to our new junior minister for tourism and sport, Brendan Griffin.

The Kerryman put forward a daft suggestion in his first major public utterances in the role when speaking to The Irish Examiner last week. He would like to see some kind of special tax exemption for GAA inter-county players. Sorry, he would like to see some kind of special tax exemption for GAA inter-county players and "other sports people", whoever they may be.

This, according to the minister, is because GAA players (it's a pet hate of mine, but there are no GAA players, there are hurlers and footballers, just like there are no FAI players and no IRFU players) are worthy of special consideration, and presumably "other sports people" too, whoever they may be.

This may be harsh, and it may have been a throwaway comment - although it didn't come across that way in the interview - but even if it was, what was the point of it?

The Irish sporting community is extremely frustrated at the moment at the lack of direction from the top. There is no clear strategy emanating from the minority government, there is no clear significance attached to sport - as typified by the chopping and changing of senior and junior ministers in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport - and there remains a lack of understanding of what Irish sport is attempting to accomplish.

Griffin said: "In some cases, artists have tax exemptions, so can we do something more for our sports people along those lines? These are the things I would like to explore at the moment and I would like to see looked at, to make things a bit easier to help those excelling in sport. It is something I have discussed with my own officials."

There are a lot of things the new minister could do to "help those excelling in sport", and not just "GAA players" and "other sports people". It is worrying that a minister could put forward such an unrealistic proposition. For a start, how would he propose to work the scheme for players living in the North? And not all GAA players are in the tax system, as they may be students or out of work.

There are plenty of volunteers across many walks of life who are as committed to what they do in their spare time as Gaelic footballers and hurlers and whose contribution is of immense value to society - be they looking after the sick or the elderly, providing sporting and education programmes to young people in disadvantaged areas, and so on. You can't distinguish between them in the way the minister suggests.

Remember, inter-county players are already in receipt of a generous payment from the State of between €700 and €1,700 a year from the government.

At a time when there is concern about sport's place in the greater scheme of things following the departure of Patrick O'Donovan from the department, this was not the best of starts for Griffin. There is no guarantee how long this government will last, so the sporting community needs to see Griffin is serious about implementing a meaningful strategy for sport while he still can.

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