It may surprise some readers to learn that there has been a referee strike in progress for over a fortnight now, given that fixtures remain unaffected.
This is because only one of our two local groupings, the Limerick branch of the Irish Soccer Referees Society (ISRS), has decided to withdraw their services. On February 14, the older branch — from which Limerick East broke away in 2015 — informed the LDMC that their members were unavailable for appointments until the status quo changed.
That status quo was partly touched on in a late-November column, when I revealed that the LDMC’s referee allocations officer is failing to adhere to Article 8.2 of the FAI’s Referee Regulations.
Said article states quite clearly that: “The allocation or non-allocation to matches shall be at the discretion of the relevant league, in consultation with the Lead Referee Observer.” This is still not happening, and Limerick’s lead referee observer Paddy Collins remains out of the loop.
As previously discussed, this has led to a situation where an individual with no background in match officiating is making judgement calls about the ability-levels of referees.
Members of both branches have told this column that the grading system used to assess referees is not being respected. Never was this more evident than when one referee was forced to leave the Limerick District League, when his achievement of Grade 1 status was scoffed at.
Convinced that his talents did not match that grading, the referee’s family ties to a Premier Division player were used as an excuse to bar him from the big games he was entitled to officiate.
Another FAI regulation was dug up, and deliberately misinterpreted, to justify this, impacting two other top referees until justice was finally served late last year.
The Limerick branch want all parties to hammer out a deal that would see gradings respected again, with a referee observer providing input on appointments. In addition, the group also wants to address what they perceive to be an unfair sharing out of fixtures between the two branches.
According to a Limerick branch source, concerns about this imbalance were raised with the LDMC at a meeting in early-November, during which the committee promised that things would improve. And, for a while, things did improve — until, that is, the open-rounds of the Munster Junior Cup came around.
On Sunday, January 22, all four locally-based fourth-round ties were overseen by Limerick East referees and assistant referees only — including one member of the Elite ranks, who it was agreed were only to be used for junior games on an emergency basis.
Needless to say, Limerick branch members were decidedly unimpressed, particularly when they heard that one of the twelve chosen Limerick East officials had little or no experience running the line in a match of that magnitude. It is because of this massive slight that the camel’s back was broken, and the branch decided to strike in mid-February.
But, with roughly twice as many junior referees in the Limerick East branch, the LDMC were easily able to fill the gaps that this pull-out created. For that reason, there is more than a bit of naivety attached to the Limerick branch’s decision — going nuclear is silly if the other branch aren’t going to back you, and the LDMC aren’t going to get hurt.
When asked by the Limerick branch to meet and discuss the issues, the LDMC are said to have replied that they were “not in a position to meet at the moment”. Enough said.
All of which begs the question — why aren’t the Limerick East branch backing their colleagues and refusing to cross the picket-line? Limerick branch officials took this up with the ISRS, who contacted Limerick East higher-ups to ask them the same question.
The answer that the ISRS received was simply that Limerick East would be discussing the matter at their next meeting on March 6.
It is true that there is still bad blood between the two groups; as recently as last summer, the Limerick branch refused to hash out a common platform on pay and conditions, which hurt both branches in their subsequent discussions with the LDMC.
But, despite the best efforts of one powerful Limerick East individual to prevent the group’s members from talking to this column, several of those members were happy to tell me that they agree with the Limerick branch’s views on unfair allocation.
So, why didn’t Limerick East immediately back their former colleagues and give the LDMC something to really think about?
Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that the very same Limerick East individual, who sees a lot of action compared to other men-in-the-middle, was appointed by the LDMC to an incredible four games between February 16 and February 19. Why fix it if it ain’t broke, eh?