GAA pundit Joe Brolly: UUP leader Doug Beattie stirs pre-election debate by giving interview to commentator

UUP leader Doug Beattie has stirred online debate by giving a pre-election interview to controversial GAA pundit Joe Brolly.

By Philip Bradfield
Monday, 11th April 2022, 7:38 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th April 2022, 12:50 pm

The Gaelic football star, barrister and journalist said the aim of his interview, in the Sunday Independent, was to show the person behind the political profile.

Mr Brolly is the son of former Sinn Fein MLA Francie Brolly, now deceased, and Sinn Fein councillor Anne Brolly. He has previously made headlines with scathing criticism of the DUP. In 2013 he said it was “nobody else’s business” if GAA clubs or tournaments are named after republican terrorists.

Some of Mr Brolly’s fans on social media took issue with Doug stating in the interview that he ‘had to’ bayonet a man when serving in Afghanistan. And one of Doug’s critics on twitter alleged that he could take time to meet Mr Brolly for the interview while ‘refusing’ to meet constituents’ at Friday night’s anti-NI Protocol rally in Lurgan.

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UUP leader Doug Beattie has stirred reaction by giving a pre-election interview to GAA pundit Joe Brolly (pictured). Photo: Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

The News Letter put it to Mr Brolly that it was unusual for a unionist leader to give an interview to someone from his background in the mouth of an election and that it could prove counterproductive in electoral terms?

Mr Brolly replied that he is “very apolitical, publicly apolitical”. He added that he may come from Dungiven and from “what would have been described as, at one point, as a very staunchly republican place, but I have a very open attitude to life...”.

His life revolves around his organ donation charity, he says, and he affirmed that he also hopes to interview Sir Jeffrey Donaldson before the election. Asked if he was going to interview all the party leaders, he only replied that he was hoping to interview Sir Jeffrey. The DUP responded to the News Letter today that when Mr Brolly “dismissed unionist concerns about the Protocol”, Sir Jeffrey said he “might gain a better understanding from a conversation with a unionist” - but no date has yet been set.

Mr Brolly notes that one of his sons went to a “brilliant” integrated school and contends that the younger generation is “not interested in sectarianism”. He also reveals that he is a “closet cricket fan” and regularly travels to England to watch matches with a Belfast unionist.

UUP leader Doug Beattie in his soldiering days with the Royal Irish Regiment, for which he won the Military Cross.

“We have to break down barriers, you know, we have to listen to each other and essentially come to a point where we are making our own decisions,” he told the News Letter.

He says that Doug met him with “a fully open mind”. The premise for the interview was: “Look, it would be fun to meet this guy. This guy looks like a serious guy. His military exploits are legendary. He is quite clearly a man of substance but I would like to get to know him and in doing so I would like to introduce him to the Irish audience and I would also like to introduce him to the northern audience in a way that is warts and all.”

That is why he had the idea of having a few pints together in a relaxed atmosphere. He said it was “a big responsibility in those circumstances, because in the past a unionist leader might have said, ‘well absolutely no chance’.”

The pundit said of the experience that he “hugely enjoyed his company and was extremely moved by his human story”.

Mr Brolly said that he had his politics challenged when he attended Trinity College Dublin.

“I realised very quickly when I was at Trinity how ridiculous sectarianism was because I had come out of a very staunch republican community - very staunch - you know, and had these set ideas which I realised when I went to Trinity, and my peers were making fun of me basically, that they were ridiculous.”

He cites John Hume’s insistence on talking to everybody, and says the close working relationship of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness was an inspiration for him. He also speaks warmly about the experience of giving an interview about the RUC to Jamie Bryson for his website.

“These are all very important things. You know as well as I do that we can all sort of, people can sort of get caught on a political hook but behind that they can be very different. And it is those personal relationships and getting to know each other that are the most important things in the longer term, that is what breaks down sectarianism.

“And that is why I am interested in, you know, in seeing what sort of person Doug Beattie is, in seeing what sort of person Sir Jeffrey is... So that was the real purpose of this.”

He accepts that Doug took “a leap of faith” because he told him it was not going to be a political piece, but rather a human interest profile.

“He took a leap of faith, he interrupted a busy day of canvassing to spend two or three hours with me. And so that was it.

“You know he is quite clearly a man of substance. You look at what he has done, what he has achieved, you know. And he is the sort of guy - I always think if a boy will stand his round and have a pint with you, you know, that is the beginning of something (laughing).”

Doug Beattie was also invited to comment.