The case of the multi-million pound land dispute in New Eltham has been a very difficult story to cover because Croke Park won’t discuss the case and nor will officers on the London County Board.
This leads to an information deficit which adds mystery to the case and makes people suspicious.
This week a senior member of the GAA asked why this story was worthy of the news coverage it is receiving in Britain and Ireland? I explained that the case was a matter of public interest and it is the job of the newspaper to try and get to the truth of a story that could hinder or hugely benefit the development of Gaelic Games in Britain.
It is estimated the future development of New Eltham, if it comes to pass, could be worth £6m plus to the association – that’s a matter of public interest!
So why has an Irish-backed company taken a court action against the GAA over the right to develop a 13-acre site in south east London? Novalong did so, they say, because they want to protect their asset, and that is what all this boils down to – a 13-acre asset and a deal struck way back when to make millions of pounds through the development of the site, which would benefit the GAA and Novalong.
There is nothing Corinthian about this deal, it’s a business arrangement, one that has floundered for reasons we are not fully aware of but have been trying to find out. Right now, court proceedings are pending, but with only one side talking, the continued silence on the GAA side of the row is causing an imbalance and damaging the integrity of the association.
And hugely significant is the fact that the GAA’s Director General could be personally liable for the bill. The same Director General who declines to comment…
Every week since the Irish Post broke the story, this newspaper has contacted Croke Park, or senior members within the GAA for comment on a range of issues related to what is a civil case - this is an important point because this allows the GAA the opportunity to comment without prejudice.
If they choose to, they could release a statement explaining their position, dispelling speculation and suspicion in an instant.
This hasn’t happened and doesn’t look like happening.
Padraig Duffy’s official position is that New Eltham “is a legal matter” while the Communications Department in Croke Park told this newspaper that officers in London have been told not to comment on the matter…and they weren’t commenting either.
The GAA say they are handling the case in a professional manner but is it acceptable for the Director General not to release a statement on New Eltham? Would Willie Walsh of British Airways or Christophe Mueller of Aer Lingus get away with just going about their business ,if a £3m lawsuit was levelled against them, personally? I don’t think so.
In addition to the Director General, senior GAA members in positions of leadership in Britain have gone to ground since the story broke.
Anyone can be a leader when things or good, or choose to leave it to the lawyers when things are bad. The true measure of performance is to stand up during a crisis, or in the case, speak up.
Significantly, a former London chairman who has, has been castigated for doing so.
But saying nothing isn’t good enough because if the GAA are supremely confident in their position, if Padraig Duffy is confident he has no case to answer, if all these accusations of non-cooperation levelled against the GAA by Novalong, don’t hold water, then release a short statement that qualifies your position and puts an end to the mystery surrounding the case.
If the case does end up in court, the findings will prove that position to be true.
Rank and file GAA members in Britain have a right to know what’s going on and the people they support in positions of leadership have an obligation to tell them.
Often, silence can be a dignified response, but not in this case. For the GAA in Britain, one 13-acre field in New Eltham could turn into a public relations disaster.