Belfast Telegraph

DUP man's jibe at GAA fundraisers 'is churlish'

By Noel McAdam

A future Stormont minister has been branded churlish after he called for a halt to GAA clubs raising funds by packing shoppers' bags in supermarkets.

Jim Wells, who is to be the next Health Minister in the Executive after Edwin Poots, claimed people who organised collections in stores in south Down had not been clearly identified as GAA supporters.

The DUP politician wrote to the store owners in Newcastle and Downpatrick after receiving complaints from shoppers over the collections at the start of this year.

"A number of Protestant shoppers came to me and said those raising funds had not been clearly marked as working to raise cash for the GAA. Many unionists would not be comfortable supporting the organisation," Mr Wells said.

"It should be genuine charities that need the money, not an organisation that is rolling in money, and all collectors should have badges or armbands which clearly identify the organisation they represent."

He said labels on the collectors' buckets said they were Bryansford Ladies "when in fact they were Bryansford Ladies GAA team".

Mr Wells said that unionists would not be comfortable donating to an organisation that had named a trophy after IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.

But former chair of the Assembly's culture and sports committee Barry McElduff said Mr Wells needed "to look further than the end of his nose".

Describing the GAA as a sporting rather than political organistion, the Sinn Fein man said it was involved in "sterling" community work and helped prevent young people becoming involved in anti-social behaviour.

"I'm sure clubs would be happy to wait their turn for a collection slot at stores. Part of the difficulty for me is an undercurrent of criticism of the GAA. Jim Wells does need to look further than the end of his nose," the MLA said.

And the Alliance Party's Anna Lo said she was annoyed by Mr Wells "churlish and negative" remarks.

"The GAA is a sporting organisation that does much work in the community and has every right to raise money at supermarkets like other organisations do" she said.

"We need to build the shared future that Northern Ireland deserves and these remarks are not in any way helpful."

B ackground

This is not the first time that GAA bag-packers in supermarkets have caused controversy. In 2009 a group were told to remove their club shirts at a Tesco store.

The children from St Comghall's club were taking part in a charity bag pack in Antrim town.

The request by the store manager was made after members of the public and a local political representative objected to the items of clothing being worn.

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