Thought provoking report deserved more searching attention at Congress

Over 300 delegates descended on the Heritage Hotel, Killenard, Co. Laois at the weekend for the annual GAA Congress. The inauguration of a new President is always a Congress highlight and on Saturday afternoon Laois native Liam O’Neill took over the mantle from Cork’s Christy Cooney.

Over 300 delegates descended on the Heritage Hotel, Killenard, Co. Laois at the weekend for the annual GAA Congress. The inauguration of a new President is always a Congress highlight and on Saturday afternoon Laois native Liam O’Neill took over the mantle from Cork’s Christy Cooney.

O’Neill is the second Laois man to hold the office of President. The first was Bob O’Keeffe after whom the Leinster senior hurling championship winners trophy is named. O’Keeffe had strong Kilkenny connections. He was born in Mooncoin in 1881. On a momentous weekend for Laois GAA, arguing whether Liam O’Neill was perhaps the first Laois GAA President was irrelevant.

The first part of Congress business on Friday night dealt with the annual report of the GAA Director General Paraic Duffy, plus a presentation on the ’Association’s finances. Earlier in the afternoon a Congress Workshop, attended by senior GAA officials, received a detailed financial presentation.

The presentation at the formal Congress session, therefore, brought little reaction from delegates as the important questions had been asked and answered earlier.

The state of the ’Association’s finances was already well documented before Congress. Despite the tough economic environment of today, the overall financial performance was deemed to be very satisfactory.

Public liability claims soar

One specific area of concern, though, was the scale of public liability insurance claims with the harsh winter of 2010/11 the primary contributing factor. The growth in the level of insurance claims will unfortunately impact on the size of premiums paid by many GAA units in the coming years.

Seventeen delegates spoke on the report of the GAA Director General (DG). I would best describe the comments as courteous but uncontentious. 

Paraic Duffy’s report posed many challenging questions for delegates, but few were prepared to articulate a view on the topics in the report. It is customary for the DG to give a response to delegates after his report has been reviewed by delegates, but it was obvious, on this occasion, that the response would be short given the paltry reaction from delegates. 

It was clear from the comments and demeanour of Paraic Duffy that he was not impressed with the muted response his excellent report received from delegates. 

He had every reason to be annoyed. The GAA is not so perfect that it can ignore the issues posed by Duffy in his report. Unfortunately, the response was not much different last year.

The lack of engagement by delegates calls into question whether the full Congress gathering is the appropriate forum to debate such important matters raised by the Director General.

It may serve the GAA a lot better to have the key topics from the annual report debated at a Congress Workshop and have the resultant recommendations brought before the full Congress later in the evening for debate and decision.

Many aspects of the GAA Congress need reforming, especially the review of the annual report of the ’Association’s Chief Executive. Would any other organisation pay such scant regard to the views of its top official?

Aside from the inauguration of Liam O’Neill, the main business on Saturday focused on the pros and cons of the 77 motions. As is customary at every Congress, a number of motions were withdrawn with counties feeling either they had little chance of success or perhaps had a change of heart as to their relevance.

A growing number of motions now emanate from Central Council and this year 35 such motions were scheduled for debate.

A range of motions sought to clarify many aspects of a player’s eligibility and inter-county transfers. The much publicised Seanie Johnson transfer saga between Cavan and Kildare best illustrates the issue regarding inter-county transfers.

Following an excellent debate, Congress decided that any player seeking an inter-county transfer must firstly have played in a championship game with a club in his adopted county before he becomes eligible to play for that county.

The much-publicised winter training ban was the subject of another motion. It received significant support from delegates and Central Council will now consider two amendments which would see the commencement dates for minor hurling/football training brought forward to February 1 and under-21 hurling training commencing after the completion of the Fitzgibbon Cup.

It was no surprise to see delegates vote down a motion to standardise the size of Congress county delegations. The motion required two-thirds of delegates voting in favour, but it received just over one-third.

The common theme emerging from the various comments from delegates was the perceived undemocratic nature of each county having similar size delegations. There was also a view from Cork, but clearly shared by many delegates, that a change to current delegation sizes could impact decisions relating to hurling matters.

The decision by delegates not to pass a motion which would have permanently scheduled Congress for Croke Park, except in specific circumstances, was a major surprise. In fact, it was astonishing!

The Croke Park Stadium has won many awards as one of the top conferencing venues in the country. That accolade is richly deserved and helps to broaden the appeal of the venue to both current and potential patrons.

Croker must be home for Congress

What message, therefore, will last weekend’s decision send to those looking at Croke Park as a potential conference venue?

I know the delegates who voted against this motion did not intend any slight on Croke Park, as it was their opinion that Congress should move around the country. This is one decision that must be revisited.

By all means move Congress around the country occasionally (perhaps once in the term of each President plus in special circumstances), but its primary home should be Croke Park.

The use of gum shields will shortly become compulsory in Gaelic games following the passing of a motion which came with the strong support of the GAA Medical and Welfare Committee. The rule will be implemented at the beginning of 2013 for all players up to minor grade, and from the beginning of 2014 for all other players.

A motion to allow an officer to return to a previous role after a two year break was surprisingly defeated. It just failed to receive a one-third of the delegates’ votes, meaning it will be a couple of years before it can return as a Congress motion.

An attempt to alter the structure of the under-21 hurling championship was unsuccessful. Galway’s proposal for an open draw involving four groups of four teams just managed to obtain one third of the delegates’ votes, but the resounding defeat of their motion is unlikely to see it re-emerge from the Westerners in the near future.

Wexford sought to introduce a second chance for the defeated Leinster and Munster under-21 hurling finalists with the teams playing Galway and the Ulster representatives in alternative years. The motion received the support of 45% of the voting delegates, a long way short of the two-thirds vote it needed.

Not a cow milked

Congress nowadays is noticeable for the number of delegates attending from overseas units. The traditional territories of the UK, US, Canada, Europe, Asia and the Middle East plus Australia now have official delegates attending Congress.

For the first time a representative was present from South Africa. This location may yet be seeking official recognition from the GAA in a number of years.

Congress voted to give the European County Board a position on Central Council, recognition of the progress being made on mainland Europe to develop the ’Association.

Perhaps the most striking comment of all over the weekend relating to the progress of the GAA abroad came from former GAA President Joe McDonagh, who has just completed a successful three-year term as chairman of the GAA’s Overseas Committee. He pointed out that at the recent Asian GAA finals in Hong Kong the Division 4 football final was won by the Mongol Khans.

Joe added, to the great amusement of the Congress delegates, that “there wasn’t a cow milked in Mongolia that night following the country’s first ever success in a GAA competition.”

For the GAA, its members and players, the world has surely become a small place!

(More from the GAA Congress next week).