PAUL ROUSE: GPA cash plans do the GAA's inter-county players a disservice

Sometimes an organisation does something that just reveals so much about itself.

And so it is with the Gaelic Players’ Association (GPA) and its recent lobbying of government.

As things stand, the GPA receives €900,000 per year in public funding for its contribution to “the social fabric of the country”.

As John Fogarty has revealed, the GPA is looking for a remarkable increase in that money. It is speculated that the amount being sought is at least €7m per year and may even have reached double figures.

Even the lower figure would amount to an annual increase of almost 800% and would amount to one-seventh of all the money to be spent by Sport Ireland this year.

What is of interest here is not just the amount of money being sought, but the notions that underpin it.

It is worth remembering that the initial decision to give public money (some €3.5m per year before the financial crash brought the sum down to €900,000) to the GPA was made in 2007 by a government whose reckless use of the state’s coffers is unmatched in Irish history. But even that government —whose extravagance will be paid for by Irish people for the foreseeable future — took up to four years to acquiesce to the GPA’s demands for money.

Now the GPA wishes not only to return to Celtic Tiger levels of funding, but to go much, much higher.

In support of this ambition, they have proposed a couple of schemes so flimsy in their design as to defy belief that they are being posited as serious propositions. The grandly titled ‘Proposal for a New Collaboration between Government and the GPA’ submitted to government includes — to give an example — a ‘plan’ to increase tourism and foreign direct investment for Ireland.

Running to a mere 188 words, this involves rebranding the All Stars Tour (an “exciting and high profile event”!) as a broader government trade mission.

GPA cash plans do the GAA's inter-county players a disservice

This “Trade and Tourism Mission” would involve the design of new jerseys with “Tourism Ireland” logos and photoshoots between star players and politicians. And then there’s the proposed GPA “Campaign against Childhood Obesity”.

This 312-word scheme proposes that the GPA host a conference bringing together all the relevant government agencies to discuss the latest research available and to publish a report on these discussions. The GPA would also provide “marquee players” to take part in school and media campaigns to “highlight the issue of childhood obesity and encourage everybody to tackle the issue in a positive way.”

These are not proposals at all — at least not in any meaningful sense of the word.

They are without depth, without clarity, without rationale. They are uncosted, speculative, incoherent, cynical, and vague. And they beg a whole host of questions.

The first question is the most straightforward: Why should the GPA get any taxpayers’ money? It has never been explained why the government should be giving money to men who play inter-county football and hurling because they play inter-county football and hurling.

At the height of the Celtic Tiger, this cash was handed over on a sliding scale which reached €2,500 given to All-Ireland winning players. For 2015, the cash handed over amounted to some €667 to All-Ireland finalists, dropping to a minimum of €435 given to players of counties who go out in the first rounds of the All-Ireland senior football and hurling championships (it drops further to €295 for the hurlers of counties such as Leitrim and Warwickshire who compete in the third-ranking Lory Meagher Cup).

GPA cash plans do the GAA's inter-county players a disservice

Presumably, this cash would be significantly increased under the money now sought by the GPA from government (even if a slice of the money were also to go to female inter-county players).

But how much money does the GPA think the taxpayer should hand over in any given year to each inter-county footballer and hurler that makes up its 2,100 members?

It is worth noting in passing an inherent contradiction here: The GPA submission to government rehearses the usual pieties where the GPA proclaims that amateurism is the bedrock of the GAA.

And then in the next breath it looks for more cash to be paid to inter-county players.

A further question relates to the GAA, itself. The GPA submission to government claims “collaboration with the GAA” in support of its “plans” on tourism, foreign direct investment and tourism.

Is this the case? Did the GAA hierarchy have knowledge of — or input in — the GPA’s submission to government? In this submission, the words GPA and GAA are routinely interchanged. It is as if the GPA has taken it upon itself to speak for the GAA, and that it imagines it can do so whenever it wishes. The GPA has done this superbly in its fundraising campaigns in Irish-America – but is the GAA hierarchy going to allow it to happen in this instance, too?

The great regret is that it has come to this. There are many inter-county players across the country who are outstanding individuals and who contribute hugely to their communities and their society.

They go into schools when they’re invited and do a whole load of other things that are noble and genuine — and they don’t usually look for money for helping people out, particularly when those people are often their friends and neighbours.

But they also get — and have been given — a lot back.

When it comes down to it, they are poorly served by the proposal made to government in their names.


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