PADDY HEANEY: Tale of two cities exposes danger of not having a plan

In the not too distant future both Casement Park and Páirc Uí Chaoimh will be bulldozed to the ground and completely rebuilt.

The prospect of two shiny new GAA stadiums rising from the ground during this gloomy economic period should be heartening.

Sadly, that is not the case. Instead, the background stories to both graphically illustrate the GAA’s leadership at its best and worst.

In Casement Park, we have an example of a provincial council following a strategic plan produced at central level a decade ago. When Casement Park is finished, it will complete an Ulster Council infrastructural programme that was in keeping with a strategy outlined by Croke Park. Moreover, apart from being absolutely necessary, the redevelopment of the West Belfast ground is going to be the GAA’s bargain of the century.

Put very simply, the GAA is going to get a state-of-the-art 40,000 all-seater stadium for just €18m. It’s a snip. The British government is picking up the tab for the other €73m.

In contrast, the GAA, through the offices of the Cork County Board, the Munster Council and Croke Park will have to cough up nearly all the cash for Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The Cork County Board reckons it can build its new 45,000 all-seater venue for €40m. Given that a smaller stadium in Ulster has a projected bill of €91m, that estimate seems pretty optimistic.

Put very simply, Páirc Uí Chaoimh will cost the GAA a packet. Yet, that’s not even the point. Most damning of all, when it opens for business, Páirc Uí Chaoimh will be the latest in a string of random projects that illuminate the painful lack of governance in the GAA.

Like the empty housing estates that now haunt nearly every Irish town, the GAA has made its own contribution to the nation’s folly by spending millions of euro on huge grounds that will lie dormant and unused for most of their existence.

Fortunately, the Ulster Council managed to buck that trend by doing the unthinkable. They actually implemented a plan.

In 2002, Peter Quinn unveiled the Strategic Review which urged Ulster, Munster and Connacht to plough investment into one central stadium that could seat more than 45,000 fans. Rather than waste cash by constructing white elephant grounds that would only be filled once a year, the Strategic Review proposed that each county should develop smaller grounds with a capacity of around 25,000.

Ten years later, Ulster GAA has largely delivered.

It also needs to be highlighted that the capital projects in the six counties cost the GAA a pittance.

Ever since 2005 when Ulster Council secretary Danny Murphy threatened to sue the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure for inequality of funding, the GAA has received an estimated €120m in public monies. By the end of 2015, the nine counties of Ulster(population 1.95m) will be served by one 40,000 seater stadium that can host all major inter-county fixtures. Contrast that with Munster (population 1.25m). The recent revamp of Semple Stadium (capacity 53,000) in Tipperary cost €18m. Another €12m was spent on the Gaelic Grounds (50,000) in Limerick. And let’s not forget that Fitzgerald Stadium (43,000) in Killarney is currently in the process of getting a facelift. Now, Cork needs at least €40m to rebuild Páirc Uí Chaoimh (45,000).

Where was the planning? Did the Munster Council not receive a copy of the Strategic Review?

GAA members will go berserk on learning that Croke Park is spending a few thousand on fireworks (okay, it still sounds nuts) then shrug their shoulders when it’s announced that some county is planning to develop another multi-million euro venue.

The indifference stems from the fact members don’t realise the extent to which all capital projects rely on grants from provincial councils and Croke Park. And those grants come from the money they hand over at turnstiles. Let’s be honest, a colossal amount of ticket money has been spent very foolishly.

Pat Fitzgerald, the secretary of the Munster Council, fears more cash is going to be wasted. Writing in his annual report, he queried whether the southern province needs a spanking new ground. It seems the Munster secretary seems to be recommending that Cork, the biggest GAA county in Ireland, with a population twice the size of any other county in Munster, should have a modest ground — maybe something like Brewster Park. All in all, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

If the leaders in Croke Park were doing their jobs properly, they wouldn’t have allowed such an ad hoc and scatter-brained approach. The Munster Council can’t afford to support the rebuilding of Páirc Uí Chaoimh — and Croke Park can’t afford not to support it.

But if the grants come flooding into Páirc Uí Chaoimh from Croke Park, there is little reason to believe this chronic mismanagement is going to end any time soon.


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