GAA speech ‘first’ for ex-moderator

A FORMER moderator of the Presbyterian Church says he is looking forward to making a keynote speech at a GAA conference later today.

Dr Norman Hamilton will address members of the association in Armagh this afternoon as the Ulster council gathers in the city for its annual convention.

The senior clergyman declined last night to detail what exactly the substance of his landmark speech would be, however, he previously indicated that he would issue “challenges” to the sporting body.

Mr Hamilton’s GAA address comes only weeks after fellow Presbyterian minister, David Latimer, sparked unionist anger by speaking at Sinn Fein’s party conference last month.

Earlier this year, Dr Hamilton held talks with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

Mr Hamilton said he was looking forward to engaging with local senior GAA representatives, who he had met on a formal basis previously.

“It’s a very gracious invitation and I am very glad to accept it,” he said.

Asked if the presence of a Protestant clergyman at such an occasion was a sign of a more normalised Northern Ireland, the Ballysillan minister replied: “I have been trying to encourage cross-community relations for years so this is another expression of that.”

Commenting on the reaction of parishioners to his GAA engagement, Dr Hamilton insisted that any feedback he has received has been “nothing but encouragement”.

“It is very much as I expected, having met the GAA before, there is no surprise in being with them again.”

In an earlier interview with this newspaper last week, the Belfast clergyman confirmed part of his brief today would be to lay down challenges to his audience.

He admitted: “But facing challenges is a two-way street, and in bringing any challenges, I will also be challenged, and that is the only way that we can make progress.

“The GAA has made considerable progress in their outreach work, and obviously my attendance can be seen as furthering that work.”

Mr Hamilton revealed he forged his relationship with the GAA in January of this year following the tragic death of Michaela McAreavey.

News of the Tyrone woman’s murder while on her honeymoon in Mauritius came through as the minister met with officials in Armagh.

Speaking earlier this month, Danny Murphy — the secretary of Ulster GAA — said he also anticipated Dr Hamilton’s address to challenge delegates at the conference.

“We are looking forward to what he has to say. It’s important for our delegates to hear his views of the GAA, that is why we invited him,” he said.

“This is part of our ongoing efforts to engage, not only with Presbyterians, but other sections of the wider community, who would previously have had little connection with the GAA.”

Sports minister Caral Ni Chuilin and GAA president-elect Liam O’Neill are also due to be in attendance today at the Armagh City Hotel.