GAA encouraged for welcoming inclusivity, slammed for terror links

The DUPs Paul Givan tries his hand at Gaelic football last week, and the GAA are exploring new ways to make the sport even more accessible
The DUPs Paul Givan tries his hand at Gaelic football last week, and the GAA are exploring new ways to make the sport even more accessible

While the GAA’s willingness to consider the removal of the Irish tricolor and ‘Soldier Song’ from games has been welcomed by some, more needs to be done to eradicate links to terrorism according to the leader of the TUV.

Meanwhile, NI Conservative politician and former Ireland rugby international Trevor Ringland said such a move would “remove another chill factor” in making the sport more accessible.

GAA President Aogan O Fearghail said this week the association was open to consideration on its use of the tricolour and Irish national anthem, which he accepted “causes more difficulty” in Northern Ireland.

TUV leader Jim Allister said the GAA had a much larger stumbling block to overcome than flags and anthems.

He said: “The key problem with the GAA remains its attachment to the glorification of terrorism.

“Take for example the case of Kevin Lynch Hurling Club in Dungiven.

“The club is named after a man who, among other things, was convicted of kneecapping someone from the local area.

“What sort of sport names clubs after someone who engaged in activity which can deny people the ability to ever walk again, never mind play GAA or any other sport?”

Mr Ringland, who set up the One Small Step Campaign towards peace-building, said gaelic games “shouldn’t be an Irishness that we’re scared of”.

He said any move to make the sport more inclusive should be welcomed.

He commented: “This is about changing the landscape of society for a positive future. Sport has the ability to do that.

“This is a discussion for the GAA but it’s certainly one I welcome.”

Mr Ringland said the Irish Football Association’s work on making the Northern Ireland national team more inclusive was a positive example, and the adoption of ‘Ireland’s Call’ by the Ireland rugby team was another success story.

The former Ulster and Ireland player said the ‘Soldier Song’ and Irish tricolour he stood for during Irish home internationals was a very different ‘Soldier Song’ and flag that was being used in the name of terrorism.

He said he felt “welcomed and unified” by the pre-match ritual at Lansdowne Road.

Mr Ringland said: “The Irish tricolour and British Union Flag have been used in different ways by different people.

“Extremists use flags to create division, for me, a flag is about inclusivity.”

He said the debate over making sport more inclusive was one that should involve “people who want to build relationships rather than destroy them”.

GAA President Mr O Fearghail said: “We have to learn from our international units that we should never have closed minds about things that we always thought were precious and sacred.

“They may well be that, but we have to have open minds as to where this could go.

“I think at home it causes more difficulty as such but everything is very possible.”