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Ex-rugby star queries GAA club named after INLA man

By Margaret Canning

A leading sportsman who has campaigned against sectarianism has said he would accept an invitation to a game at Kevin Lynch’s Hurling Club — despite it being named after an INLA terrorist.

But former Ireland rugby international Trevor Ringland added: “I would give my viewpoint that a name like that will be an alienating factor for those of British or Protestant backgrounds.”

He said he felt Sports Minister Nelson McCausland had raised “valid issues” about the perception of Gaelic games among the Protestant community when he threatened to cut funding to such clubs.

But he added: “I don’t think you should cut funding, because that only forces people into trenches.”

He praised the GAA’s efforts at promoting unity and cooperation, including the opening up of Croke Park to rugby and soccer — and locally, the sharing of facilities by St Bride’s in south Belfast and Belfast Harlequins rugby club.

Ulster Unionist Assembly member Danny Kennedy dismissed the suggestion of any parallel between a GAA ground named after a republican paramilitary and a flute band named after a loyalist paramilitary.

The amount of money awarded to the organisations differed vastly, he said.

“There is a significant difference in what local bands get in funding (usually grants of between £1,000 and £5,000 for tuition and instruments) and what GAA clubs and other sporting organisations get.

“There was a very serious situation over the hunger strike commemoration in Galbally, and it was in receipt of over £200,000.

“I think there is significant difference in that fact that the grounds or trophies are named after political individuals with a particular paramilitary background.

“The scale is somewhat different — it’s like if Windsor Park was renamed Billy Wright Memorial Park. As I understand there are very few bands named after loyalist paramilitaries.”

Mr Kennedy, whose Newry and Armagh constituency has a strong GAA tradition, said he supported many aspects of the GAA — and had even played himself.

“At my old school (Newry High) we played Gaelic football occasionally, though never in an organised way. I welcomed back the victorious Down team in 1994 and at a local club level I have supported some of their projects through the council.”

Joe Kernan, former Armagh senior manager and Belfast Telegraph columnist, said the GAA had helped communities through many difficult times and deserved support and thanks.

“GAA clubs kept us sane during the Troubles and kept young people away from trouble. The GAA has been great to me and thousands of others. You have to keep sport as sport and not make it into a political football.”

How the row over funding kicked off

The row over the funding of Gaelic clubs took root in August when a hunger strike commemoration — including a parade of men and women in paramilitary dress — was held at a GAA ground in Galbally, Co Tyrone.

The GAA said it did not sanction the event, and its Ulster Council is investigating the matter.

The GAA asserted that it is a “non-party political and anti-sectarian organisation” — but the row gained momentum when DUP Sports Minister Nelson McCausland said he would withdraw funding from GAA clubs and tournaments named after republican paramilitaries. Co Londonderry hurling club Kevin Lynch’s is thought to be the only club named after a republican — in its case, an INLA hunger striker who also captained a county team which won the All-Ireland.

Nationalist politicians argued that the Minister should also look at the funding of around 90 loyalist pipe and flute bands, many of which carry banners in support of loyalist organisations or venerating the memory of loyalist killers.

Sinn Fein assembly member Daithi McKay said: “I wonder will he penalise all 30 or so bands which take part in the Brian Robinson parade on the Shankill [in memory of UVF killer who was murdered by the British Army seconds after killing a Catholic man in a random attack].”

Mr McKay opposed a loyalist band parade in Rasharkin, Co Antrim in August.

The parade featured Coleraine band Freeman Memorial, named after Robert Freeman, a 17-year-old UVF man blown up by his own bomb near Coleraine in 1975.

Bands with loyalist links

Pride of the Ardoyne: Its Bebo site includes the tagline “as we go marching part the Ardoyne shops,” referring to the disputed Belfast parade. Its motto: “We Walk. F**k Talk.” Carries banner with emblem of the Young Citizens Volunteers — the UVF’s youth wing. Also totes banners in memory of ex members killed in the Troubles, include UVF man Samuel Rockett, who was killed in a loyalist feud in 2000.

Pride of the Bann: Adopted the UDA motto, Quis Separabit. A website claiming to represent the organisation carried messages in support of the killers of Catholic Coleraine man Kevin McDaid

Freeman Memorial Flute Band: Thought to be the only flute band named after a loyalist paramilitary. Bands taking part in annual Brian Robinson parade in memory of the UVF killer traditionally carry UVF banners.

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