Belfast Telegraph

GAA event honouring Gibraltar Three angers DUP

By Claire O'Boyle

A DUP MP has hit out at Sinn Fein and the GAA after an event at a club in west Belfast commemorating three IRA members shot dead in Gibraltar.

Paul Girvan demanded answers from the GAA over the event staged at Michael Davitts GAC - which has received more than £1.3m in funding from the Lottery and Belfast City Council - on the Falls Road.

"I think it is only right that the GAA clarify for the benefit of the wider community if they believe the hosting of events which glorify the actions of the IRA should be held on their premises," he said.

"This event is the latest in a series of events and actions by Sinn Fein that cause so much hurt to victims and offence to the wider community.

"Any right-minded person would be aghast at celebrating terrorism.

"The GAA should state clearly that events glorifying terrorism have no place on club premises."

A flyer advertising the event hosted by veteran republican Joe Austin was posted on the club's Facebook page on March 2.

It read: "The Gibraltar 3, 30th Anniversary Commemorative DVD Showing followed by talk and Q&A by veteran republican Joe Austin."

It was scheduled for Sunday, March 4, two days before the anniversary of the the trio's deaths at the hands of the SAS.

A Sinn Fein logo is included on the image, as well as pictures of Mairead Farrell, Sean Savage and Daniel McCann, who were shot dead on March 6, 1988, two days before they had planned to bomb a parade of the Royal Anglian Regiment in the centre of Gibraltar.

A stark image of their tricolour-draped coffins and the huge crowds at their funeral were also included on the post.

Mr Girvan said the GAA must make its stance clear.

"Failing to do so will only reinforce the belief that the GAA is failing to address sectarianism within the organisation," he added.

Mr Girvan compared the situation to the controversy sparked by former GAA player Peadar Heffron, who lost a leg to a dissident republican car bomb after joining the PSNI.

In an interview last October, Mr Heffron claimed he had been "shunned" by his former club Creggan Kickhams after joining the police.

At the time the club came under criticism for its response to the attack on Mr Heffron.

Mr Girvan said: "It is not that long ago that allegations of bullying and anti-PSNI bigotry were made by Peadar Heffron regarding Creggan Kickhams GAC near Randalstown.

"The response from the club did little to restore confidence that the club was open to all.

"The Ulster Council clearly must do more to instil the right ethos and principles into local clubs to ensure they are open to the whole community.

"Failing to rid the GAA of this baggage will undoubtedly put the spotlight on GAA sponsors and the award of public funding and other funding to GAA clubs who host events like this on their premises."

The South Antrim MP also questioned whether the decision to host the event was in violation of conditions that secured funding for the club from both Belfast City Council and the Big Lottery.

He said: "I note that Davitts GAC has benefited from over £1m from Belfast City Council, and other funding of some £345,000 from Big Lottery.

"Is this money awarded on the basis of ensuring the club is open and welcoming to all, and not to be used for political purposes? If so, the hosting of an event that celebrates terrorists would seem to conflict with these objectives.

"These are the sorts of questions hosting this event pose for the GAA and for those who financially support it, and I think the community at large deserve clarification."

In a statement, Belfast City Council said: "Davitts GAC has received funding from Belfast City Council for a range of outdoor leisure facilities at Corpus Christi College/Ard Na Va Road and Mica Drive, Belfast, including a 3G pitch, spectator stand and changing pavilion only.

"This is a different location to the GAA club, which is on the Falls Road.

"Our funding agreement relates only to these facilities which are currently under construction."

In a statement, Ulster GAA said: "The GAA is a non-party political organisation.

"This is specified in the rules of the GAA and any breaches of rules are treated seriously and may incur suspension."

Michael Hughes from the Space & Place programme, which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, said it has provided funding for a walking trail, playground and community allotments on waste ground beside the Michael Davitts GAC pitch.

"This derelict space had been a location for anti-social behaviour and the local community asked for the space to be developed so that it could be used in a positive way," he said.

Ahead of the high-profile Gibraltar killings, both British and Spanish security forces had been monitoring the IRA for several months, and were working closely to thwart the bomb plot.

Operation Flavius had been weeks in the planning - as had the attack it was designed to stop.

An inquiry into the deaths heard Farrell and McCann had their hands in the air when they were shot, but it concluded all three victims were lawfully killed.

In 1995 the European Court of Human Rights decided excessive force had been used, but said there was no evidence of a 'shoot-to-kill' policy.

After the three bodies were flown back to Dublin, thousands of people lined the road to Belfast.

The Irish Government, while acknowledging the need for British security forces to fight terrorism, said it was "gravely perturbed" by the shootings.

Protesters took to the streets of Belfast and a series of high-profile deaths quickly followed - Michael Stone attacked the funerals in Belfast's Milltown Cemetery on March 16, killing three.

Two Army corporals were dragged from their car and shot dead after driving into the funeral cortege of Kevin Brady, one of Stone's victims.

Belfast Telegraph

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