THE land may be in south-east London, but there is little more Irish than a row over a field.
In essence, that’s what the New Eltham saga is: Paddy-on-Paddy, at loggerheads with a few acres at stake.
Of course, when you dig a little deeper it becomes a riddle, wrapped inside a mystery, swaddled by enigma.
Trying to get to the truth in a story like this is difficult, because quite a lot of people are involved and all have their own version of the truth.
Still, a newspaper that covers the affairs of the Irish community in Britain has a duty to make their best attempt to put the pieces together and see what the puzzle looks like.
I’m not working on this story. I was on week one, back in mid-August, because I covered for a news shift at the paper in place of Robert Mulhern. Once he returned the next day, I handed over the reins and ever since he’s done as decent a job as possible of making sense of all this.
He knows a lot more about the minutiae of this story but I do, I think, have a reasonable grasp of the bigger picture. From conversations with people involved in British GAA, I am more versed on their side of the story than the general public for the simple reason that the GAA refuse to enter the debate and put their truth on the record.
This, I believe, is damaging the GAA. The developers are putting their best foot forward while the other side remains silent. Any Junior Cert student will tell you that nature hates a vacuum. That’s what the GAA have done here – create a void that will be filled by some other source, in this instance, their opponents in the dispute.
The official line from Croke Park – and this affair goes right to the Association’s top of headquarters – is that they are acting on legal advice to remain silent.
Well, that may make their learned friends lives’ a little easier. But this is about more than a bunch of lawyers. This is about the reputation of the GAA in Britain. By the time it’s finished, it could be about the reputation of the GAA, full stop.
In modern life, you cannot afford to lose the PR battle. It’s very hard to win that battle if you don’t fight.
This is not a criminal case, it’s a civil case – there is not the same danger of prejudicing a trial.
Either way, despite the summary judgement that Novalong has entered, I’d be surprised if this progresses to court. A few years of court reporting taught me a few things, such as: cases like this usually don’t finish up before a judge.
When you have high-profile organisations that are in dispute over an affair that has dragged on for more than a decade, it rarely suits the protagonists on either side to answer to lawyers’ probing questions while the press sits five yards away taking notes.
Reaching an agreement “on the steps” is almost always preferable. Of course, it may go the legal distance, but the smart money is it won’t.
Which would mean that the only record of this – in the internet age when pretty much everything lasts forever – is a series of statements from the developers.
I know the GAA establishment here is confident they are the party in the right. Croke Park have indicated that if the GAA in Britain felt strongly about making a statement then they could make representations to them.
It is incumbent upon GAA leaders to show leadership. That means stepping out from behind the ‘legal-matter-in-the-hands-of-our-solicitors’ screen and addressing the Irish public in Britain – many of whom are GAA members.
The GAA must state their case because in the court of public opinion, in the information age, silence is seldom golden.