GAA members are all for law, order and discipline so long it doesn’t impact on them
When it comes to discipline there is no future, only the past happening over and over again
Anybody naïve enough to believe that the GAA is serious about clamping down on violence and abuse of referees got a rude awakening last weekend.
For nearly half a century I have observed the association’s law makers wrangle with their conscience and lose. So, I wasn’t surprised about what happened at Congress.
It is like a broken record – the same things simply happens over and over again. The only difference is the venue and the year. As always, the saga begins with an incident which hits the headlines.
It could be an unprovoked assault on a referee, an on-field melee or a free-for-all involving players, subs and spectators.
The official GAA response is always the same: due process must be allowed take its course. There is a vague promise that the wider issues will be addressed in the fullness of time.
Life moves fast in the 24-hour news cycle and before long everybody has forgotten about the incident – until the next one occurs.
Meanwhile, inside the corridors of power the wheels of justice move slowly; there are hearings, appeals and on occasions the whole affairs ends up with the Disputes Resolution Authority, the GAA’s equivalent of the Supreme Court.
Granted in some cases the culprits do get punished, though it is a matter of debate whether their punishment fits the crime. The GAA is a very merciful entity.
In 2022 there was a spate of headline-grabbing moments, including a referee getting knocked out by a team mentor during a club game in Roscommon and a serious fracas at a Leinster club hurling game in Parnell Park. As well, of course, as the high-profile, eye-gouging incident during a melee in the All-Ireland quarter-final between Galway and Armagh, and an unruly finish to the All-Ireland junior club football final.
After the predictable outcry a reform package was promised and these proposals went before last weekend’s Congress for approval.
Though not particularly ground-breaking, they did address two specific issues which haunt the association’s complicated disciplinary process.
From a practical viewpoint, it is virtually impossible for the GAA to enforce bans on team mentors if their county or club turns a blind eye, and allows them to continue to prepare teams.
So, in order to give the rule a bit of backbone, it was proposed that the chairman and secretary of a club would face suspension if team officials did not adhere to a ban.
It was voted down after what one seasoned observer noted was an ‘extraordinary exhibition of hand wringing’
I guess we should have known that, as one wag remarked, ‘turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’.
After all, a sizeable number of the delegates were either chairman/secretaries of their counties or had previous served in the role.
Worse was to follow.
The GAA’s disciplinary process is a growth industry for the association’s barstool lawyers.
Virtually every disciplinary decision is challenged, usually on technical grounds, because there is always a chance somebody hasn’t crossed a T and the case will get thrown out.
So, it was proposed to penalise ‘frivolous or vexatious’ challenges to suspensions. If a player/official declined to accept a proposed penalty and brought no substantive challenge to a hearing committee, but based their case on procedural technicalities their penalty was doubled.
Delegates reacted as if this was a fundamental challenge to their constitutional rights. It seemed entirely lost on them that a sports organisation is not obliged to have the same rules as civic courts. After all, the GAA does not send people to jail.
As it happens similar rules do apply in civil courts as Brian Rennick, a solicitor who chairs the Central Hearings Committee, which drew up the proposal, patiently explained to delegates.
For example, anybody facing a fixed-charge notice for a motoring offence can be pay up or take the case to the District Court. If they fail there, the penalties will be increased.
Alas, the motion did not receive the requisite 60 per cent backing, and a real opportunity to steamline the disciplinary process was lost.
GAA members are all for law, order and discipline so long it doesn’t impact on them.
There will be more headline-grabbing violent incidents next year, and we will go through the same ritual again. When it comes to discipline in the GAA there is no future, only the past happening over and over again.
And nothing will change until the association runs out of referees or the officials form an association and go or strike. Then everybody will sit up and take notice.
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