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Former Taoiseach Jack Lynch was an All-Ireland winning hurler and footballer for Cork.
Former Taoiseach Jack Lynch was an All-Ireland winning hurler and footballer for Cork.
Image: S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Archive

The GAA is absolutely not 'wielding power in any political sense'

As the trend of former GAA players turning to politics continues, we ask political expert Eoin O’Malley if the GAA has any power over the Irish electorate.
May 21st 2014, 8:30 PM 11,104 26

IN 1916 THE GAA announced for the first time that they were a non-political association.

Later that year they formed the ‘Political Prisoners Amnesty Association’, and ran a fundraising tournament for Irish national aid volunteers.

Eight years later, the GAA again declared that henceforth they would leave politics firmly outside their door, because of the potential for it to split their association.

Nonetheless, since then a huge amount of GAA members have successfully made the transition into politics. But despite all of their success in gaining votes, does the GAA have any influence over the Irish electorate?

According to political author Eoin O’Malley the GAA is absolutely not “wielding power in any political sense”. He told TheJournal.ie:

“Obviously the GAA is one of the most important organisations in the country and has been throughout its history.

“In most countries you tend to see that there are certain organisations that are aligned to political parties, so trade unions would be on the left and churches on the right.”

Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

“But Ireland is unusual in that trade unions probably weren’t that strong and they tend not to be aligned to any political party, the church was never really aligned to any one particular party, and the GAA as well isn’t aligned to any one party, but it is one of these pillars within Irish society.”

But no I don’t think the GAA has any power, or any power over those politicians once they’re elected if they’re elected, it’s just the same way as someone who could be on the Voice of Ireland might run for election, people might of heard of him or her so there’d be a bit more media interest.

“It’s just the GAA is by far the largest sporting organisation so you tend to see a lot of them go through, more so than specifically because it’s the GAA or whether it’s any sport, it’s just that there’s more of them, so they’re more prominent.”


Source: eamondon/SoundCloud

“They have this prominence and it’s the same way that school teachers are prominent people in a local community, just you don’t have as many teachers.”

Roscommon u21 manager and former senior footballer Nigel Dineen is the latest retired GAA player to announce he will run for the upcoming local elections next May.

He now joins former Sligo footballer Paul Taylor who has already revealed he will be running for Fianna Fail, and possibly Louth GAA legend Colin Kelly who had been in talks with the party.

Source: Mon Ros/YouTube

“The GAA has always been good to me’ explained the former Connacht championship winner who is running as an independent candidate.

“I played it and I’m managing now. It’s so important in meeting so many people and networking.

“In rural Ireland it’s so important, there’s always something going on with it.”

O’Malley explained that historically candidates coming from the GAA have always emphasised their GAA membership, to the delight of their parties.

“Very often parties will want, what are in their local areas, celebrity candidates. Guys who played for their county or won an All-Ireland and so on, so it is very common. It’s very hard if you’ve got an unknown candidate, some guy or girl who has just come out of college and isn’t really that well known.

“But in a community if you’ve got someone that’s prominent in the GAA then it’s the first hurdle you have already covered because they’re known by the public.”

Jack Lynch

Pic: Photocall Ireland

“Probably the most famous example is Lynch and he traded on it presumably for his first or second election, but after a while his GAA connection came down to something which gave him a closeness to lots of people and I suppose that’s why the GAA connection is so important because you get to meet a lot of the people in your community.”

Jack Lynch was of course the Taoiseach of Ireland, serving two terms in office; from 1966 to 1973 and 1977 to 1979. He also represented Cork hurlers and footballers for fourteen years.

Legend has it that former Taoiseach Jack Lynch once flipped a coin to decide which party he would begin his political career with, back in 1948.

Another high profile candidate was Seán Kelly, GAA president from 2003-2006, who was elected as a Member of the European Parliament in 2009. Despite the previous successes, in the last fifteen years a number of GAA candidates have fallen short in the polling stations.

Source: ForKingAndCountry2014/YouTube

Among these, Dublin legend Barney Rock was an unsuccessful candidate at the 1991 local elections for the Progressive Democrats. While in 2007 Graham Geraghty stood for Fine Gael in Meath West, only receiving 3.2% of the first preference votes.

Although even with the disappointing voting trends for their former players, and officials in recent years, the GAA are insistent that the association’s role in the community has never been as strong.

“We have never done more in the community space before now, in fact we only recently surveyed 14,000 people on the role they want us to play in the community and we got a very positive response ”according to a spokesman for the GAA.

“We’re always embedded within our communities or else we couldn’t function as successfully as we do.”

Sean Kelly to run for Fine Gael in next year's European ElectionsFormer GAA president Sean Kelly outside Leinster house.Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

But according to him, 88 years on from their first declaration the association remain firm in insisting that, “the GAA is an apolitical organisation”.

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Eamon Donoghue

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