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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 20 October, 2019

Bertie Ahern-brokered peace deal ends long-running handball dispute

The GAA and the Irish Handball Council Sport Centre have finally reached an agreement after years of bitter rivalry.

Bertie Ahern with former soccer player Packie Bonner, holding a (foot)ball
Bertie Ahern with former soccer player Packie Bonner, holding a (foot)ball
Image: Mark Stedman/

IT WAS A battle that spanned decades, but the GAA and the Irish Handball Council Sports Centre have finally reached an agreement on the demolition of the centre near Hill 16 in Croke Park.

The old centre on St Joseph’s Avenue is to be demolished, and instead, a national handball and community centre will be built outside Croke Park.

The breakthrough ends the acrimonious row between the two parties.

The GAA first attempted to have the centre demolished in 1988. The Irish Handball Council Sports Centre had been fighting against this until the new deal, which was reached today.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern chaired the talks between the GAA and the centre. Ahern is famously a big fan of the GAA and he lives nearby in Drumcondra.

132206_HERO Architect's drawing of proposed new handball and community centre Source: GAA


The handball centre was built in 1970 and opened by then-President Eamon De Valera for the World Handball Championships. The centre also provides mixed martial arts, pool, arts and crafts and dancing classes.

Muhammad Ali trained in the centre before his fight against Al ‘Blue’ Lewis in 1974.

In 1988 the GAA applied to An Bord Pleanála to have the centre knocked down. However, their application was unsuccessful. According to the centre’s website, the GAA also tried to call in fire officers to get the building condemned.

The centre lost its sports club bar licence in 2004 after the GAA objected in court. However, after this, local politicians and then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern intervened, and the centre got its licence back nine months later.

In 2011 there was a legal battle. GAA sent a solicitor’s letter to order the community out of the centre, and the community threatened to seek an injunction against a second Take That Concert, as Croke Park had already held the three events they were allowed a year.

Talks began between the two parties, but these broke down after the GAA secured planning permission to demolish the centre, against the recommendation of the inspector from An Bord Pleanála.

The dispute was even the subject of an episode of Prime Time.

Bertie Ahern began to mediate the talks six months ago after both parties approached him. 

New Partnership

Fintan Farrelly, chairman of the Irish Handball Council Sports Centre, said:

We are happy that the long running court case has been resolved. We now look forward to a harmonious relationship with the GAA that will be an enormous benefit to the local community and the handball community alike.

The solicitor representing the centre, Anthony Fay, also said the decision was very positive for the community, and that there would not have been a deal without Bertie.

The case wouldn’t have been resolved without Bertie as a mediator. His diplomacy was essential.

Bertie Ahern remarked: “I am very pleased to have played a role in clearing the way for the renewal of a part of Ballybough that desperately needs it and in adding an important new mechanism for the GAA and the local community to work together”.

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Elizabeth O'Malley

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