What do you think of Seán Quinn?
Let me rephrase that: Is your opinion of Seán Quinn coloured by the sports that you follow?
That’s a question many people are asking in the wake of the march held in support of the Quinn family last weekend, principally because it featured a host of prominent GAA personalities, the likes of Colm O’Rourke, Seán Boylan, Joe Kernan, Jarlath Burns and Mickey Harte.
In addition, GAA clubs in Fermanagh have issued statements supporting the Quinn family; take the Teemore Shamrocks club website, which states that club members “want to express our distress and annoyance at the jail sentences issued to fellow GAA members, Seán Quinn Jr and Peter Quinn Jr, and the position imposed on Seán Quinn Sr, by the Irish Courts”.
Finally, the general modesty of the Quinn family and willingness to give their time to the GAA was also advanced as ground for admiration by many of their supporters, with the achievements of Seán Quinn’s brother, Peter, as a former president of the GAA, a prime example of their contribution to the association.
Fair enough. Taking all that into account, is the appropriate question a) should the GAA be supporting Seán Quinn or b) is the GAA supporting Seán Quinn?
Officially the answer to b) is no. Croke Park maintains the organisation is avowedly non- political — that what its members do when they’re not on the pitch is their own business.
The answer to a) is also clear-cut, despite the heat and light being generated on the issue. There is no way on earth the GAA should be supporting the Quinns. For instance, some of the support — that cited by GAA clubs in Fermanagh — refers to the jail sentence recently imposed on Seán Quinn Jr.
That jail sentence was for contempt of court, and not for an obscure technicality in the taxation code of a distant jurisdiction. The judge in the case said the Quinns had acted in a “blatantly dishonest and deceitful” manner, adding they were evasive and uncooperative in their evidence to the court.
The Quinns may feel they’re carrying the can for an entire stratum of society who are blamed for the crash, but that doesn’t mean the courts, or Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne, are wrong. Whether or not they’re great GAA people or not, they’re subject to the rule of law the same as the rest of us.
Among the contributions made by speakers at the march held in Cavan, Joe Kernan appealed for the Quinns to be allowed to build another empire and in fairness to Seán Quinn, he employed a lot of people in a pretty barren part of the country.
That hardly means he’s exempt from the rules that govern the rest of us, though. Most people would see that as indicative of the kind of attitude that got us into the mess we’re in now.
The great catch-22 of GAA membership is that if you are a card-carrying sympathiser then you are believed to be personally complicit in any error or indiscretion involving the organisation anywhere in the country. It’s a back-handed compliment to the sense of community which the GAA has succeeded in generating.
That doesn’t mean everyone is on the same page all the time. There are plenty of GAA people who are unhappy with the Quinns’ approach to the judicial process; people who believe you can’t take an à la carte approach to the law. One of those who spoke in Cavan last weekend, former Armagh player Jarlath Burns, said the GAA community wanted justice for Seán Quinn.
Of course the GAA community wants justice for Seán Quinn.
But the GAA community also wants justice for everybody else, surely. Community doesn’t always mean consensus. They’re certainly not synonyms here.
The GAA yesterday issued a statement on last weekend’s Ballyconnell rally to support the Quinn family. It said:
“The GAA is a non-party political organisation whose individual members may, of course, decide to take positions on a range of issues in accordance with their own personal views.
“As an association, however, it would be entirely inappropriate for the GAA to become involved in matters outside its remit.”
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