Documents obtained by the Irish Examiner via a Freedom of Information request reveal the GAA’s official players body hopes of convincing then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Pascal Donohoe of the merit in striking a new deal, including a sizeable increase in the Government grant aid to players.
Although the precise amount sought by the GPA has been redacted, it is understood to be at least double the original €3.5 million sum paid annually at the outset of the agreement in 2007. The new request also incorporated funding for the WGPA, which was established early last year.
As part of the proposed initiative, Gaelic players would make themselves available to promote campaigns on areas such as road safety, tourism, and child obesity awareness. Claiming they have the support of the GAA, the GPA state they are prepared “to leverage their members to support these policy objectives”.
Farrell met with Donohue and Minister of State Michael Ring on January 11. However, February’s general election and the subsequent political uncertainty has meant the GPA have been left in limbo, while they have yet to shake hands with the GAA on a new permanent recognition agreement after the original €8.5m deal elapsed last year. Instead, an interim arrangement is currently in place.
In a letter to then Minister Donohoe dated December 21 of last year, GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell underlined the reasons for a superior deal. He explained the GPA expected the original annual €3.5m grant from 2007 would increase over time but accepted in the context of the ensuing economic crisis, that a reduction to “just €900K” was understandable.
Farrell continued: “As you know, the current funding arrangement between your Department and the GPA will conclude in the near future. We are now very keen to enter into a new and more strategic engagement with your Department.”
What the GPA put forward was a two-part proposal incorporating the existing Government grants scheme “in recognition of the very significant contribution they make to Gaelic games and the social fabric of Irish society”.
Farrell writes: “This new Framework Agreement would include two key pillars: a staged enhancement of the financial support agreed originally in 2007, on a multi-annual basis, and a new Framework Agreement whereby the GPA would provide ongoing support for key Government policy objectives in the areas of Road Safety, Obesity, and Tourism.
“At the core of this proposal is the use of the unique cultural attributes of Gaelic games and the iconic role models that its inter-county players represent to support the policy objectives referred to earlier.”
Among the suggestions are the use of “marquee players in advertising and media campaigns to highlight the issue of childhood obesity” and using the annual All Stars Tour as a driver for Tourism Ireland.
Farrell outlined the advantages of using players to attract tourists to Ireland: “Leveraging GPA players and many key GAA and GPA events abroad to promote Ireland’s Tourism and attract more tourists to Ireland. Examples could include branding of jerseys during the All Stars Tour, Super 11s at Fenway Park etc. and the involvement of key players in Tourism Ireland roadshows abroad. (Almost 30,000 spectators attended the Fenway event in Boston with a significant TV audience in the greater Massachusetts area too. There are plans to extend this project and play more games on this new basis in other international locations.)”
Farrell claimed the initiative could ultimately be cost-neutral. “In recognition of enhanced Government support, the GPA will make a significant and meaningful contribution to policy objectives, which should result in both cost savings and additional revenue to the Exchequer. We believe that if properly executed this new framework agreement could be self-financing over time from a Government perspective.”
The GPA’s difficult financial situation became evident last year when Farrell admitted it faced “serious funding challenges”.
In a document sent by the GPA to Donohue on December 15 outlining the proposed collaboration between the body and the Government, it is stated: “The combination of the reduction in funding and the lack of sustainability is seriously curtailing the ambitions of the GPA and the continued and increased role it can play in Irish society, both at an economic and social level. It is proposed that the new funding would be derived from the National Lottery Funding Programme, which amongst other causes, is specifically designed to support the development of sport in Ireland.”
Players who competed in the 2015 All-Ireland inter-county competitions received their grants earlier this month. Members of each county who reached the All-Ireland finals were entitled to receive €667. At the bottom of the scale, Lory Meagher Cup participants who didn’t reach the 2015 final were due €295. The figures contrast with 2008 when All-Ireland final players each picked up approximately €2,500.