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Jarlath Burns: Gaa can reach out to Protestants

By Steven Alexander

Published 28/09/2015

Interview: Eamon Mallie (far left) with former GAA star Jarlath Burns
Interview: Eamon Mallie (far left) with former GAA star Jarlath Burns

A former GAA star and one of the sport's leading voices would get rid of the Irish tricolour at games if it helped bring about reconciliation with unionists.

Jarlath Burns also said he would support the ending of the playing of the Irish national anthem if it helped the sport reach out to Protestants.

The former Armagh senior football captain is now chairman of the Rules Committee in GAA headquarters at Croke Park and has been tipped as a potential head of the organisation in the future.

He is also the principal of St Paul's High School in Bessbrook, south Armagh, secretary of Silverbridge Harps GAC and a fluent Irish speaker.

Mr Burns is regarded as one of the most progressive voices in Gaelic sport and republicanism, and was a member of the Eames-Bradley group that produced a controversial report on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles. In July, he praised the outreach work of the Orange Order - and defended the Order after complaints that an Irish tricolour was not flown at the reopening of its Belfast museum.

Last night, he told 'Eamonn Mallie Meets' on Irish TV that the GAA needed to reach out to the unionist community.

And he said that symbols usually associated with the GAA now meant less to him than they once did - and losing them could help build bridges with unionism.

Asked if he would have any reluctance over hauling down the green, white and orange flag flying over a GAA pitch, Mr Burns replied: "Yeah, 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 at all. It's not one of the core values that I have.

"It's an overtly political thing, it's something which is specific to national borders, it's nothing to do with cultural - if I thought for a moment that suddenly [Ulster Unionist MLA] Tom Elliott would become our greatest fan I would get rid of them surely."

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".

He also accepted that while flags and anthems for him were divisive, getting rid of them "is not going to happen in the GAA".

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