TDs have complained about ‘ridiculous’ limits on spectator numbers at GAA matches – and demanded that more get in.
Tipperary Independent Michael Lowry, who achieved his support base by leading the fundraising for Semple Stadium, saying the small number now permitted to attend was “neither logical nor justified.”
Giving the example of Semple in Thurles, he said it is ridiculous that only 200 people, including players and officials, were allowed attend when it had a capacity of 48,000.
The Government’s blanket approach was causing multiple problems for parent bodies, clubs and supporters, he said.
“The rules need to be relaxed and it would be common sense to allow the numbers permitted to be determined by the size of the venue.”
Thomas Gould, a new Sinn Féin TD from Cork North Central, provided support, saying he had asked last week that advice be sought from the National Public Health Emergency Team, (NPHET) as to whether more could attend.
The 200 figure was incorrect because 40 people were needed for each team, and the venue staff, including stewards, referees, media and first aid providers take up another 40, he said.
“So there are only 80 tickets left between two clubs, which is only 40 each,” he complained. Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork had a capacity of 45,000 seats but only 80 spectators were allowed.
“It does not make sense to me or others. Croke Park can hold 80,000 people and can only have 80 spectators in it.”
Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill said people were out in the open at matches, “so this limit makes no sense.” Club matches in his county last weekend denied access to “the vast majority” who wanted to attend.
“It must be recognised that these are open-air events and the capacity limits that are in place at the moment do not make sense.”
Former Louth GAA manager and current chair of the county board, Peter Fitzpatrick TD, said he was from Dundalk and more than 500 people could attend a GAA match just two or three miles across the border last weekend, compared with only 30 players and 60 spectators south of the border.
Appealing to the Taoiseach as ‘a big sports fan,’ he said: “It’s the wrong thing to do - there are 41 clubs in Louth, and each of them could take five or six thousand people with no problems whatsoever. Yet we are only allowed 200.”
Wexford FG TD Paul Kehoe also asked the Taoiseach to look into the matter. “This is a huge issue for many GAA clubs which have over 1,000 members but can only give their supporters 40 tickets.”
The Taoiseach said the representations were a fair canvass from across the country, and joked that he was surprised no-one from Kilkenny had surfaced to also raise the matter.
“There is ongoing engagement between NPHET and an expert sporting group on this matter. I am very conscious of it and I spoke to the actin Chief Medical Officer about it last week.”
He added: “The evidence so far indicates that the situation has been stabilised. As knowledge evolves, it has become clear that lumping outdoor and indoor events together may not be the optimal approach.
“It is clear the virus is very lethal in indoor settings, but outdoor behaviour is different.”
Mr Martin added that he had not expected players and mentors to be included in the figure of 200 allowed to attend.
“I will work on this, and the Minister for Health and NPHET are also engaged on the issue. The GAA and other sporting bodies have been lobbying effectively and strongly, and we will try to respond in a positive but safe way.”
Mr Martin also commented: “It is great to see the club championships back up and running. It’s fantastic that players are out training and playing again, because that is giving much joy to people across the country.”