Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Separate identities don't need to keep us divided

Paraic Duffy leans in close, furrows his brow and concentrates on how exactly unionist suspicions of the GAA can be overcome.

"I have to be honest and say that our organisation is a 32-county organisation which has the aim of promoting a national identity," he begins. "That's the organisation that I am the Chief Executive of and people have to understand that.

"At the same time, there are many people in the north and Ulster who don't share that national identity. I absolutely respect their position – that's their identity and how they want to be identified.

"I would absolutely respect those people who have loyalties to Britain, and to the Union Jack. I would hope they look at the GAA in the same way – only it's different – it expresses a view that they don't agree with, but they can live with. That's the starting point."

In recent years, the GAA's Ulster Council have made significant gestures in washing away old prejudices. Duffy is keen to point out that they have not been acting as a lone wolf in that work, saying, "the efforts that some fellas have made over the last few years have been genuine and they have all been made with the full support of Croke Park. It's not just Ulster on their own and it's been driven very strongly from my own office.

"A lot of things that go on you wouldn't even know. For example, I have had on numerous occasions, Loyalists in Croke Park.

"We have encouraged them in every way we could. I believe that even the gestures we have had recently have been important; Peter Robinson coming to the McKenna Cup final, the Match for Michaela, they are hugely important."

He continues, "That's what we want to do. We are not doing that because it's seen as the right thing to do, genuinely I would want to see the GAA as a vehicle for building better cross-community relations. That's a place I want us to be in."

Given the constitutional aim of the GAA mentioned earlier by Duffy, he admits dealing with the reservations some unionists have with flags and anthems could be difficult, but certainly not impossible.

"Some of these issues will take a long time to change. Whether that means us making the change or us saying, 'maybe we shouldn't put people in that position', or if it means others saying, 'I can do this', we are not at that point yet.

"Gaelic games are a way for people to express their National identity through the playing of our games, and the flag and the anthem are a part of that. But I can understand how that would cause difficulty for a lot of people. That's something that I would hope through time that a solution could be found eventually."

However, Duffy urges patience as he says, "It's not going to happen overnight, or even in the next five years, but I think for the GAA in Ulster, go back say 10 years, there has been huge progress. And go another 10 or 20 years from now, I do believe we will find a way to resolve those kind of issues as well. If we want to do it, we will.

"The worst thing we could do is force it. If you force these things, it's divisive."

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