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messaging crisis How NPHET's strange decisions have impacted GAA both positively and negatively

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THERE are a record number of spin doctors working for the government and there have never been more ways to communicate.  

Yet one of the underlying themes of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a messaging crisis.

Granted these are unprecedented times but after nearly 12 months one might have imagined the Government apparatus would have got all their ducks operating in a straight line.

The announcement on Wednesday evening by the GAA that the 2021 season would not begin until after Easter Sunday (April 4) was a bolt out of the blue.

For GAA aficionados it was the equivalent of being knocked out by a sucker punch in the last round of a heavyweight contest having survived a couple of standing counts.

Mind you, it is still a first-world problem.

Frankly, the fate of the National League – which is now in jeopardy because the inevitable shortening of the season – is not going to keep too many people awake at night.

Indeed, most County Board GAA treasurers would welcome its cancellation as the competition will be another drain on their stretched financial resources as it will not generate any gate receipts if it goes ahead.

The issue, however, highlighted the dysfunctional way decisions made by NPHET are communicated to the public.

And this is not the first time that there has been a breakdown in the communication link linking NPHET, the Government and the people.

I look forward to the inevitable public enquiry into the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic even if the GAA’s minor role is unlikely to be teased out in minute detail.

Nonetheless, there has been a series of what could be described as odd decisions made by NPHET which have impacted both positively and negatively on the GAA.

Take the one to give the All-Ireland championship the green light last October when though Level 5 restrictions were in place.

In the seven days preceding the Government's decision to finally accept the recommendation from NPHET to move to Level 5, two senior government figures Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Public Expenditure Minster Michael McGrath both said the All-Ireland series would not be played if Level 5 restrictions were imposed.

But when the regulations were published on October 22, the championship was exempted from the ban on sport.

For what it’s worth my theory is the personal intervention of the Taoiseach Micheál Martin saved the Sword of Damocles falling on the All-Ireland series.

We know what happened: the championship proceeded virtually without a hitch. But the government’s ill-fated decision to have a normal Christmas backfired tragically.

By the time we celebrated Christmas the disease was out of control again – hence the need for the country’s third lockdown.

Crucially the document underpinning this lockdown which was published on December 31 omitted any reference to inter-county football and hurling being exempt from the ban on sporting events. The GAA’s fate was sealed.

Interviewed on Morning Ireland on Thursday the Taoiseach insisted the exemption for senior inter-county football and hurling granted in 2020 was ‘always timed to end at the end of the year’. I suspect this revelation was news to the GAA.

Ironically, Professor Mary Horgan, a member of the GAA’s Advisory Committee on Covid-19, was appointed a member of NPHET on January 5th.

It seems, however, the first the GAA knew that inter-county games were no longer exempt under Level 5 was when they met government officials earlier this week.

So, we’re back to the issue of communications. It is not NPHET’s job to communicate to individual organisations. Instead, they forward their recommendation to the Government.

Did nobody in any Government Department think of lifting the phone and telling GAA Director-General Tom Ryan that there been a change in the regulations.

When did Sport Ireland become aware of the regulations? Did they communicate this information to the GAA?

When did Sports Minister Jack Chambers become aware of the change in the regulations? Did he tell anybody in Croke Park?

After all the GAA had announced a provisional timetable for the 2021 season just before Christmas.

Forewarned is forearmed and they ought to have been alerted to the change in policy when it was made rather than six weeks later.

Another communication cock-up.

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