Credit: Nodlaig Ni Bhrollaigh

Campaign launched to reverse GAA’s ‘cashless’ online ticket policy 

A campaign calling on Ulster GAA to scrap its controversial cashless policy is gaining momentum – as more people add their voices to calls for the organisation to ‘serve everyone’ — not just the majority.

The campaign has been set up by Co Derry native, Nodlaig Ni Bhrollaigh, who is the sister of football analyst and former Derry star and All-Ireland winner Joe Brolly. 

Many people will be familiar with the prominent Derry GAA family who hail from Dungiven. Nodlaig’s mother is former Mayor of Limavady, politician Anne Brolly, and her father is the late Francie Brolly, a former MLA and inter-county Gaelic footballer with Derry. Ms Ni Bhrollaigh’s husband is Ciarán Herron, a former Antrim Hurler. 

Ms Ni Bhrollaigh and her husband

Speaking to Gript, Ms Ni Bhrollaigh highlighted the problems posed by a cashless policy – which she says will be keenly felt by vulnerable groups in society, particularly older people who will have difficulty buying tickets to club and county games.

Around 900 people have already signed a petition set up by Ms Ni Bhrollaigh as part of the campaign. She says she started the petition as she felt “something had to be done” with regards to the GAA’s controversial cashless policy. The grassroots campaign has already received support from some high-profile figures, including from ‘Only Our Rivers Run Free’ singer Mickey MacConnell, Derry GAA star Liam Hinphey, and journalist Ronan McSherry. 

Croke Park officials introduced a cashless policy last year, with the organisation expressing hopes that people would “adapt quickly” to the policy. At the time, the GAA said it was “keeping an open mind on the rollout” – but Ms Ni Bhrollaigh is among those who fear the GAA has ignored concerns that older people are set to be disproportionately impacted by the move.

In February 2022, Croke Park announced it was partnering with AIB Merchant Services, supported by Visa, on a major investment to provide visitors with contactless payment services. Speaking at the time, Hugh O’Donoghue of AIB said: “We have seen a major shift in customer trends over the past two years as they shift away from cash towards card payments, something that’s evident across all sectors of society as card payments across our customer base increase.” Visa said it hoped that “increased accessibility to contactless payments” throughout Croke Park would “help create an even better match day experience for spectators”.

Throughout Croke Park, tills now accept all major debit and credit cards, with contactless payments available for up to €50. Chip and Pin, Mobile and digital wallet payments, including Apple Pay and Google Pay were also made available throughout the stadium. Croke Park said the shift towards contactless would “support its vision of providing the fastest possible service to patrons with a view to reducing queueing times for fans, giving them increased time to enjoy their experience at the Stadium”.

The investment saw over 400 Clover terminals installed across the stadium’s 90 concession units, resulting in 80% of transaction locations becoming totally cashless. 

It said it would, however, maintain “limited cash services” across its food and concession units, with one till at each unit still accepting cash. However, the stadium encouraged GAA supporters to remember to bring their digital wallet, in the form of Apple Pay or Google Pay, or debit or credit card with them “to avoid potentially longer queues when choosing to pay with cash”.

In December 2020, the GAA signed a five-year contract with Ticketmaster – and citing the Covid pandemic – they opted to make all tickets digital, rather than the traditional paper versions. The cashless ticket system has come under fire due to technical difficulties experienced, along with the difficulty elderly GAA fans have experienced regarding the online element of securing tickets. 

Some stores, including Supervalu and Centra, keep a limited number of tickets which can be purchased for those who wish to use cash. 

Ms Ni Bhrollaigh told Gript that she has been contacted by people who tried to pay cash to get into GAA fixtures, but were prevented from doing so, and were subsequently turned away.

She highlighted issues with the Ticketmaster booking system – saying it adds an extra layer of complication as it makes it “more difficult” for older people to get the discount they are entitled to when paying. 

“When they were coming to the gate, they were able to show their ID and get the discount – so that seems to be causing problems as well,” she said.

“There was a lot that came out after lockdowns about the impact on particular sections of society. Case studies were done in the UK which showed us that some people with learning disabilities and some older people were really locked out of society for a certain length of time. There were people who could only manage with cash who really struggled,” Ms Ni Bhrollaigh.

“We still have people in our society who use cash, and the GAA must make that service available to them,” she added, pointing also to new statistics from the UK which show a 20 per cent rise in cash withdrawals post-lockdown, a rise which has not been recorded for some 13 years.

Ms Ni Bhrollaigh pointed to the u-turn performed by Allied Irish Bank (AIB) in the summer. AIB overturned plans to go cashless in 70 branches after the move sparked pushback from many in rural Ireland. 

“Thankfully, AIB, as a business, did a u-turn on that decision. But the distinction is that the GAA is not a business. It’s a community organisation and they should absolutely be ensuring, like AIB now have, that their services are available to those who rely on cash, who can often be some of the most vulnerable members of our society”, she told Gript.

“We know a cashless system poses much greater challenges for some people. Cash also helps give young people more independence and helps when it comes to learning how to manage money, and what the GAA are doing means they are taking that away”.

And unlike AIB, she added, the GAA is not a business – but is in receipt of public funds, which she says should mean public input is listened to. 

‘WHAT ABOUT OLDER PEOPLE?’

The Irish-speaker, GAA supporter and former player said the same situation presents itself for some people with learning disabilities.

“One freedom that some individuals – but not all – with intellectual disabilities have is being able to have control of money through cash, as it’s more easily manageable. This move would mean that it is taken away. Yes, someone else in the family could go and book tickets, but does the GAA not understand going cashless would take away that independence which is so important?”

The same, she says, applies to the older generation – who will suffer from the “indignity” of having to ask a family member or neighbour to buy them tickets online if they cannot work the system via smartphone.

“We know, after the last couple of years, that people who were marginalised before lockdowns are unfortunately even more marginalised now. A community organisation like the GAA should be going out of its way to ensure that people are catered for and marginalised people are actually prioritised. We know this sort of treatment affects people’s health and wellbeing, and affects the ability of some to engage in society”.

“We must ensure everyone can participate actively.”

She says the cashless debate has been had before within the GAA, and the organisation should be acutely aware of concerns which have repeatedly been raised. In February last year, Cork GAA delegates blasted the apparent overreach from the GAA in imposing a cashless ticketing system.

Cork County Board delegates criticised Croke Park for taking away the independence of people who had supported the association through “thick and thin” for the past 70 years.

It came after the GAA’s first full cashless set of fixtures, where tickets could not be purchased either at kiosks or turnstiles. Backlash to the cashless policy meant a limited number of tickets were made available through Centra and Supervalu, however delegates argued the inability of people to buy tickets at club matches was a source of alienation for “an awful lot of people”.

Cork County Board treasurer Diarmuid Gowen said at the time that assistance would be provided to patrons outside the ground to purchase their ticket online, but had to stress that there would be no cash sales. The implementation of the policy came despite a warning from Age Action in Cork – who highlighted the fact that two out of three people over 65 prefer to pay in cash. 

“It seems that it just fell on deaf ears,” Ms Ni Bhrollaigh said. “It was not taken into consideration at all, but we must advocate for these groups, because the failure to do so is worrying”.

Ms Ni Bhrollaigh told us she now sees that this scenario repeating itself in the North of Ireland, and that people have contacted her and others since last weekend reporting they had been turned away from matches while trying to pay in cash. The first she heard of people in Ulster not being able to pay in cash was from those who attended the Donegal U21 final at the weekend.

‘AT ODDS WITH INCLUSIVENESS’

The move to cashless, Ms Ni Bhrollaigh highlighted, is part of Ulster GAA’s Strategy for 2021 – which outlined a goal of implementing cashless payments by 2022.

“In the preamble to their strategy, they talk about inclusiveness. So for me, it’s hard to understand how they have this as an objective, when really, it’s completely at odds with inclusiveness,” she said. 

Taking to Twitter before the match on Saturday, Official Donegal GAA informed people that no cash would be taken at the gate for the U21 final in O’Donnell Park. Donegal GAA encouraged people to click on a link provided to pre-book tickets, while adding that card payments would be possible on the day.

Ms Ni Bhrollaigh says the development is deeply disappointing, and throws into question the GAA’s true commitment to being inclusive for all. 

“If you’re committed to inclusivity – as the GAA says it is – you need to be absolutely sure that you are not locking anybody out. To say there are ‘isolated incidents’ of people wanting to be able to pay in cash and not to be able to do so is not good enough”.

“We should not be leaving anybody behind, especially at a time when we’re talking so much about inclusion and diversity. We need to give people the independence to participate actively in society. The GAA are actually going against that with this policy,” Ms Ni Bhrollaigh said.

Derry ’93 (Credit: Nodlaig Ni Bhrollaigh)

She added: “I think anything that is imposed on a community organisation has to be questioned – there needs to be proper consultation, and the charities who have raised issues must be listened to. We need a proper assessment with regards to how this policy will impact particular groups”.

She said the answer to the controversy is “sitting right in front of” the GAA. 

“It’s not as though the GAA has to go through a complex process and find a solution. The solution is to make sure there is a minimum threshold around the use of cash to allow for people. The GAA must be able to confidently say they are committed to the value of inclusivity – because they know for a fact that nobody is going to be left behind”.

“So far, these policies have been brought in with very little room for discussion or debate, and because of that, problems and confrontation have been experienced,” Ms Ni Bhrollaigh said, citing instances where people have arrived to games – including in Owenbeg, Dungiven, and have been “turned away” because they couldn’t pay with cash.

“People who worked for years to build Owenbeg, to secure the land, to make sure there are fantastic facilities, will suffer because of this policy”. Many generations which have gone before would be looking at the situation now, and thinking “what did their time and energy go into?” Ms Ni Bhrollaigh asked.

“We have the situation now where people, young and old, were being turned away at Owenbeg in spite of the fact that they have legal tender in their hand they’re willing to pay. If you look at how the GAA was built over the last 100 years, it was built off the back of that spirit of volunteerism, and that is the ethos. 

“This policy really goes against that ethos, because essentially what we are now saying is that the people who built the foundations of this organisation who are now in their 70s and their 80s – or really even those who are over the age of 65 – not only are we not going to prioritise this with their own time and effort, we are actually potentially going to exclude them or make it very difficult for them.

“And in my view, in terms of the ethos the GAA should have – and has had – over many years, what we should be doing is prioritising these people. We should be ensuring we are proofing every policy to make sure that we can confidently say we are absolutely committed to the value of inclusiveness.

“People must be allowed the option to pay cash so that they can participate.”

‘THERE IS AN EASY SOLUTION’

While Ms Ni Bhrollaigh acknowledges that the “majority of people” are tech-savvy and now have smartphones, she says the GAA “wasn’t built to serve the majority”.

“A community organisation – if it’s only serving the majority – then it’s actually not meeting its aim,” she insists. “It actually has to serve everybody, and the only way the GAA can possibly know it is serving everybody is if it ensures that one turnstill takes cash at games.

She added that the policy will not only detrimentally impact older people and potentially those with disabilities, but also families. 

“Many low-income families use cash as a way of budgeting effectively. We are in a cost-of-living crisis, yet at such a time, the GAA is putting this extra pressure on families and people who are able to manage their finances better when they work with cash, allocating money for the week. We can all see how valid that is, as things can easily get away from us without the oversight physical cash can provide”.

“There is a very easy solution to this, and there is no reason to make this harder for people”.

Furthermore, she says, the GAA will not be able to gather information on the people who have been turned away, or who have stopped turning up to games, meaning a proper assessment will be hard to do.

“You’re not going to know about the people who were turned away, or the people who stopped coming, because they are the individuals, who, because of their inability to engage with all these new smart technologies, are not going to be able to gauge with any debate, or give feedback, or do any of these things.

“So the only way that the GAA can ensure that they are meeting their committed aim of inclusiveness is to facilitate – at least to some degree – the use of cash”.

She says it is unacceptable that the GAA are essentially “forcing” the policy on supporters and volunteers despite opposition, adding that further examination needs to be done on decision-making behind the scenes. 

Going forward, Ms Ni Bhrollaigh says she will formally engage with the Department of Communities in Northern Ireland to ascertain how the decision can stand, especially around concerns about accessibility obligations. She urged people to engage with their county boards over the policy, and to raise awareness about its impact. 

“We must ensure the GAA continues to serve people and to serve our communities, and I am hopefully that through engaging with our clubs actively, we can effect change on this”. 

You can view the campaign petition here

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