DUP leader Peter Robinson praises GAA for role it has played in helping build peace in Northern Ireland
First Minister Peter Robinson has praised the Gaelic Athletic Association for its contribution in peace building in Northern Ireland.
The DUP leader was the keynote speaker at the Co-Operation Ireland gala dinner in Queen's University last night and hailed the progress made in building bridges between the two main communities.
His attendance, which he admitted would have been unimaginable a few years ago, will be seen as the latest in a line of symbolic gestures by ministers within the DUP/Sinn Fein-led power-sharing executive aimed at showing respect for each other's sporting traditions.
He said the work of the GAA would continue to "play a significant role in the years to come in building a better and brighter future".
The First Minister said he wanted to see his own party "reach out further in the years to come" to the nationalist and republican community and that he was certain the GAA leadership wanted to reciprocate.
But Mr Robinson admitted that not everyone in the unionist camp is pleased that boundaries are being broken down, mentioning the response of some to his appearance at a GAA football final.
"I am entirely convinced that a shared and united society in Northern Ireland is the only way forward for all of us," he said. "It wasn't popular with everyone in my constituency that I went to the McKenna Cup final or attended a funeral requiem mass, nor was it popular with everyone in the Deputy First Minister's community when he met with Her Majesty the Queen.
"But those were all the right things to do."
He added: "Historically from the trenches many within each section of our community have viewed with suspicion the groups, organisations and institutions connected to those from a different background.
"Even today it is fair to say that in some districts relations remain fraught – misgivings and distrust exist. But I'm glad that this is receding."
Mr Robinson said addressing the divisions of the past would benefit the next generation.
"It's the greatest legacy that any of us could leave," he said.
"What I want to achieve will not be read in the history books, but in the lives and livelihoods of those who live here. I want it to be seen in the new hope for the future that our young people can anticipate and in the greater prosperity that those who live here deserve. I want it to be felt in the peace and freedom every person can expect. I want to see a community united, with shared goals and dreams." First Minister Peter Robinson