The players’ body will bring their ideas to the table in Wexford at the end of the month but they’ll be only one of a number of bodies to bring motions. In all, around 40 motions will be put before Congress this year coming from the various strands of the GAA, including the GPA, Central Council and clubs and units from around the country.
And for two days the GAA’s single biggest decision-making body will take decisions that will guide the GAA through the next 12 months.
In some ways that is the GAA’s biggest strength. That anyone from any part of the organisation, no matter how big or small, can bring forward and idea or ideal that could shape the future of the organisation for decades to come.
And on occasion it works well. Rule 42 was a contentious issue. The issue bounced around the public domain for a few years where there was an emotive over and back. And eventually when the GAA as a whole was ready, Congress voted for temporary derogation that opened up Croke Park to other sports.
It wasn’t before time but it also proved to be massive success for the GAA both in terms of its image and its bank balance.
The magnitude of that decision was such that it would have been very difficult for the association’s top brass to make that call without considerable consultation of its membership. In that scenario, Congress worked exactly as it should and steered the association through some choppy waters, only to come out the better for it on the other side.
However, there are times when the GAA moves too slowly, bound by the rules it can only change once a year. That was made all too obvious by the row around the Liam Miller tribute game in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
The GAA initially stated it was bound by rule and couldn’t let the game, that would benefit Miller’s family, go ahead on association property.
The offending regulation stated the GAA couldn’t use its facilities for “purposes not in conflict with the aims and objects of the association.” However, there was enough wriggle room there and eventually the GAA relented and did the right thing. But In a digital world where answers need to come sooner rather than later, it felt like the right decision came too late.
After this year’s Congress, a situation like that shouldn’t come to pass again. Motion 19 states that “Central Council to have the power, in exceptional circumstances, to make available GAA property held by provinces or counties, but not clubs, for activities other than those controlled by the Association.”
It essentially means that, as is the case with Croke Park at the minute, Central Council can decide what GAA property around the country is used for and when. It’s expected that it will pass without much resistance.
But prior to this the rules essentially stated that it was okay for Michael Jackson to play in Páirc Uí Chaoimh but not a fundraiser game for a former GAA member who died too young. And the biggest opposition to doing the right thing was the decision-making structure of the GAA. It put the association in a position where the rules got in the way of the GAA being what the GAA is meant to be.
So while Congress gives the grassroots of a church as broad as the GAA a connection to the very top of the organisation, there is also such a thing as too much democracy. The GAA needs a more efficient decision-making policy.
After all, this is an organisation that has four bodies – the CCCC, CHC, CAC and DRA – involved in its disciplinary process which can drag on for weeks if the issue is explored to its fullest.
In matters of rugby discipline, they form a three-man committee and meet once to deal with whatever issues arises.
Congress also requires a 60pc of he vote to pass a motion. When a minority is in charge, change comes slow.
Finding the balance between giving the GAA centrally more autonomy and keeping Congress as the decision-making body is a difficult line to walk.
But the GAA needs more authority to make on-the-spot decisions as an ever more fast-moving world will continue to throw dilemmas at it.