Saturday 24 February 2018

Eamonn Sweeney: Silence of the Cork delegates adds insult to injury

Páirc Uí Rinn
Páirc Uí Rinn

Eamonn Sweeney

Such is the general perception of delegates to the Cork County Board as a pretty servile bunch that there was a flurry of media excitement at the news that, shock horror, a couple of them had criticised the board at last week's meeting.

In reality it was easy enough to criticise the infamous 'We should be in the semi' statement as it had already been more or less disowned by the board. But when it comes to challenging the board on actual issues of substance, the representatives of the county's clubs don't seem to be getting any braver.

Last Sunday in these pages John Greene revealed the manner in which Cork County Board treated Sciath na Scoil, the organisation which promotes Gaelic games at national school level within the county. Sciath na Scoil had banked on using Páirc Uí Rinn as one of three venues for their hurling and camogie finals in May but were told by the board that it wouldn't be available. As they need grounds which cater for a large amount of players and spectators, 10,000 of whom attended the finals, they chose Irish Independent Park as a replacement.

This apparently unremarkable decision led to board officials telling Sciath na Scoil that they were forbidden to use the rugby ground at a meeting where the organisation's county board delegate Liam Weir claims the teachers were "abused, threatened, intimidated and insulted," by leading officials. They also refused to provide Munster Rugby with a letter of indemnity, to which Sciath na Scoil were apparently entitled, thus forcing the organisation to buy their own insurance as time ran out.

And to add insult to injury the board then decided that Páirc Uí Rinn was available after all, for three of the 12 finals, just four days beforehand and after separate insurance had already been bought. Weir's description of the board as indulging in "chicanery" and "skullduggery" seems accurate enough. Sciath na Scoil's members were so incensed that an Extraordinary General Meeting where it was demanded that the board be asked to explain their actions was held in June.

The affair seems an object lesson in how to alienate people at grassroots. As such you would imagine that it might have been a cause of concern to delegates at last Tuesday's meeting. Not a bit of it. No delegate even inquired as to why the board had acted like this towards an organisation which has traditionally enjoyed a close and friendly relationship with Cork GAA.

Read more: Richie Sadlier: It's hard to identify the line which shouldn't be crossed when it comes to sledging

On Thursday Sciath na Scoil's board released a statement which said they "were disappointed that no club delegate raised our issues at last Tuesday evening's monthly board meeting despite the fact that this is one of the most appropriate forums for our story to be discussed. Why didn't the club delegates raise the matter? Is the continued support of our teachers towards our games not a priority here in Cork?"

It seems the county board are not done jerking Sciath na Scoil around. There are 31 national schools football finals, for boys and girls, scheduled for November and on June 23 Sciath na Scoil asked if Páirc Uí Rinn would be available. As the Sciath na Scoil statement says, "A simple yes or no would suffice," but almost two months later no answer has been forthcoming from the board.

The teachers can't work out why the board have such a problem with Irish Independent Park being used, when Páirc Uí Chaoimh is being made available for Ireland's 2023 Rugby World Cup bid. They can't work out why they appear to have been misinformed about the insurance issue, why Páirc Uí Rinn's availability can't be clarified and above all, they can't understand the confrontational stance of the county board.

It is an unsavoury saga but also an instructive one. Cork's precipitous decline has been one of the big GAA stories of the summer but is it really all that surprising if this is the attitude the board takes towards those promoting the games at grassroots level?

Perhaps the attitude towards Irish Independent Park reflects some notion about rugby being a rival to the GAA. But which is more likely to drive youngsters away from the GAA: playing a game in a rugby ground or seeing their teachers treated as the enemy by a board who actually owe those teachers a huge debt of gratitude?

At Tuesday's meeting, delegates decided to take a few swipes at Donal Óg Cusack, with one genius declaring that in the history of The Sunday Game the Cloyne man was the first pundit to "turn on his own." For a start, this isn't true, I can remember Eamonn O'Hara being outspokenly and correctly critical of goings on in Sligo, and there are other examples.

But bearing in mind the way they've behaved towards the teachers and by extension the pupils of the county's national schools, the Cork County Board are the very last body who can complain about someone "turning on their own."

Sciath na Scoil meet the chairman of Cork County Board, Ger Lane, this Tuesday. He should tell them their finals can go ahead in Páirc Uí Rinn in November and apologise while he's at it. Above all he should take notice of their statement that, "We will not compromise on where we play our finals. They must meet our own strict criteria in relation to accessibility and child protection."

These are good people and they deserve better. They're not The Enemy Within.

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