GAA should look again at the awarding of IRA medals to youngsters involved in sport


When the GAA club, Galbally Pearses, presented 11 and 12-year-olds with medals featuring the IRA member, Martin McCaughey, it acted in an irresponsible fashion.

The mother of one of the players was right to challenge the award of this prize to her son and it is disappointing that the GAA did not investigate the incident. Clubs who mix extremist or violent politics and sport in Northern Ireland should be disciplined, whichever code their members play.

We have to be careful not to focus solely on the negative and it should be pointed out that the GAA has done some great work over the last few years to root out sectarianism and broaden its appeal across communities.

There are clearly problems and the organisation still has an explicitly nationalist ethos, which can put off prospective unionist players and spectators. However gaelic clubs now welcome members from the security forces, the number of Protestants involved in gaelic games is rising and the GAA works closely with other sports’ governing bodies to combat sectarianism.

Sport has an enormous opportunity to be a positive force in our society and bring people together. That potential is reflected in programmes like the IFA’s Football for All, the GAA hosting the Queen at Croke Park and initiatives from Ulster Rugby to reach out to people from all backgrounds.

Gaelic clubs form a unique, grassroots network which is embedded across Northern Ireland and does a huge amount of good in terms of raising funds for charities, promoting good health and encouraging pride and a sense of belonging in communities.

So much progress has been made by all of our sporting bodies, although we should always look to do more to build on positive developments. Where there are problems we must identify them and work harder. On this occasion the GAA should look again at how these medals were awarded by one of its clubs and take action to prevent the same thing happening again.

As a society we need to be particularly careful about the message we send out to young people, if we are not to perpetuate the hatreds of the past in a new generation.

Whether it is republicans calling a park after a convicted terrorist, loyalist groups linking themselves to the original UVF and marking out territory by celebrating an organisation which murdered many of our Catholic neighbours or the award of IRA medals by a GAA club, we mustn’t allow such incidents to go unchallenged.

We should educate children that paramilitary organisations were an appalling, destructive force which have no role to play in the future of a peaceful Northern Ireland.

Trevor Ringland is a member of the NI Conservative Party