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Ervine backs GAA player call as PSNI probe 'hate crime' banner

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GAA star Declan Lynch

GAA star Declan Lynch

A sectarian sign which was put up at the Grove Playing Fields in Belfast

A sectarian sign which was put up at the Grove Playing Fields in Belfast

GAA star Declan Lynch

A sister-in-law of the late loyalist politician David Ervine has called on the GAA to "leave some of the old traditions in the past" after a Sinn Fein adviser and star player called for unionists to be welcomed into the Gaelic sports community.

Lamh Dearg and Antrim player Declan Lynch, who is an adviser to Sinn Fein MLA Sinead Ennis, made the call in an interview with the Irish Mail on Sunday newspaper.

His remarks come as the GAA faces renewed criticism over acceptance of clubs named after IRA members, as well as after 19th century Irish pro-slavery figure John Mitchel.

The Antrim star told the paper: "A united Ireland would have to take in the unionist and Protestant community.

"When we do get a united Ireland, which I believe will be sooner rather than later, it will be for all the sections of the community - and people can have their Britishness represented in a new and equal Ireland." Turning to the GAA, Mr Lynch said: "I think the GAA has to continue to look to ensure it is a welcoming organisation to all sides.

"I am not too sure as to what shape that would take but I do think the GAA can do more, and I think it will do more in terms of welcoming Protestant and unionists into the community.

"I know that you read about the GAA not being a welcoming organisation, but I feel it is, and I believe over the coming years it will continue to be so.

"I think the establishment of the GAA club in east Belfast will continue on that development."

Irish language campaigner Linda Ervine - whose late brother-in-law David Ervine led the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party - was last week named president of a new east Belfast GAA club.

Last night Ms Ervine told the Belfast Telegraph that in her experience the GAA was not a "cold house" for Protestants or unionists. "I know that the GAA have been involved in cross-community initiatives, and I know Protestants who are passionate about the GAA," she said. "Any dealings I've had with the GAA have always been very cordial and respectful."

Asked if she felt Mr Lynch's call was realistic, she responded: "I do feel that there are things that are not possibly conducive to cross-community engagement, and would alienate some people within the unionist community, and I think the GAA, like other organisations in Northern Ireland, should work hard to move forward and leave some of the old traditions in the past, if they are not conducive to cross-community engagement."

She said she wanted the new east Belfast GAA club to "create a club that is conducive to cross-community engagement, where nobody would feel that it's a cold house. "Hopefully, that will help create even more of a welcome for people within the unionist community who may want to engage with the GAA."

Meanwhile, the PSNI says it is treating as a hate crime an anti-GAA banner that was draped over railings at a Belfast park.

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said sectarian banners were erected and graffiti daubed on the walls at Grove Playing Fields in the early hours of yesterday.

"A nearby home was also targeted, with sectarian and paramilitary slogans painted on the house," Mr Kelly said. "I call on all political parties to unite in their condemnation of this cowardly activity. This is a clear attempt by sinister and cowardly elements to stoke up sectarian tension in our community."

Belfast Telegraph