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Brokenshire accused of 'pettiness' over Irish anthem 'snub' at GAA game in Northern Ireland

By Jonathan Bell

The Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been accused of pettiness after he attended a GAA game at the weekend, but was absent during the Irish national anthem.

A Northern Ireland-born English MP described the minister taking his seat after the playing of the anthem as a "snub" and a regressive step.

The Conservative government minister attended the McKenna Cup final - won by Tyrone as they took on Derry in Newry on Saturday - at the invitation of the Ulster Council.

It was the first time a serving Secretary of State has attended a GAA event in Northern Ireland.

Mr Brokenshire took his seat after the Irish national anthem played. During it he was in the stadium's control room as the anthem was played.

"I don't want to offend anyone here tonight, I am here in the spirit of friendship," he added.

A spokeswoman said he received a warm welcome and was genuinely touched by the warm welcome. 

"Saturday night football game was about sport not politics," she added.

However, Armagh born Labour MP Conor McGinn, who chairs Westminster's all-party committee on Ireland said he was bemused over his absence.

He said he understood that Mr Brokenshire "had arranged" to be at the game after the anthem had been played.

The St Helen's MP told the BBC: "I am surprised a United Kingdom government minister didn't show the appropriate protocol and respect for the Irish national anthem.

"This is not about attendance at a GAA match and I welcome the invite from the Ulster Council and Mr Borkenshire's attendance. This is about respect for the provision of the Good Friday agreement and provisions which clearly say people can be Irish, British or both."

Mr McGinn continued: "Four years ago Her Majesty The Queen visited Dublin and Croke Park. We have since had a reciprocal state visit from the Irish president where both anthems were played with mutual respect and were attended by Taoiseach, Prime Minister and other ministers and I want to find out if this is a change of protocol and why Mr Brokenshire did not observe the normal courtesy and protocols around the playing of national anthems.

"I personally believe that you should honour your host no matter what anthem is played.

"What we are taking about is a UK government minister. James Brokenshire is representing Her Majesty's Government, the Irish Government is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and he snubbed the playing of the Irish national anthem.

"I think that is regressive step.

"The GAA is not some pariah organisation it is in every community across Ireland."

When it was put to him that protocol may dictate that Mr Brokenshire could not attend the playing of the national anthem north of the border, Mr McGinn added: "I really don't understand the pettiness of that argument. He is above the fray and should observe proper respect and protocols, the way I would expect the Irish foreign minister to do in the UK."

The Northern Ireland Office has been contacted for a response.

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