Former chairman of the GAA's national referees development committee, Willie Barrett, says the GAA need to get serious about the issue of referee abuse after the alleged assault of a Roscommon match official this week.

Barrett refereed from 1976 to 2018 and took charge of two All-Ireland senior hurling finals in that time.

Speaking in general terms only - and not about the alleged events of the past few days - Barrett says that only strong action would prevent incidents happening in the future.

"It worries me really," he says. "When it comes to any incident, there will be an outcry for four or five days and there will be an investigation by the GAA. But defence mechanisms can come into play and things can get watered down and then forgotten about for a while.

"The bottom line is that I feel that any attack, physical or otherwise, of a GAA official should see the full rigours of the law placed on the perpetrator.

"Any physical attack is a civil matter as far as I'm concerned.

"Suspensions from the association are handed out but what does that mean? Is someone suspended stopped at the gate for the next match or whatever? It does not happen," he said.

"Until we get really serious with all these matters it will continue.

"Such issues should come before the courts and I think that could be the end of it then.

"If strong action is taken people may think twice. At no stage is there any justification for physically assaulting a GAA official. That’s what I believe should happen. Take the strongest possible action and condemn it for what it was."

Over 12 years ago, Barrett was involved in an incident in a club game whilst he was refereeing.

"For me, over the years it was mostly that fellas might give out to you and so forth. That physical aspect was not there. It happened to me once and when it happens, it is the last thing you expect. From my own experience it put everything on the back burner. Your confidence takes a real blow and it is pretty difficult to go back out ref a game.

"At the final whistle of the next match you stood back to one side and looked to all angles of the pitch because that fear was still in your mind."

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Barrett feels that the GAA have worked exceptionally hard to clear the sideline of personnel on inter-county match days.

He feels there was a huge improvement in that area for league and championship games in 2022.

"The problem is still at club level," he says. "There are still far too many there.

"If something happens no-one is there to stop people from running in."

The former referees' chief says the issue of recruitment for match officials also needs addressing.

"I would appoint a full-time recruitment officer in each province to be overseen by Croke Park," he says.

"There are currently people at provincial administration level working hard to get more referees in but we need full-time personnel with clearly defined roles in each province. It will cost money I know but I think there will be a referee shortage in the years to come unless measures are taken."