“a good test of how Irish culture is changing…”

In the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole considers a recent discussion document from the GAA’s director general, Páraic Duffy – on “GAA amateur status and payment to team managers” [pdf file].  From the Irish Times article

The GAA is arguably closer than any other body to being, for both good and ill, the archetypal Irish organisation. It’s no great stretch to suggest that what’s happening there is a good test of how Irish culture is changing. Or, as the case may be, remaining utterly unaltered.

The problem is simple enough: the GAA is supposed to be an amateur organisation. But everybody knows that some managers are being paid.

This is not in dispute: a report last month by the GAA’s director general Páraic Duffy is admirably blunt: “the clear spirit and understanding of the association’s rules are that managers and coaches cannot be paid; the clear reality is that many, contrary to the rules, are being paid.”

So here we have a familiar situation: there are rules but a significant number of people are conspiring to break them. There is “a hidden semi-professional culture” behind the facade of amateurism. And this culture is damaging to the GAA. It hurts its image by making it look hypocritical. It hurts its democracy by generating secrets and lies. It hurts its ethic of fair competition by giving those who break the rules a potential advantage over those who keep them.

It even potentially involves the GAA in criminality – it is not at all clear that these hidden payments are declared for tax.

The whole thing epitomises, in other words, a much wider culture of soft and insidious corruption. It’s not just that some people are breaking the rules but that others respond by pretending that they don’t know this, drawing them into a toxic complicity.

Páraic Duffy expresses this brilliantly and bravely in his report: “In essence, the association has let itself drift into an attitude of knowingly ignoring the problem, either hoping it will go away, or that no one will mention it.”

He writes of “the old ways of complicity and wilful ignorance” – phrases that resonate far beyond the GAA.

So what do you do about this problem? Duffy, with unimpeachable logic, says there are three possibilities.

You can continue with the current culture of denial, inertia and tacit complicity.

You can enforce the rules by clamping down hard on the payments. Or you can find a way to legalise and regulate payments to managers.

And here’s where it gets really interesting: the overwhelming preference throughout the GAA is for a blend of the first two options.

On the one hand, everyone will vote for the second position: enforce the existing rules. On the other, everyone will assume that this won’t actually happen and that the effect will be the survival of the status quo of silent complicity.

Read the whole thing.