By Joe Leogue, Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, and Daniel McConnell
The GAA is under renewed political pressure to host the Liam Miller tribute match at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, after the Taoiseach and ministers again said public funding for the stadium came with expectations about access to the facility.
The sell-out match between the late Mr Miller’s former Manchester United, Celtic, and Ireland teammates is set to take place in September at Turners Cross.
However, the GAA is considering a proposal from the tribute’s organisers to host the occasion at Páirc Uí Chaoimh following a meeting at Croke Park on Tuesday.
That meeting came after the GAA had declared it was rule-bound from accommodating the fixture, the proceeds of which will go to Mr Miller’s widow, three children, and Marymount Hospice.
However on Monday, the Irish Examiner revealed that behind the scenes, both politicians and Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport officials had intervened and warned the GAA that its refusal to host the match may break the terms attached to the €30m funding granted for Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s redevelopment.
While the GAA yesterday continued to consider the proposals heard at the Croke Park meeting, a number of members again called for Páirc Uí Chaoimh to host the match.
Speaking during a Brexit-related trip to Italy, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar repeated his view the stand-off needs to be resolved.
Asked specifically about Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy’s comments on Monday that in his personal opinion the GAA’s rules blocking the game are from an Ireland that no longer exists, Mr Varadkar said the GAA needs to remember Páirc Uí Chaoimh was built with €30m of funds from taxpayers “who play all forms of sport and none”.
“I know Sports Minister Brendan Griffin has been engaged on this issue. I haven’t spoken to him about it for about two days, so I don’t want to say something about it that is out of date so I’d prefer not to comment on that.
Speaking at the launch of the Government’s National Sports Policy, Mr Griffin said the controversy has “not been the GAA’s finest hour”.
He and his senior minister Shane Ross have warned that future fundings for any stadium, including for the GAA, will be under threat unless they are made available to others to use.
But Mr Griffin called for Páirc Uí Chaoimh to be made available for the tribute to the late soccer star, who he described as a “great Cork sportsman, not just a soccer man, but a man who played GAA as well”.
“As an avid GAA supporter and a member, yes, it has not been the GAA’s finest hour. Public opinion is firmly in one way. It has not been a good week for them.
“My personal view is that I would like to see it going ahead in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. And hopefully the discussions will lead to an agreed outcome,” he said.
Mr Griffin made clear part of the terms of the State’s grant of €30m for Páirc Uí Chaoimh was to allow it to be opened up for community events such as this.
“That was certainly the spirit of the agreement with Páirc Uí Chaoimh as well. Many people would feel that by not hosting this game it is against the spirit of the grant that was provided.”
Mr Ross said he welcomed the fact that discussions have begun and said he hoped agreement can be reached.
“I think it is most important that when large infrastructure funds are given, those who receive the money make commitments that the community will have access to the stadium, where state monies are given over. It is something that we feel we have to insist upon.”