The GAA has agreed to meet the organisers of a tribute match for the late Liam Miller about hosting the event in Páirc Uí Chaoimh after the Government warned that the association’s previous refusal to grant access to the stadium could breach State aid rules.
On Friday evening, the GAA said it was rule-bound to reject the approach to host the September 25 match between a host of stars who played with Miller during his time at Manchester United, Celtic, and Ireland.
However, less than 24 hours later, the association issued a statement in which it said its president and director general are to meet the organising committee to discuss the event.
The GAA President and Ard Stiúrthóir, along with representatives of the Cork Committee, are to seek a meeting with the organising committee of the Liam Miller Tribute Match to discuss issues around the game.— The GAA (@officialgaa) July 21, 2018
The Irish Examiner can now reveal that this U-turn came after a number of calls to the GAA hierarchy from political sources, including Brendan Griffin, minister for state with responsibility for sport, and Tánaiste Simon Coveney.
Last week, the Irish Examiner revealed that there were concerns that the refusal to host the game would run contrary to the terms and conditions of a European Commission decision to allow the Government to award a €30m grant to Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s redevelopment.
Mr Griffin confirmed that these conditions were discussed with the GAA at the weekend, and that talks also involved officials from his Department’s Sports Capital Unit — which is responsible for the granting of public funds to sports projects.
“We need to be careful with the terms and conditions of the grant, and to ensure there’s no breach there,” Mr Griffin said.
“When it comes to public funds, whether it’s a small field in Co Kerry or a stadium in a city, we need to protect the public purse.”
The President of the GAA is to meet with organisers of the Liam Miller tribute match. It is believed the meeting will take place early next week pic.twitter.com/E2ERzB4qXW— RTÉ News (@rtenews) July 21, 2018
The GAA had previously said it had taken legal advice and was confident it was not breaking the terms of the grant aid.
However, while Mr Griffin said his officials were still examining the legalities at this time, he said that his department would always approach such situations with caution. He said it was his personal hope that the match would be moved to Páirc Uí Chaoimh from Turners Cross, which has a capacity of 7,000, and that the GAA would view the match as primarily a charity event to pay tribute to a distinguished sportsman.
Cork developer Michael O’Flynn, who is chair of the organising committee, welcomed the GAA’s announcement.
“We are greatly encouraged by the statement from the GAA and that the president and director general want a meeting,” he said. “Obviously we look forward to sitting down with them as soon as possible in the public interest and to see if we can find a way forward that will make everyone happy.”
However, he also expressed his dismay at social media reports over the weekend that claimed the two sides had already come to a deal on using the stadium.
“I was very disappointed with social media reports on Saturday night claiming that an agreement had been reached,” said Mr O’Flynn.
“We welcome the GAA’s statement, but nothing else had happened at that point.”
While the GAA had said its rules prohibited it from hosting the match, and that only a change at its annual congress could alter the situation, senior legal sources believe there is scope within the GAA regulations to sanction the match.
The GAA’s Rule 5.1 states that its facilities can only be used for purposes “not in conflict with the aims and objectives of the association”.
Sources believe no such conflict arises due to the fact that Miller was a former GAA player, that the match will not interfere with the hosting of any GAA match, or divert personnel from playing Gaelic games.
They further believe that the charitable nature of the event is in keeping with the GAA’s stated aim to “promote a community spirit” — thus affording the GAA Central Council the authority to sanction the match.
The meeting between the GAA and the match organising committee is expected to take place early this week.
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