GAA Disciplinary Committee’s Failure to Follow Procedures

20 June 2022

The disciplinary rules of the GAA came into sharp focus recently where a committee charged with enforcing the rules was undermined to such an extent that their decisions were overturned by a second committee within the Association. There has been persistent criticism of the manner in which the disciplinary mechanism of the GAA has been conducted for a number of years. In these complaints, while the basis of the committee’s decisions were sound, the issue is clearly the failure of the relevant committee within the Association, the Central Competitions Control Committee (“CCCC”) to adhere to their rules on procedures thereby undermining the disciplinary process. The purpose of the disciplinary mechanism is twofold, 1. to ensure that all who participate in the game are judged on an even standard, and 2. the rules act as a deterrent against behaviour which would bring the GAA into disrepute. While these complaints concerned a national sporting body, the procedural errors in these complaints, and the consequences of these errors are equally relevant to all membership organisations with rules and a disciplinary mechanism.

The outcome of these complaints have signalled the importance of adhering to the internal rules, to deal with such matters and the consequences for failing to do so, which includes the undermining of the entire disciplinary process. The GAA is a national sporting organisation which reaches into every corner of the country and has its roots in every Irish parish and beyond. As a membership organisation, the GAA adopted an Official Guide (“Rules”) designed to regulate every interaction between the organisation and its members, to include a disciplinary function to ensure adherence to the Rules.

Disciplinary actions were opened against Clare hurlers, Rory Hayes and Peter Duggan and Galway’s Cianan Fahy following recent alleged breaches of the Rules and the GAA’s Code of Conduct in the Munster and Leinster Finals respectively. The alleged incidents were not witnessed by the referees and the matters were referred to CCCC of the GAA for disciplinary action for alleged misconduct (Games Infraction). Rule 7.1 sets out the disciplinary jurisdiction for the enforcement of the Rules. Rule 7.2 defines an infraction as an alleged breach of Codes, Regulations, Guidelines and Directives of the GAA and an alleged infraction engages the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Rules.

Code of Conduct

Rule 1.4 mandates the GAA to adopt a Code of Conduct (“Code”) for Officers, Members, Players, Parents/Guardians, Mentors, Supporters, Match Officials, Teams and Units to define appropriate behaviour and practices. The Code sets out the basic principles that establish standards of behaviour for all who attend events or participate in the GAA. Section 5.2 of the Code provides that alleged breaches of the Code and/or the Rules will be dealt with in accordance with the disciplinary procedures of the Rules.

Central Competitions Control Committee

Rule 3.47 establishes the CCCC which exercises a number of functions under the Rules including the power to investigate and process matters relating to the enforcement of Rules and Match Regulations arising from Provincial Inter-County Senior Championship (Rule 3.47 (d)). Rule 7.3 (a)(1) empowers the CCCC to investigate and process complaints in cases arising from competitions or games. A disciplinary action may be commence where:

1. a Referee’s Report discloses an alleged Infraction,
2. the Competitions Control Committee decides that disciplinary action is appropriate arising from Competitions or Games, or
3. the Management Committee decides that disciplinary action is appropriate arising otherwise than from Competitions or Games.

Under Rule 7.3 (h), the CCCC investigated the complaints in question and under this Rule, provision is made for the interview of relevant persons and preparation of a report, where the committee has requested a copy of the referees’ report and there is insufficient information contained within thein referees report. The CCCC’s meeting was convened remotely, as provided for under Rule 4.7 which provides that video and/or telephone conferencing are permissible when deemed appropriate by the Committee-in-Charge, in this case, the CCCC. During the course of the CCCC’s deliberations, video footage of the alleged infractions was shown to the committee however, one member was not in a position to view the footage and the footage was emailed to the member concerned. It is understood that decisions on the complaints were taken by email as between the committee members, following the viewing of the video footage.

Following the investigation of the CCCC, a notice of disciplinary action was served upon the players concerned. The notice must contain a copy of the disciplinary report, if such a report has been commissioned and the proposed penalty. Under Rule 7.3 (n), the CCCC proposed a ban of one game on Clare’s Rory Hayes and Peter Duggan and two games on Galway’s Cianan Fahy.

Central Hearings Committee

Once the notice of disciplinary action has been served, the players concerned have two days in which to accept the findings of the CCCC or to request a hearing. The Rules provide that where a hearing is required, such a hearing will be conducted by the Central Hearings Committee (“CHC”). Galway rejected the proposed penalty and sought a hearing before the CHC. The CHC determines its own procedures for the hearing of complaints and provision is made for the taking of evidence. The CHC hearing considered the procedures of the CCCC investigation and dismissed all complaints on the basis of procedural concerns of the investigation conducted by the CCCC.

While not relevant in the complaints under consideration in this article, there are two further appeal mechanisms set out in the Rules. The Central Appeals Committee (Rule 3.5) hears all appeals made at Central Level. The decisions of the Central Appeals Committee are final and binding, subject only to a case being taken to Arbitration under the Disputes Resolution Code under the Rules. The Dispute Resolution Code provides that in the event of any dispute or difference between any member or unit of the GAA with any other member or unit, as to the legality of any decision made or procedure used by the GAA which cannot be settled by amicable means within the Rules, such dispute may be referred by either party to Arbitration (Rule 7.13 (a)).

Conclusion

While the urgency to finalise complaints is understandable, given the fast turnaround in games in the modern GAA, this cannot be offered as a defence to failing to comply with internal rules and procedures. It appears that the CHC did not hesitate to overturn the decisions of the CCCC however, a second option open to the CHC was to overturn the decisions of the CCCC and send the matter back to that committee to reconsider the matter and make fresh findings. While the CHC may have been concerned on the tight turnaround required, the more procedurally sound step would have been to send the complaints back to the CCCC for reconsideration. To avoid similar situations arising in the future, the GAA, and all similar membership organisations, should ensure that appropriate training is provided to all committee members on the importance of adherence to the Rules and best practice on the hearing of complaints. While the GAA is primarily concerned with sporting activities and recreational pursuits, should an aggrieved party believe that they are been prejudiced under the Rules, they may take the matter into the legal sphere which would require judges to consider not only the practices adopted by committee members but also the Rules of the GAA. Such legal actions would run counter to the very idea of the GAA.

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