Tuesday, 29 January 2019
Address to Seanad Éireann by Mr. John Horan
Thar ceann Sheanad Éireann, is mian liom fáilte chroíúil a chur roimh uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, an tUasal Seán Ó hÓráin.
On behalf of Seanad Éireann, I wish to warmly welcome the president of the Gaelic Athletic Association, Mr. John Horan, who has been invited by the Seanad to address the House in accordance with Standing Order 57(2), which provides for addresses by "representatives and persons in civic and public life".
I understand that he is accompanied here today by his wife, Paula, and sons, Jack and Liam, his sisters, Mary and Therese, and their husbands, as well as Alan Milton and Teresa Rehill from Croke Park headquarters. They are also most welcome to the House today.
I also wish to acknowledge the presence of John Costello, chief executive officer of the Dublin GAA county board, Jim Bolger, Leinster GAA council chairman and John Cregan, chairman of Limerick GAA, the county that won the All-Ireland last year, we think. I also welcome Bob Ryan who is a senior figure in Cork GAA. He is a former chairman of the county board and is now a member of the central council. There are probably many others that I am neglecting to mention but if I get a reminder I shall come back to them.
Mr. Horan, may I congratulate you on your election as president of the GAA in what I understand was a landslide victory in 2017? You, therefore, have a strong mandate and I wish you well in your tenure in this very important role. I hear you grew up in a staunch GAA environment and that there was little chance of you escaping Croke Park and the GAA, having lived on Marguerite Road in Glasnevin, which is only a couple of long pucks from Jones's Road and rumbles to the roar of big crowds on match days.
The GAA is Ireland's largest and oldest amateur sporting and cultural organisation. It is steeped in history, culture and tradition. It has played, and continues to play, a pivotal role in the lives and hearts of Irish people and in Irish culture. It is about building a sense of community and identity at both local and national level. It reflects society in a very real way. It was in recognition of the GAA's influential role and impact on all aspects of Irish life and culture that we invited Mr. Horan to address Seanad Éireann today. The grassroots of the GAA can be found in every town and village, in every school and parish in this country and, indeed, beyond. The thousands of volunteer men and women around the country play a vital role in the GAA.
Coming as I do from the great county of Cork, the rebel county, I am sure he will forgive me if I make reference to some iconic names from the rebel county. I am thinking of the great hurler, Christy Ring, the great ladies footballer and camogie player, Rena Buckley and I cannot forget our famous former Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, who graced Croke Park in both codes.
He was an outstanding hurler and gave epic performances on our GAA fields. He also graced the Houses of the Oireachtas as Taoiseach.
I wish to quote a few lines from the song written by Brian McNamara to the air of "Old Skibbereen" - I will not sing it - which captured the brilliance of Christy in his "Song for Christy Ring":
How oft I've watched him from the Hill move here and there in grace
In Cork, Killarney, Thurles town or by the Shannon's race
"Now Cork is bet; the hay is saved" the thousands wildly sing
They speak too soon, my dear garsún, for here comes Christy Ring.
We might be singing that again soon.
I had the great privilege as a young boy many years ago to see Mick O'Connell and Mick O'Dwyer play down in Killarney and in the old Cork Athletic Grounds. I was fortunate to attend the same boarding school as the late John Egan, who played with the great Kerry team, and I was lucky to get a Gael Linn scholarship as a garsún and sat in the same room, and sometimes at the same desk, as the great Páidí Ó Sé in the little school in Cill Mhic a' Domhnaigh beyond Ventry in west Kerry. When I did my final law examinations, I had a cup of coffee before going into battle in the company of the great Paudie Lynch, a solicitor in Killarney, and Johnny Callinan of Clare, a man who if he was in the current Clare panel would have won all. We did our finals together. In my capacity as a junior player - I was never great but I loved the game - I played for my home club Muintir Bháire but I was fortunate, having emigrated for almost three years, to have played in New Eltham in south-east London, a long trip from where we lived in north London, and to have attended the opening of, and played in, the new Ruislip stadium. Reflecting further on the greats I also had the privilege of seeing the great John Doyle, Jimmy Doyle and Tony Doran of Wexford play, as well as Eddie Keher, Ollie Walsh and Henry Shefflin, of more modern times.
I could talk for years, but I will not. Somebody asked me recently what my wish was with regard to winning an all-Ireland final. Apart from Cork hurling and football, I said it would be great for the game if Mayo were to win an all-Ireland final, if Waterford were to win a hurling all-Ireland final and perhaps a team such as Monaghan to win. Indeed, it would be great for the game if the Dublin hurlers were to win an all-Ireland championship.
There is no denying that having a GAA background was, and still is, seen as an advantage when seeking election to public office, not least to the Dáil and Seanad. I am even told that flaunting a GAA medal in a hotly contested Seanad election can yield a few more votes. I am sure current Senators Paddy Burke and John O’Mahony might have something to do with that when they are canvassing for Seanad votes. I should also reflect on former occupants of the Chair of the Seanad, one of whom was a great close friend of mine, the late Rory Kiely of Limerick. He was Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann and was immersed in GAA politics as well. There was also the former Cathaoirleach, Pat Moylan, who graced the fields in Offaly.
Emigration has been a major blight on our country down through the years. I have had personal experience of this in my family, as have many others. In fact, eight of my 11 siblings emigrated. The countless emigrants who left these shores found homes among many diverse cultures and built new lives for themselves, deriving strength from their valued traditions. The GAA has played a key role in assisting our Irish abroad by developing the social and cultural life of Irish communities and underpinning and promoting Irish heritage and identity across the globe.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s relationship with the GAA is based on providing a strong community and social network and, probably more than any other organisation, the GAA helps to sustain a strong sense of community and heritage among our overseas communities. Indeed, through the global games development fund, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the GAA have provided matched funding for developmental projects in GAA clubs in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America. All have been truly invaluable in supporting and nurturing a sense of Irish community and many have created important links between the global Irish and their local communities.
The GAA is an inclusive organisation that welcomes people of all nationalities, religions, ages and abilities and which endeavours to make it easy for everyone to take part. We all recently welcomed the decision by UNESCO to grant the national sports of hurling and camogie special cultural status which President Michael D. Higgins said was “a global acknowledgement of the unique cultural significance of this part of our national culture, and of the important role Gaelic games play in Irish society.”
The GAA has invested heavily in the development of its grounds around the country, with the support of funding under the sports capital programme operated by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It is, however, the association’s headquarters at Croke Park which has been the subject of the most dramatic redevelopment. It is a magnificent stadium. I also congratulate the GAA on its recent redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork. We are all very proud of this remarkable 45,000 capacity stadium.
The significant health, social and economic benefits of sport are widely recognised. Mental and physical well-being is a huge factor in today’s stressful society. We all recognise that sport and physical activity have huge potential to contribute to the development of a healthier society. Sport has the potential to build bridges between people like no other sphere of human activity. GAA games play an important role in communities by becoming the focus to bring people together to meet each other. Every summer the inter-county all-Ireland championships in hurling, football, camogie and not forgetting ladies football capture the attention of Irish people at home and abroad. Regional towns heave with the arrival of large numbers of supporters and all of the colour, noise and excitement that they bring, culminating with the showcase of all-Ireland finals in Croke Park. If you are lucky enough to have your team qualify for the final and get the chance to go, do not dream of missing it. Being in Croke Park and listening to Amhrán na bhFiann being played before the match begins fills your chest with pride and brings a tear to the eye. It is also hugely emotional for the diaspora abroad as they watch it on television or listen to the commentary on the radio.
Going local again, in Cork we are immensely proud of the fact that our ladies football team qualified for the final in most of the last few years and I commend their outstanding successes in Croke Park. I would not mind experiencing this joy again with our Cork male teams.
The GAA has undergone many changes over the years. In the context of contributing to peace and reconciliation on the island, its decision to abolish the rules which had prevented members of the security forces in Northern Ireland from becoming members of the association and Rule 42 which had limited the playing of games at Croke Park and all other GAA venues to only those controlled by the association was welcome and a positive development. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say 24 February 2007 was one of the greatest days in Irish sport when the Ireland v. England rugby match was played in Croke Park. Nobody quite knew how the crowd would react to the playing of “God Save The Queen”, but it turned out to be an occasion on which great respect and dignity were shown and it was a very significant step forward in relations between the two islands. We all recall the iconic images of members of the Irish rugby team and fans struggling to keep their emotions in check during the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann. We are hugely proud of the fact that the GAA plays such an immense role in Irish society. It is the lifeblood of so many communities throughout the Thirty-two Counties and the world.
Mr. Horan will have had a busy first year in overseeing the implementation of new competition formats in football and hurling. He has a reputation as a man who excels at getting the best out of people. I wish him well as he leads the GAA into its 2j019 when it will celebrate its 135th anniversary. A Uasail Ó hÓráin, is pléisiúr dom anois cuireadh a thabhairt duit Seanad Éireann a aitheasc. It is now my pleasure to invite Mr. Horan to address Seanad Éireann.
Mr. John Horan:
Is cúis mhór áthais dom a bheith anseo i bhur measc inniu sa bhliain stairúil seo agus bhur gcomharsana bheál dorais an Dáil ag ceiliúradh chéad bhliain ar an bhfód. Mar uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, agus ar son an chumainn ar fad - ár mbaill san aireamh - tá ard meas againn ar institiúidí an Stáit agus an ról atá ag an Seanad i dTithe an Oireachtais.
Gabhaim buíochas as an gcuireadh a bheith anseo inniu. It was with great delight that I accepted the kind invitation from an Seanadóir Denis O'Donovan to come and address the Seanad today, representing the wider GAA family and everything we purport to stand for. During this all-important decade of commemorations, some more straightforward than others to celebrate, it is worth taking account of the standing of our political institutions and of the part democracy plays at the heart of Irish civic life. While we are avowedly non-party political, there is, and has always been, crossover between the activities of the GAA and those elected to represent the people in national and local politics. It will always be thus. Countless figures have straddled both constituencies, many with national profiles, but one common goal we share is that we both strive to contribute positively to Irish society. Today I hope to touch upon some of the ways in which we set out to do that by outlining many of the activities that underpin our reach into Irish communities, many of them away from the traditional core activities on which an Cumann Lúthchleas Gael was built.
I should set out by expressing our gratitude to the State for the support we receive annually through the auspices of Sport Ireland. The GAA spends €10 million annually on the area of coaching and games development. This figure includes an invaluable contribution of more than €2.4 million from Sport Ireland which allows us to employ more than 300 coaches and games promotions officers who work with young people throughout the country. While we would like to think we go some way towards repaying this in myriad different ways, it is not something we take for granted and the funding is put to good use exclusively in the area of coaching and games development. Additionally, our wide network of facilities spread right across the island has received the support of the sports capital project for many years at every level of the GAA, but most crucially at local level where our 1,500 clubs are justifiably proud of their facilities which, in many instances, serve whole communities.
It is also important to acknowledge and express our appreciation for funding which we receive from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Justice and Equality, the HSE, and the National Office for Suicide Prevention. I am pleased to acknowledge that sports capital funding levels have increased after some of the challenges of the past decade. The establishment of a fund for larger capital projects at county and provincial level this year will be put to good use, not just by us but by all sporting bodies.
As I will allude to later, the positive impact of involvement in sport underlines the value of this State support at a time when we are experiencing profound social change in this country. Another source of support that may not be widely known is that which has been provided to our flourishing international network by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for many years. The support and co-operation of the Department in that growth process should be lauded. It has led to the State and the GAA working together on a number of overseas initiatives as Gaelic games have become one of the most powerful expressions of Irish identity for those outside Ireland. I will elaborate on that later.
One of the most obvious changes and growth areas within the GAA family has been our activity away from the field of play and the games with which we are synonymous. Our reach and network of facilities have always made the GAA a focal point in towns and cities throughout the country, but in more recent times we have set about utilising that reach for the greater good, most notably through our community and health department and a number of innovative initiatives, not least our healthy club project. More than 220 clubs are active in following programmes that promote health and well-being alongside Gaelic games to include many people who never played our games and who might never have been drawn to them naturally.
Rarely, if ever, has the importance of sport been more acute. The lure of technology and a less active lifestyle is a temptation that did not occupy the minds of the generation in which I grew up. It is a very real issue for the parents of young children today, knowing as we do that the lifestyle patterns formed in early life have a major bearing on the lives we lead thereafter.
In addition to having real pride in our vast club network, the GAA is highly active in the educational sector. It is extremely grateful for the support of thousands of teachers, of whom I was one for many years. We welcome and actively support the moves to have sport added to the subject list in schools. The GAA future leaders transition year programme, a joint initiative by the GAA and the Professional Development Service for Teachers, is a cross-curricular programme comprising a series of modules designed to encourage maturity, initiative, responsibility and leadership skills in pupils. In addition, over the past eight years we have invested €2 million in assisting young people attend college through a special bursary programme. It is another of our contributions to nurturing the next generation. Similarly, our five star centre programme which aims to provide pupils with 60 minutes of exercise per week through Gaelic games proved a hit with teachers and children alike, with more than 400 schools taking part.
It is impossible to dispute the benefits of an active lifestyle. The mental benefits are no less significant than the positive physical effects. In the context of team sports, the sense of belonging to a group, chasing a shared goal and learning how to win and lose are life lessons acquired in a sporting environment which serve us well in every forum of life. As an organisation, we will assist in any way we can by offering our games and related activities to as many people as possible in the hope of exerting a positive influence on their general well-being.
What began 135 years ago in a small upstairs billiards room as an alliance of athletes, sports enthusiasts and nationalists has become the largest amateur sporting association in the world. From those humble beginnings in Hayes Hotel in Thurles the GAA has grown into a global entity. We are enormously proud to be a towering presence in Irish life and communities through our network of clubs, all of which are driven by local volunteers who dedicate their time to the preservation and promotion of our native games. The GAA now has a worldwide presence. Some 400 overseas GAA clubs serve our diaspora in places such as Montreal, Madrid, Manchester, Maastricht, Moscow, the Middle East and Melbourne in a tradition stretching all the way back home to Mullinalaghta. Not only do the clubs provide a proud expression of identity for our young men and women living abroad, they are an invaluable support structure and network to help Irish people establish a home from home.
As time goes by, our games are proving more and more popular with non-Irish people who are flocking to play them. This is testament to the quality of the native Irish games that the GAA was established to preserve, protect, nurture and develop. World GAA will again be celebrated this year, with over 90 teams coming to County Waterford to compete in our world games competition which serves as a reminder of the ongoing growth and popularity of the games, not least with non-Irish players. Hurling, Gaelic football and, indeed, ladies football and camogie stand in any company when it comes to speed, stamina and, above all, skill.
Late last year, our national sport of hurling received the prestigious accolade of intangible cultural heritage status from UNESCO. The award was the culmination of years of collaborative work between the GAA, academics and senior civil servants which was supported by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan. Hurling is a national treasure. More than 3,000 years old, it has been used to denote our greatest heroes since ancient times. The UNESCO recognition reminds us of our responsibility to ensure this gift is passed on to future generations.
Last summer saw the latest in a long line of epic festivals of hurling. However, we are equally proud of the work being done with young people in lesser-known hurling strongholds to allow them experience the thrill of playing the great game, as former Deputy John Cregan will appreciate.
The GAA is about far more than just sport. The GAA club is very often the focal point of a community. More and more clubs are investing in walking tracks around their pitches to provide a safe and floodlit place for people to walk.
It is another example of the GAA club responding to the needs of its members and its community. The GAA is many things but it is always ultimately about people, and people coming together and working together.
Our status as a volunteer-led, community-based and nationally spread organisation comes with important responsibilities. We voted unanimously last year to distance ourselves from links to gambling, and our competitions are free from all alcohol sponsorship. In the coming months we will be working with Trinity College Dublin on important research taking place around ageing and enhancing the work we do around supporting senior citizens in our communities. It is work we are proud to be engaged in and it supports our aspiration to foster lifelong engagement with the GAA.
Our facilities are a source of immense pride to the local communities which have developed them, often building them with their own hands. In any given year 400 GAA clubs are supported by Croke Park in work undertaken to build clubhouses, improve pitches, erect floodlights, and construct all-weather facilities for our members and wider communities. In the next two years the GAA will double to €4 million the amount invested centrally in this work. Pitches are the key because grey never goes back to green. Green space and sports facilities are the lungs that communities use to breathe. Without them we can see how areas can feel closed, claustrophobic, choked and starved of the oxygen that sport of any sort can provide. We urgently need politicians and planners to promise, protect and provide green space to let people breathe and let communities play.
Our facilities are stretched. They are a vital asset used by our local primary and secondary schools and are relied upon by ladies' football and camogie as well as promoting our own games. We do not have enough facilities to cater for our own games and yet it has become common for some in power to suggest that funding for the GAA should be conditional on our facilities being made available to other sports. It is a requirement that is not levelled at any other organisation and is one we reject. Funding for the GAA should be based on the genuine merits and needs of our association and its membership of more than 750,000 people.
At a time when rural Ireland is in turmoil, the GAA club is needed now more than ever. Communities that were in part identified by their local club are struggling to field teams. Amalgamations once unthinkable, are now a practical way to survive. At the same time, we have faced up to the population explosion of more than two million people living in Leinster by employing dozens of additional coaches and investing an additional €1.5 million into helping clubs in our east Leinster project which looks at big urban areas in Louth, Meath, Wicklow, Kildare and Wexford.
A great man once said that the challenge for the GAA is to be relevant and to stay relevant. That is one by responding to the needs of the people we call our own. We do not measure our success in terms of cups, medals or trophies. The true value of a club is always based on the number of lives positively impacted upon through their involvement with the GAA. When I travel throughout this island every week to visit clubs and communities, that is the thought that strikes me. Men and women well after their playing careers are over and others who never played much at all are out on cold nights and long days, inspired to get involved, give back and be a part of something bigger than themselves.
In recent years we have worked hard to equip our volunteer officers around the country at every level to assist them in the work they carry out on behalf of the GAA. We have invested in education and hope that some of the officer development training will also serve them well in their personal and professional lives.
Of course society today expects higher standards in everything we do regardless of whether we are a volunteer-led organisation. Adherence to regulations and best practice in general are cornerstones of the approach we take in trying to help our officers and units be as efficient as they can in their time management and as compliant as possible. We are fully aware of the added workload and pressure this places on those members who work tirelessly to keep the show on the road.
However, I do believe we need to be mindful of these expectations. While involvement in the GAA is a way of life for many, it is first and foremost a hobby, something to be embraced and enjoyed. When the fun and satisfaction evaporates, so too does the goodwill. This is not a scenario we can countenance. For example, Garda vetting is something we take seriously. Could we simplify this process by examining the possibility of ensuring one process of vetting that would work right across the board for all organisations?
In short, I believe that societally we need to recognise that there are limitations on the weight we can ask volunteers to shoulder. Collectively, we need to cultivate and foster an appreciation of the volunteer movement throughout the country. We need to make it as easy as possible to be a volunteer and to enjoy the experience, cutting down as much as we can on the red tape. Should those countless hours provided disappear, they will not be easily replaced, if at all, and we need to consider every way of supporting and equipping those who put their hands up time and time again with the aim of assisting others to make our communities better for everyone.
The GAA purports to be an inclusive organisation that caters for the whole family. This is evidenced by the number of families who watch and play our games. It is borne out by the men and women, boys and girls - many of them families - who attend matches providing us with our unique unsegregated match-day atmosphere. Of course, the Ladies Gaelic Football Association and An Cumann Camógaíochta are responsible for organising their own games, but we have excellent relationships with both organisations and are working closer than ever following our recent memorandum of understanding. At congress next month, we will put a motion seeking to add the chief executives of both associations to the GAA management committee alongside our own director general. This is another symbol of the close ties that already exist and I look forward to seeing these ties strengthen in the months and years ahead. The one-club model, whereby all of our games are organised under the same umbrella, makes sense and strengthens the reach and appeal of Gaelic games as sports for all.
I hope any such moves in this direction would also see an increase in women entering the administration side of the GAA. As things stand, many of our volunteer officers get involved when they finish playing our games. Strictly speaking, that means men who finish playing football and hurling, handball and rounders, given that ladies football and camogie are both independent entities. With closer ties and collaboration I would dearly love to see the slipstream of recruitment widened to include more women. In turn, this would mean enhanced representation of women on our committees and organising bodies across the wide range of portfolios that need to be filled to power the organisation. I hope the next GAA president afforded the privilege extended to me today will be able to describe real and meaningful change in this area in the years ahead - perhaps that "he" will be a "she".
Faoi dheireadh, I sincerely hope that I have given Members a flavour of the wide range of activities that we are involved in, many of which are away from the cut and thrust of the field of play. I am proud to be part of a vibrant and unique organisation the rival of which I have yet to encounter anywhere. We acknowledge the challenges and the areas where we have work to do and I look forward to working with the legion of GAA members, and many of the Members present, in tackling those issues to ensure the GAA we pass onto the next generation measures up favourably to the one inherited by us, remaining as relevant to life in Ireland as the GAA is today. Go raibh maith agaibh as bhur n-aird inniu agus bhur gcuid ama agus go n éirí go geall libh an dhea-obair atá ar siúl sa Seanad.
Before I call the next speaker, who is Senator Ardagh, I wish to remind Members that the principal spokesperson from each group has five minutes and all other Senators have three minutes.
I wish to acknowledge the presence of some Deputies in the Gallery, including Deputies Cahill, Darragh O'Brien and Cassells. Also present is Pat Vance of Arklow, who is the current cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council, and Mattie Ryan, who is cathaoirleach of Tipperary County Council.
Councillor Ed Ryan is from Dublin and Councillor Gerry Walsh is a Wicklow councillor but I believe he wears the maroon occasionally. Councillors Seán Paul Mahon and Paul McAuliffe are also present, and I welcome them too. I am a little short-sighted and am just picking out people as I see them. If there are others present who I have not mentioned please let me know. They are all welcome and I hope they have a lovely day.
I welcome the distinguished guests, Deputies and councillors to the Gallery, and I very much welcome Mr. Horan. Cuirim fáilte mhór go dtí an tSeanaid inniu roimhe. Is onóir mhór dom a bheith ag labhairt leis. I am delighted to be addressing the House today, and on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group I congratulate Mr. Horan on his election. His commitment to Dublin GAA over the decades, from volunteering at club level at Na Fianna and selecting at county level and managing county level teams has paid huge dividends for him, the GAA community and the whole of the Dublin supporting community, of which I am part. We are very fortunate to have been very successful - I can see a smirk on Mr. Horan's face - over the last four years. I have attended all of those finals, thankfully and very gratefully, and they are such proud days and create such great memories for Dublin fans. I congratulate Mr. Horan, and I am very glad that, after all the work he put into Dublin and his team and community, that he had the honour of presenting the Sam Maguire Cup to the Dublin team. That must have been a major highlight, and something of which many people would be very envious. He has given so much joy to fans and to clubs and communities. My late father and I used to try to get to as many matches as possible. It was something he really enjoyed. He went not as a politician but as a spectator. We would go to Croke Park and try to get tickets. I have great memories of attending matches with him, and I continue to attend with friends and fellow supporters within the organisation.
The GAA dominates many households in this country. My father-in-law was the captain of the Donegal team in the 1970s, so I cannot escape it. It is a major organisation, and with that fact comes a large amount of responsibility, including responsibility for communities. Communities come together around the GAA, as we have seen over the last day in the context of the tragic road accident in Donegal. I understand all four of the victims were proud supporters of their local GAA clubs. All the GAA clubs came out and rallied and made statements about the tragedy. It shows how much the GAA means to communities and how much communities mean to the GAA.
I echo the comments made about women's football. Some 50,000 people attended the women's football final, which was a huge success for Dublin. It shows how the sport has grown over the years, and I hope that this success leads to more success. I thank Mr. Horan, and wish him very well over the next few years.
I congratulate Mr. Horan and thank his wife, Paula, and Jack and Liam, his sons, for their role in his success. It required a lot of sacrifice, not only from Mr. Horan but from the family too. I thank them and acknowledge them for their service and their sacrifice. I also congratulate Mr. Horan on being the first genuine Dub to be president of the GAA. As coincidence would have it, Mickey Ned O'Sullivan was in Leinster House today. He was the captain of the all-Ireland winning Kerry team of 1975, and he has a distinction just like Mr. Horan in that he was the first Kerry captain to never receive the Sam Maguire and go up the Hogan Stand; the Dubs had a lot to do with that.
Mr. Horan, in his address, spoke about inclusion. I think of what the GAA has done in that regard, particularly in terms of the leader of the DUP attending the game in Fermanagh. That was a very important step by both sides, because there would not have been widespread or unanimous support of that from the GAA side but that is how we build inclusion and make progress. He also spoke about the relationship with ladies football and camogie, and I believe the memorandum of understanding is very important, because there are issues and tensions at local level.
The GAA has the facilities, while the ladies have the numbers; therefore, we need to make sure there is a structure for it.
Mr. Horan spoke about inclusion in the context of respect for the national anthem. I congratulate the GAA on being the first sports organisation to have sign language interpreters on the field of play for the official version of the national anthem, an issue which was debated in this House. I note that Mr. Alan Milton is in the Visitors Gallery. The GAA was the basis for the sports protocol adopted by the Oireachtas. The GAA has a far bigger protocol than other organisations, including some elements of the State.
Did expanding broadcasting bring with it greater inclusion in places such as England? That was the aim in doing so.
In the context of rural decline, Mr. Horan talked about politicians and GAA personalities being similar. I am not saying Pat Spillane is a politician, but he did great work on the issue of rural decline which is having a huge impact, especially in County Kerry where there is declining participation, not because the facilities are not available but because there are not the numbers. The activism of the GAA is important and it is addressing the issue and assisting the Government to come up with solutions. Perhaps Mr. Horan might address the issue.
My final issue is the price of tickets, which is of concern to people in County Kerry. Will Mr. Horan look at the issue to see how it might be addressed for families?
In my heart I cannot wish the Dubs the best in achieving five in a row, but I wish Mr. Horan the best of luck as Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael.
Cuirim míle agus céad fáilte roimh an uachtarán, atá anseo le cur i láthair agus léargas a thabhairt don Seanad mar gheall ar an gCumann Lúthchleas Gael. I do not know if Mr. Horan is the first president of the GAA to address the Upper House.
That is both very significant and particularly important. I congratulate Mr. Horan; his wife, Paula; the two lads and all of his friends and colleagues. It is a very significant occasion for all of us and we are very privileged that he is here. Cuirim míle fáilte roimh chuile dhuine de na Teachtaí Dála, comhairleoirí contae, agus cairde an uachtaráin atá anseo. The place is full in great recognition of Mr. Horan, his family and Cumann Lúthchleas Gael.
I wanted to find out what had made a Dub so successful. Perhaps it all goes back to Paula and County Meath. I met the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, about an hour and a half ago. He was on his way in travelling abroad and told me to say, "Good luck." He added that he thought Mayo would be in the all-Ireland final this year. As a west of Ireland man, I would not begrudge him that. In fact, he told me that Paula was from Mayo. He was obviously mistaken.
I acknowledge the team and staff in Páirc an Chrócaigh, as well as the staff who are actively involved in developing Cumann Lúthchleas Gael throughout the country. It is a volunteer and very strong community organisation. The president and I have been on the board together at Páirc an Chrócaigh for almost five years and worked hard. In my experience, the staff in Páirc an Chrócaigh are second to none. I have not seen staff as professional in any business or organisation in which I have been involved. Mr. Alan Milton and the team are first class.
There are 2,200 clubs in Ireland and 400 abroad. The clubs outside Ireland are actually growing faster than those in Ireland. There is a relationship between GAAGO and RTÉ and on any Sunday up to 750,000 people sign in to watch games. Some 1.5 million attended championship matches in 2017. The amount of work Mr. Horan and his team are doing is absolutely phenomenal and the key to the fabric of the country.
I am privileged to be associated with Cumann Lúthchleas Gael because it carries many of the key values of Irish people, namely, inclusiveness and our culture, language, tradition and sports. Perhaps above all, Cumann Lúthchleas Gael is wonderful for people who are not active in the game or who may never have played it at a high level, yet there is a place for them in the organisation and they are involved.
Croke Park on All-Ireland Sunday is amazing and my colleague, Senator O'Mahony, gave great pride and satisfaction to us in Galway back in the day by winning All-Irelands. Thankfully, two years ago, Senator Coffey had hung up his boots and was not playing as corner-back for Waterford against Galway because otherwise we might have had a different result, but that is a story for another day. It is in the grassroots, the clubs and rural Ireland, as Senator Mark Daly noted earlier, that the GAA comes into its strength. It is all about inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. I strongly welcome the point that Mr. Horan emphasised about inclusiveness of females as well as males. We are very open to that and keen for that area to be fostered and developed.
In the two and a half years I have been a Senator, my greatest privilege has probably been to have been present today for Mr. Horan's address. Personally and professionally, he is a great leader of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, as was his predecessor, Mr. Aogán Ó Fearghaíl from County Cavan, who is another wonderful person with the proper passion, determination and commitment to our values.
A former good friend, colleague and previous uachtarán of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, Mr. Joe McDonagh, was the first Galway man I saw with the All-Ireland medal proudly on his chest. I am delighted that the Joe McDonagh Cup for the development of hurling has been named in honour of him.
Táim an buíoch díot, a Chathaoirligh, as an gcuireidh a thabhairt dár n-uachtarán. Mr. Horan is the first GAA president to address the Seanad, which is a tremendous privilege. I wish him every success in the future.
We now come to the man to whom the Senator referred, Senator O'Mahony, who graced the fields in more ways than one as he was involved with three counties in coaching and training. I must remind him that the O'Mahonys came from Drinagh in west Cork, which is where they got their football from.
I welcome an t-uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, Mr. John Horan, on this historic occasion. Last week, we had the centenary of the First Dáil in the Mansion House and it is entirely fitting that the leader of the largest community organisation in the country, formed 135 years ago, should address the House.
As Mr. Horan pointed out, the GAA has its roots and tentacles in every parish and county in the Thirty-two Counties and has united people in sport and culture in good times and war and peace. One of the advantages that the GAA has over other sporting organisations is a sense of place nailed on for one's parish or club. Over the years, and particularly in recent years since the economic crash in 2011, the GAA has been an outstanding network abroad, promoting our games and culture. More importantly, it has helped young Irish men and women get employment and have a sense of community abroad under the umbrella of the GAA. I have seen at first hand on my travels abroad on many occasions that people have got jobs through their connections and so on. I welcome Mr. Horan's officials to the House also.
Last week, through Alan Milton I linked with a festival committee in Sarajevo, Bosnia, which included a GAA coaching day in its festivities.
Within 24 hours direct contact was made and support and resources were made available for the coaching day held in far away Sarajevo. I am sure that is happening in other international towns and cities on a continuous basis and it is greatly appreciated.
Any national organisation will experience controversies as there will always be a few. However, I compliment the GAA on the way in which it dealt with the Liam Miller issue and the game held in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, as well as other issues.
There is, of course, the pay-per-view issue to which other Members have referred. It is important that the GAA maintain its vital link with grassroots members who form the basis of its success. As such, I oppose any expansion of pay-per-view. The GAA has its roots among its supporters who should always be borne in mind.
Admission prices have been mentioned, but some of the debate in that regard is uninformed. As a strong organisation, the GAA must be conscious of the need to get bums on seats. The season ticket initiative of a number of years ago has been an outstanding success. Also, people may not be aware that under-16s are allowed into 99% of games for free. There is, therefore, a need for balance in the discussion. In that connection, I refer to provincial championship and qualifier games, in particular, at which there may not be a full attendance. During the years I have proposed to Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland that there be some link-up with tourists to Ireland during the summer period. Perhaps they might offer incentives to fill some of the seats at reduced prices. Everyone would win. It is like when we travel to Barcelona, for example, and wish to take in a game. There is an opportunity to be taken advantage of.
I wish Mr. Horan well in the remainder of his term. He is the first president of the organisation from Dublin since 1924 and did not take the usual route. He came from the schools and colleges which form an important part of the GAA. I was the schools' delegate to the provincial council in Connacht for 25 years, albeit I have not reached the esteemed heights as Mr. Horan. I concentrated a little on the sideline. I wish him well in all of the challenges and opportunities ahead. It is ironic that he is in the Chamber two days after Dublin experienced two defeats in the O'Byrne Cup final which Senator McFadden celebrated and against Monaghan on Sunday. However, having met Mr. John Costello outside, I do not think there is any crisis yet. While I have no doubt that the Dublin team will be around to seek immortality through the five in a row later in the year, it is nice to know that they are human.
I thank Mr. Horan who I am delighted to see here today.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an uachtaráin and his wife, two sons and distinguished guests. It is wonderful to have them here.
Ar an gcéad dul síos, déanaim comhbhrón le CLG Ghaoth Dobhair. Ba bhuille tubaisteach don chlub agus do mhuintir na háite an timpiste a tharla oíche Domhnaigh. On behalf of the Sinn Féin team, I congratulate Mr. Horan as uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael and wish him every success in steering the organisation for the next three years.
Many of the challenges facing the GAA reflect those facing Irish society. I acknowledge the wider role the GAA has played in helping many people, young and old, with these same challenges. I was involved in the GAA. I played Gaelic football in London where I captained the Geraldines and the Sam Maguire clubs from Edmonton and Holloway. I was also a member of the county board. That was obviously in my fitter days.
I could take the Leader's comment in many ways.
Gaelic football and camogie serve to bring women from all over the country together for the sport, craic agus ceoil. They have played a significant part in my life and the lives of many people like me. On behalf of the diaspora, I thank Mr. Moran and the GAA for the good they have done for people's physical and mental health all over the world. My two sons play football and we are still very involved in the football club in Béal an Mhuirthead. I congratulate the club on winning the junior championship after so many years.
I thank the people who have submitted questions and issues they wish us to raise here today and that are very important. The ban on sponsorship by gambling companies is most welcome, especially in light of the work of current and former players who have highlighted their battles with gambling addiction. I thank them for doing that. Many players and members have also used their profile to speak openly about their mental health and to encourage fellow members of the GAA to use the supports that are available.
I wish to raise the issue of increased ticket prices. Prices for this year's national league games in divisions one and two have increased by 33%. The increase of €5 for old age pensioners is particularly disappointing as it matches the increase given to pensioners in the most recent budget. The GAA press releases announcing the increases stated that it represented the first major review of the championship ticket prices since 2011. However, many members and supporters felt that this was misleading. This does not mean that the ticket prices have not increased since 2011. Tickets are now 30% more expensive than they were at the height of the Celtic tiger. While unemployment is decreasing, the cost of living has steadily increased on all fronts. Attending GAA matches is a vital outlet for families and one of the most effective forms of entertainment. Was there any dissent at the meeting of the central council that decided on the ticket price increases? I take on board what Senator O'Mahony said about this but it is very important that the GAA communicates on the distribution of its finances. Otherwise, there will be a vacuum and people will not understand why they are being forced to pay such increases. Why was it felt that an increase was needed? Was any financial justification offered at the meeting for this increase?
The increase in the price of a ticket to an All-Ireland final means that a ticket will cost €90 this year. For people from a county such as Mayo, who must deal with travel and accommodation costs on top of the ticket price, this will mean that a day out in Dublin for a family will simply become too expensive, which is a pity. There is a worry that the GAA is focusing too many resources and too much funding on the eastern seaboard, particularly Dublin. Between 2010 and 2014, in terms of central games development money per registered player, Tyrone got €21, Mayo got €22, Kerry got €19 and Dublin got €274.40. Are there any plans to review current funding models in light of the relative success of the other counties?
Aim 1.2 of the official guide states: "The Association is a National Organisation which has as its basic aim the strengthening of the National Identity in a 32 County Ireland through the preservation and promotion of Gaelic Games and pastimes." Where in this stated aim does the selling off of the visual rights for these games to be put behind a pay wall sit? There are many GAA supporters in the Six Counties who cannot access the free-to-air coverage.
What is the GAA doing to engage with the growing conversation around Irish unity?
I must ask Mr. Horan about disability, in particular, autism, because I have had parents contact me about this. Where a family with a son or daughter with autism are members of the GAA and season ticket holders, they rely on the good will of stewards. Will the GAA consider introducing a disability card as part of a season ticket and perhaps extending that to carers? The GAA should also bear in mind the problem of guide dog users trying to access grounds through turnstiles. Disability is not confined to wheelchair users. I have many other questions and regret that I do not have time to ask them.
Ba mhaith liom mo fáilte a chur roimh an Uasal Ó hÓráin thar cheann an Grúpa Civil Engagement agus ba mhaith liom freisin moladh a thabhairt don tábhacht a bhaineann leis an CLG. I welcome Mr. Horan and commend him on the important role of our Gaelic games in the social, cultural and sporting life of Ireland. The games and memories of the games and the teams and players are a major source of pride and inspiration for communities and people both in Ireland and across the world.
I have been lucky to experience twice the glory of Galway winning the all-Ireland hurling final, which is a moment no one forgets. I am proud of my cousin, Nollaig Cleary, who won nine all-Ireland medals with the Cork senior ladies football team.
What is important are not only the key moments and wonderful matches and events that people might remember but also, as Mr. Horan noted, the role of the GAA as an experience for those who may never play in a county final. This role can be seen, for example, in the five-star system in schools and the idea of 60 minutes of playing and physical exercise which has such a lovely cultural resonance for people. The engagement and activity the GAA can provide for older members of the community is also important. The walking tracks were a practical example of that. This underscores a point we will debate at other times in this House about the need for green space planning, as Mr. Horan stated. It is important to invest in planning for full lives for people of all ages in our communities, both rural and urban.
Gaelic games have a strong tradition and are passed down through generations. They have also been proven, particularly in recent times, to be a strong tool for cultural exchange and the integration of new communities. While there is a deep history, it is becoming clear that the future is and must be a diverse one. Inclusion, anti-racism and anti-sectarianism have been core priorities for the GAA and I would like Mr. Horan to elaborate a little on that. It is important that those who may be new to our communities and those who come from cultural traditions that differ from ours in other respects feel invited into and engaged with our sporting life as a nation.
When we speak about equality of participation and opportunities for participation, it is important to speak about the role of women's sport in the GAA. Given that almost 500,000 people watched the ladies' football final last year, there is clearly major interest in it. It was a positive step forward when the women's games were added to the free-to-air matches, the basis of which is that they are matches marked by a cultural exception and recognised as being of cultural importance to all of us across Ireland. However, there is still a deep inequity between the men's and women's games in terms of funding, representation and access to facilities such as pitches and training facilities for elite athletes.
There is also the ongoing task of bringing in a culture of respect, dignity and equality between genders and fostering that culture within clubs and teams.
The sense of community and teamwork the GAA has exemplified is often exhibited in strong support between the men's and women's teams and the players who wish to see each other succeed and excel. Perhaps there is more the GAA could do in that regard as a champion of gender equality and equality in funding facilities and representation. Mr. Horan mentioned the one club model for games organisation and capital funding and facilities. There is important work to be done in that regard. I hope we will hear from the Ladies Gaelic Football Association and An Cumann Camógaíochta in the future.
Mr. Horan spoke about emigration which has been a measure of devastation in rural communities that have struggled at times to put a local team together. It is a sign of the need for greater support and opportunities for young people throughout Ireland. As mentioned, the role immigrants have played in maintaining and engaging in the sports and using them as a means of further cultural engagement is very important, as is placing the sports in a global community, as we saw recently in the recognition received from UNESCO. Will Mr. Horan comment on the cultural importance of the sports and how it fits with the promotion of the Irish language and music? The GAA has often been a centre to promote wider cultural engagement.
I thank Mr. Horan and look forward to his responses.
Mr. Horan is most welcome. It shows the respect he is giving to the Chamber that so many members of his family are present to witness his address. It says a lot about the seriousness with which he is taking the occasion. It is also great to see Mr. Alan Milton here. I saw him in Clones on Sunday. My memory of him in UCD in the 1990s is that he was more of a Liverpool fan than anything else, but I hope that will not impinge on his career path in the GAA. I welcome Mr. John Costello and very much expect that we will be renaming Collins Avenue after him and that in years to come, as he travels from Whitehall Colmcille GAA Club to Parnell Park, he will be walking along Costello Avenue.
I want to reflect on the themes covered in Mr. Horan's address which were absolutely excellent. He spoke about community, health, the importance of sport for mind and body and education, gambling and alcohol, the global reach of the GAA, gender equality, pitches going from grey to green and voluntarism. I do not come from a GAA background. I fell in love with the GAA mainly because of the Dubs in the 1990s. It was a hard sell in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I remember the time when I found a job on Sheriff Street in the early 2000s in a school with no yard and no background in the GAA. I had just qualified as a primary school teacher and had been trained at foundation level as a GAA coach. I attended a function at the time with the then president of the GAA, Mr. Sean McCague, and had the idea of forming a girls' Gaelic football team in the school. When I asked Mr. McCague if he could help, he asked what I wanted. I told him that I would love to have a set of gear. He then asked what colour. Two weeks' later he turned up to present us with the most beautiful green and white gear. We were successful in five Cumann na mBunscoil championships. For children with no place to train in their community or no club for which they could play, that investment by the GAA was inspiring.
Mr. Horan spoke about the maintenance of green spaces, with which I absolutely agree. This is not the time at which to make political speeches, but the strategic housing development Act needs to be re-examined. What needs to be investigated is how developments can proceed to An Bord Pleanála without cognisance being taken of local zoning. Z15 in Dublin City Council is under threat, as are pitches within the confines of institutional lands. We saw what happened at Clonkeen College in Dún Laoghaire and St. Anne's Park. The point is relevant. There is an overdependence on pitches on land owned by religious orders or other institutions. We must be conscious of this.
Pay-per-view has been mentioned. Anybody with an elderly family member who has a great love for the GAA but who cannot attend matches and does not have a Sky subscription knows that pay-per-view is a barrier. It is something on which the GAA should reflect. Knowing it as I do, the reality is that we know the money taken at the gate and pay-per-view income go back into the association.
Everyone accepts that. However, once a barrier becomes the difference between someone attending and not attending a match or between someone watching and not watching at home on television, it has to be re-examined.
Mr. Horan referred to State funding. Our side of the House must examine that. The influence of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund over the body politic is remarkable. Unquestionably, the only ring-fenced funding in Irish politics is that fund. It amounts to €56 million per year. A proportion of every bet placed on anything goes straight into the fund. No other sporting organisation has absolute certainty of ring-fenced Exchequer funding every year. Considering what the GAA does for this country, the moneys that Mr. Horan has mentioned are paltry compared with the unquestioned €56 million or so per year that goes into the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund.
I wish to discuss gender equality. I am heavily involved with the ladies side in Scoil Uí Chonaill, Clontarf. We should examine possibilities as regards gender accessibility at GAA grounds. I wrote to Croke Park about making sanitary products free in every GAA ground. I also wrote about breastfeeding facilities and taking a more sympathetic view towards parents attending games with infant children. I had an issue with that myself only last year when I was refused entry to Croke Park because I had an infant in my company. If we are to encourage a family-friendly environment and gender accessibility at our county grounds and promote our facilities, these suggestions need to be considered.
The Cathaoirleach is facilitating me, so I will make my final point. Regarding the integration of non-Irish populations, Mr. Horan referred to the GAA abroad. At a school in Carrickmacross, 50% of the infant intake are non-Irish born or have parents who are non-Irish born. How are we utilising the GAA network? In many communities, if someone is not involved in the GAA, he or she is missing out because it is the lifeblood of those communities. In conjunction with the body politic, the Department of Justice and Equality and whoever else, how can the GAA facilitate a mechanism whereby those children can enter into the GAA family? While we are all lauding Mr. Horan's presence today, if someone does not have a father, grandfather or great-grandfather involved in a local club, it can be difficult to enter into that space and become an equal member. That is a fair comment to make. Having said that, a French lady won player of the year with our junior B side at Scoil Uí Chonaill. There is evidence it can work.
I welcome Mr. Horan and his family members. I will start by acknowledging the Croke Park headquarters staff, both in Mr. Horan's office and the director general's office. In any engagement I have had with them, I have found them to be courteous beyond belief and an example to other corporate entities in terms of how to behave.
Much has been said today about the GAA and its indelible link with our society. I saw that at first hand when my parish of Ennistymon qualified for the county senior football final for the first time ever. We did not win, but we as good as won it because the excitement, joy and pride that embellished our area for two weeks beforehand and afterwards could not be bought. It was fantastic. Clare has a proud history in hurling and football, although I attended both matches at the weekend where the result did not go our way in Thurles on Saturday or in Ennis on Sunday.
Mr. Horan gave a great presentation on how the GAA had evolved over many decades. I have a particular interest in the participation of people with disabilities in sport. I acknowledge what has been achieved in wheelchair football.
In more recent times, the GAA fun and run initiative has been getting people with disabilities and able-bodied people to participate at an equal level. That is absolutely correct and proper. As somebody with a disability, it would have been wonderful if I had an opportunity to have been active like that when I was a young fellow. I am on the board of directors of an organisation in Kerry called the CARA Centre. I work very closely with some GAA icons like Matt Connor from Offaly and Aidan O'Mahony from Kerry.
Our mission is to promote awareness and, more importantly, participation and inclusion of people with disabilities in all sorts of sports. I would like to see even more and closer links with the GAA. It is a shame this has been the first time a president of the GAA has addressed the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is a great honour. I propose, through the Leader and the Cathaoirleach, that we set up an all-party friendship group to keep this discussion and engagement going in order that we can support and help the GAA in any way we can. I refer to enabling a two-way conversation in future. That should be the legacy of this extremely special occasion today.
I welcome Mr. Horan, members of his family, representatives from the GAA and the Deputies and councillors in the Gallery. There has been much prediction, talk of "drives for five" and upcoming competitions in the year. I take this opportunity to thank the president of the GAA, as well as the Leinster Council, for the two fantastic competitions already organised, namely, the O'Byrne Cup and the Kehoe Cup. I was delighted to see the cream came to the top on both occasions.
As I speak, an extension is being built onto the trophy cabinet in Cusack Park. We in Westmeath like to get our winning out of the way early in the year and make room for everybody else. We will, hopefully, be there knocking on the doors later in the season also. I agree with what the president said about clubs, the club scene and how important clubs are in rural areas, in particular. I hope that bottom-up emphasis can be maintained. In my opinion and, I believe, of everyone, the club is the beginning and end of the GAA. When there is a bereavement in a family in a rural area, the GAA club will roll in and be involved in parking cars, stewarding etc. The club will rally around that family.
In many rural areas in which foreign national people have come to live in our communities, they are being integrated and naturalised into the community through the GAA club. We are seeing increasing numbers of foreign nationals, people of non-Irish origin, playing on our teams and yet we do not have or hear of, thankfully, any incidents of racism. That is one major plus for how the GAA integrates society, particularly in rural areas.
As the eldest son of a farmer, when we got our school holidays the emphasis for the summer was on saving the hay, the turf and the harvest. There was no social media then and I would not have seen my school friends if I had not been lucky enough to be a member of a GAA family. The tools were dropped and we were brought into town when there was an underage game, the club seniors were playing at the weekend or the county was playing. It meant so much to me to be involved at the time of poorer communications. I would not have seen my school friends from June to September if not for the GAA. That helped to form so many great friendships. We do not want to lose that. I know it will not be lost because the president stated that in his own speech. We cannot, however, forget or take the emphasis from the club. We need to keep the bottom-up approach. I would like the president to address at the end the changes made last year to try to make club fixtures that little bit easier. I refer to the break in April and the bringing forward of the all-Ireland finals in hurling and football. What kind of feedback has there been in that regard? Is it working or does it need to be tweaked more? I ask that because we need to facilitate the club as much as possible.
I also welcome Mr. Horan and express my gratitude to the organisation he represents. The GAA has given me great experiences down through the years, from the first time my father bought me a hurl that he was hoping I would grow into, but never played with after, to the clubs I played with. I refer to Naas at underage level and, latterly, with Kill. The first match I played for the club happened to be in Newbridge. It is Newbridge or nowhere still.
I congratulate the GAA, particularly Seán Kelly, on the opening of all the stadia when rugby and soccer facilities were not available. I recall the match against England, as the Cathaoirleach mentioned earlier, but also the rugby match between Leinster and Munster in Croke Park that took place in front of a record crowd. Possibly every person who attended that day would have attended a football match in the following weeks because the event was inclusive on that day.
I highlight the GAA because it has, at its basis, the local GAA club that is paramount in the community. GAA clubs have become much more involved in community life. For example, in my local club in Kill in Eadestown, one can see playgrounds being development so there is integration between a new generation coming up and the current GAA club. Community games also are involved and ground football facilities are being developed by many GAA clubs. GAA clubs have an all-encompassing involvement with their communities and cater for all.
I must acknowledge the volunteers who work in each and every club. I come from more of a rugby background and have witnessed the work that volunteers do for my rugby club in Naas, County Kildare. Therefore, I know that without volunteers, clubs cannot survive. No matter how strong a club's hierarchy is, if one does not have a man or woman to open the doors to the training facilities on a Tuesday or Thursday night, to open the gate to the pitch on a Sunday when matches take place, or to collect the odd few bob at the gate from people attending, one will not have a successful club.
One point about which I would like to engage with the GAA, and I have spoken about this issue in terms of rugby and soccer, is the drop-off in the number of young people who play nowadays. Many clubs up and down the country cannot field minor teams because of the drop-off at 16, 17 and 18 years of age. I have also seen the number of players reduce at the under-21 level. We need to encourage people to stay involved.
I wish an t-uachtarán all the best. Last year, he presented a cup to the winning Kildare under-20 GAA football team that beat Mayo in the all-Ireland final. It was one of the best games of football that I attended the whole year. I say that with a Senator from Mayo seated to my right here. I hope that the Dubs have not got T-shirts printed already.
I warmly welcome an t-uachtarán to the Seanad. I also welcome his wife, his family, the Oireachtas Members, Deputies, the sitting county councillors and the distinguished guests who are in the audience. I acknowledge that this event would not have happened without a lot of work being done by a lot of people. They know who they are and I thank them for making this possible.
As I sat here I asked myself what have I got in common with the GAA. I will share a story that talks about a past. The word "identity" has been used a lot here today. As a young Church of Ireland Protestant boy in south County Dublin, what had I in common with the GAA? Very little. As a matter of fact, my State public school did not encourage any GAA sport. It is important to note that fact because that was disappointing for many young children, who did not have prejudice. Kids are not prejudiced against anything. We had a yearning and were keen to play hurling. I wish to acknowledge of two great curates, one in the Church of Ireland on the left-hand side of the road in Monkstown village, and another very innocent curate in the Catholic Church located on the right side of that road. Anyone who knows Monkstown village will know there are two massive churches on either side of the same road. Back in the 1960s, it was an offence in the Church of Ireland even to play sport on a Sunday. However, it was through the initiative and encouragement of both curates that we played hurling on Sundays. They organised a few hurls for us young boys and taught us how to play the sport. Certainly, I am a handy man with a hurl at this stage. I learned how to play the sport and loved hurling. I continued to ask right up into my teens why were we not allowed to play in our school and educational system. The identity of the GAA has moved on and is inclusive. As everyone has acknowledged here today, the GAA is a very inclusive organisation and inclusive in sport. Indeed, the GAA has many interesting and large characters from the Church of Ireland community who have played huge roles in the organisation. One person who came from the Church of Ireland tradition and who I knew personally was president of the GAA. I acknowledge that important point.
Volunteerism also has been acknowledged here today. I live between and attend the activities of two great GAA clubs, namely, Cuala of Dalkey and Kilmacud Crokes.
I acknowledge the work of the volunteers.
I also pay tribute to two people who have been special to me and are great ambassadors for the GAA, Councillor John Bailey in Cuala GAA in Dalkey who did enormous work way beyond that of a volunteer, and Mattie Kenny, a Galway man, who did wonders for Cuala GAA and is now going to do wonders for Dublin.
I welcome the uachtarán of the GAA and I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for inviting him to the House. I happened to be in Croke Park this morning at an addiction conference. I must say, and I agree with the Cathaoirleach, that just looking across Croke Park fulfils my heart. It is a beautiful place to visit. I have always felt happy at any GAA game I have attended. I probably feel happiest when I am at a match, be it football or hurling, although hurling is my first passion. I would love to see the Dubs win the hurling final at some point. It is also great to see a fellow Dub in the role of uachtarán.
I am aware of the alcohol and substance abuse programme run by the GAA. It is wonderful. My colleague, Senator Lawlor, spoke about the drop-off in the number of young people. I work in the specific area of addiction and mental health so I am very familiar with that among young people. I have given many talks in GAA clubs around the country on this issue. Today, I wish to highlight the mental health aspect. In excess of 1.4 million people in this country have alcohol harm issues. That is huge. There is an impact from that on young people, whether it is a parent or a brother or sister. I spoke in a GAA hall last year where a young lad said he had to give up his football because his mother had an alcohol problem. He was worried and could not attend the GAA training sessions because he had to stay at home and mind her. The impact of that on his mental health was that he had to walk away from his passion.
There is an increasing incidence of that at present. I hope the uachtarán will examine it as a priority for the future. There is no doubt that alcohol is a depressant. There is a huge binge drinking culture among young people. They talk about drinking to the black. Alcohol is a depressant and causes depression so we must highlight the impact it has on young people, particularly on their mental health. Addiction is increasing, whether it is drugs, substance abuse or gambling, and I spoke to Oisín McConville this morning who speaks openly about his addiction to gambling. If the uachtarán wishes to have a chat about it at some time, I would love to have a cup of coffee with him.
I thank Mr. Horan for coming to the House today and I congratulate him again.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for inviting uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael to address Seanad Éireann. This is a historic day for all of us, including Mr. Horan and his family. I welcome them to the House as well as all the invited guests in the Visitors Gallery.
The uachtarán represents every player, volunteer and official of the GAA in the Chamber today and in his work every day. Many Members of the Oireachtas are proud to be members of the GAA. I am and I wish to put on the record my gratitude to the GAA for what it has given me, my family and my community over many years. I had the honour of playing in club, county and college and for Portlaw in County Waterford. The greatest honour for any GAA member is to give something back. I have had the honour of serving as chairman of my GAA club, which I continue to do. Every little club in the country has aspirations. Members spoke about identity and pride. They can be found in no better place than the GAA - the pride of the parish or the honour and glory of the little village. We all see that each day throughout the country. We must nurture it and never take it for granted.
I acknowledge the great amount of work that volunteers and officials, from the bottom up, do throughout the country. There a challenges, and there is no need for me to tell the uachtarán what they are. I have concerns about club versus county. There is much debate within the GAA about that. We should keep our club units strong because that is where a county's strength comes from.
We must always be very cautious of that. We must also try to develop the weaker counties. It is one of the biggest challenges the GAA faces.
The issue of prices has been raised. I believe that is for the GAA to decide. There is no more democratic organisation than the GAA. Every member has a say, whether at club level, county board level, provincial level or at central council level. The GAA has to sustain its business, which is the running of games and ensuring that there are adequate referees, coaching, staff and volunteers, and that takes finance. I do not have a problem with it. People will pay if they wish to do so, and I guarantee that venues throughout this country will be thronged for big games. I was at the national league game between Waterford and Offaly on Sunday with my 13 year old. He got in for free. Every under 16 can go to a national league game in this country for free. We do not hear that being spoken about. It encourages young people into the GAA. Those of us who can afford it should pay. Any other organisation would charge much more.
I wish Mr. Horan the very best in the year ahead. He has ambitions to strengthen our grass roots and our clubs, and I encourage him to do that. He will find a lot of support, cross-party and independent, in the Houses of the Oireachtas as he tries to achieve that.
I was a camogie player in Dublin and then Belfast in the 1980s and 1990s. It is great to see the difference that has been made in the North. Communities can now play football or camogie without hassle. There has been a great improvement there.
Mr. Horan spoke about well-being and mental health. The logo, the wearing of the jerseys and players speaking out about their struggles and difficulties has definitely added to the destigmatisation of those suffering from mental ill health. The GAA in Crumlin, my area, is hosting safeTALK, which helps to protect communities from the risk of suicide. Young people, girls in particular, come to the club with difficulties, and the club is trying to do its best to help. We have to encourage the personnel at clubs to do the training and feel confident in helping these individuals, even if that only involves acknowledging the problem and passing it on to professionals.
The "grey to green" idea is very important for Dublin. I know there is a lot of love for Dublin in this Chamber. It has been congratulated over the past year, or perhaps it was over the last four years, with passion by everybody in this Chamber. Certainly between the canals in Dublin 8, there are issues with the pitches, and St. Kevin's hurling club is going through financial issues. Perhaps the new president could magically help with that as well.
The idea of vetting should be universal. All organisations should do that the Garda is backlogged with applications. It seems prudent and would save time for those volunteers who want to give of their time. We are making a lot of work for ourselves with that.
I acknowledge the passion of the people involved at the coalface, including the trainers and coaches who give so much. I imagine from their number will emerge an inspiring and influential woman who will be the next president. Up the Dubs.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an uachtarán agus a chlann. Tá aithne agam ar Jim Bolger, cathaoirleach comhairle Laighin, agus ar a lán comhairleoirí agus Teachtaí Dála anseo inniu. I am surprised that there are so many people with so much to say about GAA. I would be surprised if many of them knew whether a ball was pumped or stuffed, but we learn something new every day. The GAA will have many new friends when it leaves here today.
The GAA has always been very inclusive.
I am delighted to welcome our uachtarán here today. The GAA is a roots-up organisation, as shown by our president through his involvement with schools in particular as well as with clubs, counties and provinces. He rose to the top in all of these particular areas. I have been privileged to serve with club and county on the executives of Clonkill and St. Loman's GAA clubs and of Contae na hIarmhí. The skills I learned have stood me in good stead in politics. The skills I learned dealing with an organisation of volunteers have really been a help to me in life in general. The GAA is the last lifeline left holding most rural communities together. I believe that its facilities can be to the fore in arresting rural decline. I know the president on a personal level and he has been brave in showing leadership wherever he has been. I encourage him to keep up the good work and to keep putting clubs to the fore, as he has always done. He was never a shrinking violet in backing clubs and we appreciate all he has done for the club network.
A couple of comments were made. The president discussed the integration of ladies' games into the mainstream GAA. Many people might not know it, but there are costs involved. Registration fees in respect of ladies' teams are three times as high as those of mainstream guys' teams. That is a problem. The cost will be a big factor for the president and the organisation in the future. Some Seanadóirí who spoke earlier were on about the cost of tickets. I was requested to look for some tickets for Steely Dan. The cheapest ticket one could get was nearly €200. If it was a matter of going to Steely Dan or to an all-Ireland final, going to the final would be a privilege for me. I would be lucky to get a ticket. I remember a couple of years ago a guy wanted £200 for a ticket to an FA Cup Final. I just do not know about some Senator's appreciation of value for money. The family ticket was not talked about. Senator Coffey, who is going to games rather than talking about them, is aware that those under 16 do not pay going to games. Many people get free passes and old age pensioners only pay half price for tickets. The family ticket was a great concept from the GAA. I appreciate the president being here and all of the great work he has done for the association since he has been involved.
The uachtarán, his family and the GAA family are heartily welcome here today. This is very historic. It is a great day and it is great to see the uachtarán here. I come from a different side of the GAA. The late Sean Young, who was my manager, played for Derry. He always said that I was more interested in where we were going after the match than in the match itself. I ended up running the Roscommon supporters club. We have great memories of bringing a boat from Boyle to Carrick-on-Shannon when we played Leitrim, of bringing four buses to Castlebar, and of going to London and New York. They are memories of times I really enjoyed and for which I feel fondness and pride. That is something about the GAA. One meets other supporters and everyone mingles. When I brought the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly to Croke Park in 2015 these parliamentarians from England, Scotland and Wales could not believe there was no such thing as segregation at matches. I was very proud to tell them that it is a voluntary, amateur organisation, although it is not amateur in the way its business is run. I congratulate the president on that.
As we know, the GAA was set up to foster Irish games. It brought about a renaissance in nationalism. The GAA was very involved in the War of Independence but at this time I want to thank it for its respect for and memory of GAA players who fought in the First World War. As somebody who believes these men should be remembered from a nationalist point of view, I pay tribute to the GAA for doing that in recent years. What we all thought of as Hill 16 was originally known as Hill 60. In the 1930s members of the Connaught Rangers fought at Hill 60 during the Gallipoli campaign. It was known as Hill 60 until the 1930s when some senior figures in the GAA decided to call it Hill 16. I want to point out the complexities in our histories. However, the president is heartily welcome and I congratulate him on representing a new Ireland.
Whether in the Thirty-two Counties, London, New York or anywhere else in the world, the GAA represents a new Ireland. I thank it very much for doing so.
Cuirim fáilte is fiche roimh uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, an tUasal Seán Ó hÓráin, agus a chlann. Tréaslaím leis ar an óráid shuimiúil a thug sé dúinn um thráthnóna. It is a great privilege to welcome the president of Cumann Lúthcleas Gael to the Seanad. It is an historic day. I congratulate the Cathaoirleach, the Leader and all those who made the necessary arrangements. It is amazing that such an event has not happened before. I am very glad that it is now taking place and that I am part of it. I welcome the many distinguished guests from the world of Cumann Lúthcleas Gael, many of whom are also involved in politics, which is no surprise because those involved in the GAA are patriots. They love their country and wish to play a part and give service. In spite of the calumny heaped on politicians, that is also what we try to do.
There has always been a great relationship between the GAA and the national spirit in Ireland, going back to the founding of the GAA in 1884. The GAA was always in step with the forward looking nationalist Ireland and the nationalist movements at the time. Last Monday we commemorated 100 years of Dáil Éireann. Many Members of the First Dáil such as Michael Collins, Harry Boland and some Members who were in jail gained their nationalist spirit from their involvement in the GAA.
Although I welcome all of our visitors, I will be forgiven for picking out my neighbour and great friend, former Deputy John Cregan. He had a very successful career in politics which culminated in his appointment as Government Chief Whip. When he left politics, he went back to County Limerick and, hey presto, all of a sudden they won their first all-Ireland title for 45 years. One must give John Cregan, with many others, credit for that achievement.
The chairman of Tipperary County Council, Mattie "Coole" Ryan, is in the Visitors Gallery. His brother Paddy, a great GAA historian, brought out a book last year, the title of which, Cuttin' or Atein' the Bushes, reveals the ferocity of parochial hurling in Munster.
One of the greatest memories of my youth was being brought to Croke Park for the first time at the age of ten years in 1962 for the All-Ireland semi-final between Kerry and Dublin which, thankfully, Kerry won. I will always remember climbing the high concrete steps at the back of the Hogan Stand, emerging from a tunnel of darkness and looking down on the beautiful green sward of Croke Park with flags flying, Dublin in light blue and, of course, our beloved green and gold. It is said Mick O’Connell played his greatest game that day. We went back to Croke Park in September and beat Roscommon to win the all-Ireland final. A Listowel Emmets clubman of mine, the late Garry McMahon, scored a goal within 35 seconds, which is still an all-time record. The Cathaoirleach quoted his great father, Bryan McMahon, in his excellent speech.
For me, this is a day to thank the GAA from the bottom of my heart for all it has done for the country and the fabric of our society which it has helped to mould. I see the thrill I experienced in Croke Park in 1962 being replicated in my grandchildren. I have two young grandsons, Pádraig and Éanna, who love going to matches with us. The thrill they get from watching their teams play is something one cannot buy.
As I stated, the GAA has given a lot to politics. In my county Austin Stack, Dan Spring, Jimmy Deenihan and Seán Kelly were involved in both the GAA and politics, as was Henry Kenny in another county and, of course, as the Cathaoirleach pointed out, the greatest of them all, Jack Lynch.
I welcome Mr. Horan and his wife and family. I acknowledge the presence of the chairman of the Limerick County Board, former Deputy John Cregan, and Mattie Ryan, a former colleague of mine on the Mid-West Regional Authority.
Many institutions in the State, including the church, have fallen. The GAA is now effectively taking up that leadership role for young people across the country.
Up and down the country, the GAA is very much taking that leadership role for young people, which includes a significant amount of responsibility. How does Mr. Horan expect that to evolve?
One of the GAA's features is that it has the greatest network of volunteers in the country. It is in every branch, town, village and city and it must consider its strengths. Mr. Horan probably will be aware that many of the grants to sports and community areas are given to community facilities where sports and community combine. Any facility that the GAA considers building should have a large community aspect because the GAA is already there and has the use of the grounds, and because it has the infrastructure to ensure the facility is sustainable and will be maintained. Over the years, I have seen too many cases where projects are built, people do not have the structure to sustain them and they become white elephants. When GAA clubs up and down the country are submitting grant applications, I encourage them to consider the community aspect of the local community centre.
I acknowledge that the president visited Limerick, as he has done a number of times. He attended our celebrations for Limerick winning the Liam McCarthy Cup and said he hoped to return to present it again to us next year, which we will hold him to. I met him at one of our local clubs, Ahane GAA, once the home of Mick Mackey and now of the Morrissey brothers. My club, Monaleen, is a city club, and its hurling teams features Andrew La Touche Cosgrave and Lorcan Lyons.
The GAA has an enormous contribution to make but with that comes a great deal of responsibility, which is not limited to the specific area of sport.
Cuirim fáilte go dtí an Teach seo roimh an uachtarán, a chlann agus na daoine uilig atá anseo inniu. Cuirim fáilte roimh na comhairleoirí agus all the special guests in the Gallery this afternoon freisin. I enjoyed the uachtarán's speech. He covered many aspects of the GAA and the many aspects of life that are manifested throughout the organisation. In particular, we reflect on the community of south-west Donegal, as was mentioned earlier, which is going through a very difficult time. A dark cloud hangs over that part of Donegal, where four young men lost their lives. I extend my sympathy to the extended families and the community of west Donegal as they try to come to terms with the horror that happened last Sunday night. It should be remembered that the four young men, all in their 20s, who lost their lives were all members of GAA clubs. I have no doubt that the GAA community in west Donegal and throughout the rest of the county will put its arms around the families and others in the community as they try to come to terms with the tragedy.
The four young men in their 20s were members of Cloughaneely or Gaoth Dobhair GAA clubs. John Harley was captain of Cloughaneely GAA club in 2016 and 2017, and was player of the year in the latter year. Shaun Harkin and Daniel Scott were also members of the Cloughaneely club, while Mícheal Roarty was a member of the Gaoth Dobhair club, where he won an all-Ireland vocational schools medal, and played at minor level for Donegal. Mr. Horan pinpointed many aspects of the GAA and its qualities. As I said, it will wrap its arms around the families and the community of west Donegal in the tough few days that lie ahead. It is another example of the GAA's fantastic work and of how it touches every parish and community in the country. It is important that we recognise the good work the GAA does, as was outlined by Mr. Horan in his fine speech.
On a lighter note, I attended the match in Clones between Monaghan and Dublin at the weekend. Mr. Horan is a Dub and this year has the potential to be an historic year for Dublin as the drive for five championships in a row pushes on. The performance of Monaghan at the weekend will give confidence to many teams throughout the county that the great Dubs can be slain.
That amounts to back-to-back success in the league over Dublin – we beat the Dublin team in Croke Park last year and beat the team again last Sunday. Speaking as an Ulster GAA man, I am keen to highlight that the GAA in Ulster can be proud of the fact that the last team to beat Dublin in the championship back in 2014 was Donegal.
I attended that match in St. Tiernach's Park in Clones at the weekend. It would be remiss of me not to mention St. Tiernach's Park, Clones, which is the venue for the Ulster finals. There is an ongoing campaign to ensure that the Ulster finals remain in Clones for the foreseeable future. I appeal to Mr. Horan to bring away that thought and consideration. It is shared by not only by Gaels throughout Monaghan but throughout Ulster. They are attempting to try to keep the Ulster final in Clones for many years to come.
I will not, because I think Senator Devine did that well enough. As it happens, when I was running for the Seanad I discovered that I had a great-grandfather from County Monaghan, so I can live with these things. I have Mayo, Carlow and Roscommon connections as well.
I thank the GAA president for his measured, deeply thought-out and comprehensive speech. I was a councillor for 12 and a half years in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council before I came here. On the bannister in Dún Laoghaire County Hall is a sign with the letters KTC, which stand for Kingstown Town Commissioners. It would not have been the greatest bastion of Gaelic sports back when that hall was built in 1899 and opened by Queen Victoria. Yet, from that small county, which is only eight miles long and five miles wide, we have Kilmacud Crokes and Cuala. These clubs have done particularly well in recent years despite the fact that they are competing with soccer, rugby, cricket and many other sports that are common in south Dublin. It is a true testament to the GAA that it can be truly an all-Ireland sport in every part of every community, whether large or small. We have other great clubs, including Ballinteer St. John's, St. Olaf's and Geraldines P. Moran GAA club in Foxrock.
These are significant clubs but there are challenges too. I know many Senators who come from rural Ireland have spoken about the challenges in rural Ireland. Equally, as the GAA president will know well, I imagine, there are challenges for clubs in built-up urban areas. These clubs are trying to field hundreds of teams and simply do not have the space for it. Mr. Horan knows about that challenge. When I was a member of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council we tried to increases pitches, put in all-weather pitches and increase allocations, but it is a major challenge for the clubs.
Together with Senator McFadden, Senator Burke and some others I visited Australia recently and we met members of a club in Melbourne. They were so appreciative. I learned on the visit that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is involved and gives funding. That is most welcome but anything that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade can do to expand on that funding would be welcome because it is a real lifeline for anyone who is abroad. A friend of mine from Pallaskenry in west Limerick came back with his children for the all-Ireland final and was lucky to be able to find tickets to do so.
I am keen to touch on one small point. Mr. Horan and I were talking before this debate commenced. You introduced me as a south-sider, a Chathaoirligh. I had to point out that my father actually went to school in St. Vincent's in Glasnevin, where the GAA president ultimately went on to teach and become the principal. I am now starting my sixth term on school boards of management, including my fourth as chairperson in two different schools where the GAA president has taught and is principal. The workload that goes into being a school principal in any secondary school in the country is extraordinary. I do not doubt that Mr. Horan's school had a significant workload. For him to be able to do all of that as well as be involved in the GAA, not to mention becoming president in a landslide victory as a Dublin person, is testament to his character and that of his family. Perhaps as a Dublin person and as the chairperson of a school board, I appreciate that more than some others. The workload involved is phenomenal. For Mr. Horan to give up of his free time, of which I imagine he did not have much, and to do all he does for the GAA and the people of Ireland in every corner of the country, including all 32 counties, I thank him very much.
I also wholeheartedly welcome the president of the GAA, Mr. John Horan, to the Seanad today. I also welcome his guests, his wife, Paula, sons Jack and Liam, sisters Mary and Therese and their husbands, Alan Milton and Teresa Rehill from Croke Park, and all our distinguished guests.
Not wishing to sound in any way triumphalist, coming from the county of Kerry, I can speak with some authority on the marvellous contribution the GAA has made to the sporting and cultural life of this country. We are a modest people in Kerry and some might say that, recently, we have a lot to be modest about. I will not boast about how frequently over the years we have been to Croke Park and have come home with medals and trophies, whether at club or county levels. Even as recently as this weekend we had a very encouraging win over Tyrone. I will not say anything about the Dubs but I am wearing the wrong colours today, being more in blue than I would like.
It is with great pride that I recall the great games over the years, not least the epic Dublin-Kerry clashes over the 1970s and 1980s which still live on in the memory.
In difficult times in this country, the GAA has provided a sporting and cultural outlet raising the morale of the people. From Ballybunion to the Bronx, the GAA was on hand in assisting our emigrants through sport and providing networks for friendship and employment opportunities. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade works closely with the GAA abroad to provide strong community and social networks for the Irish diaspora. The playing and singing of the national anthem at the beginning of matches is something which instils pride in us all. I recently had the honour to chair the Seanad public consultation on the national anthem, and one of the themes to emerge was the desire for sportsmen and women to know the words of the anthem when it is played at the start of matches, particularly when matches are being televised and the camera is focused on the players during the anthem. I ask if this is something Mr. Horan might promote with GAA players during his tenure. The committee also agreed an Irish sign language version of the anthem for members of the deaf community, and I was pleased to see it performed in Croke Park at the all-Ireland last year. I ask that the GAA continue this practice also.
As previous speakers have said, the GAA is part of the Irish consciousness and plays an influential role in Irish society that extends far beyond the basic aim of promoting Gaelic games. To follow the tone set by the Cathaoirleach, and to honour my own county, I will now quote some lines from the ballad "Dúchas" or "The Kingdom’s Green and Gold", written by the illustrious Garry McMahon, who was a native of Listowel, an all-Ireland football medallist, raconteur, writer, singer and composer.
Grey lakes and mountains soaring high, Mount Brandon’s holy hill,
The little church at Gallarus, our language living still,
The Skellig Rock, stout football stock, they can’t be bought or sold,
For our county’s fame, we play the game in the Kingdom’s green and gold.
We savour Kerry victories, we salute a gallant foe
And when we lose, there’s no excuse, we pick up our bags and go,
So raise your glass each lad and lass to our warriors brave and bold,
Who again aspire to the Sam Maguire in the Kingdom’s green and gold.
That is my cultural contribution today. I thank Mr. Horan for his interesting address to the House today and I wish him well in his tenure as president of the GAA.
Mr. John Horan:
I thank the Cathaoirleach for that. I was thinking we might be here until 6 p.m. if I had to deal with all the questions I have been asked today. On behalf of the association, I thank everybody for their comments to the organisation I am representing as uachtarán today.
A great volunteer effort and commitment to Irish society is made by our 750,000 members nationally and by our club structure.
On a sad note, I concur with the comments of Senators Gallagher and Ardagh on the loss of four of our members in Donegal. It is an area I know well. In fact, I attended the dinner dance of the Cloughaneely GAA club on 28 December 2018 when Fr. Sean Ó Gallchóir was MC on the night. I saw his name quoted in the newspapers over the last few days as he visited the scene and the bereaved families of those young lads we have lost. I have been in touch also with the chairman of Donegal County Council, who is also a member of our managing committee. The Ulster council and the Donegal county board have rowed in, as the GAA always does, in support of those families in their deeply sad loss.
I always knew the GAA brief was broad, but the brief before me today is very broad indeed. I refer to the LGFA and our relationship with camogie. We have made a great deal of progress recently within a short period by drawing up a memorandum of understanding. It is a very detailed document and it is due to be implemented in full in the next three years. One area in particular that has caused concern historically is property. We always think of The Fieldwhen we think of Ireland. We have put protocols in place to make it much easier for camogie and ladies football to access GAA pitches. The question of membership was also raised by Members. The membership issue is slightly skewed but we have put a subcommittee in place to look again at getting a common membership across the board. Membership for camogie and ladies football involves two completely different organisations which cater for women. One then has membership of the GAA. One also could be a member for handball. We intend, working closely with both organisations, to streamline that area and improve it.
Rural decline was brought up. I do not want to sound political but I will be very honest as that is my style. The GAA is helping with rural decline, not causing it. We are not the ones closing post offices and failing to deliver the Internet to rural parts of this country. It is our members in those areas, however, who are finding it necessary to leave their local communities, move to the east coast or go to foreign shores. These are the problems which need to be solved. While we will be there to provide the facilities and the networks, we cannot, ultimately, be held responsible for rural decline.
Tickets were mentioned. The only heartening thing I got from the events of last week was, as I mentioned in my opening statement, how relevant we are as an organisation. Every television and radio show and newspaper went on about the fact that the GAA had increased the price of its tickets. I will point out a few facts. A lot of Members said today that the GAA clubs in their communities were very important. When we decided to raise the price of our tickets, we put in place a programme of spending for the increased revenue. As an association, we have decided to increase our grants to clubs throughout the country from €2 million to €4 million in the space of four years. Funds must be obtained to do that. The grants for those clubs will increase employment locally through investment in infrastructure projects. That is where we are putting €500,000 of the extra revenue.
We have also referred today to the importance of the GAA to our diaspora. I am sure many Members have visited cities internationally in which the GAA has clubs. Those clubs are important to young Irish people who travel overseas looking for employment and contacts, having found themselves away from home for the first time. They are looking for a social outlet and GAA clubs in those cities provide that. However, the GAA units in those parts of the world must be funded to operate. As such, €200,000 of our increased revenue will go to those international units. They do not have large sponsors or significant gate receipts and we must help them from home. We do a great deal of work with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. People in this country must recognise that we will not continue to get people into America in the way we did in the past.
Unless we promote Irish culture, be it the language, dancing, music or games, in the US, our relevance in the Irish community in the US will decrease. Last August, I attended the continental youth championships in Boston. It is a family holiday for all those families that were there. To give Members an idea of its importance, the city of Buffalo brought in increased revenue of $3 million through hosting the previous year's the continental youth championships. All this came from hosting a GAA event for four days. That is another day where our increased revenue has gone.
We are also directing funding to improve the facilities we provide for our supporters in county grounds. I think somebody alluded to and made a little dig regarding Newbridge, which needs a new stand. Delivering it is on our agenda. Navan needs a new stand and delivering this is also on our agenda. Senator Coffey will be delighted that helping Waterford with regard to its progress is also on the agenda. That work cannot be done unless we have a revenue stream and that is what we did that for. We are also giving the rest of the money back to the county boards.
On a point of information, last Thursday, before the start of our national league, we sold over 3,000 more season tickets than we did the previous year. This was during the height of the criticism of our price increases. Attendances at our national league games last Sunday marginally increased to 87,000 from the previous figure of 86,000. People may want to criticise us but the decision made at the central council - I will answer the question about the vote - was unanimous because we made the case to the people that we were raising prices to do something with the money for our membership and the community that exists within this country. We will not apologise for doing good work on the ground. In relative terms, regarding the actual attention we received, I looked at it as being a case of the glass being half full rather than half empty.
Some Members have complimented our staff. Two of my staff are with me today, namely, Alan Milton from communications and my PA, Teresa Rehill. Senator Conway alluded to the courtesies shown by both the president's office and the ard stiúrthóir's office. That is all one now and is the responsibility of Ms Rehill.
Senator O'Mahony raised the issue of Fáilte Ireland. We have tried on numerous occasions to build a better relationship with Fáilte Ireland and have made a bit of progress lately. We will have a launch in the embassy in London to promote the Connacht championship over there, so that is progress. Even my own club makes a contribution to the GAA in terms of its international context. Experience Gaelic Games is a programme running in my own club, which is very close to Croke Park. We link in with and bring tourists to our club to give them information about hurling, Gaelic football and the historical background of the GAA.
The issue of funding for counties was raised and the disparity therein. A certain angle is being taken with regard to statistics. The one thing I will say is that a large part of the extra funding that goes to Dublin goes to schools. The coaching programme we drive on goes to schools. The population of young children is in Dublin and that is where the money is going. Somebody raised the point about inclusion. If we are to have inclusion with the GAA, the only way we will get those non-nationals - or internationals to use a more correct term - that is, people who arrive in our country to get involved in our games is to get to them in schools and then encourage them to join clubs. Naturally, people coming from other lands to Ireland will see a big institution like a GAA club but if a child says he or she wants to go down and see the coach he or she met in school, the child will go down. When people from a foreign culture come to Ireland, they come with international sports such as soccer, rugby or basketball. As a school principal, I found this to be the case. We had quite a proportion of students from the Philippines because we were very close to the Mater Hospital and they were all into basketball. We had eastern Europeans who took to rugby while others took to soccer so people come to Ireland with their own sporting cultures. We tend to get more international buy-in to our sports through primary schools than at second level.
I think Senator Davitt made a comment about politics.
I think it is Mr. Seán Kelly who construed the great phrase, "There is politics and then there is GAA politics." Senator Davitt was well trained before he arrived here. We taught him well.
Among other points that were raised was Scór, culture, music and dance. We have celebrated the start of our 50th year of promoting Scór throughout the country. In Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday night last, I attended a programme organised by the Munster council in promoting Scór. There will be a follow-on in the other provinces throughout the country.
Senator Conway-Walsh mentioned the idea of an all-party group. I would be more than open to some relationship between ourselves in Croke Park and an all-party group here where we could work to each other's benefit.
Senator Paul Daly raised the issue of fixtures in clubs. We are aware of all that. We are aware of the problems therein and we are doing our best. Unfortunately, across such a range of issues, it is complex. We have different underage groups, we have colleges, we have hurling and football, and we have club and county. It is a complex issue but we are quite aware of it.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of his Church of Ireland religion. I am proud to say that Jack Boothman, one of my predecessors as president of this organisation, came from that church.
Another area raised was television rights. I will go on the record here and say I am delighted to see RTÉ has improved its performance in showing our games. Sunday night last was a perfect example of it where we got two hours of promotion of our games. We are the national game and it is the national broadcaster. GAAGO provides a wonderful opportunity for our members throughout the world to see the games. I visited a club in Toronto last May and I was able to text my wife sitting in Parnell Park and tell her, "I see you are wearing a white jacket today", such was the clarity of the picture that I, sitting in my hotel room in Toronto, was getting of Kilkenny playing Dublin in Parnell Park. We are doing our best. The word "Sky" is touchy with some people. We are a democratic organisation. We have put it in front of our membership, they are happy where it is, and that is what it is.
There are difficulties with the broadcasting of our games in Northern Ireland. In trying to resolve it, we have met representatives from the community up there. It is not all our problem. We have done our best to promote the game in Belfast. We have put a €5 million project together called "Gaelfast" to drive on the promotion of our games.
I will correct one point for the record because I think that is the norm in the House. Belmullet won the intermediate championship, not the junior championship, in Mayo.
Mr. John Horan:
On access to Croke Park and other venues for those with disabilities, we do our best but there are health and safety restrictions and other issues. While we try our best to do it, I will not say we get it right all the time. We are doing our best to do that.
In regard to autism and disability, we have the Fun and Run. We have disabled hurling, which is played with considerable passion. With regard to our summer camps, we are conscious of the July period. Many may not know that in the education sector there is an allowance in July for children with autism to get extra attention and we are trying to work that into our summer camp scheme. We are conscious of those difficulties.
Mr. John Horan:
I will conclude with one point, because I have probably gone beyond the time. Senator Black brought up the issue of alcohol. We are conscious of it. We were criticised for taking on the sponsorship of Guinness quite a number of years ago. There was stonewall silence when we distanced ourselves from it. To their credit, and hopefully, this is a road to the future, the Limerick hurling team, having 45 years of a gap bridged, have never allowed the Liam McCarthy Cup to enter one licensed premises or any alcohol to touch that cup. Hopefully, that is a step in the right direction. I compliment John Cregan for his leadership in Limerick for that initiative and that happening.
In conclusion, I thank everyone for the courtesy here today. On behalf of the association, I thank the Seanad for the honour of being given the opportunity to speak here. Hopefully, we can all work together because, as I stated in my speech, we are all here for the benefit of Irish society - strong, rich, poor, disabled and fully able. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
Before I call the Leader I welcome Deputy Billy Kelleher. It is very good to see Members of the other House come here to recognise the great work we do and acknowledge the presence of uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. I did not formally congratulate John Cregan, who has been mentioned a few times. He is a long-time friend of mine from when he was a Member of the Seanad and the Dáil. Limerick had great success last year. Unfortunately I was unable to go to the game because my son got married the day before and I had to attend to more pressing family matters.
Was it Senator Devine who mentioned the Geraldines?
I togged off for them a few times in England but never came across her. She is probably a lot younger than me.
As I call the Leader to respond and conclude, I thank him for his support and encouragement for this great event on this great day.
Cuirim fáilte roimh uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, a bhean chéile Paula, a mhic Jack agus Liam agus na daoine uaisle sa Public Gallery. Thug an tuachtarán oráid iontach agus lá stairiúil atá ann. Táimid ag ceiliúradh an méid oibre atá déanta ag an gCumann Luthchleas Gael i ngach áit sa tír. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Uachtarán, na baill foirne ó Pháirc an Crócaigh agus go mórmhór na hoifigigh as gach Cúige as ucht na cluichí iontacha a shocraíonn siad gach lá agus gach seachtain.
In welcoming the uachtarán today I thank him for his presence, which is a symbol of the esteem in which we as elected representatives hold Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. Our thoughts today are with the families of the young men in Donegal who were members of our organisation. As we always do as a family and community, we join together in celebration and tragedy.
In his speech today, the uachtarán covered at lot of ground. I certainly think his performance augurs well for his future. Perhaps he might follow some of his predecessors into the world of politics. Given the presence of so many luminaries in the world of politics in the Gallery perhaps they are watching him with great eye. Deputy Kelleher might be glad he will not be running in the Munster constituency for the European elections.
The backdrop to our debate in the Chamber, the presence of Mr. Horan and the work of the GAA is the UNESCO award in recognition of hurling. It is a symbol of what we stand for in a new modern Ireland. The president of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael has addressed Seanad Éireann. Today, in another Parliament, significant votes will be taken on the future of the United Kingdom's relationship with Ireland and Europe. The leadership shown by Cumann Lúthchleas Gael down through time at key moments in the history of our country demonstrates the importance of the Gaelic Athletic Association to every one of us, whether we are from urban or rural Ireland and whether we play or administer.
UNESCO speaks about the key points of transmitting from generation to generation the respect in which the organisation is held in each community, the sense of identity and culture and what we stand for as members of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. Mr. Horan's speech today and the actions of so many every week in our classrooms, ball alleys, street leagues, parish leagues and myriad competitions are about respect for our culture and the promotion of diversity and inclusivity. This is why today it is so important that we recognise, admire and thank members of the Camogie Association and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association.
I hope that we will soon become one and that there will be no demarcation of roles and responsibilities.
Today, Cumann Lúthcleas Gael is about more than just results and games. It is about the people, who we are and where we are from. Mr. Horan referenced the beginning in that room in Hayes Hotel, Charles Kickham's pride in the village, the commentaries of Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, the wonderful writings of people like Seán Moran, who is in the Public Gallery, and the way in which local radio has brought our games into homes across the world. Look at where we have come from and what we have achieved. It is about the North American championships in the first weekend in September. It is about being able to go across the world and watch our games on GAAGO. It is about accessibility. It is also about players - not just the club player, but the street league player and the player who dreams of being the All-Ireland winning captain. I was going to say on the first and third Sundays of September there, but whatever Sundays in August they are now. That is what we aspire to. That is why we want to promote not just the ideals and ethos of Cumann Lúthcleas Gael, but what we all stand for as Irish people. At the matches last weekend, there was no rancour or trouble walking out of Nowlan Park or the Dublin-Monaghan game, only good-humoured banter and people looking forward to the warm days of May and June when the championship begins. We are so lucky as an association and a country that Cumann Lúthcleas Gael unites people.
Mr. Horan alluded to the issues facing rural Ireland. I assure him that the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, is well aware of them. To answer Senator Conway-Walsh, that is why the Government will use €1 billion to regenerate rural Ireland. That is why there are more jobs being created in rural Ireland under this Government. However, it is important that we all work together. Someone mentioned Pat Spillane and his report for the Government. It is important that we use our positives and bring them together in revitalising our country.
I commend Mr. Horan on the role he played in the Liam Miller match and in bringing people together last autumn. Perhaps a few words were said behind the curtains, but it was a wonderful occasion and demonstrated the generosity and big-heartedness of Cumann Lúthcleas Gael.
The issue of player welfare has been raised during this debate. Speaking as someone who was a schoolteacher and immersed in third level education, it is important that we get player welfare right. I commend Mr. Horan and the members of the coiste bainistí on trying to achieve that balance. He was right concerning the necessity of the association balancing its economic needs with future development at club and county levels. My good friend, Senator Coffey, wants to see Waterford play its championship games in Waterford.
Deputy Cassells, another good friend of mine, wants to see Meath play in a revitalised Páirc Tailteann. That is what the GAA does. I am proud of what we have achieved in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, notwithstanding some of the commentary. I commend the role that Frank Murphy has played in Cork GAA and Irish society. He has given decades of service to this association. He is a leader. He had a vision, he had determination, and he was a wonderful administrator of Coiste Chontae Chorcaí. I thank him and pay tribute to him for his work. I wish him well in his retirement and Kevin O'Donovan well in his new role. It is people like Frank Murphy who developed and brought Cork to where it was - the county with the most All-Ireland titles in Cumann Lúthcleas Gael's history.
Mar fhocal scoir, today is a wonderful day. The GAA is evolving, as it has done through the years unafraid of embracing change, be that in the form of the physical infrastructure of our stadia, the development of our games or the need to win the battle against technology, as Mr. Horan mentioned. The GAA brings out the best in us. It is the most democratic organisation in the country.
As someone who served on the county board, as the chair of my club, it is the most democratic, people-centred and community-based organisation in the world. I thank Mr. Horan, Mr. Alan Milton, Ms Teresa Rehill, and all of the staff at Croke Park, as well as the new ard stiúrthóir, Mr. Tom Ryan. I wish them every success.