Wednesday 12 December 2018

Martin Breheny: Who is eligible to be the new director general of the GAA? Confusion reigns...

With only four days to go before applications close for coveted position, confusion reigns over eligibility

Paraic Duffy in Croke Park
Paraic Duffy in Croke Park
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Somewhere this weekend, the advertisement for the post of GAA director-general is being studied with a degree of urgency. Closing date for applications is next Wednesday, so it's decision time.

A prospective candidate is once again reading the list of criteria listed under 'The Person'.

Sean O Siochain. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Sean O Siochain. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Paraic Duffy, the current GAA director-general and his predecessors Liam Mulvihill and Sean O Siochain had educational/teaching backrounds

Eleven are ticked, with he/she satisfied that they fulfil them, or at least have a good chance of convincing others of their expertise and experience in these areas.

And the 12th? "Third-level, business-related qualification (min Level 8 NFQ)."

Does the interested party have that? No.

So is there any point in submitting an application to Shay Dalton, managing director of Dublin-based Lincoln Recruitment Specialists, the company handling the appointment process for the GAA.

Acumen

You may have a "proven track record at senior management level, strong experience of financial management, possess commercial acumen, experience of policy development and strategic planning, exceptional interpersonal and communications skills, a track record in working in high-pressure situations, the ability to integrate a professional position with volunteers," plus several other requirements as outlined in the advertisement but you don't have an honours degree in a business-related area.

What are you to do? Is the business qualification absolutely essential if you are to have any chance of getting the top job in Croke Park? At face value, yes, since it's the only specific educational qualification mentioned.

So who are you? Are you John Costello, Dublin CEO, Jarlath Burns (Armagh), Liam Sheedy (Tipperary), Michael Reynolds (Leinster Council), Simon Moroney (Munster Council) or Ger Ryan (Tipperary)?

Sean O Siochain
Sean O Siochain

Are you Peter McKenna, Feargal McGill, Tom Ryan or Alan Milton, who are already working in senior positions in Croke Park?

It's not known whether all or any of those are interested in the director-general job (although it's safe to say that some are) no more than it's known how many others are eyeing the job. How many of them have an honours business degree?

Let's take Costello. I don't know whether or not he has the requisite business qualification but for the sake of showing how ludicrous it is to attach that condition to the application, let's assume he hasn't.

His stewardship in Dublin has clearly been very successful across a wide range of fronts.

Away from the playing fields, the business side of the capital's affairs is a model of efficiency and foresight, the latter perhaps best exemplified by the purchase of the 35-acre Spawell Complex in Templeogue for GAA use.

Acquiring it was difficult and it's well known that Costello played a big part in the delicate and protracted negotiations that ran through various strands for a few years.

He has also been central to the phenomenal overall progress in Dublin, yet according to the advertisement for the GAA director-general, he would not be eligible for consideration for the biggest job of all unless he has an honours business degree. It's beyond bonkers.

How many other genuinely good candidates are in that position? How many won't even submit an application because they believe there's no point?

Or is there? If there was surprise and dismay among many GAA people over the inclusion of an honours business degree as an essential for the director-general's job, there will be added confusion now, arising from the Irish Independent's interaction with Lincoln Recruitment Specialists.

In order to ascertain the precise position on the business issue, we asked Lincoln if it were absolutely essential to hold a Level 8 qualification and would applicants who didn't be immediately ruled out.

Dalton, Lincoln managing director, replied: "The purpose of the advertisement as detailed is to provide information about the nature of the role and its responsibilities and requirements. All applicants will be given full consideration, with the upmost confidentiality."

Prerequisite

That did not clear up the specific business element and a follow-up query on whether "all applicants" included those without the Level 8 qualification went unanswered.

If all applicants, including those who do not have business degrees, are to be considered why did the advertisement include it as one of the criteria?

And what of those who were interested in applying but felt it was pointless because they didn't have the specified business qualification?

If the position goes to someone without a Level 8 degree could the appointment be challenged on the basis that the advertisement was so misleading that it discouraged others from applying.

"Strong experience of financial management and possessing commercial acumen" featured as item four on the list of requirements. Since that covers a wide spectrum of business activity, why was it necessary to also include the formal Level 8 degree?

Current director-general Páraic Duffy and his predecessors, Liam Mulvihill and Seán O Siocháin, had educational/teaching backgrounds, yet succeeded in heading the Association in a very progressive manner from a business viewpoint.

Mulvihill was director-general during the redevelopment of Croke Park, one of the biggest projects in GAA history, while the Association has gone from strength to strength on the commercial side during Duffy's decade at the helm.

But then, expertise is readily available across all disciplines so there's no reason why the GAA should have a commercial whizz kid as director-general.

Yes, he/she must be business-savvy but a university parchment is not required to prove that.

The exhaustive interview process would ascertain the business strengths of applicants far more accurately than a university degree.

At a time when there are fears that the GAA is becoming overly commercial, a controversy over the business expertise of the next director-general is most unhelpful.

It may have arisen from an unfortunate choice of words in the advertisement but it's now an issue that could have serious implications.

If some of the best candidates for the job feel they are automatically ruled out, it will leave a weaker field for one of the most important positions in Irish life.

Apart from that, it's unfortunate that the wording of an advertisement should in any way undermine the search for the director-general.

All the more so since it arises from a commercial dimension to an organisation which insists on holding amateur status as a core principle.

Many will find it ironic that while a business degree looks to be a key criteria, an inability to speak Irish won't debar a candidate.

That's despite one of the stated aims of the GAA being to "actively support the Irish language".

The use of Irish is also compulsory in many GAA documents. Despite that, having Irish is merely mentioned as being helpful to a candidate.

"Ba mhaith an rud go mbeadh Gaeilge ag iarrthóirí," it states.

With three days to go to the closing date for applications, it would be prudent for the GAA to declare the Level 8 business requirement inapplicable.

Its inclusion is unnecessary and reflects badly on the Association. Even more importantly, it could strip the field of several top-class candidates, surely the ultimate failure in the entire process.

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