Martin Breheny: Another win for elephant in GAA's illegal payment room
Duffy's crusade against under-the-counter deals for managers is thwarted by duplicity
Good news for elephants at a time when the species is under threat worldwide. If they want advice on the art of survival, they should contact one of their own, who has lived happily in Croke Park for more than 25 years.
The GAA's 'elephant-in-the-room' (EITR) has been a long-time resident in Croke Park, sitting smugly in corners of various decision-making forums as a succession of GAA Management Committees, Central Councils and Congresses talked about him.
"Why have we got a massive elephant over there? We all agree he should be thrown out. In fact, we agreed on that several times over the years, yet he's still here, peering at us through his beady eyes as much as to say: 'Well, you lot are a pushover, just as others before you were.' He's laughing at us."
And why wouldn't he? Illegal payments to managers has been the GAA's EITR for so long that Croke Park wouldn't look quite the same without him.
Eight GAA presidents have passed through since he was first flagged as a problem in the early 1990s. By the end of March, EITR will also have seen off two director-generals, both of whom did what they could to have him banished.
In his final annual report prior to retirement at the end of March, Páraic Duffy has conceded that attempts to bring some order to the shadowy world of under-the-counter payments to managers achieved nothing.
"The initiative simply failed," he wrote.
Duffy devoted almost 1,100 words of his report, which was issued yesterday, to the threat posed to the GAA by illegal payments.
It's clearly a large stone in his shoe as he prepares to walk out of Croke Park, with the problem as pronounced now as it was when he sat into the DG's chair for the first time a decade ago.
He put down an early marker, challenging the GAA in 2010 to confront the illegal payments issue once and for all.
"The least acceptable option is to continue to proclaim a value and, at the same time, ignore it. I believe the time has come to call on all the expertise available to examine the current situation with a view to bringing forward proposals in late 2010 that will allow a debate throughout the Association on the best way to deal with this difficult situation," he wrote.
Shortly afterwards, he was tasked with producing a report, complete with options and recommendations. They eventually came before various committees and county board officers, where there was general agreement that a firm stance needed to be taken against illegal payments.
Unfortunately, many of those who, in theory at least, supported his proposals for tighter controls and closer monitoring ignored them once they left Croke Park.
"There was a lack of enthusiasm for any attempt to implement the proposals made in the paper," he noted.
That should not have surprised him, since the payments problem had proven a stubborn opponent for Duffy's predecessor, Liam Mulvihill too. A quick rummage through Mulvihill's annual reports underlines the point.
Try this from 1993: "Over the past few years there has been a growth in allegations from within the Association about the abuse of our amateur status and the focus has been very specific - that there are abuses with regards to payments being made to coaches. The situation was discussed on a number of occasions by Central Council during the past year and a sub-committee is investigating the matter."
Or this from 1998: "There have been persistent rumours about payments to coaches at club and county level. Unfortunately, no proof has been forthcoming and it is ominous that the matter didn't get any attention in the debate with regard to amateur status. It will be necessary to draw up regulations for the current year very soon and these recommendations will have to be well-publicised and fully implemented by all."
Nothing happened, of course, because irrespective of what rules are introduced, they are useless unless fully implemented at county and club level. Since illegal payments are virtually impossible to trace, the GAA relies on the integrity of local officers to ensure the rules are honoured. That only works if everyone plays by the same code, which will never happen.
"Where do we go from here?" wrote Duffy in his annual report.
He explained that the Management Committee were looking at ways of strengthening the rules on amateur status but he didn't express any great confidence that it would be effective.
"GAA rules that are difficult to monitor, or that confront comfortable ways of doing things, tend to be ignored," he wrote.
He pointed out that the problems he raised in 2010 were still there. Indeed, they are even more entrenched.
"The choice is the same now and the need to address it even greater," he concluded.
It may well be, but that won't change anything. Far from being worried that an eviction order is coming his way, the elephant sees no need to remain in a corner anymore. After all, if he has survived comfortably for more than 25 years, why fear the future?
A new DG and president (John Horan) will shortly be in situ in Croke Park and will, no doubt, re-commit to addressing the illegal payments issue. That too will fail because the overall will to make it work does not exist.
The reason? It's all part of the stealthy dismantling of the amateur wall, brick by brick.