Speech by Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe TD to the GAA Annual Congress Dinner

28th February, 2015

Good evening everyone – as a TD representing the constituency in which Croke Park is located is I am delighted to be here for the first time to address you all.


Let me start by congratulating the incoming Uacthtarán, Aogán Ó Fearghail, on his election as the 38th President of the GAA.  As the first man from Cavan to be elected to the office of GAA President, I’m sure this is a very proud occasion for yourself, your family, your club Drumgoon Éire Óg and the Breffni County.


I wish you all the best for your tenure.


I would also like to pay tribute to the outgoing Uacthtarán, Liam O’Neill, for all the wonderful work he has done for the organisation over the last three years.


The Annual Congress is a very important occasion in the affairs of any organisation, as a forum for agreeing policy and rules and for people from all around the country and further afield to come together in one place to meet, debate and socialise.


I know that delegates have discussed many issues that will have an impact on the organisation at all levels in the future. Issues such as the closed season rules, rules relating to concussion, extending the black card to hurling, opening all county grounds to other sports and motions from the Minor Review Committee.


These are all important issues for the GAA and its members and I am sure that your discussions have been very fruitful.




The role that the GAA plays in Irish society is immense. As the largest and one of the oldest sporting organisations in the country, the GAA is the lifeblood of many different communities throughout the country. Every town and village has a Gaelic club that has provided sport and physical activity for generations of young people over the past 131 years.


The significance of the organisation is underlined by some of the figures I saw published in the Ard-Stiúrthóir’s report to Congress. I noted that there are now over 2,000 affiliated clubs playing Gaelic Games. And that over 1.5 million people attended inter-county championship matches last year. These figures are a very impressive indication of the special place that the GAA has in the lives and hearts of Irish people.


Another figure I noted is that there are now 315 international GAA clubs and a further 83 in Britain. We have always been very proud of our unique Irish culture and tradition and in its influence throughout the world.


These figures are clear evidence that Gaelic Games are flourishing around the world. The GAA community has provided a home from home for our emigrants for many years and I would like to pay tribute to all the people who are keeping our national games alive around the world.


It is good to know that wherever they go, our young people are likely to find a club where they can continue to enjoy the traditions and culture of the GAA and of home.


Indeed, I think it is true to say that anywhere in the world where Irish people congregate you are likely to see Gaelic Games being played.


The pride and passion that exists in parishes throughout the country is clear to see at events like the All-Ireland Club finals on St Patrick’s Day, when thousands of supporters flock to Dublin to cheer on their local team.  


I’m sure the players and supporters of Ballyhale Shamrocks and Kilmallock in the hurling final and Corofin and Slaughtneil in the football final are looking forward to their big day next month.




I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the GAA for the huge efforts it has been making in recent years in addressing some of our most pressing social issues.  The GAA has been very much to the forefront in developing programmes and awareness raising initiatives to address these issues.


Your Anti-Bullying Programme and Social Initiative are excellent examples of what is being done by the GAA. It is very encouraging to see that the GAA is putting itself at a central place in tackling health and social problems, including with your innovative Healthy Club Project.


One issue in sport that is receiving a lot of debate at the moment is concussion and head injury. I note that this was addressed in a motion at this congress. I also know that the GAA has good concussion management guidelines and protocols in place. As your guidelines rightly note, concussion is an injury that needs to be taken seriously to protect the long term welfare of all players.


The health of players is the most important thing and I know that you are working to make sure that everyone involved in your games knows that this issue must be taken seriously.


As Minister for Sport, I want to ensure that all people are encouraged and given opportunities to participate in sport and to enjoy all the benefits that physical activity can bring through developing a healthy lifestyle. It is important that local sports clubs are supported and assisted to make sure that those opportunities to participate are available to as many people as possible.


Through the Irish Sports Council’s Youth Field Sports Programme, the Government is investing in young people’s participation in sport. I am pleased to note that over €2.4m was provided to the GAA for this purpose last year. It is very encouraging to see such large numbers of children and young people out training every week. The skills they learn through interacting in teams at young ages will stand to them through their lives.





I am sure that most of you here are familiar with my Department’s Sports Capital Programme. The Programme aims to foster an integrated and planned approach to developing sports and physical recreation facilities throughout the country.

More than 9,100 projects have now benefited from sports capital funding since 1998, bringing the total allocations in that time to over €828 million.

The programme has transformed the sporting landscape of Ireland with improvements in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities in virtually every village, town and city in the country.  The facilities that have been funded range from the smallest clubs to national centres of sporting excellence.

GAA County Boards and clubs in every corner of Ireland have benefited under the programme and there has been a transformation in the quality of facilities available, including dressing rooms, pitches, floodlights and equipment. Gaelic games have been by far the greatest beneficiary of Sports Capital Funding.

Allocations totalling €31m were made under the 2012 round of the Sports Capital Programme. The 2012 round of the SCP was the first round of the Programme since 2008. The absence of an SCP between 2008 and 2012 meant that there was a huge level of demand for grants. Consequently there were a record number of applications in 2012 with a total of 2170 applications.

The 2014 SCP saw 2,036 applications seeking more than €159m in funding.  My close colleague, Minister Michael Ring announced a total of 880 allocations to the value of €40.5m in July of last year.

Detailed preparations are currently being made for the 2015 SCP. This will be the third round of the SCP since this Government came into office. This clearly illustrates the Government’s commitment to the provision of modern fit-for-purpose facilities for grassroots sports.




2014 was another memorable year for Gaelic Games. We were treated to some fantastic games around the country in both hurling and football, including truly gripping semi-finals and All-Ireland matches.  I am sure that this year will provide just as much excitement and entertainment.  I know that that each new year brings for every county that ray of hope – ‘this could be our year’.

This is what makes sport – and the GAA in particular – so important to all of us. And, as a Dubliner myself, I am of course confident  that the Dubs will put right that little blip in the semi-final last year, so that the third Sunday in September 2015 will see the Dubs Captain lifting Sam again!

That said, I wish all County teams the best as they embark on the long journey they start, heading towards the All-Ireland Finals in Croke Park in September 2015.

Go n-éirí libh.