Sunday 20 January 2019

Martin Breheny: GAA and HSE share same problem - the blame game

Incoming president Horan needs to launch root-and-branch review of entire operation

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

You know how it goes at this time of year when every news bulletin is dominated by the crisis in hospitals, with distressing tales of how hundreds of people are stuck on trolleys waiting for admission.

It's a year-round problem, of course, but since it's most acute in January, the focus intensifies.

The media covers the shambles from every possible angle and that's where it gets really interesting, with 'pass the responsibility parcel' becoming the big attraction.

"More of us and more money for us," appears to be the solution of choice in the consultants' world. It's worded cleverly of course but that's the underlying message.

All the medical disciplines leave no doubt that they regard management (sneeringly described as 'pen pushers') as over-staffed and an unnecessary drain on the system. Management retort by implying doctors engage in restrictive work practices, especially at weekends. Opposition politicians blame Government, even if they didn't fix the problem when they were in power.

The Minister of the day talks of how more money than ever before is being spent on health services, followed by the announcement of another task force and promises that things will improve.

They don't, of course, because when everybody blames everybody else, the real problems are never addressed, let alone solved. I listened to various discussions on the health services on my way to Clones last Sunday and arrived none the wiser, except for the impression that there's isn't a hope in hell of any improvement for the foreseeable future.


On my way home from Clones, a journey brought forward by several hours after the Monaghan-Donegal game was called off, I listened to a discussion on RTé about football matters. Martin McHugh, Johnny Magee and John Casey were in studio, with Darren Frehill and John Murray posing the questions.

On the great scale of things, health services and football aren't exactly on the same level of importance but having listened to the various debates throughout the day, it struck me that the GAA and HSE have quite a lot in common.

McHugh led the charge for scrapping pre-season tournaments and also proposed the abolition of the provincial football championships in favour of eight groups of four (one from each division), with the top two in each qualifying for the Sam Maguire Cup tier and the remaining 16 playing in a secondary competition.

He rightly pointed to the unfairness of a championship system where Roscommon can reach this year's Connacht final (and, by extension, the last 12 in the All-Ireland race) by beating Leitrim or New York, whereas Donegal or Cavan would have to win three games against higher-rated opposition than Leitrim or New York to reach the Ulster final.

I'm not a supporter of his eight groups of four on the basis that there would almost certainly be several meaningless games but he is correct that the current provincial system is ludicrously lop-sided.

Still, there's no chance of it being changed for the foreseeable future because provincial councils don't want to lose power. It's akin to politicians opposing any downgrading of services at their local hospitals, even if best practice favours larger centres of excellence.

There are several other GAA-HSE similarities too, especially when it comes to the blame game.

The inter-county game is being blamed for leaving club players deep in frustration for long stretches. Indeed, it led last year to the establishment of the Club Players' Association (CPA), who continue to agitate for a more streamlined calendar.

April has been cleared of all inter-county action and the All-Ireland finals will be played earlier this year but the CPA remain unhappy over what they regard as a lack of direction from Croke Park on club fixtures. Croke Park believe it's the responsibility of county boards to organise their club schedule on the basis of individual requirements, rather than acting on diktats from on high.

Despite the fact that all clubs are represented on county boards, they still contend they are not getting a fair deal. They have the power to make it happen so why not use it? Is it an abdication of responsibility or simply a matter of preferring to blame somebody else?

County boards, meanwhile, have to deal with demands from team managers for local decks to be cleared for as long the All-Ireland championship dream remains alive.

They also point to the reality that if a county's prospects of winning - or even doing well - in the championship is compromised by squeezing in local action before big games, the board will be savaged by supporters and indeed clubs.

Team managers insist that they are not the ogres clubs would have you believe and that they will work within agreed parameters provided they give the county the best possible chance in the championship, which is their main responsibility.

And so it goes, with every vested interest protecting itself and blaming others for the many challenges currently facing the GAA's competitions formats, both from a structural and timing perspective.

Ultimately, of course, progress can never be made in that environment. The 'I'm right, you're wrong approach', merely prolongs the problems but, unfortunately, there's no sign of any improvement.

If anything, it's getting worse. It's why the first item on the agenda for incoming GAA president John Horan must be the establishment of a strategic review unit to undertake a root-and-branch evaluation of the entire Association.

It's 15 years since the last one reported so it's way past time for another in what are even more demanding times.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport