Seán Moran: Development funding topic surely worthy of debate

Issue has been causing concern for a number of years and deserves a hearing at congress

In early 2004, the latest motion to open up Croke Park to other sports was ruled out of order before it got to annual congress. Reaction from the sponsoring counties was swift and unsparing.

"It smacks of totalitarianism," said Dublin's county secretary John Costello. The late Noel Walsh, from Clare, an indefatigable promoter of the cause: "It's a black day for democracy," whereas Roscommon's Tommy Kenoy, who had been within a single vote of piloting the reform through just three years previously: "It's a dictatorial approach that doesn't sit well with democracy within the GAA. "

They were just three of eight counties who had submitted similar motions and the object of their wrath was the motions committee, comprised of all the past GAA presidents – a collective not generally known for their trendy, liberal views.

Even so, this took the biscuit. Huge efforts had been made to ensure everything was in order. Then president, Seán Kelly, was a declared supporter of change and Croke Park’s management committee, through central council, made available the GAA’s bye laws sub-committee to vet proposed motions.


Yet even those counties that had taken up this consultation had their proposals kicked out. Clare went as far as to have then DG Liam Mulvihill throw an eye over their text but to no avail.

The past presidents had overplayed their hand and were not long afterwards disbanded as a motions vetting body and replaced by the rules advisory committee (RAC).

Just last week the RAC was in the news when John Connellan, the former Westmeath footballer who has spearheaded the campaign to revise the amount of funding being allocated to Dublin as part of a review of all games development grants, accused Croke Park of trying to undermine his proposals, which have been taken up by six counties.

This was a reference to the lack of support he felt was forthcoming from the RAC in terms of drafting the proposed change as well as what he believed to be a calculated letter to counties in December during annual convention season, pointing out that the GAA was already conducting its own review of funding.

At the time of writing there has been no word on whether the proposed motion, which was ruled out of order on first submission, had been redrafted to the RAC’s satisfaction but suffice it to say that the mood music hasn’t been great.

The motion, supported by Westmeath, Roscommon, Galway, Mayo and Tyrone, seeks to base future funding on registered membership within a county subject to tolerance of five per cent. Any further deviation would have to be supported by a business case approved by congress and subject to biennial review.

Either way, it’s likely that the proposal on ‘Fair and equitable coaching and development funding’ would find the 60 per cent weighted majority too high a bar to clear.

That is however, not the point. This issue has been causing concern for a number of years and given that an amount of work went into devising a proposal, which has attracted the support of five counties, spread over three provinces, it surely deserves a hearing.

Does that not make it a reasonable subject for discussion at the GAA’s largest representative forum?

Two strikes

The RAC point out that their brief is to assist with drafting, not a hand holding exercise. They identify flaws, spell out the remedy and leave it up to the sponsors. The problem with this clearly defined role is that from the proposers’ point of view, it’s two strikes and you’re out.

The committee can tidy up minor errors but isn’t allowed completely redraft and yet it really would be preferable to facilitate the platforming of significant concerns within the association.

It’s not as if the case put by the proposal is unanswerable. Connellan himself has acknowledged the reservations within officialdom concerning the metric of registered membership but believes that there has to be an empirical measure for comparison.

Registered membership is a curious metric, nonetheless, given that development spend is more usually deployed in places where presence is weak. You could argue that the smaller the registered membership, the more in need of intervention a territory is.

Congress itself is also an issue in this. For years, the clár has become more and more taken over by rules. Former DG Páraic Duffy made perennial but unavailing attempts to encourage engagement on policy matters raised by his annual report.

Even the sporadic declaratory motions of the past – for instance the once annual Crossmaglen rededication – are fewer and farther between.

Attempts have been made to broaden the deliberative function of congress, through for example the Friday afternoon workshops, but for most the only way of getting heard is to propose a new rule or a change to the Official Guide.

This is what the five counties behind the Connellan proposal have had to do. Unfortunately for them, the detail of their solution is better accommodated in a policy document than in the rule book.

Again though, that doesn’t mean that the arguments shouldn’t be heard. There will be football championship proposals at congress, based in part on opinions aired at last October’s special congress where no proposal secured approval.

At present Shane Flanagan, GAA director of coaching games development, is conducting a review of development funding for Croke Park. Would this review not benefit from taking the temperature during a congress debate on the subject?

It’s a serious matter but also a collaborative one. If the GAA are confident in their view that the five counties’ case is flawed – and they likely are – what would be the harm in allowing discussion to take place?

Suppressing debate is never a good look.