Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster has ended mystery of GAA for unionists, says Brolly

Pundit says gesture can only help break down barriers of ignorance on both sides

By Allan Preston

Prominent GAA pundit Joe Brolly has said Arlene Foster's attendance at the Ulster Final in Clones on Sunday has helped to "demythologise" the GAA for unionists.

The former Derry All-Ireland winner, a familiar face on RTE, is a barrister who studied law at Queen's University at the same time as the DUP leader.

"Apart from the result, it was a great day - it demythologises the GAA for her electorate," he said.

"Something like the peace process is all about breaking through the barriers of ignorance.

"What Arlene will have found, and must have already suspected, is that she got a really warm welcome and the GAA folk were delighted to see her there.

"I have to say, it's no big deal for GAA folk, but I understand it's a big deal for her psychologically."

He said the pressure for Mrs Foster had been due to "fundamentalism" that still exists in parts of the DUP.

"Sectarianism and distrust, they're mostly based on ignorance and the best way for a person to break those down is to see for themselves what it's like," he added.

He began his legal training in Belfast at the same time as the former First Minister.

"At the time I remember hearing that the rows and debates at the Students' Union between both sides were often spectator sports," he said.

"During the Troubles people were very much sticking to their own communities and ideologies, but I like to cruise above stuff like that."

Asked why the GAA still made some unionists nervous, Mr Brolly said: "I think to sustain sectarianism you have to create bogeymen - 'The GAA is the IRA at play' and all those things.

"You had demagogues on the loyalist side saying things like that. It was a convenient way to create fear in their own community and to rally them round when it came to voting.

"But, in fact, the GAA is a very peaceful organisation."

On her arrival to St Tiernach's Park on Sunday Mrs Foster thanked the Ulster Council of the GAA for the very warm welcome she'd received.

She added: "I do realise that there might be some people who may be uncomfortable with me being here today, on a Sunday, but let me say this: I am a leader of a political party that wants to have a shared society in Northern Ireland and to do that you have to take steps.

"To do that we also have to build a respect and a tolerance, and that's what I want to do"

Yesterday Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald described the gesture "crucially important".

"To get the institutions back up and running we need goodwill, we need the right atmosphere," she added.

Belfast Telegraph

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