Former DUP sports minister Gregory Campbell has welcomed comments from a senior GAA figure who suggested the organisation could stop flying the Irish tricolour.
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, one of the most prominent and well-known figures in the GAA, pointed to past changes within the organisation as he suggested the GAA could stop flying the Irish tricolour and playing the Irish national anthem when “the time is right”.
East Londonderry MP Mr Campbell was sports minister when Mr Harte’s Tyrone side won the All-Ireland football championship in 2008. He said Mr Harte’s comments were to be welcomed but stressed that there were still significant problems for the GAA to overcome, not least the naming of certain clubs and grounds.
“I do know that there can be an association with the GAA, particularly in Tyrone, and extreme republican agendas,” Mr Campbell said.
“There are a number of grounds in Tyrone named after IRA terrorists. In my own constituency there is a club named after Kevin Lynch, an INLA terrorist.
“I think it is welcome if any figure like Mickey Harte, who is in a prominent position in the GAA, makes statements like that. It is very helpful and it is very useful. I said similar things to Mickey Harte when I was the sports minister and County Tyrone won some sort of Gaelic trophy or other – I think it was called the Sam Maguire.
“I made the point at the time that things were changing and that was welcome but that they needed to do more, so if Mickey Harte is making those type of comments that is welcome.
“I think that these things they are discussing – the Irish national anthem and the tricolour – are things that should be done in their own right. It shouldn’t be done only as a means to try and get unionists involved in the GAA – the changes should be made because it is right.”
Speaking during a radio interview with the BBC, Mr Harte said: “If the time’s right and people felt there was some movement could happen in that that direction, then I think it will.”
Last month, GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghaíl suggested the association may stop playing the Irish national anthem and flying the Irish tricolour at matches.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl, said he accepted the anthem and tricolour caused “difficulty at home” but stressed that any changes would only come in an “agreed Ireland”.
He later clarified those comments, saying they were “very much in the realms of speculation as to a new future”.