Sunday 22 September 2019

Martin Breheny: County boards need experts to oversee growing revenues

Unpublished report recommended specialist finance officer in every set-up

The Tribesmen's massive spend, which equates to a staggering €6,650 for each of the 277 days between the permitted return date for training last November and the All-Ireland senior and minor hurling finals on August 19, has taken costs to new heights. Photo: Sportsfile
The Tribesmen's massive spend, which equates to a staggering €6,650 for each of the 277 days between the permitted return date for training last November and the All-Ireland senior and minor hurling finals on August 19, has taken costs to new heights. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The news that Galway spent almost €1.85 million on preparing men's teams this year will send a tremor through the GAA's financial systems at a time when they are coming under increasing pressures on a number of levels.

The Tribesmen's massive spend, which equates to a staggering €6,650 for each of the 277 days between the permitted return date for training last November and the All-Ireland senior and minor hurling finals on August 19, has taken costs to new heights.

It comes at a time when the county is attempting to cleanse itself of a murky financial past, which a member of an interval audit committee (Paul Bellew) described on Monday as "rotten to the core". Galway County Board treasurer, Michael Burke, who has just completed his first year, didn't pull his punches either, alleging that attempts had been made by a small minority to erect "every barrier and obstacle to prevent me and the honest and decent people in Galway GAA from getting the truth".

A detailed internal audit of finances over the last few years was undertaken but the final report has not been published for legal reasons.

However, Burke was adamant that things would change.

"The problems and wrongdoings of the past have been identified and I'm fully satisfied that Galway GAA, which is a great product, is out of life-support and well on the way to recovery."

The bombshell comments from Burke and Bellew came a few days after Peter McKenna, GAA stadium and commercial director, said that the final costs of redeveloping Páirc Uí Chaoimh could reach €110 million, €24 million more than announced last year and €40 million more than the original projection.

Cork have given a different version, of the situation but clearly a problem exists which will take a long time to rectify.

GAA Newsletter

Expert GAA analysis straight to your inbox.

The revelations about Galway and Cork underline the growing extent of the challenges facing counties at a time when enormous amounts of money are washing through county board accounts.

Cork's problems highlight the risks of undertaking massive building programmes, while poor financial administration has rocked Galway.

In addition, the cost of doing well in hurling and football took spending to a level in Galway that will inevitably raise the question: is there to be no limit on the amount spent on teams?

Galway's spiralling costs arose from the extended championship campaigns by the senior and minor hurling and football teams but €1.85 million is still an incredibly high figure. The spend last year was €1.3 million.

New director-general Tom Ryan warned last February that the cost of preparing teams was "foremost among our financial risks" over the coming years.

In what was his last report as finance director, he said that the long-term financial health of all counties depended on controlling and managing it properly.

The massive surge in revenues and costs over the last decade raises the important question of whether county board accounting systems, which were designed to cater for a different era, are any longer fit for purpose.

It's estimated that the total turnover for the 32 counties is around €75 million per annum, a staggering figure which requires expert accounting procedures. Larger clubs have sizeable turnovers too but most rely on volunteer members to oversee the accounts.

Central Council and the four provincial councils employ expert practitioners to run their financial affairs and the same is now surely necessary for county boards too.

The issue of how finance should be dealt with was covered in a leaked report last January.

'Towards 2034' (the GAA's 150th anniversary) recommended the appointment of a finance manager in every county but since it was never published there has been no public discussion on the proposal.

Emerging

"The pressure to sustain the day-to-day operations of the GAA is emerging very much at club and county level.

"The increasing costs associated with sustaining clubs and counties financially have become a major and possibly too onerous a burden for volunteer county officers.

"It should be asked whether it is appropriate in a modern association for volunteers to have responsibility for the management of very significant budgets at county level," concluded the report, which was commissioned by then president Aogán ó Fearghail.

For reasons which have never been explained, the extensive report, which covered a wide range of issues, was never published.

That doesn't invalidate the case for having a specialist finance officer in every county to take charge of what is essentially a business.

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: 'Jim Gavin has achieved what Mick O'Dwyer and Brian Cody couldn't do'

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Also in Sport