Sale of O'Connor Park and lease review ruled out as Tullamore GAA seeks arbitration in County Board row

Lease fight escalates as Tullamore release lengthy statement

Sale of O'Connor Park and lease review ruled out as Tullamore GAA seeks arbitration in Countuy Board row

Tullamore and Ferbane in action in O'Connor Park.

A ROW between Tullamore GAA Club and the Offaly GAA County Board over the payment of the lease for O'Connor Park has escalated further. Tullamore GAA Club have clearly stated that they have no appetite for selling O'Connor Park to the County Board, there is no provision for a review of the lease and that they will engage a formal legal arbitration process to solve the impasse. They also expressed disappointment with Offaly GAA, Leinster Council and Croke Park in a six page statement.

Tullamore GAA Club wrote to all other Offaly GAA clubs this week, claiming that the Offaly GAA County Board is “expecting a bail-out from Tullamore GAA whenever Offaly GAA purports to have a lack of funds. Such action by Offaly GAA is completely outside the terms of the lease agreement.”

The row erupted when County Board sought a reduction in their annual rent as the ground yielded almost no revenue last year because of Covid-19 restrictions. Tullamore GAA Club didn't give any reduction and the two sides have been at loggerheads since then. The County Board paid €42,184 of the €56,245 lease for 2020 and sought a reduction of three months rent of €14,061 because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant financial hit they took.

A recent Offaly GAA County Board meeting was told that €47,607 is now owed on the lease. The meeting was told that Offaly GAA chairman Michael Duignan and Tullamore GAA chairman Tom Martin were in discussions in a bid to solve the dispute but the Tullamore GAA decision to release the statement dampens hopes that this would lead to a peaceful solution.

In a lengthy and technical statement, Tullamore GAA Club have stated that the rent payment for O'Connor Park was overdue by three months in January 2020 and that there was no cancellation of matches during January and February 2020. They stated that Covid-19 can't be used as a reason for non payment of the rent due on January 1 2020 while the statement also maintained that there is no legislation for a tenant not paying rent to a landlord in a time of crisis. Tullamore GAA claimed that Offaly GAA “unilaterally decided to withhold payment of the rent due from the 1st January 2020 without any consultation and agreement with Tullamore GAA Club”.

The club also hit out at Leinster Council and Croke Park. “ Leinster Council’s finding that Tullamore GAA ‘were not prepared to deviate from its position’ was grossly unfair,” they said, adding that they also wrote to the GAA director general Tom Ryan and national finance chairman Ger Mulryan but received no response. “Consequently, Tullamore GAA was left with no alternative but to invoke the disputes clause of the Lease Agreement and proceed with the arbitration process,” the statement said.

The club revealed that they asked the president of the Law Society to appoint an abritator but were asked by Offaly GAA to put this process on hold. They later received an invitation to meet with the GAA National Finance Management Committee where it was proposed:

Tullamore GAA will receive immediate payment of all monies due in accordance with the lease agreement up to the 30th April 2021. The amount outstanding as at the 30th April 2021 is €47,947.54.
A new monthly payment structure will replace the current bi-annual rent payments which are payable in advance on 1st January and the 1st July each year for the term of the lease. It was noted that the reason for this amendment was to facilitate better cash flow and budgeting arrangements for Offaly GAA.
Tullamore were asked if they would be willing to consider a buyout of the remaining term of the O'Connor Park lease at this meeting but told them that there was no appetite in the club for this and it would not be “acceptable to the general membership of the Club at this juncture”.

They have claimed that information given at the last County Board meeting is wrong and they have not agreed to enter discussions with the County Board about the termination or buyout of the lease or a review of the lease. They stated that there is no provision in the lease for such a review.

The statement outlined: “Tullamore GAA informed the NMFC of its surprise and disagreement with its assumption that Tullamore GAA agreed to enter any formal discussions with regard to the buy-out of the lease.

“The NFMC (National Finance Management Committee) in a letter to Tullamore GAA has since retracted on its original position that Tullamore GAA would receive immediate payment of the amount owed to the Club and that the rent payments due to Tullamore GAA would be paid on a monthly basis going forward.

“As a result, Tullamore GAA while trying to resolve this dispute in a practical way within the various units of the GAA organisation (Offaly GAA, Leinster Council and Croke Park) is now left with no other alternative but to immediately proceed with the arbitration process.”

The club went on to refer to the income they used to gain from O'Connor Park before it was leased as well as the expenditure they incurred as a result of the loss of the ground.

They concluded: “As referred to earlier, the lease is a legal contract which contains no provision for the unilateral withholding of rent or the reduction of rent unless agreed between Tullamore GAA and Offaly GAA. There is no provision in the lease that allows Offaly GAA or Tullamore GAA to unilaterally decide to vary the terms of the lease.

“If Offaly GAA had paid the rent due in January 2020 which was prior to Covid-19 Restrictions, the Club would have been willing to consider some alternative payment arrangements for the half-yearly rent due from the 1st July 2020, given the impact of the Covid-19 restrictions put in place from Mid-March 2020. Unfortunately, Offaly GAA made the decision not to engage with Tullamore GAA in this regard.

“Tullamore GAA acknowledges that the covid-19 crisis has had a significant adverse effect on the cash flow position of both Tullamore GAA and Offaly GAA, but it is very unfair and not appropriate for Offaly GAA to expect a bail-out from any Club including Tullamore GAA. Like every other GAA Club, Tullamore GAA has its own financial commitments that included the funding of our term loan repayments, player insurance costs, levies etc. during 2020, even though our income was significantly reduced as a result of a reduction in our weekly lottery games, the ceasing of our Bingo for most of 2020 and as a result of a sizeable drop in car parking receipts.

“As noted from the contents of this statement, Tullamore GAA has done everything possible to try and resolve this matter in a practical way but was left with no alternative but to act as it has done over the past year or so.

“Finally, Tullamore GAA hopes that the above synopsis of this issue has provided the GAA Clubs of Offaly with a better understanding of this matter from Tullamore GAA’s perspective.”


The statement was signed by Tullamore GAA secretary Paula Mulvey and the full text of it is:

“Tullamore GAA has decided to write this letter to all of the GAA Clubs in Offaly who are the stakeholders in the lease hold interest of O’Connor Park in an effort to give balance, clarity and clearly outline our position on this matter. The only information that has been provided to the Clubs regarding the O’Connor Park lease to date is information that has been given by the County Committee and the local media.

“We refer to Item No. 3 - OCP Lease & Rent of the Treasurer’s Report and Item No. 7 Lease Update – OCP of the Minutes of the Management Committee held on the 4th May 2021, which were presented at the Offaly GAA County Committee meeting held last week on the 11th May 2021.

O’Connor Park Lease Agreement

“O’Connor Park (OCP) has been the home of the Tullamore GAA Club since 1932 - for almost the past 90 years. Throughout these years, Tullamore GAA has facilitated Offaly County Board with the use of our park as the county grounds.

“In 2002, at the request of Offaly GAA and Leinster Council, Tullamore GAA agreed to lease OCP to Offaly GAA. The agreed lease was a product of negotiations and agreement between Offaly GAA and Tullamore GAA and was approved by the County Board with 42 of the 44 clubs or 95% of Offaly GAA Clubs in favour of the lease agreement.

“The Lease was signed off by the Trustees of Tullamore GAA and Offaly GAA including the Director General of the GAA and the Secretary of Leinster Council. Offaly GAA covenanted that the lease would have a 35 year term which now only has a further 16 years to run.

For the past 19 years with exception to the last year or so, the lease has worked well with no major issues between Offaly GAA and Tullamore GAA. It is only since January 2020 that this dispute arose, when Offaly GAA made a decision to unilaterally cease payment of the contractual rent due without any prior consultation or agreement with Tullamore GAA. It is important to note that Offaly GAA did not seek a reduction in the rent payable on the 1st January 2020 from Tullamore GAA as Offaly GAA decided themselves that they would not pay the rent. A number of payments amounting to €42,183 were made between 7th July 2020 and the 4th November 2020. At Tullamore GAA’s financial year end (30/9/20), €35,452 was owed to Tullamore GAA. Currently, there is €47,947 owed by Offaly GAA to Tullamore GAA.

“The Lease Agreement is a legal contract which contains no provision for the unilateral withholding of rent or the reduction of rent unless agreed between both parties.

Tullamore GAA having made contact with Offaly GAA on a number of occasions during the first quarter of 2020 did not receive any response in regard to the default in the rent payments for nearly 4 months.

“The reasons put forward by Offaly GAA for the non-payment of the rent on the 1st January 2020 were set out in correspondence dated 24th April 2020 which included:

“➢ Offaly GAA can only pay the Rent to Tullamore GAA at such times when it is ‘in a position to pay the rent’.

“This is absurd as in effect, Offaly GAA is expecting a bail-out from Tullamore GAA whenever Offaly GAA purports to have a lack of funds. Such action by Offaly GAA is completely outside the terms of the lease agreement.

“➢ ‘The significant financial impact the Government restrictions had placed on Offaly GAA resulting with the closure of O’Connor Park which was necessary to adhere to the Government directions on social distancing due to the Covid-19 pandemic’ and ’as no income would arise for Offaly GAA in respect of gates for matches, shop rents etc.’

“The rent payment due on the 1st January 2020 was overdue by 3 months at the time that restrictions were put in place. As a result, Covid-19 cannot be used as a reason for the non-payment of rent due on the 1st January 2020.

“In addition there was no cancellation of matches during January/February 2020 and consequently, there would have been no adverse financial impact for Offaly GAA to meet the January rent payment at that stage.

“Also the letter dated 24th April 2020 from Offaly GAA advised Tullamore GAA that ‘Offaly GAA were in receipt of funds from Bord na Mona’ in relation to the naming rights of O’Connor Park and this income stream from O’Connor Park should have been used towards paying the rent owed to Tullamore GAA on O’Connor Park.

“It is important to note that the rights and obligations between landlords and tenants are governed by the terms of the lease agreed between the parties. There is no legislation that Tullamore GAA is aware of, that alters the operation of the agreed terms in times of crisis, whether that is a financial crisis, a public health crisis or any other crisis and there is certainly no legislation that provides for a Tenant to unilaterally decide, without the Landlord’s agreement, to cease rent payments or to reduce the amount of rent payable for a tenancy.

“Tullamore GAA met with Offaly GAA on 22nd June 2020 to discuss Offaly GAA’s unilateral decision not to pay the rent in accordance with the Lease Agreement. At that meeting Offaly GAA (i) did not provide any valid reason for not consulting with Tullamore GAA prior to taking the unilateral decision not to pay the rent that was due on 1st January 2020 – 10 weeks before the Covid-19 restrictions were implemented by Government and (ii) informed Tullamore GAA that they would not pay the rent for the period of the restrictions even if they received considerable financial support.

“In July 2020, Offaly GAA wrote to Tullamore GAA informing the Club that they ‘intend to have a review of the lease carried out later in the year, in accordance with the lease terms’. Tullamore GAA subsequently advised Offaly GAA that there is no provision in the Lease for a review of the lease agreement. The Club’s Executive Committee is only the custodian of the lease and any amendments to the lease (e.g. renaming of O’Connor Park) must be approved by the trustees and the general membership of the club at an EGM.

“Tullamore GAA as part of the process to resolve this dispute attended at a Leinster Council hearing in September 2020.

“At that hearing Tullamore GAA informed Leinster Council that, had Offaly GAA paid the rent due in January 2020 which was prior to Covid-19 Restrictions, the Club would have been willing to consider some alternative payment arrangements for the half-yearly rent due from the 1st July 2020, given the impact of the Covid-19 restrictions put in place from Mid-March 2020.

“Unfortunately, Offaly GAA did not work with Tullamore GAA in this regard as Offaly GAA unilaterally decided to withhold payment of the rent due from the 1st January 2020 without any consultation and agreement with Tullamore GAA Club.

“Leinster Council’s findings certainly did not reflect or address a number of the main points raised by Tullamore GAA at the hearing e.g. Offaly GAA’s actions to unilaterally decide without agreement with Tullamore GAA not to pay the rent; Offaly GAA’s use of the Covid-19 restrictions as the reason for not paying the rent which was due on the 1st January 2020, some 10 weeks before the restrictions were put in place by Government; and that Tullamore GAA were willing to defer part of the rent due into 2021.

“ Leinster Council’s finding that Tullamore GAA ‘were not prepared to deviate from its position’ was grossly unfair.

“When Tullamore GAA did not get a fair hearing from Leinster Council, Tullamore GAA formally wrote to Mr Tom Ryan, GAA Ard Stiúrthóir and Mr Ger Mulryan, GAA Finance Director on the 5 th October 2020 informing them of the dispute. As no response was received, a follow up letter was issued to the Ard Stiúrthóir on the 8th November 2020. No response was received from Croke Park in regard to our letters.

“Consequently, Tullamore GAA was left with no alternative but to invoke the disputes clause of the Lease Agreement and proceed with the arbitration process.

“As part of the Arbitrator appointment process, Tullamore GAA wrote to Offaly GAA on the 7th October 2020 requesting their involvement in the appointment process. Offaly GAA declined to reply to Tullamore GAA’s request to engage in this process and subsequently in accordance with the Lease Agreement; Tullamore GAA proceeded to request the President of the Law Society to appoint the Arbitrator.

“On the 6th November 2020 following the commencement of the arbitration process, Offaly GAA requested Tullamore GAA to put a hold on proceeding with arbitration as Offaly GAA wanted to engage further with Tullamore GAA to seek a resolution to this matter. In one last final effort to resolve this dispute before proceeding with arbitration, Tullamore GAA agreed to Offaly GAA’s request to put a hold on the arbitration process and requested Offaly GAA to submit its proposals in regard to when the outstanding rent would be paid to Tullamore GAA. Offaly GAA ignored the request and never submitted any proposals to Tullamore GAA Club, having in the first place requested our Club to put a hold on the arbitration process so that they could engage further with Tullamore GAA Club.

“As a result, Tullamore GAA was left with no alternative but to proceed with arbitration in accordance with the lease agreement.

“In January 2021, Offaly GAA then decided to change their firm of solicitors dealing with the matter and this resulted in further delays to the commencement of the arbitration process.

Subsequent to this, Tullamore GAA received an invitation to meet with the GAA National Finance Management Committee (NFMC). The invitation stated that the committee wished to simply discuss the dispute with Tullamore GAA to ensure that the committee would have ‘a full and clear understanding of the facts and the dispute’ from Tullamore GAA’s perspective and that the committee would ‘not be making representation on behalf of Offaly County Board’.

“At the meeting, the GAA National Finance Management Committee proposed the following:

Tullamore GAA will receive immediate payment of all monies due in accordance with the lease agreement up to the 30th April 2021. The amount outstanding as at the 30th April 2021 is €47,947.54.
A new monthly payment structure will replace the current bi-annual rent payments which are payable in advance on 1st January and the 1st July each year for the term of the lease. It was noted that the reason for this amendment was to facilitate better cash flow and budgeting arrangements for Offaly GAA.
“Having made their proposal, the NFMC subsequently enquired if Tullamore GAA Club would consider a buy-out of the remaining term of the lease.

“Tullamore GAA informed the meeting that there is currently no appetite within the Club for a potential buy-out of the lease on O’Connor Park and that a buy-out would not be acceptable to the general membership of the Club at this juncture.

“The GAA National Finance Management Committee gave an assurance to Tullamore GAA Club that their proposal as set out at No. 1 and 2 above is not conditional on Tullamore GAA agreeing to consider a buy-out of the O’Connor Park Lease by Offaly GAA.

“Tullamore GAA note that the details of the NFMC’s proposal as set out in the minutes of the Offaly GAA Management Committee’s meeting held on the 4th May 2021 are at variance to the proposal made to Tullamore GAA at their meeting with the NFMC.

“For example, in regard to Phase 2 it states that ‘Subject to delivery of Phase 1, Tullamore GAA agree to formally sit down with Offaly GAA with Croke Park acting as an independent broker to review the lease.

“Tullamore GAA refutes that (i) it formally agreed to enter discussions with Offaly GAA and Croke Park in regard to the buy-out or termination of the lease agreement and (ii) that it agreed to review the lease.

“It should be noted that Tullamore GAA never agreed to any review of the lease as stated in the proposal as there is no provision in the lease for such a review. In addition Tullamore GAA is very surprised to note that the proposal provides for Tullamore GAA to review the lease in regard to a buy-out or termination of the lease, subject to the delivery of a revised monthly payment structure and the payment of the amount owing to Tullamore GAA at present, when the NFMC expressly gave an assurance to Tullamore GAA at the meeting held on the 27th April 2021 that their proposal to Tullamore GAA is not conditional on Tullamore GAA agreeing to consider a buy-out of the O’Connor Park Lease by Offaly GAA.

“Tullamore GAA informed the NMFC of its surprise and disagreement with its assumption that Tullamore GAA agreed to enter any formal discussions with regard to the buy-out of the lease.

The NFMC in a letter to Tullamore GAA has since retracted on its original position that Tullamore GAA would receive immediate payment of the amount owed to the Club and that the rent payments due to Tullamore GAA would be paid on a monthly basis going forward.

“As a result, Tullamore GAA while trying to resolve this dispute in a practical way within the various units of the GAA organisation (Offaly GAA, Leinster Council and Croke Park) is now left with no other alternative but to immediately proceed with the arbitration process.

“In conclusion, it is important to note that OCP always returned a surplus for the Club and when Tullamore GAA leased OCP to Offaly GAA it provided a significant income stream for Offaly GAA. In addition, prior to the lease being put in place, Offaly GAA paid Tullamore GAA 10% for hosting matches in O’Connor Park and 33% for county finals. By leasing OCP, Offaly GAA is making substantial savings on this outlay. Other savings and income streams include, advertising and rental space for shops in OCP, Bord na Mona naming rights on OCP, etc.

“For Tullamore GAA, the leasing of OCP meant the loss of a steady income stream from OCP. On top of this loss, the Club incurred significant additional cost due to the development of O’Brien Park which included pitch development, building of a committee room, four dressing rooms and storage space etc. Also due to the loss of OCP, Tullamore GAA had to source additional playing facilities at extra costs for the Club. All of the aforementioned along with the servicing of a term loan taken out to fund these developments and which currently remains in place put significant additional costs on Tullamore GAA Club. The rent from OCP is used to partially fund these on-going costs.

“As referred to earlier, the lease is a legal contract which contains no provision for the unilateral withholding of rent or the reduction of rent unless agreed between Tullamore GAA and Offaly GAA. There is no provision in the lease that allows Offaly GAA or Tullamore GAA to unilaterally decide to vary the terms of the lease.

“If Offaly GAA had paid the rent due in January 2020 which was prior to Covid-19 Restrictions, the Club would have been willing to consider some alternative payment arrangements for the half-yearly rent due from the 1st July 2020, given the impact of the Covid-19 restrictions put in place from Mid-March 2020. Unfortunately, Offaly GAA made the decision not to engage with Tullamore GAA in this regard.

“Tullamore GAA acknowledges that the covid-19 crisis has had a significant adverse effect on the cash flow position of both Tullamore GAA and Offaly GAA, but it is very unfair and not appropriate for Offaly GAA to expect a bail-out from any Club including Tullamore GAA. Like every other GAA Club, Tullamore GAA has its own financial commitments that included the funding of our term loan repayments, player insurance costs, levies etc. during 2020, even though our income was significantly reduced as a result of a reduction in our weekly lottery games, the ceasing of our Bingo for most of 2020 and as a result of a sizeable drop in car parking receipts.

“As noted from the contents of this statement, Tullamore GAA has done everything possible to try and resolve this matter in a practical way but was left with no alternative but to act as it has done over the past year or so.

“Finally, Tullamore GAA hopes that the above synopsis of this issue has provided the GAA Clubs of Offaly with a better understanding of this matter from Tullamore GAA’s perspective. “

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