GAA says 'we are unambiguously anti-sectarian' after meeting with Troubles victims' group over issues like pro-IRA chanting
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The statement came after a meeting with the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) over concerns about sectarianism among the GAA movement’s fans, such as recent chanting of “ooh ahh up the Ra” (the closing chant from the Wolfe Tones’ song ‘Celtic Symphony’, sung recently by some fans of Armagh GAA in a clip circulated on social media).
However, the GAA statement included the following line, suggesting that there are different ways of interpreting such chants:
It said that SEFF had “pointed out that what might be seen as banter by some, such as the signing of a line from the song ‘Celtic Symphony’, is interpreted as a glorification of terrorism by some victims and causes undue hurt to them” [News Letter’s emphasis].
The News Letter has asked Ulster GAA how it would be possible to interpret a chant of “ooh ahh up the Ra” as anything other than glorifying terror, and is awaiting a response.
In addition, SEFF has since confirmed to the News Letter that its own position on such chants is that they amount to the “goading” of terror victims and survivors, and “can be understood no other way”.
The meeting involved figures from a national and regional level of the GAA: Ulster provincial secretary Brian McAvoy, Ulster GAA head of community development Diarmaid Marsden, and the GAA’s overall director of communications Alan Milton.
The gaelic contingent emphasised “the numerous cross-community initiatives that the GAA is presently engaged with,” and said that all those present at the meeting acknowledged the “positive community contribution made by the GAA”.
The GAA statement statement went on to say: “They [SEFF] also expressed concerns about the actions of a small minority of supporters at a number of Ulster Championship games this year and on the wider issue of GAA memorials.
“Speaking after the meeting, Brian McAvoy said: ‘It was a humbling experience to meet with the SEFF representatives and hear their personal testimonies. They stressed that they are a support group for victims, irrespective of creed, gender of ethnicity.
“‘The group pointed out that what might be seen as banter by some, such as the signing of a line from the song ‘Celtic Symphony’, is interpreted as a glorification of terrorism by some victims and causes undue hurt to them.’
“The GAA representatives stressed that the association was both a sporting and cultural organisation, with a clear and unambiguous anti-sectarian and anti-racist ethos.
"Both parties agreed to continue their engagement going forward.”
The GAA was also asked by the News Letter how it reconciles its “unambiguously anti-sectarian” ethos with the fact GAA contests and grounds continue to be named after republican paramilitaries.
These include Kevin Lynch GAA club in Dungiven, named after an INLA hunger striker, the annual Joe Cahill U11 Gaelic Football Tournament in west Belfast (named after one of the founders of the PIRA), Louis Leonard Memorial Park in Fermanagh, named after an IRA man, and McDonnell/Doherty Park in west Belfast, also named after two other dead IRA men.
The GAA has previously indicated that such naming decisions are taken at local club level without endorsement from any governing body, and that they arise from the fact the paramilitaries being commemorated were also gaelic sportsmen.
SEFF SAYS TALKS WILL CONTINUE:
Kenny Donaldson, SEFF's director stated this afternoon that engagement with the GAA will go on.
"The chant ‘ooh ahh up the Ra’ is understood by innocent victims/survivors of republican terrorism as being an intentioned and goading behaviour.
"It can be understood no other way, and its linkages to particular bands such as the Wolfe Tones, who have a history of rabble rousing around the Irish rebel cause, cannot go undeclared.
"On a personal level, I have a keen interest in Irish Trad music. It is clear what exists within that genre, and what others are attempting to muscle in with.
"These chants along with other anti-British or pro-Irish Republican ballads connection with the terror of our recent past (and indeed which runs into our present) is not traditional Irish music, and all who claim to have concern for the protection and promotion of traditional Irish music (including the GAA) need to waken up and face down those elements who are seeking to mainstream such material.
"We commit to engaging further with the GAA and others around these issues, hoping that new understandings will emerge and that people will be prepared to face up to the wrong behaviours and attitudes which exist and which if allowed for, will store up significant problems for the future.”