Belfast Telegraph

GAA and Ministry of Defence cut an historic ground deal

By Chris Kilpatrick

The GAA and Ministry of Defence have struck an historic deal that will see a Gaelic football team take to the field on Army land for the first time.

It marks a sea change in relations between the military and the Irish sports body after the two organisations were at constant loggerheads throughout the Troubles.

An agreement between the GAA, MoD and Lisburn City Council means St Patrick’s Club can use a pitch at Kirkwood Road in Lisburn for at least the next decade.

The deal — given the green light by the DUP controlled council — provides the club with an initial 10-year lease on the seven-acre site.

The facilities were formerly used by the Army for football and rugby matches. The council has provided £50,000 towards the cost of building new changing facilities at the site.

Under the terms of the contract — which involves both the council and the club — the MoD will be paid £3,000 annually.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson and SDLP leader Alasdair McDonald lobbied on behalf of the Co Antrim club.

The club’s commitment to cross-community membership was key to the deal. An MoD spokesman said the body was “delighted” to assist St Patrick’s. “We hope the provision of an extended lease will also help GAA sports in the city,” he added.

Damien French, vice-chairman of St Patrick’s, said the deal was a lifeline for the club.

“We were living from year to year,” he said. “There was no way that we could make any plans.

“The support we have had from across the political spectrum and the Army has been magnificent. It gives you hope that we are turning the corner as a community and as a city.”

SDLP councillor Pat Catney said the deal would benefit the entire community.

“Local residents are behind the development,” he said.

“The St Patrick’s club is genuinely cross-community.

“At a time when there is so much negative publicity about division surrounding aspects of life in Northern Ireland, it is great that we can provide a different perspective by working together.”

By securing the lease the club will be able to apply for additional GAA grants.

Background

The GAA and MoD are two of the unlikeliest organisations to make a deal since the DUP and Sinn Fein agreed to share power. Just before the height of the Troubles, the Army took over part of Crossmaglen Rangers’ pitch to use as a military base — a major bone of contention that caused deep-seated resentment. Meanwhile, the GAA had the infamous Rule 21 — which members voted to repeal in 2001 — which banned members of the Army and RUC from the body’s sports. Nowadays, the PSNI has a GAA team.

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