You might like them, you might have them, but one thing for sure is that the GAA cannot do without referees. This is the message which is coming across loud and clear from Longford after “The Larries County” followed Wexford’s referees who 24 hours earlier withdrew their services over the thorny issue of referee’s expenses.
Longford appear to be taking a firmer stance than Wexford however, who were appeased with the intervention of their County Board Chairman, Longford required the intervention of Croke Park to state that regular payments will continue until the GAA engages in further talks with the Revenue on how the officials can claim for their expenses. No deadlines were mentioned, but it is understood that referees will continue to receive current rates until the end of the year, when the issue will be reviewed.
An uneasy peace has been reached and Longford referees have confirmed that no games will be cancelled as yet. Referees are keeping a very close on proceedings however, with sources saying widespread strikes are a “realistic possibility.”
For the GAA, this is a matter which is potentially far more serious than that of payments to managers. The games will go on whether managers are paid over the odds or not. Without referees, no play is possible. The issue of payments to referees is one which has become more contentious than that of payments to managers. It is the lack of uniformity and lack of transparency which is apparently the greatest bug bear. The vast majority of referees barely cover their expenses out of the standard €40 they get for taking charge of a game in many counties. Some counties can go as high as €50 per game, Wexford for instance, but for underage games figures can drop to around €25.
The issue that has concerned the GAA, and consequently the Revenue, was the existence of flat fees for all matches in most counties. That technically constitutes a payment liable to tax, not an expense. If there are ways around that, referees are sceptical and, significantly, the Longford referees’ co-ordinator Joe O’Brien mentioned the word ‘integrity’ in the course of his RTÉ radio interview yesterday morning.
This doesn’t constitutes a crackdown from the Revenue. Advice was sought and given in accordance with guidelines. For the time being, the matter has some breathing space though the GAA has found itself caught in a difficult place between the country’s taxation body and one group within their Association that simply can’t be done without.