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Comment & Analysis | Sport

Silence only adds to disquiet in GAA’s New Eltham dispute

Croke Park
Croke Park

THE GAA have settled their legal differences with Novalong. They have come to an agreement over the development of New Eltham – if planning permission is ever granted.

We predicted last November that this case would not go the legal distance; that it would not end up before a bloke in a wig.

Not to try and claim any credit for this. Anybody who has spent any time reporting in court knows that cases like this usually don’t end up there. When you’re dealing with high-profile organisations, too many people have too much to lose – and we don’t mean money.

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A public argument (which is essentially what this would be if held in open court with reporters present) suits nobody so it is far from surprising that a compromise has been reached.

What is eye-catching is the line in Robert Mulhern’s report, that confidentiality was a key part of the deal.

The GAA in London and Dublin have said the square root of nothing about all this since the controversy kicked off with Novalong filing their lawsuit last August. I believe this was the wrong policy.

When you insist on silence then people can begin to believe you have something to hide, even when there is nothing at all to hide.

At the very least, the GAA in London should be more communicative with their members. They have said little on the issue to this paper – by far the biggest newspaper for Irish people and GAA members in Britain. They did not discuss the subject at their Convention in December, nor at subsequent County Board meetings.  This beggars belief. Can you imagine any company – private or public – skirting a £3.5million lawsuit when addressing their stakeholders?

At the convention, matters like the divvying up of All-Ireland tickets (important, but worth €80 a throw) or how a small fine was accrued were up for debate. Meanwhile the elephant in the corner of the room tapped his four-ton toe.

Now it’s all been settled, don’t be surprised to see some kind of joint announcement about how we’re all friends here who look forward to working with each other, going forward. Now can everybody please move on because there really is nothing to see here.

Only, it doesn’t work that way. It can take years, decades even, but things have a habit of coming out in the end. And, we stress there could be absolutely nothing salacious or untoward to come out. Only the silence can create the impression that there is.

So in the meantime you have the unsatisfactory spectre of people who have been left in the dark speculating. You also have the subtle erosion of faith in institutions. How many young people want to join a Board which does not address issues like this with clarity and transparency? Well, none tried in December anyway.

All this could be avoided if the GAA at least engaged in some way with the subject publically. If a confidentially clause is in place, then make a public statement to that effect. Instead, the policy seems to have been ‘duck and cover’. Avoid all incoming calls.

In a way, I have sympathy for London and British GAA officials and also for the people in Croke Park.

The GAA is a sprawling, labyrinthine organisation. A problem like this comes along and it doesn’t fit neatly into any box. All anybody really knows is that it will be very hard to do right and very easy to do wrong if they take centrefield. There is a clear danger of becoming a scapegoat.

So you keep the head down and say nothing. The same as everyone else. So nothing gets said and the confusion grows insidiously.

What the situation calls out for is leadership. A respected leader is rarely more than one stray stride away from becoming a scapegoat or even a total fool.

But the best leaders realise that and press on anyway, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Over time, people respect that.

There are lots of positive aspects to being a GAA leader: the chance to chair committees that can do genuine good for their sports, the chance to make speeches that will be listened by lots of people, the chance to give out trophies after big games.

All those roles are important and should not be understated. Yet they pale when compared to the role played by somebody who steps up and takes public control of a decidedly difficult situation, such as this.

Unfortunately, nobody – be they in Dublin or London – has done that yet.

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Ronan Early
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Ronan Early is Sports Editor and columnist with The Irish Post. Follow him on Twitter @RonanEarly

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