Arlene Foster’s attendance at Sunday’s Ulster GAA final has created “a lot of concern” among traditional grassroots DUP supporters, an MLA has claimed.
Jim Wells stated categorically that he has “absolutely no intention” of following in his party leader’s footsteps by attending any GAA events in his South Down constituency.
Describing the GAA as a “cold house for Protestants”, the veteran DUP Assembly member said the organisation “must become more inclusive”.
He also voiced his opposition to attending sporting events on a Sunday, stating that the Sabbath is a “day for a family and church”.
He told the News Letter: “I have been asked to attend GAA events in my constituency many times and I have never attended any of them. I have great problems with the GAA in South Down, particularly when they host blatantly republican events on their premises or name some of their grounds after hunger strikers and terrorists.
“For those reasons I have always consistently resisted all overtures to attend their sporting events.”
However, Mr Wells said Mrs Foster was in an “invidious” position as party leader and added that he understood her decision to attend the showpiece match in Clones, Co Monaghan.
“I am content that she said she would not have asked others in the party to do the same, and that it was a personal decision for her,” he added.
“I wouldn’t expect to see a sudden rush of other DUP MLAs doing the same.
“There is a lot of concern in the grassroots traditional DUP support over what happened, but I understand her unique situation and I think she has set the right tone by saying it was a personal choice.”
On the issue of attending sporting events on a Sunday, Mr Wells said: “I am a season ticket holder for Northern Ireland and have been a supporter for 45 years, and I would never consider going on a Sunday, that is how strongly I feel about it.”
While he said he hoped to open a dialogue with the GAA in his constituency, Mr Wells added: “I can assure you I will not be going to any GAA events in South Down.
“The GAA need to take steps to reciprocate Mrs Foster’s gesture, and do things to make the organisation more inclusive.”