The Rules of the GAA were amended in 2005 to provide for an independent arbitration body for GAA disputes, known as the Disputes Resolution Authority (“DRA”). The DRA was established to avoid decisions made by the internal bodies within the GAA being appealed to the Courts.
In essence, the DRA is the forum of last resort in respect of GAA disputes. It is supported by Rule 7.13(c) of the GAA Rules, which states that no member or body within the GAA may bring a Court action concerning a GAA dispute.
Normal rules of arbitration apply at the DRA, and witnesses can be called and evidence put forward in a similar manner to any arbitration. Three members of the DRA are required to hear a dispute, and there are further rules regarding the composition of the DRA. One member hearing a dispute must be a qualified legal practitioner and another one member must not be a qualified legal practitioner.
A reference is made to the DRA by either side, once all internal avenues of appeal are exhausted within the GAA. Typically, decisions of the GAA may be appealed once. For example, a local decision may be appealed provincially and thereafter referred to the DRA. A disciplinary decision of the Central Hearings Committee (“CHC”) may be appealed to the Central Appeals Committee (“CAC”) and thereafter referred to the DRA.
The DRA is specifically not an appeal, as a full re-hearing of the facts of a dispute cannot take place unless both sides agree and the DRA agrees to conduct a full re-hearing.
As the GAA is a voluntary organisation, and all members involved are voluntary, DRA hearings usually take place in the evening at a neutral venue, and as such they often run late into the night. Hence the spectacle of Diarmuid Connolly’s appeal running until 1am on Saturday morning before the 2015 All-Ireland Football Semi-Final replay later that Saturday.
The approach of the DRA to matters of discipline was neatly encapsulated in that DRA case involving Diarmuid Connolly (DRA 15- 2015). The DRA stated that “we are designed to replace the role of the Courts in assessing whether, amongst other things, there has been a breach of fair procedures. We are not concerned with whether a decision is right or wrong, but whether that decision was reached in a fair and procedurally correct manner”.
Accordingly, the DRA will not investigate whether it would have made a different decision. Rather, it will adjudicate upon whether the decision was made correctly by the relevant GAA body, and whether fair procedures were applied. That was the essence of the Diarmuid Connolly case. The majority of the DRA determined that he had not been afforded fair procedures before the CHC and accordingly, the decision of the CHC to apply a one game suspension was quashed.
As regards yesterday’s All-Ireland Semi-Final, time will tell. Certainly the analysis after the game indicates that disciplinary action may arise in respect of certain incidents. Accordingly it is possible that one, if not two, incidents from yesterday’s game will make their way to the DRA in the three weeks before this year’s All-Ireland Final.