GPA call to 'do the right thing': equality and integration now after 19-year wait
SINCE the day that former GAA President Sean Kelly established a working group on integration Tyrone has gone from having no senior football All-Irelands to winning four - but GAA amalgamation with Camogie and Ladies Football has still not happened.
Nineteen years on from that first step in 2003, GPA CEO Tom Parsons insists that the time for change is now: "Players now are shouting 'Stop'. Now is the time for commitment, action and timelines."
Although the motion calling for gender equality from the amalgamated Gaelic Players' Association, representing 4,000 inter-county athletes across four codes, will go before this weekend's GAA Annual Congress, Parsons believes the female governing bodies should be voicing their support for it loudly too:
"I do feel the LGFA and the Camogie Association should be knocking the door down for this motion, because…it's not just calling for integrations, it's calling for equal investment, recognition and opportunity for boys and girls, men and women."
The GPA's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Gemma Begley of Tyrone, commented: "I think everyone is agreed that it can't just be the GAA and the women added in. This needs to be a new organisation.
"It needs to look at everything: the culture, the structures and make sure that it is fit for purpose for gender balance across the board.
"We would love for Gaelic games to be a world leader in gender equality. As an amateur, community and family-based organisation we have a free role, if you like, to rip up the script and do things in our own way."
Galway camog Niamh Kilkenny illustrated the need for concrete measures which actually ensure equality:
"At the moment in Galway we are fortunate with a manager who has a very strong GAA background and has pushed for a lot for us, in relation to pitches and gym facilities and things like food after training - but it is a battle.
"It is something that is not very sustainable because it is because of his background that we are given this opportunity - but if another manager comes in it might not be the same in a couple of years' time. This integration would prevent that from happening."
Tyrone footballer Conor Meyler called on men to do the right thing, not just talk about it, even if they have to give some things up themselves in order to help female participation:
"It's easy to vote…and say, 'Yes, I think it's the right thing to do.' But when it starts to impact your day-to-day living and your training, that's when the problem really arises.
"I can see that's where some men will start to be reluctant, but you have to look at it as a wider society and say what role are you playing in a wider society?
"It's the difference in knowing the right thing to do and actually doing it.
"All men know it's the right thing to do. I went to Garvaghey [Tyrone's training complex]. I never had a problem with a pitch. That took stress and pressure off me because I wasn't worrying about that but she [Gemma Begley] is having to deal with that as well.
"When men realise that look, we have to be treated the same. We are both going out to represent our county, Tyrone.
"We want to do the best we can. We are doing it for our sisters, mothers, aunties, grannies, all those people who are going to watch the game, not just doing it for all the male fans, we are doing it for everybody. The same way there are males that go to watch ladies football and Gemma.
"You are doing it for everybody and it's very one-sided [at present]."
The Irish government has backed equal funding for inter-county players and Wexford hurler and GPA National Executive Commitee co-chair Matthew O'Hanlon wants the game's governors to follow suit:
"This is an opportunity for the GAA, the Camogie Association, and the LGFA to create the change. We are not saying 'This is exactly how you should do it, this is how you should set yourself up'. We're saying 'This needs to happen, you guys need to figure out how.'"
Parsons summed up the GPA's wishes for this weekend: "We are asking for unanimous support from the GAA leadership from Congress and…a commitment from the LGFA and Camogie Association leadership at GAA Congress.
"On the back of Congress we are looking for a joint commitment statement from the NGBs [National Governing Bodies]. The establishment of a joint-implementation committee with an independent chair. That's a journey we went on with the merger of the GPA and WGPA.
"The final one that players would like to see is an action plan with key milestones determined this year."