The GAA in chaos: The Tony Hanahoe Affair

The significance of Tony Hanahoe's achievement in Gaelic football is already well established.
He, along with Kevin Heffernan, brought an intelligence, organisation and dedication to the game previously unknown. Their strategy virtually reevolutionised the sport, bringing to it skills and concepts from an array of other disciplines.

While Heffernan was the chief architect, Hanahoe was the chief engineer, later-assuming both roles with unrelennting effect. But as a result of the interrnal traumas within the GAA over the last month, Hanahoe will also be reemembered as the instigator of the challlenge to the autocracy within the organnisation and as the person who exposed a legal and constitutional anarchy within the Association.'

In his person, and perhaps unwittinggly, he has also represented a challenge to the chauvinism, insularity and xenoophobia within the GAA and in these reespects his service may yet prove as connsiderable as has been his contribution as a player and manager.

The controversy started of course with an interview of Tony Hanahoe in the October issue of Magill following Dublin's All-Ireland final defeat by Kerry. In the course of the interview he was asked by this writer:

There has been a lot of criticism of the referee Seamus Aldridge in this game ... What were your views of his perforrmance?

Hanahoe: I 'personally objected to the referee b~ore the game and I had objected to him before the Offaly game. Why? .

On the grounds of prejudice. It now must be apparent to most people that there was one common factor in the AlllIreland final which we lost, the game against Offaly at Portlaoise which we nearly lost, the game in New York against Kerry which we lost and the bizarre game against Wexford in the first round of the championship last year. That one common factor was the referee.

What decisions did you object to in the final against Kerry?

I objected throughout to his interpretation of the rules of the game. I am referring not just to the incident which led to the second Kerry goal but to his handling of the entire match. ' This is beginning to sound a bit like sour grapes.

I am aware of that and having connsidered it I reiterate my comments On the referee. However these criticisms should not be taken' to detract in any way from the merit of the Kerry perrformance on the day. They took their opportunities well and' they deserve credit for doing so.

While Hanahoe was not explicit in his criticism of Aldridge in the interview and he has refused to be drawn on the subject since then, it seems that the history of poor relations beetween the Dublin team and Aldridge stems primarily from Aldridge's role as secretary of the Kildare County Board of the GAA, a position which many of the Dublin players feel renders him unnfairly partisan in his dealings with Dublin.

Kildare have been Dublin's main Leinster rivals since the Dublin team's resurgence in 1975. Indeed it was against Kildare in the Leinster final of that year that Dublin first displayed the cohesion and authority that was to bring them such success later.

In that final, a Kildare player, Brian O'Doherty, was sent off for assaulting Brian Mullins. In its appeal against the ensuing suspension, the Kildare county board, in a letter signed by its secretary Seam us Aldridge, alleged that O'Doherty was merely retaliating after Mullins had spat on him. That allegation, whether true or not, was hardly conducive to future happy relations between the part-time referee and the Dublin team.

Since then, Aldridge has refereed several games involving Dublin, includding two Leinster finals, two Leinster semi-finals, a number of league games against Cork and Kerry and he was the official referee on the tour of the Uniited States last May when Dublin and Kerry played a number of exhibition games.

The US tour didn't do much to reestore good will between Aldridge and the Dublin team, for there was a melee in Gaelic Park in New York between Dublin and Kerry players, leading to a number of players' being sent off. Reesentment against Aldridge intensified, at least in the minds of a few Dublin players.

Relations on a social level were none too happy either, it seems, on the tour. Aldridge's personality, somewhat dour S and inflexible, typified in the minds of several Dublin players a lot of what was " wrong with the GAA. Again it appears this was an uncharitable characterisation of Aldridge but on such misconceptions, great resentments are built.

The situation wasn't helped by the game against Offaly, when the emerging cracks in the Dublin team first became apparent. The fact that Aldridge was innstrumental in Dublin surviving on that occasion - he awarded a critical penalty in the last quarter of the match, didn't'" deter Dublin, and Hanahoe in particular, from believing that he again had exhibiited bias against them.

And although, to the vast majority of spectators that charge could have been groundless, Dublin did have a point. Alldridge was then heavily involved in the Kildare team's preparations for the championship and it was not entirely unreasonable to presume that as such he would have been prejudiced against his own team's most formidable rivals.

The practice of county secretaries acting as referees is at least a questionnable one, although Aldridge is by no means the only one to do so. The other most notable such example is Frank Murphy, the full time Cork County Secretary, and there have been protests about him too.

It was therefore unwise for the Acctivities Committee to nominate Aldridge as referee for the All-Ireland final and it is difficult to understand how members of that committee weren't aware of Dublin's objections to him.

However, there is some confusion about whether Dublin lodged an objecction to Aldridge. Certainly, no written objection was made but Hanahoe did ask the Dublin County Board officials to 'make an objection. It seems that a verbal protest was made, but even then the Chairman of the Activities Commmittee, President-elect, Padraig McFlynn, wasn't made aware of it - had he been it is likely that he would have done someething about it.

Aldridge's handling of the game was marred only by the notorious Paddy Cullen incident, as far as the nonsan observer was concerned. It is by no means clear why he penalised Cullen, but having done so it seems he was in error in allowing the goal ensuing from the swiftly taken free by Mikey Sheehy, as he had his back to the ball when the free was taken and the initial infringeement took place within the 14 metre line. In view of the comprehensiveness of the Dublin defeat, it is inconceivvable that this incident could have had a decisive effect on the game, but it did confirm in the minds of Dublin players the belief that Aldridge was consistently prejudiced against them.

In the dejected Dublin camp in the days after the game the consistent theme was that Aldridge was blatantly biased against them and that the higher echelons of the GAA had conspired to ensure that it would be he who would referee the match.

It was this resentment that Hanahoe was expressing in the Magill interview.

It was Aldridge himself who instigated the complaint against Hanahoe. The complaint was officially made to the Activities Committee by the Kildare Reeferees Association of which Aldridge is secretary.

Hanahoe was called before the Actiivities Committee on Saturday, Novemmber 18. The complaint stated that he was in breach of a directive of the Cenntral Council meeting of March 4, 1978 and because of the critical importance of this directive, it is necessary to exxamine its background.

The directive arose from a seminar held in Dublin last February by the National Referees' Advisory Council.

There concern was expressed about the growing criticism of referees in the media by players and officials. This, it was said, was unfair to referees, for it was contended that they were prohibiited from replying. And here the first confusion about the Association's rules arises.

In the referees' and players' guide, the Rules of Gaelic Football and Hurllling, published by the National Referees Advisory Council, under a section headded "Advice to Referees", point 1 0 reads "that a referee should not give interrviews to Press, TV or Radio on any conntroversial matters arising fron the game".

It is contended by the GAA head Office that this represents an instrucction, not advice. However this is diffiicult to accept as it appears under the heading "Advice to Referees" and among the other points under the same heading is: "physical fitness is vital, as referees should never be more than 20 to 30 yards from the ball". Quite obbviously this could not be an instruction, for in hurling, for instance, it would be physically impossible to remain within 20 to 30 yards of the ball at all times.

In addition, there seems to be no Rule or directive by any of the competent bodies within the GAA to validate an instruction about referees not talking to the press.

Thus the directive under which Hanahoe was prosecuted seems to have arisen at the outset from a misunderrstanding about the freedom of referees to reply to public criticism.

Con Murphy, the GAA President, assured the referees seminar in February that a directive would be issued prohibiiting public criticism of referees. And so it was.

On March 4, the Central Committee, acting on the basis of a recommendation from the Management Committee, adopted a directive, which stated inter alia "any public criticism of a referee on press, radio or television by officials, players or members shall not be perrmitted and all units are now directed to ensure that such criticism is not permittted in future. Transgressors shall be dealt with under rule 40 or 101 O.G."

Hanahoe's initial line of defence was to substantiate his charge of prejudice against Aldridge but this was deemed irrelevant by the committee. He then challenged the validity of the directive and the grounds that only Congress has the power to make rules binding on members of the GAA. This contention was rejected on the basis that Rule 59 (c) of the GAA constitution states in part that: "the management committee shall have complete discretion to decide on any matter not otherwise provided for, or not adequately provided for, in these Rules and shall be the only body to deal with such matters."

Hanahoe appealed this issue to the Management Committee itself on Saturrday, November 25 but was again overrruled.

However, in spite of the seeming sweeping powers which rule 59 (c) gives to the management committee, there are serious grounds for contending that it does not have the power to make binding directives on members.

Because this rule, along with several other rules in the GAA Official Guide, is clumsily worded, it is necessary to commpare its wording with that of others to discover exactly what it means. For innstance, it would hardly be contended that the management committee's disscretion on "any matter" would extend to the private lives of the Association's members, although the wording of the section could theoretically leave itself open to that interpretation.

It is clear from the rules that the Management Committee's powers are derived from the Central Council, there-· fore the Management Committee can have no more powers than the Central Council does.

Rule 57 states: "the Central Council shall be the supreme governing body of the Association from Congress to Conngress and the sole authority to interpret the Rules. Its jurisdiction shall extend over the whole Association in all matters, including those that pertain to the funds, investments and property of the Association."

It is clear from this that the Central Council has powers only to interpret Rules, not to make them, therefore the Management Committee couldn't have powers to make Rules, in spite of its apparent discretionary powers to decide on "any matter".

It is argued that the Management Committee doesn't make rules, it makes directives. The differentiation is by no means clear, and since directives purport in many cases to have the force of Rules, then a court would probably find no such differentiation exists.

It is this challenge to the authority of the Management Committee to make binding directives that is the most criitical issue in the Hanahoe affair. This is so because power now concentrates within the Management Committee and its belief that it has discretion to decide on "any matter" - in the literal sense of those words - gives it an apparently unnchallengable authoritarian control of the organisation, subject only to Congress, which by common consent is too amorrphous to be effective.

As President and in other respects its most influential member, Con Murphy effectively controls the G AA through the Management Committee. Thus when Hanahoe challenged its power he was implicitly challenging the power of Con Murphy.

The other major issue involved in the affair was the question of Hanahoe's playing in the national league match against Kildare on Sunday, November 19, the day after his suspension by the Activities Committee.

He did so in apparent defiance of Rule 98 which states: "Suspension of members or clubs under General Rules or County Bye-laws means suspension from all functions, privileges and commpetitions under the Association. Susspends shall be ineligible to take part in any capacity in the affairs of the Asssociation, during such suspension and, if included in a team, the team shall forrfeit the match.

"Members who take part in competiitions while under suspension shall be suspended for a period of at least six months, to take effect from the date on which they take part in such competiitions".

It was Hanahoe himself who first deciided he had the right to play while his suspension by the Activities Committee was being appealled to the Management Committee. He was fully supported in this position by members of the Dublin County Board, whose chairman, Jimmy Grey, had independently decided that Hanahoe should play, as it was the pracctice in Dublin to allow players to play in such circumstances.

Grey contacted Con Murphy on the Saturday evening by telephone in Cork and was told that it was Murphy's clear opinion that Hanahoe did not have the right to play. However Hanahoe was applying the legal rules of natural justice (what the courts see as basic human rights) in the situation, in defiance of whatever the GAA Rules might say or what the President of the GAA might say.

The significance of this challenge by Hanahoe is underlined when it is appreeciated that the GAA goes some way toowards attempting to insulate itself from the conventional judicial processes. Rule 57 states: "no appeal from decisions of the Central Council may be made at law or otherwise" and Rule I 04 states in part: "no appeal (presumably against suspension, but again this is unclear) shall be to any Court of Law or to any outside body on any matter".

These two rules are legal nonsense the High Court would declare both of them to be unconstitutional - but they typify the insularity and arrogance of the GAA. Thus by applying convenntional judicial rules of natural justice to his own case, Hanahoe was challenging another sacred cult of the GAA.

The Central Council deliberations on the issue of Hanahoe playing while under suspension were instructive. Con Murphy, on behalf of the Management Committee asked the Council to endorse its findings that there was no question of a player being allowed to play while his appeal against suspension was being heard.

Dr. Jim Brosnan of Kerry raised the point that if a player won his appeal and were not allowed to play while his apppeal was being heard, then he would have been punished unjustly. Con Murphy said that may well be the case in a court of law but the GAA was diffferent. The Rules stated a player couldn't play during suspension even while appealing and only Congress could change that.

Murphy's indifference to the connsiderations of justice was revealing and ' he was simply wrong on what the rules said. The rules don't mention either way if a player appealing a suspension can participate in a game. To add semantics to confusion, the suspension surely would have been suspended.

This was a classic case where the Cenntral Council could have interpreted the rules of the Association, yet under Murphy's insistence it was led to believe that it couldn't do so.

The legal absurdities don't end there.

Among the other issues which arise are:

• The applicability of Rule 98 to Hanahoe's case at all. Clearly the rule refers to suspensions arising only under General Rules or County Bye-laws and as Hanahoe's suspension occurred under a directive, surely the apparent absolute prohibition on taking part in the affairs of the Association didn't apply.

• The competence of the Activities Committee to adjudicate on the matter in the first place. It was the body which appointed the referee and therefore it should not have been the body to connsider criticism of that appointment. Also, Rule 59 (c) states that the Management Committee shall be the only body to deal with matters on which the Management Committee has discretionary powers.

• It is difficult to see how the A ctiviities and Management Committees deciided on a one month suspension for Hanahoe, for the relevant Rule (101) stipulates a mandatory penalty of six months suspension .

• Once the Central Council affirmed the Management Committee's view that Hanahoe had no right to play while ap-

The inevitable conclusion of the Hanahoe affair is that the inner coterie of the GAA operates arbitarily and independently of both its own Rules and of the Constitution and laws of the State. But there were other issues at stake.

Basically the GAA is torn between an autocratic, xenophobic, narrow tradiition and its more liberal, outward eleements. Hanahoe classically represents the latter in his manner, sytle and innterests and it is because of this that he is suspected and resented by the more traditionalist element in the organisation.

Hanahoe would have little sympathy with the philosophy ennunciated in the introduction to the Official Guide of the organisation, which says, in part:

"The games to them (i.e. those who play) are more than games - they have a national significance - and the promootion of native pastimes becomes a part of the full national ideal, which enviisages the speaking of our own language, the buying of Irish goods and the proomotion of native music and dances.

"The primary purpose of the GAA is the organisation of native Pastimes and the promotion of athletic fitness as a means to create a disciplined, self-reliant, national-minded, manhood which takes conscious pride in the heritage of unnrivalled pastimes and splendid cultural traditions, as essential factors in the reestoration of full and distinct nationnhood. The overall result is the expresssion of a people's preference for native ways as opposed to imported ones ....

"If pride in the attributes of nationnhood dies, something good and distincctive dies with it ...

" ... until complete nationhood is achieved, the Association must continue to maintain an all-embracing patriotic spirit. To that end its creed represents a simple choice between -qualities which are native and characteristic of our land and qualities which are foreign and immported.

"This national side of the GAA and its dedication to the ideal of an Irishhireland must be kept to the forefront at all times ... "

Hanahoe's concerns are primarily with the game of Gaelic football and with creatively adapting the game to make it more mobile, more athletic and more skillful. An impatience about those, allied to an irritation with the innsular autocracy that controls the organiisation, were the ingredients of the conntroversy that has permitted him to make a further and unexpected contribution to the GAA .•