2,500 get shirty over Jim Allister's bid to ban GAA tops from university campuses
More than 2,500 people have signed a petition against a contentious bid to have GAA shirts banned from university campuses.
The wearing of the sporting jerseys was described by TUV leader Jim Allister as "creating a substantial chill factor" for Protestant students at the University of Ulster.
Mr Allister claimed the shirts were causing "an intimidating atmosphere for many students".
The outspoken unionist's claims have been rejected as "absurd" by Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan.
In recent days more than 2,500 people have signed up to an online petition entitled 'Stop the ban on GAA jerseys at University of Ulster'. Students at UU also hit out at the move.
"I am a member of the 'Protestant community' that the shirts are supposed to be intimidating. What a load of nonsense! It's a sports jersey, how is that threatening?" one said.
Another post online read: "I personally think it is unfair and ridiculous, we should be able to wear what we want to university, it's what we have always worn. It loses our rights and we pay to go there, so we should be allowed to wear what we want."
Environment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry said the University of Ulster had created a working group to develop a good relations policy.
"An action plan has been developed, which will be presented to the relevant university committee in April. The policy will cover, inter alia, political expression, culture, language and dress code," said Mr Farry.
Mr Flanagan discussed Mr Allister's complaint with the minister during a meeting of the employment and learning committee in Stormont.
Speaking afterwards, the Sinn Fein MLA said: "The University of Ulster should not involve itself in this anti-GAA campaign. The university needs to promote diversity in sport and treat all codes with equal respect.
"The GAA is open to people from all traditions and ethnic backgrounds, who take part and enjoy the many sporting and cultural events the GAA provides."
Mr Flanagan said he would be meeting with senior management at the university to discuss the situation.
Mr Allister yesterday responded to Mr Flanagan's criticism, highlighting the naming of some GAA clubs after IRA members.
He added: "I wouldn't expect Mr Flanagan to care about how unionist students feel about the GAA. The question was asked because I was approached by a group of students from a unionist background who felt that the proliferation of GAA tops created a chill factor."
A University of Ulster spokeswoman said: "The university, in conjunction with the Students' Union, has established a Good Relations working group to review guidance to students on this and other issues. The review will cover political expression, culture, language and dress code, including sportswear.
"This work is ongoing."
Views from our Young Editors
“We chose to talk about this topic as I attend Lagan College. When we have non-uniform days, pupils are not allowed to wear any form of sports jersey, GAA or otherwise.
"I feel that it is good to avoid any form of conflict. However, I also think people should have their own freedom to wear what they want. People need to stop affiliating someone’s sports preference with their religious or political views.”
“I think the more this issue is discussed, the bigger it will become. Jerseys represent a sporting society, not what religion or political affiliation you may have. As a member of the nationalist community, I know that on the flipside I don’t feel intimidated by any garments worn by any other religious denomination. Why jerseys? What next? Shamrocks on St Patrick’s Day?”