Relief as GAA votes for better gender balance on management committee

Director general Tom Ryan admits threat of cut in State funding influenced vote

Saturday’s special congress at Croke Park was one of the briefest on record, with 11 motions disposed of in an hour, but it provided disproportionately significant relief for the GAA top table.

Motion nine, proposing new structures to address gender imbalance on the ruling national management committee, was seen as vital to the progression of the organisation and not exclusively because public funding has been threatened for sports governing bodies that don’t get female representation up to at least 40 per cent by the end of this year.

Currently three of the management committee’s 19 members are female, 16 per cent.

Director general Tom Ryan underlined the seriousness of the matter by proposing the motion. It was a tricky challenge because despite a rump of opposition, none of the dissidents were prepared to speak, which meant that their misgivings had to be intuited before Ryan could address them.


President Larry McCarthy, who has made female representation a theme of his term of office was content with the outcome and paid tribute to Ryan.

“There was resistance during the week – a lot of stuff in the ether, shall we say. In fairness to the Árd Stiúrthóir, he dealt with every one [of the reservations] very, very well and we got the vote 80-20 at the end of the day and we are very happy with that result.”

Ryan’s arguments were that the move to raise female numbers on the management committee would benefit the GAA first and foremost but he hadn’t shied away from the Government ultimatum and the threatened impact on public funding – acknowledging that the move wouldn’t have happened this quickly without the pressure.

Last week Minister for Sport Thomas Byrne had confirmed the department’s intention to cut funding by 50 per cent to sports organisations that failed to reach the 40 per cent of management threshold.

He said, however, that this was “not a bad thing if it gets us to where we should be” before asking why – given the benefits of the move – the association would want to risk public funding.

In response to another undercurrent – that the matter should be deferred while integration talks with the women’s Gaelic games organisations were ongoing – the director general maintained that there was no connection between these integration discussions and the need to get the GAA’s house in order.

As he outlined, a quarter of the GAA’s membership and 30 per cent of its club administrators are already female and the association needed to move on at national level.

Ryan wasn’t sounding any trumpets at the end of the process, telling the media afterwards: “It’s a good thing to do but it’s not revolutionary or anything like that. It reflects where society is going in all manner of enterprises and undertakings. It’s not that the GAA shouldn’t be any different; it’s that the GAA should be a leader in these matters.”

The mechanics of the move will see a three-stage process, which will initially expand the size of the management committee to 21 voting members in 2024, with at least nine female members – or 43 per cent.

In 2025, the number will revert to 19 voting members, at least eight of which shall be female – or 42 per cent.

From 2027, a committee of 16 voting members will include a minimum of seven females. As a minimum, three of the four provincial representatives, one of the two independent appointees, one of the two representatives of Congress, as well as the LGFA and Camogie representatives must be women – or 44 per cent.

Congress had opened with a setback for the top table in the failure of motion one – and, in consequence, motion two – to secure even a basic majority, defeated 51 per cent to 49.

It had proposed the ending of the status quo whereby the finalists in the Joe McDonagh Cup have been granted access to the same year’s All-Ireland championship in specially constructed preliminary quarterfinals – as well as the basic promotion of the winners to the following season’s MacCarthy Cup.

The affected McDonagh counties rallied in response to the prospective withdrawal of this privilege, which has led to a litany of one-sided matches since being introduced in 2018, with Laois the following year the only county actually to reach an All-Ireland quarter-final.

Citing the promotional value of playing off against the third-placed teams in the Leinster and Munster round-robin championships, county chairs Jim Bolger (Carlow) and Frank Mescall (Westmeath) urged retention, as did Antrim’s Ciarán McCavana, who said that access to the Liam MacCarthy was one of the McDonagh Cup’s “big selling points”.

The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) chair Tom Parsons told congress that, having polled players in the McDonagh Cup counties, there was an overwhelming majority in favour of the link, although he conceded that there was a case for restricting access to the McDonagh Cup winners rather than both finalists.

No delegate spoke in favour after the proposal of the motion by Derek Kent of the CCCC, which views the preliminary quarterfinals as a big scheduling complication for something that hasn’t proved remotely competitive.

Other motions:

3: To introduce a tiered knockout format for the All-Ireland minor football championship, 93-7.

4: Galway and Antrim admitted to the Leinster minor hurling championship, 94-6.

5: Provincial under-20 championships to be allowed to implement round-robin structures, as they already can at minor and senior level, 94-6.

6: All-Ireland finals to be concluded before the last Sunday in July – as opposed to the 29th or 30th Sunday in any given year, 90-10.

7: Delegates to Central Council must be members of their county committee, 97-3.

8: Allowing a member who has served five years as a delegate to Central Council to serve a second term on a non-consecutive basis, 88-12.

10: Reformatting the Official Guide, the GAA rule book, by separating its provisions into existing sections on broad policy and ethos, part 1, and playing rules, part 2, which will continue to be amendable only by congress.

A new section, “codes”, which will deal with procedural regulation and process, becomes the responsibility of Central Council and the Croke Park management committee, 86-14.

11: Requiring a player to have had his 17th birthday before January 1st of the championship year in order to be eligible to play at adult level – this age restriction can be raised by counties.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times