Harte is not en­ti­tled to speak for the GAA

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Malachy Clerkin

It was prob­a­bly in­evitable the GAA was go­ing to get tan­gled up in the ref­er­en­dum on the Eighth Amend­ment some­where along the way. The as­so­ci­a­tion is in the coun­try’s blood­stream – a gen­er­ally pos­i­tive state of be­ing and yet not al­ways one in which it nec­es­sar­ily de­lights. This is one of the sit­u­a­tions in which its very ubiq­uity feels like more a curse than a bless­ing.

The GAA’s great­est strengths – con­nec­tiv­ity within com­mu­ni­ties, the name recog­ni­tion of its lead­ing prac­ti­tion­ers, its thriv­ing brand – make it ripe for be­ing co-opted by any and all causes that take a fancy to it. It has ever been thus.

There isn’t a political party or cause in the State which hasn’t plugged into the GAA main­frame at some point or other, with or with­out the as­so­ci­a­tion’s bless­ing. Usu­ally, if only in the in­ter­ests of a peace­ful life, with­out.

Conor McMor­row’s ter­rific book Dáil Stars is lit­tered with ex­am­ples. One story he tells goes back to the 1964 Gal­way-East by-elec­tion, won for Fine Gael by three-time All-Ire­land medal­list John Don­nel­lan.

Fianna Fáil’s ri­poste – and you have to ad­mire the neck, on a cer­tain level – was to claim Don­nel­lan was elected purely on the back of his foot­ball ex­ploits and that Fine Gael had pre­sented this as his sole electable qual­ity. As if the very no­tion of­fended the del­i­cate sen­si­bil­i­ties of the sol­diers of des­tiny. “The Gal­way jersey was dis­played in that elec­tion and there are none so blind as those who do not want to see,” said FF se­na­tor Mark Killilea. “A GAA of­fi­cial de­nied that the GAA was used in this elec­tion,” wrote FF’s out­go­ing Tuam sec­re­tary, one P Talty. “But this we can­not agree with. It was most def­i­nitely used as an elec­tion gim­mick by the Fine Gael hi­er­ar­chy.”

None of this typ­i­cal political ma­noeu­vring is es­pe­cially no­table, ex­cept for the fa­mil­iar pass­ing men­tion of the GAA of­fi­cial.

Deny­ing that the GAA is be­ing used to fur­ther a political cause has been the lot of the put-upon GAA of­fi­cial since the or­gan­i­sa­tion be­gan. As a course of ac­tion in times of quar­rel, it is well-worn, pre­dictable, oc­ca­sion­ally disin­gen­u­ous and ba­si­cally the only way to sur­vive and move for­ward. Over half a cen­tury later and the terms and con­di­tions re­main the same.

Which is why, re­gard­less of what side of the Yes/No fence they per­son­ally come down on, of­fi­cials in Croke Park will have cause to be livid with Mickey Harte af­ter Satur­day. That said, it is also why they are likely to keep their coun­sel on the mat­ter and sim­ply play out time un­til the re­sult is an­nounced on May 26th. For bet­ter or worse, it’s the GAA way.

Skills ses­sion

The Ty­rone man­ager ap­peared at an event billed “GAA Ath­letes for a No Vote” in Bal­lyfer­mot along with for­mer Meath player Joe Sheri­dan, Antrim foot­baller Pa­trick Gal­lagher, Derry camo­gie player Aoife Cas­sidy and Gal­way player An­neMarie McDon­agh. They put out a state­ment, did some in­ter­views and ran a skills ses­sion for lo­cal kids.

On the face of it, there’s not a mas­sive amount in there for the as­so­ci­a­tion to be too un­happy with. All known his­tory would sug­gest they’d have pre­ferred their name to be kept out of it, just as all known his­tory prac­ti­cally guar­an­tees that some­thing like this was sure to hap­pen even­tu­ally. And if it was, that the Ty­rone man­ager was un­likely to be too far away.

In an as­so­ci­a­tion the size of the GAA, there will be Yes peo­ple and there will be No peo­ple. No­body with even a pass­ing knowl­edge of Ir­ish sport will have been sur­prised at Harte’s po­si­tion on the re­peal ques­tion. Sim­i­larly, if you’ve fol­lowed his ca­reer at any level over the past 15 years since he took charge of Ty­rone, you know he’s not likely to duck any is­sue about which he has strong feel­ings. In many re­spects, there is no news here.

State­ment

That is, un­til you get to the state­ment put out be­half of Harte and co. “The GAA’s vi­sion,” it be­gins, “is that ev­ery­one be wel­come to par­tic­i­pate fully in our games and cul­ture, that they thrive and de­velop their po­ten­tial, and be in­spired to keep a life­long en­gage­ment with our as­so­ci­a­tion.” It goes on to in­cludes lines such as: “We are an in­clu­sive or­gan­i­sa­tion. There is space for every­body at our ta­ble.”

All the way through, the state­ment is lit­tered with “we” and “our” – in ref­er­ence to the GAA as a whole. When it gets to the meat of the state­ment, it reads: “In keep­ing with those prin­ci­ples, we are com­ing to­gether to­day to ask the Ir­ish peo­ple to vote No on May 25th.” There is no gear change, no line sep­a­rat­ing their own per­sonal views from that of the as­so­ci­a­tion, noth­ing like that. To any­one read­ing the state­ment, it looks like a dec­la­ra­tion of the po­si­tion of the GAA on the mat­ter. Which, of course, it is not.

The GAA has no po­si­tion on this and will have no po­si­tion other than to take a thor­oughly dim view of any­one pur­port­ing to speak on their be­half. It was no sur­prise, there­fore, to find yes­ter­day Croke Park was in the process of in­form­ing its units around the coun­try that the or­gan­i­sa­tion was to have no in­volve­ment in the cam­paign. All it would have taken was another hand­ful of these events through the com­ing week to reach a crit­i­cal mass.

Mickey Harte’s views are clearly deeply-held. But they are his views – not the GAA’s – and he has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to make that clear when he speaks on the mat­ter. Any mud­dy­ing of the wa­ters is just play­ing pol­i­tics and does him no credit.

‘‘ In an as­so­ci­a­tion the size of the GAA, there will be Yes peo­ple and there will be No peo­ple. No­body with even a pass­ing knowl­edge of Ir­ish sport will have been sur­prised at Harte’s po­si­tion on the re­peal ques­tion

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