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Liam O'Neill: Sectarian slurs need greater sanctions

By Declan Bogue

GAA President Liam O'Neill has spoken of his shock and disappointment at the recent incident which saw Cavan's Gearoid McKiernan served with a two-game ban for sectarian remarks to Monaghan player Drew Wylie.

O'Neill also stated emphatically that the GAA will be looking to stiffen up punishment for such offences in the future, by bringing a Central Council motion to this year's Congress held next month in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan.

Speaking at the launch of the National Leagues in Croke Park, O'Neill said: "I would be quite happy to say I'm delighted to get the opportunity to convey our regret to the player involved. It was beyond regrettable. We regret it terribly.

"The organisation is upset about it, I'm upset about it and on behalf of the organisation I would just like to say we're very, very sorry it happened to him. I can't be any more straight about it."

As a primary school Principal, O'Neill has always had a hard line on bullying and has been behind many initiatives to cut out this practice. It will come as no surprise to those familiar with his work in this area that this incident will have gravely upset him.

He added that while the case was in process, he could not speak publicly about Wylie, commenting: "I was shocked and disappointed for him. I know he's upset but unfortunately due process means we can't comment while it's going through so this is my first opportunity to be able to say that publicly and I'm delighted to be able to say that."

Some commentators have suggested that the two-game ban imposed on McKiernan does not go far enough to deter future offences. Given that it was to be served in the same competition - the McKenna Cup - backs that assertion further.

O'Neill accepted the shortcomings of the censure and how the GAA are going to take steps to amend it, explaining: "It's in rule already, the rule that was acted on that you get the red card for an incident of racist or sectarian abuse and the referee correctly applied the rule in this case and I want to commend him for that.

"We thought it was adequate. But it's not adequate, and what we're going to do is deal with it immediately. There will be a motion to Congress to strengthen that rule and increase the punishment."

Asked if the two-game ban appeared weak and made the GAA look bad, the Laois man said: "It's not about us looking good, it's about having a deterrent so this sort of thing doesn't happen. We would certainly look at upping that significantly. It will come as a motion to Congress.

"We recognise that we have a responsibility to do it and we don't want anyone else who is in this position to suffer the indignity of abuse like that because it demeans the person who is the recipient but also I think it embarrasses us all."

O'Neill also felt that the Association had been slightly caught unawares with this issue, but stated: "I've always said it, you cannot be in the position that I'm in, or an administrator in any sport, you can't cover every eventuality in advance.

"I've often said that the mark of an organisation is how you deal with it when it happens. We had the rule, it was used correctly. We found out the rule wasn't adequate. We're quite prepared to immediately address that."

He also suggested some form of holistic help for offenders, adding: "I feel that when a player says something of this nature he should have to go on some sort of a programme, human relations or racial relations, where he would learn how to behave towards other people. I don't think it's acceptable that anybody should be abused in this manner."

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