THE IRFU is not in a position to bail out clubs in financial difficulty. That was the message from chief executive Philip Browne yesterday as he reflected on the results of the union's club engagement strategy, which last week revealed the extent of financial problems in the domestic game.
The report revealed that 102 clubs owe a combined €24.6m in bank debt, with those clubs paying €800,000 annually in interest alone. There are 13 clubs, 11 of whom are in the All-Ireland League, that have bank loans of greater than €400,000 each.
The GAA has said that it is in no position to give financial assistance to its distressed clubs and Browne said rugby's governing body is taking a similar stance.
"It is simply not possible for us to step into situations where clubs find themselves in financial difficulty," he said. "We are not party to the decisions that clubs make in those situations and we simply couldn't step into the breach.
"The state of club rugby is a bit like a curate's egg. By and large the good bits outweigh the bad bits. There are financial issues in the clubs.
"On the plus side, there is some tremendous work being done on the participation side, in parts of the country where rugby never thrived or flourished before."
The club game has struggled to define its place on the rugby landscape after the success of the provinces in the professional game, and Browne painted a picture of the union's vision for the clubs.
"The club game is for amateur and recreational rugby players. The professional game is for those who want to pursue rugby as a career," he said. "I think in the first 10-15 years of the professional game, the edges were blurred.
"In the club game there were aspirations that it could be semi-professional, but I think that has long since fallen by the wayside."
Another issue on the IRFU's agenda is the future of Sevens here. Despite the sport being accepted into the Olympics, the idea of an Irish team participating on the international circuit remains a distant prospect.
"We are a small country, there are a number of limiting resources," Browne added.
"To field a Sevens team playing on the circuit would cost in the region of €1m-1.5m per year. We simply don't have that sort of money.
"In terms of players, we would have to strip players out of an already tight situation in the provinces.
"Thirdly, we don't actually know what the qualification criteria will be for the Olympics, so to make long-term decisions based on that sort of information is difficult."