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GAA club formed honour guard at paramilitary funeral because deceased was a former member

By Declan Bogue

Published 08/12/2015

Ryan Feeney
Ryan Feeney

A senior GAA official has said a Derry club formed a guard of honour at a paramilitary funeral because the dead man was a member of the organisation.

In a wide-ranging interview, the outgoing head of public relations with the Ulster GAA, Ryan Feeney, also outlined what he felt were the key differences between the association and the Orange Order.

There was controversy last month when members of Bellaghy Wolfe Tones led the cortege for the son of INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey.

A balaclava-clad colour party stood alongside Declan McGlinchey's coffin outside his home before men in berets marched with the funeral procession through Bellaghy. Masked gunmen fired a volley of shots ahead of the funeral.

Mr Feeney answered concerns the unionist community might have about the guard of honour. He said: "The GAA's line on that is very clear. The individual in question was a member of the association. The club took any action in that context.

"The GAA's policy on violence is clearly stated and long-standing. The GAA made a statement at the time to reiterate that they are opposed to violence, and on its position in the peace process."

In discussing the comments made by prominent GAA figure Jarlath Burns, when he visited two Orange Order museums, Mr Feeney welcomed the message of inclusivity. "The GAA has had an interaction with the Orange Order for years. Jarlath is a school principal and an educator. I have visited the Orange Order headquarters at Schomberg House," Mr Feeney revealed.

"I was made to feel very, very welcome. The members of the Orange Order were very aware of my background, what my views are. I am very aware of their views. There is a level of mutual respect."

Mr Feeney added: "I don't believe that the Orange Order and the GAA is the flipside of the one coin. They are two very different organisations. We are a sporting and cultural organisation, the Orange Order is a religious, political and community organisation, there is a clear differential there.

"However, there is a very strong membership from different sides of the community. Unless we are going to change this place and make it better, the only way we can do it is by engaging with each other and understanding each other."

After his visit to the Orange museum, Mr Burns said that, if it would attract more unionists to the GAA, he would get rid of the tricolour and the playing of the Irish national anthem.

Mr Feeney defended his right to his opinions, but stated that he did not necessarily agree with them.

"The GAA is an All-Ireland, Irish sporting organisation... it is about Irish identity and it does not apologise for that. And it does it in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. It's very clear: you can be Irish, you can be British or you can be both. You can be Northern Irish," said Mr Feeney, who is leaving his role to work at Queen's University in Belfast.

He added: "The only thing that I would avoid is damaging our own Irish identity... the GAA should not make decisions on flags or anthems based on what other people think. It should make the decision on what is best for them."

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