There will be no press in attendance at Sunday’s annual GAA convention in the Mount Errigal Hotel, Letterkenny, after the local media refused to agree to conditions from the county board on how the meeting is to be reported.
The local media have not been at a monthly meeting since May and although the county board did extend an invitation ahead of this weekend’s annual gathering in Letterkenny, it contained a condition that empowers county chairman Sean Dunnion, to call ‘in-camera’ at any time, even retrospectively.
The invitation from the GAA to the media was as follows:
“Members of the media / press are being invited to An Chomhdháil Bhliantúil and will be subject to the following condition,” read Sunday’s invitation from county board PRO Jim Quinn.
“An Cathaoirleach can call at any time, or during any part of the meeting, that the meeting is going in camera, either in advance or retrospectively.
I trust this is to your satisfaction.”
This condition was this week rejected by the media in Donegal.
Peter Campbell, sports editor of the Donegal Democrat, said: “It was totally unprecedented that conditions were imposed on the press in the county attending the annual Convention. As far as I’m aware no such conditions are imposed at Ulster Council Convention or at the body’s national AGM, annual Congress.
“While I accept that it is the prerogative of any meeting to hold discussions ‘in camera’, to do so retrospectively is to ridicule the integrity of the entire local media who have given such vast amounts of space to the coverage of GAA affairs.
“I have been attending annual Convention since 1990 in Glenties when Noreen Doherty was first elected secretary of the Association and this is the first time that any restriction has been introduced. It amounts to censure and seems a backward step.
“The GAA, like other organisations, can be the subject of some negative press at times, but they have to take the good with the bad. At all times the local press try to deal with them in a fair way.”
It is the second time that there has been an issue between the local GAA and the media this year. Tensions came to a head following the May monthly meeting in Ballybofey. Donegal manager Jim McGuinness had been giving his annual report, looking back over 2012 and the early months of 2013.
He was of the understanding an agreement was in place with the Competitions’ Controls Committee (CCC) to schedule all All-County Football League Divisions One and Two fixtures on a Sunday.
This would in turn free-up each Saturday to enable McGuinness to train the county panel. He queried Sean McGinley, the secretary of the Donegal CCC, as to why league fixtures had started to take place on a Saturday and claimed he was “being misled by the CCC.”
Central Council delegate Niall Erskine interjected to propose that the discussion go in-camera, but McGuinness refused. “There’ll be no in-camera,” he said.
After McGuinness had left the meeting, Erskine proposed again that the discussion on fixtures be placed in-camera. While this was seconded and largely supported by delegates, it is not common practice for items to be retrospectively placed in-camera. Therefore, the debate was reported.
The local media in the north-west were then informed the June meeting would be conducted entirely in-camera and later that month members of the county executive - chairman Dunnion, PRO Quinn and secretary Aodh Máirtín O’Fearraigh - met with the media in Ballybofey.
Agreement was not reached with the county board officials, who were looking to allow the chairman to call, at any time, or during any part of the meeting, that the meeting was going in-camera, either in advance or retrospectively. It was also proposed that media representatives shall not leave the room during an in-camera discussion and that the use of Twitter shall be prohibited until a meeting closes.
At that time the local press declined the invitation to attend future county committee meetings, and it seems they will now be prohibited from attending annual convention for much the same reasons.