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Media not to blame for these headlines

Sport

Opinion
Seán Rice

IT was to have been a heart-to-heart discussion, a clearing of the air. They would all meet in the cosiness of their own comfort zone, with no members of the press present, to sort out the problems with which the board is bedevilled.
A tete a tete. A purging of soul, perhaps.
They would talk about the issues that have arisen between the board and the board’s benefactor Tim O’Leary which have led to so much adverse publicity over the last couple of months.
Everything was on the table. Heart-to-heart.
All members would hear for the first time the truth that led to the outbreak of recriminations between the board and the newly-established Mayo GAA International Supporters Foundation.
At last members of the board were being given the chance to ask questions and to seek answers about the furore that has dragged the good name of Mayo football through the mire.
We advised in our column last week that a plea of the 5th Amendment would not be sufficient since the meeting was being held ‘in camera’.
We urged that nothing should be held back.
But despite the press ban we now know that same excuse was trotted out again. Nothing could be disclosed, the members were told, because of legal advice they had received.
So what was the purpose of the heart-to-heart?
What was discussed?
Some chirpy member of the board suggested a ban on the press for further meetings. Not another squeak from any other member. No one for the motion; no one against.
And the motion was carried.
Shoot the messenger. Retribution exacted.
In other words, accountability about the problems relating to the stand-off between Tim O’Leary and Mayo GAA Board lay entirely with the press. So you kill the messenger and all will be fine. Will it?
In 60 years of reporting the affairs of Mayo GAA, this reporter has never experienced an attempt to exclude the press from meetings. Throughout the 1960s we sat through wearying debates, often until 2am, while members of the board argued about fixtures and referees and teams.
Rows flared and the exchanges were reported. And no-one complained. You had fearless speakers in those days like Larry McGovern of Newport, Jim Mannion of Garrymore, Fr Leo Morahan of Louisburgh, Sean Duffy of Ardnaree, Frank Brennan of Claremorris, Dr Mick Loftus of Crossmolina, Christy Loftus of Burrishoole and Tony Mulloy of Ballinrobe. Nothing phased them.
To them the press was the guardian of truth.
And the first casualty of this latest ban will be truth. No press ban will conceal everything. Wrong versions will emanate from meetings and spread on social media like wildfire. Only with the press present will discussion be accurately relayed.

Hard questions
IT has been said that in the presence of the press some members are unwilling to speak their minds. How many spoke at the closed meetings last week? How many stood up to speak for or against the motion excluding the press from meetings?
It was not a member of the press who referred to a person involved in the ongoing dispute as a ‘donkey’. It was not the press who decided in tasteless jest to have tunes titled ‘Shoe the Donkey’ or ‘Money, Money, Money’ relayed over the loudspeaker system at a football match in MacHale Park.
The shameful handling of the Stephen Rochford affair was not caused by the press, nor the handling of the Kevin McStay affair before that.
Culpability lay where it belongs . . .  with an inept Mayo GAA Board executive.
It was a member of that same executive who once made the inane suggestion at a meeting that the Mayo press should pay the county board for coverage of games in which Mayo were involved.
Following leaks from the County Board meeting at which the press ban was passed last Monday, a further meeting was held on Thursday night from which the press were again excluded. The purpose it seemed was to stem further leaks from meetings.
Will that also stem leaks by a member of the executive from providing with customary partiality his version of events to one media outlet in this county?
Following Thursday’s meeting a statement was issued that a range of views was expressed on a number of topics and clubs were “looking forward to working together for the betterment of Mayo GAA”.
What an informative statement! Tantamount to implying that if you keep people in the dark, exclude them from any disclosure, you will achieve your purpose.
We stand with those who continue to ask hard questions and tell stories that might otherwise go untold. We will continue to carry the torch for truth.
Mayo people who have followed their county through the years deserve to be told the truth.The thousands of volunteers who give their time and effort selflessly week in, week out, for the sake of Mayo football deserve better from an executive that won’t be shy in asking the press for publicity when a project is being unveiled.
Clubs have it in their compass to insist on facts not being withheld from members. Maybe they should also ensure that those who represent them at meetings of the county board are prepared to ask vital questions and contest decisions with which they do not agree.
All this because someone could not sit down with someone and talk things out.

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