By Ronan Judge
THE chairman of one of Clare’s biggest GAA clubs has called on the association to do more to stand up for employees who are the subject of online attacks.
Chairman of Sixmilebridge GAA, Paddy Meehan, told The Clare Champion that some of the abuse directed at Clare County Board secretary Pat Fitzgerald, is “unbelievable.”
Allegations of online abuse against Pat Fitzgerald are the subject of a garda investigation.
Meehan says, “Pat Fitzgerald is a paid employee of the GAA and I don’t believe they have stood up for him and I don’t think they have backed him 100%. Maybe if employers start backing people… because you see it nowhere else. There was a case in Kerry there where a former soccer player was being abused and it went to court. It has to stop, this online abuse, people hiding behind computers. That’s where we’re coming from. I have often went to the Clare County Board, had issues and spoke out and that’s where you’ll get results, not coming and hiding behind laptops and computers and whatever”.
Meehan was speaking after Sixmilebridge GAA wrote a letter to The Clare Champion in support of club members Pat Fitzgerald and his son, the Wexford hurling manager, Davy Fitzgerald.
The letter states, “In short, we are a club that represents community, promoting a deep sense of place and a sense of belonging. All of this adds up to a club which will not stand aside if we as a club believe any of our members are being unfairly treated. Two of our members, Pat & Davy Fitzgerald, have been subject to sustained personal abuse (on-line & in-person) due in part to the prominent public positions they hold on a National & County Stage. We fully accept that both, in the prominent roles they both have, will be subject to criticism, strong at times. That comes with the job. What is not acceptable is when criticism morphs into personal abuse.”
“What prompted us to write it (letter) was, we have certain members in our club and we’re awful proud of them,” Mr Meehan told The Clare Champion,
He continues, “Everything that is good about our GAA club goes down the road of having real values. Just a couple of things have happened over the last few months. Certainly the abuse Pat Fitzgerald has been getting is certainly unbelievable at the moment. I witnessed it certain times during last year’s Clare championship. As a person I witnessed it on two occasions, verbal abuse, total verbal abuse. And, I suppose what set it off then was probably the abuse Davy (Fitzgerald) got against Wexford in Portloaise”.
“They are probably the things that stirred us to support our members. They are our members, our club members and that’s why we’re supporting them 100% in what is going on. We believe no one deserves to be bullied the way they are. In fairness our club really respects referees. I know we mightn’t agree with them at times and we mightn’t agree with the county secretary but we have to respect them and the same with the Clare officials and the county board. That’s basically where we’re coming from with it. Abuse has been highlighted quite a lot over the last three or four months more so than anytime. That’s probably what has struck a chord with us.”
“If we don’t go back and have values and value people for the work they do – a lot of them are voluntary – we’ll end up with no one taking these jobs in county boards or clubs if this continues.”
“We have great coaches involved in our clubs and the values we set are as I said. We have an under 16 team last year who spent a bit of time helping the elderly in the parish, cutting timber for them and bringing in blocks and they are the values that we cherish most. If we can work from there and get our young people to have real values, I think we’ll be on a winner,” Meehan says.
The letter, which is signed by Paddy Meehan and club secretary Sean Mac Conmara states, “CLG Driochead Abhann Ui gCearnaigh, like all sporting organisations, prides itself in having a basic set of core principles or values. One of the key values is respect. Respect for those who play the game, those who train and coach our teams and those who take on the administration of the club off the field of play.”
The letter continues, “CLG Driochead Abhann Ui gCearnaigh, of which these two people are members, have decided to take a public stand against this abuse, which at it’s core is simply bullying by another name. Unfortunately, on-line forums have made it very easy for people to hide behind the cover of anonymity to personally abuse people in the public eye. We, as a club, are highlighting this issue as it pertains to our club. Unfortunately, what we are highlighting in this letter, is not unique to CLG Driochead Abhann Ui gCearnaigh and it’s members but is part of a broader societal issue. People in the public eye will always be open to criticism and justifiably so, but a line has been crossed here which is not acceptable. It has to stop”.