ULSTER’S most senior GAA figure has pledged that the body will show respect for key unionist centenaries over the coming decade by attending every commemoration to which it is invited.
Danny Murphy, who is provisional director of the GAA in Ulster, said that his association – despite its long association with nationalism and republicanism – would attend “every event” in the next decade to remember the milestones that led to partition.
The promise to attend commemorations of events symbolic to many unionists such as the signing of the Ulster Covenant, the Battle of the Somme and the creation of Northern Ireland would have been unthinkable in past years.
The GAA, which has a strong Irish cultural ethos, did not take part in the 50-year anniversary of Northern Ireland in 1971.
Mr Murphy made his comment in a two-page article for the Presbyterian Herald, which he wrote in response to the challenges given to the GAA by former Presbyterian moderator the Rev Dr Norman Hamilton when he addressed a conference organised by the body in October.
It is understood that senior GAA official Ryan Feeney yesterday met the Church of Ireland to discuss commemorative events to mark 100 years since the Somme and the Ulster Covenant.
In his article, Mr Murphy said: “Finally as we enter a decade of commemoration I want to state emphatically that the GAA will play its part in ensuring that over the next 10 years each commemorative event is shown respect.
“I have in the past and I will again call for the next 10 years to become a decade of reconciliation where we educate each other to our different traditions and historical perspectives and if the GAA is invited it will send a representative to every event that takes place over the next decade.
“The events of a century ago still resonate in the Ulster and Ireland of today and I agree strongly with the comments made by Norman in October when he said we must dispel the myths and let the facts, no matter how uncomfortable, surface to be properly interpreted.”
He said that the GAA was committed to “building a shared future and a better future for everyone on this island”.
Mr Murphy also recalled how he and Dr Hamilton had bonded at their first meeting last year when the news of Michaela McAreavey’s murder reached them.
“In the moments that followed the delivery of that terrible news Norman did what any good Christian and pastor would do – he offered words of comfort and also a prayer.
“As I sat and listened to Norman pray for Michaela, her husband John and the Harte family, I was overcome with emotion at the loss of the young woman who was the embodiment of everything that was good about the GAA.
“I also was deeply touched at the compassionate words of a man who represented a church who traditionally had no link with the GAA.
“As with so many things in life it is in the darkest hours of despair and tragedy that we find hope for what the future of this island can be.”
He praised Dr Hamilton as “a true man of God” and said that they “share a common bond as Ulster men and a vision for a shared future that is built on tolerance and mutual respect”.
When he addressed the GAA’s October meeting, Dr Hamilton challenged the organisation to help “de-politicise” the Irish language that was being abused as part of a political game.
Mr Murphy said that he “strongly welcomed” that challenge but stressed that he believes an Irish Language Act that “respects the right of those who do not use or want to use Irish” is preferable.
He said: “Our language should never be used to mark territory or to show disrespect to the different cultural traditions that share this island.”