Tom Elliott: The GAA president’s remarks on anthem and flag are a welcome first step

GAA president Aogan OFerghail has said they would be open minded about the use of the Irish national anthem and flying of the Tricolour at matches

GAA president Aogan OFerghail has said they would be open minded about the use of the Irish national anthem and flying of the Tricolour at matches

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I welcome, as a first step, the comments by the GAA president Aogan O’Ferghail, that they would be open minded about the use of the Irish national anthem and flying of the Tricolour at matches.

For many years the GAA has been seen by members of the unionist community as heavily linked with Irish nationalism and on occasions even militant republicanism, which not surprisingly, has meant the GAA has been received poorly in unionist circles.

Tom Elliott, Ulster Unionist MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Tom Elliott, Ulster Unionist MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The continuance of the GAA insisting on flying the Republic of Ireland’s national flag and playing the Irish national anthem at their sports matches in the United Kingdom certainly lessens its appeal to unionists.

However, these recent comments have to be welcomed, and have the potential to open up a conversation whereby issues can be discussed. I would be happy to be part of those conversations.

It echoes calls from prominent GAA man Jarlath Burns, who just last year called for a discussion on reforming the GAA to take account of unionist concerns.

Just like Jarlath, the most senior GAA figure, Aogan O’Ferghail seems to at least acknowledge the concerns of others regarding the political connotations of the association aims and objections.

The GAA has benefited greatly from UK state funding in recent years, whether through Lottery Funding, the Northern Ireland Executive or local district councils. I would like to see a time when this investment is perceived as being open and welcoming to all.

The difficult issue of republican symbols and names at a number of clubs’ grounds would still prove a major issue for many unionists and I hope these too could be tackled in the near future. Particularly in cases where victims feel most impacted by the individuals commemorated.

It is refreshing to hear individuals within the GAA expressing some forward thinking who demonstrate a willingness to build better relations between the GAA and all sections of society and break down some very obvious barriers.

However the real test is when these ideas are actioned and they become a reality.

The question now is can these senior people in the GAA deliver?

• Tom Elliott is Ulster Unionist MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone