Seán Moran: Reluctance to publish ‘Towards 2034’ report seems odd

Not much point in people producing a report if members can’t analyse or debate its content

The GAA  has nothing to fear from discussion amongst its members of proposals, however radical they may be.

The GAA has nothing to fear from discussion amongst its members of proposals, however radical they may be.

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The GAA has in recent decades been fairly partial to contemplating the future.

If we go back nearly 50 years to the McNamee Commission, which reported in 1971, a whole host of new ideas were floated and in the fullness of time, when the shock of the new had subsided, many were adopted.

Some weren’t and it’s almost quaint to note that the report wanted to stop televised coverage of All-Ireland semi-finals and prevent any extension to provincial finals.

This was at a time by the end of the 1960s when the attitude of some GAA units towards RTÉ had become quite critical. A Roscommon motion to ban live television failed in 1969 but there was an indignant debate on the subject and the alleged failure of RTÉ to give the GAA’s games and activities adequate exposure was cited as an argument in favour.

It was also argued that the GAA was furnishing 10 hours of television broadcast a year for £4,500 – against the industry average of £1,290 per hour’s programming.

Since McNamee, there has been the Strategic Review Committee of 2002, a Marketing Sub-Committee in 2005 and national and county strategic plans from the end of the last decade – the latest update on which is expected to be released around the end of this month.

If the association can be accused of various shortcomings, a wilful indifference to the future isn’t one of them.

So the commissioning of the latest such exercise Towards 2034 - the 150th anniversary of the GAA, wasn’t of itself a surprise but the mysterious silence that settled over the committee’s final report, delivered last January – details of which appeared in The Irish Times last Friday – has been, to put it unexceptionally, odd.

The T150 committee, under the chair of John Carr, was established by former president Aogán Ó Fearghail with a remit to report back on the challenges facing the GAA as it heads towards 2034 and report before the end of the presidency.

They had intended a broad consultative process, along the lines of the Football Review Committee with which it shared a secretary, Kevin Griffin, but in the end were asked to move straight to the report stage. This was issued within the agreed deadline but since January the silence has been deafening.

Ó Fearghail chose not to publish the report he’d commissioned and clearly his successor John Horan feels under no obligation to do so, as he awaits the latest instalment of the strategic plan, which will cover his term of office.

Professional expertise

It is one of the recurrent blessings of the GAA that it has access to such a bank of professional expertise across a multiplicity of disciplines. Experts in various fields, who are well disposed to the association, make themselves available on a voluntary basis to consider problems and issue reports.

They are undaunted by there being no guarantee that their considered prescriptions won’t be shot down at a special congress on frequently whimsical grounds. It is another thing entirely for a great deal of hard work to go unrecognised by a reluctance to publish the report of a committee.

This is not something that uniquely befell the T150 committee. The above mentioned Marketing Sub-Committee report of 13 years ago was deemed better kept in-house and back in 2010, former director general Páraic Duffy’s discussion document on amateur status and payment to team managers lay on the shelf for over a year before seeing the light of day.

That document shared something with the current one: it touched on the subject of amateurism and some version of payment in return for involvement at the highest level of the games.

The Duffy discussion document met the expected fate of having its least contentious option – the retention of the status quo – accepted in preference to anything as difficult as authorising remuneration and monitoring it.

It is though a disservice to the T150 report to hang the entirety of its deliberations on the proposal that inter-county players and managers be paid an allowance rather than travel-based expenses.

Another aspect of the current report that it has in common with the Duffy document is that it advances uncomfortable solutions to entrenched problems.

For instance, the suggestion that governance issues could be addressed by reforming the entire upper stratum of GAA administration – amalgamating management committee and central council into a board of directors and replacing the provincial council system with more streamlined and demographically balanced regional councils – is akin to visiting the turkey coop in December and asking would they like a traditional Christmas.

Other projections concern the random distribution of major stadia around the country, especially in Munster, and their status like local hospitals whose existence acts as a comfort for those nearby but not necessarily in the best interests of healthcare.

Thought-provoking document

There is also a fundamental questioning of how best to reconcile the need to raise revenue with the accepted values of the GAA and how that impacts on sponsorship and subscription television.

In short, it’s a thought-provoking document that sets out in its opening pages the intention to “generate the kind of widespread debate that is now required”.

No issues in the GAA – or indeed, elsewhere – are addressed without being aired and discussed.

This goes all the way back to the ban on foreign games, which was consistently raised through the 1960s before a consensus was built for its deletion in 1971, and includes other controversial reports that, even if defeated, led to reformulated proposals many of which gained acceptance.

The association has nothing to fear from discussion amongst its members of analyses of issues and ideas that however radical, are intended to stimulate debate. A report can be launched as a discussion document without the need for anyone in Croke Park to endorse all or any of its proposals.

Otherwise why take up the time and evident commitment of so many eminent and busy people?

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