GAA 'blackmailed by the Government' Sporting body must reapply for €40m

The Government was accused last night of putting a gun to the head of the GAA by telling the organisation to reapply for 40 million previously promised to them.

The Taoiseach has also told GAA chiefs that he wants Croke Park opened up for soccer, but insists there are no strings attached to future grants.

Opposition parties say the GAA are effectively being blackmailed by the Government into making Croke Park available for other sports in return for funding.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the Taoiseach left GAA president Seán McCague in no doubt of his desire to have Croke Park available for the European football championships in 2008.

Labour sports spokesperson Kathleen Lynch said the GAA was now in a

no-win situation as the funding committed has now been withdrawn.

"At the end of the day, the GAA have to pay back what is borrowed for the development of Croke Park," she said.

The assessment panel of the Euro 2008 Ireland-Scotland joint bid were obviously given the impression that Croke Park will be available, she said.

"If the GAA give the go-ahead to the use of Croke Park for Euro 2008, the ordinary members will be quite upset that they are being cornered," she said.

After years of providing an invaluable service, like many other sporting organisations, the GAA were now being pushed into making a decision against their will, Deputy Lynch said.

Croke Park was most likely going to be opened up to other sports in the near future anyway, she said, as the resistance was dying off, but now the organisation was being forced to make a decision.

The Government's stance was doing irreparable damage to relations with the GAA and other sporting organisations, Deputy Lynch said.

"Its never a good idea to impose you will on people. Now the Taoiseach has left virtually every sports body in mess," she said.

Green Party sports spokesman Paul Gogarty said the GAA now had a gun to the head in relation to future funding.

"The GAA were promised the grant in good faith. They were encouraged to support the National Stadium position and in return they would get the funding. If the Government is now serious about providing the funding, why would they ask the GAA to reapply," he asked.

Telling the GAA to reapply was a delaying tactic so the Government could keep its options open in case the private sector funding for the National Stadium did not work out, Deputy Gogarty said. The Government was also trying to avoid factoring the GAA grant into the forthcoming budget, he said.

"As far as I am concerned, a deal is a deal and the GAA has contributed a lot to sport in this country," he said.

The GAA reacted angrily last month to Mr Ahern's request that Croke Park be made available for the joint Ireland-Scotland bid to host Euro 2008, following the Government's decision that the Bertie Bowl would not be publicly funded.

The funding issue is likely to be the main topic of conversation among delegates at the GAA Special Congress this weekend, but the matter is unlikely to come up in the official debate.

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