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MacHale Park loan is crippling


Edwin McGreal

‘WE are where we are’ is one of the most vacuous phrases of the modern era.
When you apply it to MacHale Park in Castlebar and the sizeable outstanding loan left to be repaid on the stadium redevelopment, the phrase is often used as a means of forgetting the past.
But sometimes we need to remember just where we were before we talk about where we are.
Go back to February of 2009 and the fundraising launch for the €18 million (plus) development. A comment from the-then incoming President of the GAA, Christy Cooney, jumps off the page.
He said the MacHale Park debt would have to be paid back over the ‘next 15 years’.
Right now, 13 years later, Mayo GAA should be in the final stages of offloading the back-breaking burden of the monthly repayments.
But instead, over the years, there has been a constant stream of renegotiations, repayments of interest only, and write-offs of outstanding debts owed to creditors.
So where are we now?
Last month’s meeting of the County Board was told that Mayo GAA were entering into a ‘formal arrangement’ to repay €25,000 per month for the next decade. It will mean paying €3 million over the next ten years, and will be ‘reviewed’ in 2032.
Because the outstanding debt won’t even be paid off by 2032, well past forecasts of Christy Cooney and the Board in 2009.
So when will it be paid off? That’s a good question, but we can only speculate.
In response to a question from Ballinrobe GAA club delegate, Gerry O’Malley, at the recent County Board meeting, Mayo GAA Treasurer Valerie Murphy confirmed the new ‘formal arrangement’ would mean the term of the loan would be extended.
However, she said she could not confirm by how many years.
Now it seems unlikely that those on the top table are unaware of the length of the term, so it seems they do not want to tell clubs — who will shoulder much of the financial burden of the debt — how long the repayments will continue for.
As Mike Finnerty reported in last week’s paper, based on information provided at a County Board meeting last November by then-Mayo GAA Board chairman Liam Moffatt, repayments of €26,000 a month on the outstanding amount of the loan at that time (€7.9 million) would mean it would take 35 years to repay fully.
That brings us to 2057, nearly 50 years after the redevelopment was completed.
And to add to the madness, the County Board refused to declare the amount owing on the loan last week. Questions on the amount left to be repaid and the revised term of the loan were directed to Mayo GAA by this newspaper.
Mayo GAA declined to confirm either.
We’re not sure why some officials are being so elusive here. This is information that every club in the county ought to know and it is being denied to them.
Perhaps the clubs need to take more ownership of issues though. Silence is all too frequent at County Board meetings when it comes to the discussion of what are, on the face of it, very important issues.
Take the monthly Mayo GAA finance report, which is sent to clubs in advance of the meeting. How many questions do delegates ask about it practically every single month?
Not one. Silence can be very enabling.

Huge concerns
THERE was a more interesting discussion around the ‘infrastructure update’ given by Mayo GAA Assistant Treasurer Michael Diskin, where the MacHale Park redevelopment came up for mention.
Westport GAA delegate Willie McDonagh, who works in the construction industry, said that he had examined the ‘purlin’ (steel beams) that had been used in the main stand at MacHale Park.
“Who allowed below standard material to be used? … The Board employed people to oversee the work and that wasn’t overseen,” he added.
Michael Diskin agreed with McDonagh’s observation and described the condition of the ‘sub-standard material’ as ‘scandalous’.
So we have huge concerns about the quality of the material used expressed by a highly reputable builder, and franked by a very diligent county board officer, less than 20 years into what looks like being a 50-year debt.
What will the condition of the stand be like then?
The response by Mayo GAA Chairman Séamus Tuohy to the concerns raised by McDonagh were also telling.
“We’re doing our best to address it, most of us weren’t on the Board at that time,” he remarked.
It is the clearest move yet by any board officer to distance themselves from the decisions made in relation to the redevelopment, and shows they are clearly unhappy with how the whole saga was managed, not just the debt the board have been straddled with.
But maybe if the board were upfront on all aspects of the redevelopment, especially the amount still owing and the term, we might all have a clearer picture of what Mayo GAA are facing into.
‘We are where we are’?
Well, while Mayo GAA clubs, stakeholders and supporters don’t know exactly where we are right now in relation to paying off this gargantuan loan, we do know it’s not a very good place to be.


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