DRA member ‘strenuously disagrees’ with Connolly verdict

The publication of the Disputes Resolution Authority’s decision to rescind Diarmuid Connolly’s red card earlier this month has laid bare a major rift between the tribunal panel which oversaw the case.

For only the second time in the 10-year history of the independent body established by the GAA, the judgement was not unanimous. Hugh O’Flaherty and David Nohilly found Dublin forward Connolly, in contesting his red card for striking Mayo’s Lee Keegan in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final last month, had not been afforded “fair procedures” by the GAA’s CCCC.

However, the other member, Meath-based solicitor, Brian Rennick, has presented a damning dissent of the decision. He claims the other members of the panel put forward the arguments on which basis they chose to overrule Connolly’s punishment, freeing him up to face Mayo in the replay.

O’Flaherty and Nohilly adjudged the CCCC had breached rule 7.3 (s): “where the Defending Party requests a Hearing, he shall indicate in his reply any special requirements with regard to the Hearing (e.g. video playing equipment). He may also submit a written request for clarification of the Referee’s Report and that request and the clarification received shall be furnished by the Competitions Control Committee to the Hearings Committee and the Defending Party.”

Deeming Connolly was “prejudiced in the conduct of his defence”, they found the CCCC had failed on a number of points such as complying “with its obligation to see clarification in the form as requested by the claimant”.

However, Rennick argues that Connolly, when in front of the Central Hearings Committee, never highlighted “alleged failures of the past of the CCCC in respect of the manner in which it sought the clarification from the Referee”.

He wrote: “It is my view that the claimant (Connolly) in this instance was afforded fair procedures, there being no misapplication of any of the rules complained of and there being no breach of accepted principles of fair procedures, natural and constitutional justice, such as would entitle this Tribunal to interfere with any of the decisions made.

“I strenuously disagree therefore with the majority decision which finds that there was ‘a significant impairment of the rights of the claimant, which was disproportionate, irrational and unfair’.

“I am further of the view that the decision and reasons of the majority in this case is fundamentally wrong in that it is, in fact, based on reasoning the arguments which were not canvassed by the claimant at all and, as such, are in fact the construct of the majority in circumstances where in fact the Tribunal did not find in favour of the claimant in respect of 10 of the 11 Grounds of claim as submitted.

“The single Ground of Claim on which the majority have found in favour of the Claimant is firstly a ground that should not have been considered by the Tribunal as it had not in fact been advanced before the CHC.”

Furthermore, Rennick takes issue with O’Flaherty and Nohilly’s argument that “a very high standard should apply” considering Connolly stood to miss an All-Ireland semi-final were his red card to stand. O’Flaherty and Nohilly cite a decision made in the 2005 case where Seamus Barry and Des Rogers took a case against the GAA. In his decision, Judge McMahon wrote: “The more serious the consequences, the higher the standard that will be required”.

Rennick notes: “This extract is relied upon as authority for applying a considerably onerous level of investigation on the CCCC in this instance and on the conduct of a Hearing. It contemplates the calling of evidence from match officials and the referee because of what is at stake for the claimant, potentially missing an All-Ireland semi-final replay.

“I do not subscribe to that view as to do so would be to draw a clear distinction as and between those who play our games at a local level and those elite players who play at the highest level of inter-county competition.

“For any player to play in a county final or semi-final in whatever division or at whatever age level is just as important to that player as it is for an elite player to play at the highest level of inter-county competition.

“The club player deserves no less a standard in respect of the application of the Rules and the principles of natural and constitutional justice.”

Rennick adds that O’Flaherty and Nohilly should have reverted Connolly’s case to the CHC for rehearing as it could have been remedied “the breaches complained of” despite the time constraints.

Rennick says there was no valid reason for the pair to decide that no further action be taken. “This is particularly so based on the finding of the CHC, the CAC and a finding which has not been interfered with by the DRA that the infraction, as alleged, did in fact occur. The consequence of such a direction in a case such as this, is that the claimant having committed a Cat III infraction is unpunished. That in my view is an unjustifiable and undesirable precedent to set in the context of a disciplinary process.”

In the course of a seven-hour tribunal in Dublin’s Regency Hotel, Connolly claimed he had acted in self-defence after Keegan had “choked” him. The argument was dismissed by all three of the DRA panel.

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