Belfast Telegraph

I applaud young Catholics like Peadar who join the PSNI, says ex-GAA star McNulty

By Claire McNeilly

An All-Ireland winning former GAA star has said that young Catholics who sign up for the police should be applauded.

Justin McNulty also said he had great admiration for Peadar Heffron for joining the PSNI and for rebuilding his life after being seriously injured by a dissident republican bomb.

Describing what happened to the former police officer as "blood-chilling", the SDLP MLA criticised "individuals" within the GAA who treated Mr Heffron badly after the explosion.

Mr McNulty also said that if he had been one of Mr Heffron's team-mates in his local club, he would have visited him at home to offer his support.

The ex-Gaelic football manager lambasted Sinn Fein's "dip your toe in the water" stance on policing, adding that more support "needs to come more firmly from the party as a whole".

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the 42-year-old politician said it took courage for Mr Heffron to speak out about the attack in an interview with GAA pundit Joe Brolly for the Sunday Independent.

"It was very brave, but Peadar Heffron is a brave man, firstly because he joined the PSNI," Mr McNulty added.

"Reading his story chills my blood. Anyone who has an iota of decency within them would recognise that it was horrific and horrible, and I have nothing but sympathy for Peadar, his family and his friends.

"I also have admiration for how he not only joined the police at that stage - thinking he was doing something for the peace process - but also for how he has bounced back from those really challenging times."

In January 2010, Mr Heffron, a Catholic who played hurling and Gaelic football with Kickhams Creggan GAC in Randalstown, suffered devastating injuries when a booby trap bomb detonated underneath his car.

His right leg was amputated and lower body injuries left him dependent on a wheelchair and using urostomy and colostomy bags as part of his daily routine.

Speaking for the first time in seven years, Mr Heffron told how his club turned its back on him after he announced plans to join the then newly-formed PSNI in 2002.

He also claimed that following the explosion, which saw him hospitalised for 10 months, the club never sought to make its peace with him.

Mr McNulty, who won the Sam Maguire trophy with Armagh in 2002, said that while the GAA as an organisation "hasn't failed anyone", he believes "there's no doubt that is the case" for some people affiliated with the body.

"I don't know the circumstances of what happened at the time, but you have to contextualise it - it wasn't long after new beginnings in policing," he said.

"I can't judge the club, but I can't condone the lack of support for Peadar when he suffered those horrific events.

"That's not the GAA I know. The GAA to me is about family. It's about community, it's about support for people when they're down.

"I think that's why it's so hard for Peadar to come to terms with his experience.

"I don't think it's the norm and I don't think it would be acceptable in the current climate."

When asked what the GAA could do to reach out to Mr Heffron, the Newry MLA said that was a matter for the individuals concerned.

"There probably needs to be some soul-searching from those involved who may, with the passage of time, feel differently now than they did then," he added.

Mr McNulty also admitted that he would have reacted differently had he been a member of Mr Heffron's GAA club, adding that he would have gone to see him and offered his support.

"There's no doubt about it - he would've been a team-mate," he said.

Lambasting Sinn Fein's "lukewarm" support for the PSNI, he said: "Saying Catholics shouldn't be marginalised is dip your toe in the water support.

"That doesn't cut it for me. Young Catholics who join the police force should be applauded for their bravery and their commitment to serving the community."

Belfast Telegraph

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