In the past week we have seen the issue of tax payments come to the fore within the GAA. The issue of managerial payments was highlighted once again with Tommy Lyons, the former Dublin manager, claiming Mayo approached him asking him to name his price to take over the senior team in 2010. He asserts that he was asked to name his price, put it in an envelope and hand it over. James Waldron, the then Mayo County Board chairman vehemently denies the allegation.
23 months ago the Director General of the GAA, Paraic Duffy expressed his concern at the emerging culture of under the counter payments to GAA managers in particular inter- county mangers. Christy Cooney more recently described the culture of payments as a cancer in the association. In recent weeks the Revenue Commissioners have hinted they are ready to investigate county boards and clubs with regard to under the counter payments to managers and personnel. They did not realise what they were up against when they decided the officials involved in the GAA were to come under scrutiny.
The referees of Longford and Wexford exercised the power they have when they decided to take action at the news of a cut in their expenses at the behest of the cold hand of the Revenue Commissioner. Up until last year referees were officiating for a flat rate of €40 for a senior fixture and €25 for an under-age fixture on average however there is no uniformity among counties with some counties opting to pay managers immediately after a game and others deciding to pay on receipt of expenses. Payments can also vary.
However referee’s were informed this week that their rates were to be cut to a meal expense of €13.71 and a price of 50c per mile for travel expenses. Monday two weeks ago, Longford’s officials voted to take action and strike against the proposed flat rate. 24 hours previously Wexford’s referee’s had threatened to withdraw their services only to back down after being told they would continue to receive the original flat rate of €50 for a senior game and €30 for an under-age game. Waterford’s officials were also told there would be no cut in expenses.
The ball has now returned to the Revenue’s court and it is up to them to clarify the controversy among referee’s with regard to their expenses which National Referee’s Association chairman Mick Curley admits is an issue of major concern. The burning issue is whether the official’s will be subject to tax liabilities at the end of the year if the Revenue do decide to alter referee’s expenses. Croke Park will continue to engage with the Revenue in relation to how expenses can be claimed.
The power at the officials disposal was one notable aspect of this stand-off. Their value is far greater than any monetary gains that may be made. Players, managers, the public and the media don’t quite realise the importance of the referee. For the GAA this could potentially be a more contentious issue than that of payments to managers. The games will continue to be played whether a manager is paid or not and there is always another willing to manage. It could far outweigh any controversy over players expenses. There is always another player ready to step into the breach if the first choice is not available. However without the referee the game cannot be played and this is the tool at their disposal. That is why the GAA sought time to allow for further discussion surrounding this issue. It is interesting to note how the matter of payments to managers could also become of secondary importance if the expenses row with referee’s is not clarified and cleared up soon. The GAA has found itself caught between the Revenue and a body within the GAA that is of seminal importance and cannot be done without.
The very spirit of one of the finest sporting associations on earth could be brought into question however if the revenue decide to start investigating every nook and cranny to line their coffers. The plight of many GAA clubs at the moment is they’re saddled with incoherent debt after over-indulging during the boom times. As a result of the “boom times” managers started to get paid but it is quite evident whether we like to admit it or not that a lot of these payments were not declared. And who can blame the personnel of clubs in particular not declaring a little extra cash in the fear that the tax man will take at least half? I know of one physiotherapist involved in a small junior club who for a minimal fee helps the club during weekends currently monitoring the situation with regard to the Revenues impending intrusion.They use this fee to cover their grocery shopping. The person in question is unlikely to return for another season if they are going to be taxed. It will simply not be worth their time and effort.
It will be the small “man” or club that suffers. Imagine a lost corner of rural Ireland, painted with the bright colours of its parish team and the pride invested by the local parishioners in the local footballers and hurlers. The GAA, for these small communities that the IMF or Troika or ECB can not even comprehend, provides a service. If the Revenue were to intrude in these lost corners of Ireland that run on a sense of community spirit who put away that extra euro or two to help the local club bring life into their communities, what might they be achieving or even dismantling? Will it be worth dedicating your time as a manager or referee or physio to the local club if the Revenue are going to tax you for the most part. Is it time for the GAA to be the voice for these lost corners of Ireland?