John Fogarty

Referees are not sexy. As much as they wear it, black is never vogue.

Unless they’re being assaulted or criticised, they’re usually not in the headlines. And yet they are veins of the GAA. Without them, where would the organisation be?

Over this past 10 months, the Irish Examiner has extensively covered several issues facing GAA match officials.

We have documented the creation of an unofficial referees body, the Gaelic Match Officials Association (GMOA), which has not surprisingly put some people’s noses out of joint similar to the GPA in their burgeoning days. It was Ulster chairman Aogan Farrell who, in his address to his council convention earlier this year, questioned the need for such a body.

“There is an attempt to start a Gaelic officials association for referees, umpires and linesmen,” he said. “What next, a county chairman’s association, a Gaelic lottery sellers society and perhaps a scór adjudicators union?

“We have one GAA for all and that should be enough for us all. Sectional interest groups will weaken the overall effort, stand firm by the official guide, the GAA is built on community and the opposite of community is individual.”

Farrell’s point would be understandable if there wasn’t concrete evidence to support the establishment of the GMOA. Its chairman, Ray Matthews, was assaulted in a club game last year and was compelled to quit the game in disillusionment with how the case was dealt with by the Ulster Council.

Losing the services of the Antrim man in such circumstances is not something the GAA should ever treat lightly. Like the GPA before, the GMOA has currency among its members because there is a vacuum. While inter-county referees have a national body, there are plenty of match officials at club level who feel isolated.

In recent times, the Irish Examiner has published several articles on the out-of-pocket expenses issues for referees. Why so? Because there is a void of information.

Last February, the Longford referees pulled back from withdrawing their services but only after the GAA had given assurances that match expenses would not be reduced for the time being.

They released the following statement: “The GAA can confirm that further talks will take place with Revenue on the procedures for the taxation, if any, of referee match payments.

“In the meantime, the GAA’s existing arrangements for payments to referees will apply.”

Since then, there has been no official word from Croke Park on the matter. In the meantime, GAA finance officials have visited every province and county making them aware of the arrangements between themselves and the Revenue but there

In a small survey done this week, the Irish Examiner discovered there are no plans so far in Cork, Laois and Mayo to divert from the system used last year.

Yet, as we reported earlier this week, counties like Longford, Tipperary and Wexford are using a mileage system whereby referees are asked to furnish their Personal Public Service (PPS) numbers.

As Tipperary chairman Sean Nugent wrote to his referees: “Tipperary County Board in common with all other county boards are obliged by agreements made between Croke Park and the Revenue Commissioners to keep properly documented records on all financial transactions including referees expenses and will be obeying that directive.”

In Longford, it has been explained that match officials will receive the same game fee as they did last year even if their mileage doesn’t equate to covering it.

Right now, there are simply too many club referees in the dark about how they are to be remunerated for their services this year.

The GAA has left it up to the respective county boards to inform their referees as to under what format they will receive their expenses for this season.

Yet, for those on social welfare benefits, it is a worrying time.

Naturally, there will be some who might suggest the media has been scaremongering on the issue. That everything is alright. That there are no repercussions for either referees who rely on the state.

If that is the case then why aren’t such reassurances being given publicly?

As the Department of Social Protection explained this week, “The social welfare position of individual referees would have to be examined on a case by case basis and documentary evidence may be requested by the department to validate that any payment is being made solely to compensate a person for costs incurred.”

A disorientating and bright light has been shone on GAA referees. They are seen by some as purveyors in Ireland’s black market but that is a wholly inaccurate perception. These same people have to bring their four umpires to and from games.

With so many counties yet to pay referees, waiting until December to do so, they are out of pocket to the tune of several hundreds of euro. Possibly even more.

The least they deserve is to be told what they must do to ensure they receive their expenses and, if so, what implications there may now be.