THE GAA’S ANNUAL congress in Mullingar has been interrupted this afternoon by members of the Croke Park Streets Committee, protesting at plans to “evict” community events from the handball centre at Croke Park.
Residents stormed the Congress floor shortly before the annual address of GAA president Christy Cooney was due to begin, and staged a silent protest to complain about GAA plans for the redevelopment of a handball centre beside the stadium – which they claim include proposals to evict local community groups from the complex.
The interruptions continued for several minutes, with GAA director-general Paraic Duffy unsuccessfully appealing for the residents to allow business to proceed as planned, before Gardaí were called to restore order to proceedings.
Residents claim that the current centre – officially the Handball and Community Centre – serves a community purpose and that the GAA is now seeking to have the venue demolished and replaced with one that has no community facilities.
They also complain that the proposed redevelopment – which is set to cost €9m – includes office space for 40 staff, despite the GAA employing only three full-time staff for handball administration.
It is understood, however, that the office space would be used by other GAA staff members who are currently assigned to retail office space near the stadium, given the shortage of office space within the stadium itself.
The residents had earlier indicated plans for a silent protest outside the entrance gates to the Mullingar Park Hotel, the venue for this year’s congress.
Among the motions voted on by delegates earlier in the day were moves to modify the controversial ‘five-year rule’ applying to members of county board committees, who will now be allowed to return to their previous roles five years after being forced to give them up.
Delegates also voted to tweak the format of the National Leagues so as to restore a semi-final stage, though a rule that would have required all football players to wear mouthguards during matches and at training was referred back to a medical group and deferred for a year.
When the protests ended, Cooney’s address discussed the possibility of reorganising the provincial boundaries, and the possibility of breaking up the Dublin County Board to better cater for the concentrated population within the capital.
Cooney also argued against the continued inclusion of weaker counties in the National Hurling Leagues, arguing that the current system meant a limited number of players received regular games while those outside of the county side were left without regular matches.
Last night, Laois man Liam O’Neill was formally designated the association’s president-elect, when the close of nominations passed without any other candidates putting themselves forward.
O’Neill takes up his role in twelve months’ time, following the conclusion of Christy Cooney’s three-year tenure.
For the first time at a GAA congress, delegates are voting on motions electronically, with each of the 350-or-so voting attendees being given a small, credit-card sized voting terminal.
Instead of raising a coloured voting card as with previous Congresses, delegates simply press a button on their consoles to vote on a particular motion.
The electronic voting system had been trialled at earlier referee training and development workshops, when whistleblowers would be shown video clips of certain incidents before being asked to vote on their likely reactions.