Belfast Telegraph

First Minister Peter Robinson to speak at GAA gala

First Minister Peter Robinson is set to be guest speaker at a gala event later tonight to celebrate the role of the GAA in peace building.

The DUP leader is scheduled to address guests at Thursday's Co-operation Ireland dinner at Queen's University in Belfast, organised to acknowledge the association's efforts to forge better community relations.

Mr Robinson's attendance 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.

DUP members have attended a number of GAA matches in recent years - with Mr Robinson notably joining Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at last year's McKenna Cup final in Armagh - while Sinn Fein Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has watched a Northern Ireland international football match at Windsor Park in Belfast.

Last Friday night, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness sat side by side to watch Ulster Rugby defeat Leicester Tigers in their Heineken Cup clash at Ravenhill in Belfast.

Secretary of the GAA's Ulster Council Danny Murphy said the presence of the DUP leader at the dinner was another "significant step" on the way to improving community relations.

He said: "I think the fact that over the last five years that a number of ministers have attended various events of the GAA, including matches, and the fact the First Minister is attending tomorrow night and will be speaking at the event - while it is not an intrinsic GAA, it is a GAA event organised by Co-operation Ireland - I think in those terms it is another significant step along the road of improving relationships right across the whole sector."

GAA chief executive Paraic Duffy and Ulster Council President Martin McAviney will be among notable guests at the dinner. Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers is also on the invite list.

Riverdance star Michael Flatley is set to perform for the audience.

Mr Murphy highlighted a range of projects the GAA was involved in, including the Live to Play road safety initiative, suicide awareness campaigns and the Interface Games and Game of Three Halves sporting programmes in conjunction with soccer and rugby bodies.

"The primary function (of the dinner) is to focus on the work the GAA is doing and the engagement we are involved in and the wider community development function that we perform as an organisation," he added.

The Co-operation Ireland event is essentially the second half of its celebration of the GAA's efforts, having staged another gala dinner at Trinity College Dublin earlier this year.

The peace building charity has also held events for soccer and rugby in the past.

Chief executive of Co-operation Ireland Peter Sheridan welcomed the First Minister's attendance.

"Co-operation Ireland is a peace building charity that wants to see an island that is inclusive and integrated where people's cherished beliefs and identities are protected and celebrated.

"We can enrich each other with our different traditions rather than intolerant co-existence, so in that regard we are delighted that the First Minister has agreed to be there and is going to speak."

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