Counties opt for self-policing in manager payments saga

The deadline for counties to respond to the Paraic Duffy (GAA Director General) document dealing with the issue of payments to Team Managers has passed and the response was predictable.

The deadline for counties to respond to the Paraic Duffy (GAA Director General) document dealing with the issue of payments to Team Managers has passed and the response was predictable.

It is worth recalling the three options which were outlined in the Duffy document - Option 1 - continue with the current policy; Option 2 - implement fully the Association’s existing policy, rules and guidelines on its amateur status; Option 3 - introduce a system of regulated payments to senior inter-county managers

The document set out a series of possible methods for dealing with payments to managers, without specifying any preference. Many pundits saw Option 3 solely as a proposal to put managers on a salary, but that was never the intention.

The opposition to putting team managers on a formal remuneration package was clear and unambiguous. I share that view also, as the implications for paying team managers a salary would be detrimental to the GAA.

The notion of regulated payments was meant to reflect the growing responsibility which is now attached to the role of the inter-county team manager. The Duffy document outlined how such expense payment might be implemented, while at the same time complying with revenue regulations.

The reaction from counties to Option 3 is understandable in that a formal payments process would be seen as moving towards a structured remuneration system for managers.

The view was also proffered that the emergence of any structured remuneration system for managers could ultimately lead to similar demands from players. I do not believe such fears are justified. Nevertheless, it was an understandable reaction from many within the GAA.

It appears that most counties went with Option 2 and that inevitably poses the biggest question of all – will counties police a payments system in which some (and certainly not all) have utterly failed to manage in the past?

In going with Option 2, many counties will be seen to have really gone for Option 1 which is in effect ‘carrying on as heretofore’.

Difficult to implement

It is difficult to see how the GAA can implement Option 2 given its inability to make any headway in this area in the past. Counties will be asked to formally submit details of the expenses payable to all inter-county team management and support personnel and this data can be verified against audited accounts.

The suspicion, though, has always been that individuals outside of the County Board may be contributing financially to the team manager, with such payments never recorded. Option 2 would do nothing to prevent this practice continuing.

Except for a few GAA correspondents who understand the subject, much of the debate over the past month or so has been emotionally charged with little honest assessment of the facts.

Firstly the issue of payments to managers is principally a club issue rather than an inter-county issue. I have no doubt some current inter-county managers get more than GAA regulations allow, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

To hear TV pundits talk about ‘everyone in a dressing-room before an inter-county game bar the players getting paid’ is utterly wrong and a most unfair comment. This scaremongering is rarely challenged in the media and is incredibly unfair to legions of volunteers around the country.

It is always best when commenting on these matters to use an example that is understood by the reader. Kilkenny County Board pays official GAA travel rates to its team managers, support personnel, players and senior officials.

Other than those engaged in delivering professional medical and support services to Kilkenny, everyone else in the dressing-room is a volunteer who commits enormous personal time to ensure our county remains successful and we all enjoy the fruits of that labour.

It is only fair to acknowledge also that individuals involved in the provision of professional services to Kilkenny teams contribute above and beyond what could be termed a standard service. The team ethic on the pitch is very much replicated behind the scenes also.

It is no different in most other counties, where volunteerism is at the core of delivering the inter-county programme. But, like many things in life, a few high-profile managers can besmirch the reputation of the majority. That must not be allowed to happen.

Useful exercise

The Duffy document afforded counties an opportunity to hold a debate on the payment to managers and that was a useful exercise, but from what I can gather the debates centred primarily on the inter-county scene.

I have long maintained that payments to club managers are where this issue is most acute, but this elephant in the room appears to have been ignored by County Boards up and down the country.

It could be that County Boards feel they have enough of a challenge managing their own affairs, without also having a policing role over club finances and their adherence to GAA payment guidelines.

If the payment to club managers was the elephant in the room which County Boards choose to ignore, then the elephant outside the door is the one they cannot ignore.

At Friday night’s Leinster GAA Convention in Dundalk, the provincial body’s referee’s spokesman Aidan Shields (Dublin) issued a stark warning to counties that closer monitoring of referees match fees could ultimately lead to those fees being assessed for tax.

The outcome, Shields, said, could be potentially catastrophic for the GAA with many whistlers, perhaps, opting to retire as the fees may not even cover the petrol costs of travelling to games.

Real dilemma

This could end up being a real dilemma for the GAA, but until the full details of how Revenue view the role of referees and identify the specific items which are acceptable as part of the match fee, we cannot be sure what impact this development might have on Gaelic games.

This is not the first time Revenue has shown an interest in the payments of GAA expenses. Revenue was involved during the discussions on Government grants to players some years ago and with many other issues also.

In the current economic climate we can see how payments across every spectrum of society are being scrutinised forensically by Revenue.

The move by Revenue on referees fees is causing anger and resentment around the country. Whatever regulations emerge must be fair and be respectful of a role that is principally a volunteering one, with the modest expenses barely covering the cost of travel to/from games.

The same principles of fairness must also apply to team managers, the vast majority of whom carry out their duties in a volunteering role or with modest expenses, at best, paid.

Revenue regulations regarding the payment of expenses have been developed over the years in discussions with the GAA. The Duffy document took cognisance of these regulations when outlining Option 3.

Following the feedback from counties, responsibility for policing expense payments will now rest with the officers of GAA units around the country. They should not underestimate the scale of responsibility they have placed on their shoulders.

The elephant outside the door will shortly be looking to come in. Any GAA unit not complying with revenue regulations can expect a knock on that door sooner or later.