‘What will the GAA be like in 20 years time?’

So Dublin is not to be divided for GAA purposes?

‘What will the GAA be like in 20 years time?’

In fact, to even suggest that it should be divided is dismissed out of hand by Páraic Duffy in his annual report.

In issuing this dismissal, Duffy makes some very valid points. He notes, for example, that the Dublin GAA team means a lot to Dubliners and that it is a way of expressing their historical and local identity.

He also records his belief that the current Dublin cycle of success will end and that it is a product of an exceptional generation of players as well as excellent county board administration.

Duffy makes the fair point that neither finance nor population are guarantees of success. To this end, he points out that it should be remembered that Dublin won just one senior All Ireland title between 1983 and 2011 in football.

And of course there are the ongoing attempts to find a breakthrough in hurling, to the extent that it remains a case that no senior hurling All-Ireland championship has been won since before the Second World War.

Also thrown into the mix is the idea that there is something unique and iconic about Hill 16 being full of Dubs and how the prospect of blue hordes decamping to country towns for the new Super 8 competition is something to look forward to.

All of this is broadly fair and accurate. And it builds on points around identity and structure that have also been well-made by John Costello of the Dublin County Board in various of his annual reports.

Denying the importance of this aspect of the structure of the GAA is entirely understandable. For example, you would have to hunt high and low in Offaly to find anyone who would even countenance being lumped in beside Westmeath and Laois in a franchise called, say, the Midland Owls.

And should such a person be found, they would most likely be driven out across the county boundary by lads carrying pitchforks and burning sticks.

Put simply, the power of county identity is not one that appears to be played with here.

It is this that underpins Páraic Duffy’s conclusion to the section of his annual report which dismisses splitting Dublin: ‘there is all to lose in doing so, and nothing to gain.’

But is this pithy line of conclusion really the case?

In the course of his analysis, the only concession that Duffy makes to those who argue for the splitting up of Dublin is the bald statement:

‘There is no doubt that Dublin enjoys advantages over every other county. It has the largest population and can access greater financial resources through sponsorship.’

But, of course, that’s not a concession at all — it’s a statement of fact. And surely it is the type of fact that is essential to a debate, rather than two sentences to be abandoned on the page as if they are unimportant.

Why is it that the obvious emotional arguments why Dublin should not be divided are set out with clarity, but the counter-points remain undissected?

It is a missed opportunity because there is a fundamental debate to be had on how the GAA is structured. To deny this is to act the ostrich.

The launch of Páraic Duffy’s annual report coincided with a report published by the ESRI which spelled out just what is happening in terms of the geography of population and of employment in Ireland.

This report — entitled Prospects for Irish Regions and Counties: Scenarios and Implications — was written by Edgar Morgenroth and sets out how the population of the

Republic of Ireland will most likely grow by a million people in the next two decades.

This will involve the creation of some 500,000 new households.

And this growth will, in turn, be almost certainly focused on Dublin and its satellite counties.

So it is that the share of the population in the ‘Dublin and Mid-East region’ is expected to increase from 1.91 million in 2016 to 2.35 million in 2040.

This is related to the increase in jobs: Dublin and the Mid-East are projected to have above-average growth in the number of jobs available.

The logical extension of this is that jobs growth will be slowest in the Border, South-East and Mid-West regions.

The ESRI report builds on another document — the government-produced Ireland 2040: Our Plan — Issues and Choices which came out last year.

This document opens with a question that is brilliant in its simplicity: ‘What will Ireland be like in 20 years’ time?’

More than anything else, this document issues a plea for planning. It acknowledges that the state has not been particularly successful in ‘good forward planning’ and notes that a continuation of ‘business as usual’ will not deliver what is required.

The information which is set out in these reports and the questions which are raised in them are fundamental to the future of the GAA.

For example, apart even from the increase in population in Dublin, it is clear that many more people will commute into Dublin, even than now is the case.

The modelling of the future which is set out here will transform the shape of the Association. This is the case even when the modelling imagines that the growth of Dublin and its hinterland is much less than will most likely be the case.

It is also clear that the development of an alternative to all socio-economic growth being centred on Dublin will be dependent on the growth of ‘second cities’ far beyond their present capacity.

This ‘best case scenario’ in terms of limiting the growth of Dublin will, in itself, change the shape of the GAA in the coming years. This change will mean greatly different local championships, as well as a changed inter-county scene.

And we already know that. We can see it all around us. The trends of the next 20 years are but a continuation — possibly an acceleration — of trends which already exist.

The population of Dublin is already double that of the rest of Leinster, much more than double that of the whole of Connacht, and greater than the whole of Munster.

It is lower than Ulster, but the historical divides of that province make that a meaningless statement.

Further, the age structure within counties is also important. The areas with the youngest average are in Dublin and its surrounding counties. And those with the oldest average age are out west and down south.

This matters profoundly to the organisation of the GAA. It is manifesting itself in the difficulty that teams in rural areas have in finding players to field teams and the difficulty that clubs in Dublin have in finding fields for their players.

To note the financial and population imbalance in Dublin and then to carry on regardless is not enough. It demonstrates a want in vision that rarely ends well for any institution.

And to reduce the debate to something that stands or falls on the success of the Dublin county team is to miss the point.

This is not — and should not be a conversation — that begins and ends with how many All-Ireland senior football championships Dublin win before it should be split in two. Or in three.

Instead, it is a much broader structural conversation about what shape the GAA might take within this new Ireland that is growing around us.

It begs an essential question: ‘What will the GAA be like in 20 years time?’ And in answering this question, how do those people who argue for the county structure of the GAA to stay exactly as it is, propose to develop the Association?

In what way will they accommodate both the advantages and the disadvantages of Dublin’s growing size in this future?

Or is the plan just to tip along as we are and hope it all works out?

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