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Seán Moran: Burns has to spring early into action to exorcise the ghost of bans past

The new president had an unexpectedly demanding afternoon at Central Council but he stamped his authority on it

There appears to have been an outbreak of the old culture wars at the weekend in Croke Park. Saturday’s Central Council meeting was asked to adjudicate a number of requests for the use of a couple of GAA grounds.

An official communiqué noted in its last paragraph: “Permission was granted for rugby and soccer activity in Páirc an Chrócaigh and SuperValu Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the coming months.”

The obliqueness of the text buried the substance of the matter. Cork GAA’s venue had been given permission to host a semi-final of rugby’s European Champions Cup in the unlikely event that Munster would reach that stage with home advantage.

More significantly, there was a proposal to facilitate Leinster, who because of various development works and venue unavailability due to concerts and so on will need a temporary home for 13 fixtures into next season.


For whatever reason, there followed trouble at the mill when Central Council got around to deliberating on the proposal. New president Jarlath Burns had to insist on the importance of permission being granted and then intervene with a casting vote.

Although the opposition wasn’t all necessarily looking to reject the application, there was a feeling among some that it needed to go back to the counties for further scrutiny because of the number of matches involved, which had come as a shock and at relatively short notice.

European semi-finals or even URC knockout fixtures were all very well but ordinary rounds of the league next autumn took it all a step farther.

Also, given the disparity between an average attendance at one of these early season URC matches and the capacity of Croke Park, another venue more in keeping with the size of the RDS would be required.

Kilkenny’s UPMC Nowlan Park was discussed in that context and greenlighted even though that was not included in the communiqué.

That this straightforward accommodation should have caused such fuss came as a bit of a shock. Surely this matter had been put to bed in the nearly 20 years since the old Rule 42 had been relaxed and with a number of permissive tweaks in the interim. Had that train not left the station?

Cork GAA has been open for business for the past six years, since the controversy over the Liam Miller testimonial, which went ahead in a flurry of hand wringing despite there being abundant wriggle room in the rules.

A year later, the most recent loosening of the restriction permitted county grounds to be used by other sports on a “case-by-case” basis, as authorised by Central Council.

This presumably was the reasoning behind all 13 of the Leinster fixtures being voted on individually last Saturday.

Director General Tom Ryan made a prescient reference to the issue in this year’s annual report.

“Treoir Oifigiúl (GAA Official Guide) and Central Council policy currently prescribe that GAA grounds may only be used by other sports in the case of ‘events of national significance’.

“Recent months have seen permission granted for a small number of games which possibly stretch that definition and have given me pause for thought.”

Presumably along the lines of, ‘why are we always making things so difficult for ourselves?’

The reference to Central Council policy is to an appendix first drawn up in 2010 but not originally published. It is an addendum to Rule 5, which governs the use of GAA facilities by other sports and now contains a link to the policy, which provides, among other things, that “Usage may only be permitted where the event is considered by Árd Chomhairle to be exceptional in nature and of national significance.”

Cork chief executive Kevin O’Donovan is doing his utmost to get business into SuperValu Páirc Uí Chaoimh to raise revenues and a potential mutually beneficial partnership with Munster rugby has begun to develop.

Why does it matter that, for instance, a friendly between the province and New Zealand club Crusaders strains credulity as an event “of national significance”?

This clearly needs to be revised, especially now that it is effectively included in the Official Guide. There is no discernible agitation among membership at large to maintain this kind of restriction on the use of GAA property.

In his annual report, Ryan also spoke about the challenges of the future need for facilities, as integration with the women’s organisations proceeds.

“The time for imaginative thinking and a different approach to facilities is upon us. That means opening our minds to the potential of shared facilities with other sports, partnerships with the educational sector, the advent of municipal ownership, and more. We simply cannot allow our ambitions to be constrained by a lack of imagination.”

The GAA is in no position to pursue this most obvious and reasonable of courses if it continues to be grudging in the use of its own property. Government won’t stand for it nor would the various stakeholders with whom the association has to coexist.

Neither has the membership by and large much interest in the legacy of bans and restrictions. They are more likely to want further liberalisation so that clubs can let out facilities when they don’t need them rather than the paternalistic “protection” offered by the current rules and emphasised by the Rule 5 appendix, which relies on a squadron of straw men to justify the restriction.

The modern GAA, for all its flaws, is rightly proud of and protective of the great infrastructure it has built – latterly with the assistance of public funds – but equally proud of its place at the heart of communities everywhere.

Burns was rightly alarmed at any development that was going to complicate that message.