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GAA star's flag stance a good step, says Tom Elliott

By Steven Alexander

Published 29/09/2015

Praise: UUP MP Tom Elliott
Praise: UUP MP Tom Elliott

An Ulster Unionist MP has welcomed comments by leading GAA figure Jarlath Burns about reforming Gaelic football and hurling to remove Irish symbolism.

Tom Elliott said that while he was unlikely to become GAA's biggest fan, Mr Burns' comments were a "positive step forward".

Mr Elliott claimed that many unionists avoided the GAA because of its use of symbols from the nationalist tradition and, "in a number of instances", its support for militant Irish republicanism.

"I welcome Jarlath's comments and take them as a positive step forward," he said. "They have the potential to open up a conversation whereby many of the issues can be discussed and addressed.

"This could represent an opportunity to build a better understanding of and participation in GAA sports amongst unionists."

Mr Elliott's comments came after Mr Burns, the chairman of the GAA's Rules Committee and a former Armagh football captain, said he would support removing the Irish flag from games and avoiding playing the Irish anthem if it helped bring about reconciliation with unionists.

On Sunday, he told Eamonn Mallie Meets on digital channel Irish TV that the GAA needed to reach out to Protestants.

Asked if he would have any reluctance over hauling down an Irish flag hanging over a GAA pitch, he replied: "It wouldn't cost me a thought and, you know this, flags are divisive. Do we need to say that any louder? If somebody was to propose in the morning that they were going to get rid of them all, it wouldn't bother me."

However, he added that "you could do all of those things and there would still be a section of unionism that would still feel repelled by the GAA because of our love of the Irish language, for example".

Mr Burns also accepted that while getting rid of flags and anthems would not bother him, it was "not going to happen in the GAA".

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