The current board of Sydney’s Gaelic Club is to step down en masse after an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) was called by a group of its members.
The Gaelic Club, which is affiliated to the Irish National Association (INA), is based at 64 Devonshire St, Surry Hills and runs a range of cultural activities there including Irish music and language lessons.
It appears that the INA, which owns the site, has lost confidence in the Gaelic Club’s leadership team and wants to see change.
Sixteen members of the Gaelic Club signed a petition to request the EGM. Seven of the signatories are understood to be current INA committee members.
The petition said the purpose of the request was to “elect a new Board which will develop a business and management plan for the operation of the Gaelic Club and a Memorandum Of Understanding with the INA on the Gaelic Club’s use of premises.”
In a letter to members dated May 25, 2019, a clearly unhappy Gaelic Club president Alana Sheil said the Gaelic Club Board had received a letter from the INA President Karl Kinsella in December 2018 requesting that the Club enter a formal lease arrangement.
This request was rejected by the Board because, Ms Sheil said, “this would make Directors personally liable for any shortfall in income to pay agreed rent”.
The Gaelic Club is a not-for-profit entity and its directors are volunteers. According to its 2018 Annual Report, the club’s total income was $203,130 with a small operating loss of $345.
According to Ms Sheil’s letter, which was co-signed by the Club secretary Maria Hayes, “the [Gaelic Club] Board and the INA Committee did have two face-to-face meetings… to resolve these issues”.
“The current Board has tried everything in its power to negotiate a reasonable outcome,” Ms Sheil wrote.
A subsequent letter from the INA president, dated May 15, 2019, advised that the Gaelic Club will be “required to enter a commercial lease on 1 June 2019 for $20,000 per annum”.
Furthermore, according to Ms Sheil, the INA has declined “the long standing practice to split the electricity bill 50/50” and “rescinded their support to cover the cost of the annual insurance premium of $4,769.45”.
“These recent financial imposts will render our management of the Club unviable,” Ms Sheil wrote. “The Board … will be stepping down at this EGM. We cannot continue in good faith, to act in the interests of the members under these conditions.”
The Gaelic Club and the INA have endured a turbulent history at the Devonshire St premises.
The property was once owned outright by the Irish National Association.
However, twenty years ago, an audacious bid to redevelop and regenerate the club failed.
The financing of the redevelopment was provided by private individuals and the NSW GAA. The subsequent build was struck by delays and financial pitfalls.
When the revamped Gaelic Club finally opened, two years behind schedule in March 2002, it was not as profitable as had been hoped. The ground floor bar and auditorium remained in Irish community ownership for just two more years before being sold off for $3.45 million to repay debts.
The INA, which is a registered charity, retains ownership of the upper floor which, according its most recent annual report, is valued at approximately $3,000,000. The INA reported a financial deficit of $62,000 in 2017/18.
The premises is now also home to the Irish Support Agency (ISA). During her recent visit to Sydney, Irish Minister Heather Humphreys officially opened the new ISA office at the Gaelic Club.
The Gaelic Club EGM will be held at 64 Devonshire St, Surry Hills on Monday June 17, 2019 at 7pm.