LEADING reconciliation campaigner Trevor Ringland has called on the GAA to make an official statement after IRA medals were handed to children at one of its clubs.
It was reported last week that the mother of an 11-year-old boy was angered after medals featuring IRA member Martin McCaughey were given out during an under-12 boys’ event at Galbally Pearses Club in Tyrone.
A spokesman for Tyrone Gaelic Athletic Association said: “If the mother has a comment, she should make it to Tyrone County offices. They would obviously look at it.”
A spokesman for the GAA’s Ulster Council said it “has no comment to make until we receive official notification from the individual involved”.
IRA men Dessie Grew and Martin McCaughey were shot dead by the SAS in Co Armagh in 1990. An inquest last month ruled that the SAS had used “reasonable force” and that the IRA men’s own actions had contributed to their deaths.
On Wednesday the News Letter reported DUP peer Lord Morrow as saying the medals “will horrify many Roman Catholics, never mind Protestants”. While some in the GAA “undoubtedly want to move forward”, this action has “brought shame on the entire organisation”, he said.
Mr Ringland, who leads the One Small Step campaign for reconciliation in Northern Ireland, said the issue should be addressed.
“Should the GAA make a public statement distancing themselves from this? I think they should,” he said. “But if they don’t I have no doubt the matter will be dealt with.
“The Ulster GAA Council is very concerned about inclusion and building relationships with others that have previously felt excluded. But like many other parts of society, there are people with extreme views who try to use every opportunity to promote their extreme opinions, and put a cloak of respectability around them.”
The son of an RUC officer and a former Ireland and Lions rugby player, Mr Ringland said he was attending a GAA final this weekend where he would raise his concerns.
“It is incumbent on society to highlight to our children what the IRA and loyalists actually did so that our children do not carry that hatred into the future,” he said.
“It is important we remember that republicans killed some 2,000 people during the Troubles, many of them nationalists. The IRA, supposedly protecting the nationalist community, only killed 34 loyalists. By contrast the much-demonised UDR only killed eight people in total.”
He added: “Many people use these things as an opportunity to knock the GAA because they don’t like the organisation. But we also need to remember the good work and community spirit in the rest of the GAA.”
The News Letter understands there are at least six competitions run in GAA clubs that are named after republicans. A Dungiven club is named after INLA member Kevin Lynch and GAA grounds in Fermanagh are named after IRA member Louie Lennard. The GAA had made no comment to the News Letter at the time of going to press.