Unionists have reacted with anger after a top GAA figure suggested they should mind their own business when it comes to naming its grounds after IRA and INLA men.
It came just one day after Peter Robinson spoke at a GAA event about the positive moves which the organisation had made.
DUP MP and ex-finance minister Sammy Wilson described Joe Brolly’s words as a “churlish, discourteous, surly, sullen and ignorant response” to what he said was an outstretched “hand of friendship”.
Fellow party MP Gregory Campbell branded it an “outburst” and said that many, including those involved in the GAA, would be “appalled”.
Speaking about the fact that his hometown club of Dungiven is named after republican hunger striker Kevin Lynch, GAA pundit and barrister Mr Brolly said yesterday: “It’s nobody else’s business – it’s as simple as that,” adding: “People can either like it or lump it.”
He said: “That’s the way societies and communities work. Kevin played hurling for Dungiven and for Derry, and the hurling club was named for that reason. We’re very proud of him.”
While speaking favourably about the GAA the previous evening, Mr Robinson had also told his audience that it was “wrong to honour and extol” members of terrorist organisations.
Mr Brolly, known for his appearances on RTE’s GAA coverage and a former player, made his remarks on BBC radio, adding that the issue of names for the grounds was a “sideshow”.
According to the book Lost Lives, an encyclopaedic account of Troubles-related deaths, Lynch was an INLA member serving a 10-year sentence for conspiring to disarm members of the security forces, before he died on hunger strike, aged 25.
One of those reacting to Mr Brolly’s remarks, Sammy Wilson, issued a statement last night which read: “What is it about republicans and their supporters, in whatever guise they come, that they have to behave as if they had no manners or ever learnt the basic rules of courtesy?
“Peter Robinson, in a genuine attempt to move Northern Ireland, did the right thing in recognising the importance of the GAA to many in Northern Ireland, and the action they had taken to remove their discriminatory ban on members of the security forces, which was seen as sectarian and pro-terrorist.”
But he went on to say that the naming of grounds after violent republicans “is everybody’s business”, adding: “Dinosaurs like Joe Brolly may appeal to the rednecks or green-necks in republican strongholds, but his intemperate response to the gesture of goodwill from Peter Robinson does himself and the sport he represents no credit.”
TUV leader Jim Allister MLA issued a statement which read: “Mr Brolly’s remarks more than suggest that when it comes to outreach it is a one-way process with the GAA.
He added that the organisation was “lapping up the praise of foolish unionist politicians” while failing to address unionist concerns.
Gregory Campbell, in his reaction to the comments, asked: “What would the reaction among nationalists have been had any other sporting code allowed a team to award a Shankill Butchers Memorial Cup to young players from the unionist community?
“It would quite rightly have been lambasted.”
The Republic of Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore said the naming of gaelic clubs after dead republican paramilitaries is a matter for the GAA.
He said: “I think these are issues that the GAA decide.
“What we have to work at here is how we build bridges, how we move beyond the difficulties of the past.”
The Tanaiste was speaking at the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce annual dinner.
A number of other GAA grounds are named after IRA or INLA members, such as Jim Lochrie and Sean Campbell Park at Dromintee.