Posts Tagged ‘Judicial Review’

Rovers v GAA (June 2008 article)

February 13, 2010 1 comment

Article for Shamrock Rovers match day programme June 2008

During the summer months, it is a feast of sport each weekend.  This weekend TV sports fans can enjoy the French Grand Prix, racing at Ascot and New Zealand versus England taking each other on in rugby and cricket.    Tonight Shamrock Rovers take on Galway United here in Tolka Park and we have given up the chance to watch the second quarter final of the European Championships which is taking place tonight in Vienna.  For Irish sports fans, like most weekends of the summer, there is a chance to attend or watch the Gaelic Football and Hurling Championships.  Galway fans may well be keeping an eye on the Connaught football semi final this weekend to see who their county will be playing in the Connaught final.  However, many Shamrock Rovers fans will be looking elsewhere during GAA championship as the recent history between Rovers and the GAA has been a bitter and divisive one.

Up until the switch to summer football, during the off season many Shamrock Rovers fans swapped their green and white hooped jersey for the blue of Dublin during the summer months.  Winter evenings in Milltown/Dalymount/Tolka/Richmond Park (take your pick) were transformed into Sunday afternoons on Hill 16 cheering on the boys in blue.  The advent of eircom League of Ireland summer football saw a weekend consisting of a Rovers game on a Friday evening and a trip to see the Dubs on a Sunday for many.

However, in the last two years this has all changed due to the High Court Judicial Review taken out by the GAA over the completion of Tallaght Stadium.   In the Four Courts venue, we had the GAA taking on Shamrock Rovers in a high stakes high court battle.  Fans had to decide would they continue to support the sporting organisation that was now delaying and possibly jeopardising Rovers move to Tallaght.

The saga of Tallaght Stadium is one worthy of a mournful ballad.  Thankfully the final verse looks like being an uplifting one with the contractors currently back on site finishing the stadium.  The situation back in 2005 saw South Dublin County Council (SDCC) began the planning process to complete the stadium based on the Shamrock Rovers designs from 1997.  During this latest planning consultation process, Thomas Davis and the Dublin County board made submissions to SDCC for the stadium to be increased in size to accommodate Senior Gaelic Games.  The report prepared by the County Manager dismissed these submissions and recommended that the stadium size remain as originally planned.  This proposal was put to the SDCC County Council Members in December 2006.  Under pressure from the GAA the Councillors voted to amend the Manager’s report to include provision for GAA sports subject to funding.  Thankfully, the Department of Sport, under Minister John O’Donoghue at the time, decided that he would not allocate money to modify the Stadium to suit senior gaelic games.  This was due to the fact that significant changes would need to be made to existing structure in the stadium to suit gaelic games and that this would lead to a reduced capacity and one sided stadium.  Due to no government funding being available to alter the stadium, the Council members held another vote in February 2006 to alter their previous decision and to revert back to the original football sized venue that had always been envisaged.  Ahead of this vote a letter was sent to each Council member signed by the Chairman and Secretary of six south Dublin GAA clubs (St. Judes, St Annes, Croi Ro Naofa, St Marks, Faughs and Thomas Davis) calling on the Councillors to vote to keep the enlarged stadium.  Indeed the letter stated that if the decision went against the GAA, the clubs would review seeking a Judicial Review or possibly take the matter to Europe.  However, the Councillors voted 22 to 4 in favour of developing the football sized stadium as per the original planning submission.

During this period, Shamrock Rovers fans waited, not so patiently, to see how this planning and political process would proceed.  After the February 2006 vote, Rovers fans waited to see whether the GAA clubs would seek to stop SDCC proceeding with the stadium completion.  Eventually in May 2006, Thomas Davis GAA Club sought the Judicial Review.  It meant another delay for Shamrock Rovers with the possibility that if the case went against SDCC, Rovers may never get to Tallaght.

It soon became clear that it was not just the local GAA clubs seeking to prevent the youth of Tallaght from being raised “on a diet of association football” (as Thomas Davis stated in their submission to the High Court).  Correspondence between Thomas Davis and the Dublin GAA County board showed that they were confident in winning the case and being “the last man standing” in the bout with Rovers and the GAA.  Support was also being given by other higher elements within the GAA.  The Dublin GAA County Board, called on the GAA Central Council to support the case to gain access to the stadium.  With the GAA opening up Croke Park for football and Rugby they placed “on record, the strongly held disappointment that this goodwill gesture has not been reciprocated in the approach of the FAI and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Culture, John O’Donoghue, to the Tallaght Stadium”.

The support for the court case continued right to the top of the GAA with the stadium in Tallaght referenced in the Director General’s Annual Report to the 2007 GAA congress.  It included criticisms of the fact that public funds were to be used to complete the stadium in Tallaght and facilities for the FAI in Abbotstown “for professional sports with the GAA being excluded at a lesser extent than we expected”.  The GAA president at the time, Nickey Brennan, expressed his disappointment that the stadium in Tallaght was not being made “big enough to accommodate GAA matches”.

The broadsheet sporting pages became an arena for the battle for Tallaght.  The GAA writers, like Martin Breheny, Tom Humphries and Sean Moran put the Cumann Lúthchleas Gael side of the case in the GAA section while Daniel McDonnell  and Emmett Malone on the other pages gave the football side of the case.  Thomas Davis used the 2007 general election to urge their members to bear in mind the candidates who did not agree with the GAA club were “pinning their colours squarely against the GAA”.

The antipathy for Thomas Davis and the GAA within the hardcore Shamrock Rovers fans was nearly beginning to rival the dislike of Louis Kilcoyne.  Banners revealed by Rovers fans told Thomas Davis where to go.  This situation left many Shamrock Rovers fans that had a keen interest in the GAA in a difficult position.  Some fans had a passion for both codes and yet here was one sporting organisation trying to prevent the other from getting a home of its own.  Indeed we had Shamrock Rovers members that were also GAA members or had their children playing Gaelic Games.  Was going to a Rovers match on a Friday night and then going to Croke Park to watch Dublin on the following Sunday a betrayal of Shamrock Rovers?  It was easy for some Rovers fans to criticise others who continued to attend GAA games during this period when they never had an interest in the GAA themselves.  But for Rovers/Dublin fans it was a difficult time.  Some Rovers fans continued to follow Dublin but in a quiet manner not wanting to raise the ire of others.   Were they to turn their back on the organisation they were members of or on the Gaelic team they supported?  What difference would a boycott mean?  Yes, the GAA would miss out on the €30 ticket, the €4 programme and the €2 bottle of Coke in Croke Park but it wouldn’t really matter, would it?

However, on a point of principle many fans walked away from the GAA, a game that had always been a part of their sporting lives.  Fans saw their friends and families go to Croke Park on a Sunday without them having made their  decision to stay away.  For this writer, who had played GAA up to minor level and had attended GAA and Rovers games for over 20 years, a decision had to be made.  For me, and many others, 2006 was the last time to attend a GAA game.

Thankfully, the GAA were unsuccessful in their High Court Judicial Review but their actions delayed the completion of the stadium by over two years.  It took until December 2007 for the decision from the courts which went against the GAA.  SDCC pushed ahead with the completion of the stadium and contractors took possession of the site in May 2008.  The start of next season will see Shamrock Rovers line out in Tallaght as anchor tenants in a stadium as originally planned back in 1997.  It will be a long journey from Milltown but the last man standing will be a Shamrock Rovers fan cheering on their team in the Tallaght Stadium in March 2009.