GAA must display leadership as massive change approaches

Ireland and European union flags combined on a broken brick wall.

Change is such a difficult thing to accept that it can turn even the most docile of person into an obstinate fool.

Of course, change is inevitable, in fact it is essential if one is to survive in business. At work, the older folk – I'm sure there is an alternative PC term I should use – say if you wait long enough the practice you did 20 years ago will become the ‘in thing' to do today.

If you follow my thinking, change happens for the first time only once and thereafter it is repeated. Maybe the most significant factor is not change itself but rather the new social, demographic or technological variables within which change occurs.

Take the GAA as an example. It seems that we are all worried about the UK's decision to evoke Article 50 and divorce from the European Union.

Esteemed journalists and internet savvy bloggers share daily opinions on how it will impact the North and the South. The adjective ‘bad' rolls off the tongue for anything pertaining to Brexit: it's bad for business, bad for peace, bad for community relations, bad for the GAA, and so on.

There is nothing new in this change as we've been down this road before as a nation – and specifically as an organisation. During partition and a bitter civil war the GAA avoided a split brought on by political polarisation. Some historians would say the GAA was a force for good, preserving social cohesion and upholding Irish values for all sides to share in.

More change came in the early 1970s when Ireland joined the EU. Commentators at the time stoked fears that it would lead to a loss of Irishness and an erosion of our culture and games. History shows us that the opposite has happened. Many still talk of the '70s as being one of the greatest in eras in the annals of the GAA. Sure we still talk of Heffo's Army and of Micko's men with such fondness I've convinced myself that I've cycled up to Croke Park on my three-speed Raleigh bike wearing a green and gold knitted scarf to watch those matches. Sadly, my birth certificate proves otherwise.

The UK joined the EU at the same time as Ireland so a North/South dimension was not a real factor then.

Shrewd leadership has steered the GAA through many rocky times. One of its most astute leaders, Peter Quinn, has voiced his concerns of the impact of Brexit on the GAA, particularly in the North. Peter served as President of the association from 1991-94 and is largely credited with rebuilding Croke Park.

His years of experience being involved in the GAA, his business pedigree and the fact that he is firmly rooted in the borderland of Fermanagh/Cavan means he speaks from a position of authority.

But what are the views of the current leaders of the GAA? Is it right that Aogán Ó Fearghaíl or Michael Hasson keep their cards close to their chest? Perhaps it is time they used their positions of influence to allay fears of nationalists north of the border that Brexit does not mean an erosion of our cultural identity. It would be reassuring to know that our clubs will have equal opportunity to access grant aid from central coffers and from the Irish state.

It would be comforting to hear that they have engaged in workshops looking at the impact of Brexit on GAA communities.

Rural-urban migration is an area where many country people feel let down by the GAA. Many rural clubs are barely able to pay the annual county subscription fees, let alone kit out a team or meet other service costs. Yet these same clubs will be hardest hit by Brexit, particularly along the border.

Where now a player may live in Monaghan town but play with his home club of Roslea, Co Fermanagh, in the future it may be that the travel chaos is overly burdensome. Think about the amount of marriages between folk from Aughnacloy and Emyvale, Strabane and Letterkenny, Crossmaglen and Castleblayney. Will Brexit steer them away from establishing a base in the North with the obvious impact those simple demographic changes will have on the parish they vacate?

I have friends who are so afraid of the impact of Brexit on their lives that they are selling their homes and moving to the South. Is this a genuine fear or irrational?

In his speech in Tyrone in March Peter Quinn referenced the potential impact of Brexit on employment and opportunities for career progression.

It is no longer good enough to stand idly by and say corporate decisions are the function of internal management or the preserve of government officials – particularly when there is an absence of government at Stormont. The GAA must let its voice be heard.

Brexit is but another period of change. Perhaps our GAA leadership is quietly planning for Brexit. In the past they have demonstrated an ability to manage change. Perhaps people have changed. As for me? I want to feel support in the palm of their hand.

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