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Jim Wells defends comments labeling GAA 'sectarian and republican'

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Comments: DUP MLA Jim Wells

Comments: DUP MLA Jim Wells

Comments: DUP MLA Jim Wells

MLA Jim Wells has defended comments he made during a Stormont debate that the GAA was a "sectarian republican" organisation.

Mr Wells, who has had the DUP party whip removed, made the comments during a debate in the Assembly. The GAA rejected his criticism.

Defending the remarks on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show on Tuesday morning, Mr Wells referred to comments made by DUP MLA Edwin Poots while he was the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in 2007, claiming that the GAA was a "cold house for the unionist community".

"Here we are 16 years later and there still has been no progress made on making the GAA more inclusive to the whole community," Mr Wells told the Nolan Show.

"It is 99.9% nationalist."

He added: "If soccer or rugby was entirely Protestant or Catholic there would be huge questions asked about why vast amounts of public money is being poured into an organisation that has failed to attract people from the other side of the fence as it where.

"Similar the GAA has done nothing in my opinion to make itself more inclusive and friendly to the Protestant community.

"They haven't moved on at all."

Mr Wells made the remarks during a debate bout the Executive Committee (Functions) Bill on Monday.

Critics of the bill say it will reduce areas in which ministers' power is constrained by the Executive as a whole.

Mr Wells used the planning decision on Casement Park as an example of how a minister could go on a solo run.

Mr Wells told MLAs: "Say Sinn Fein decided to spend a vast amount of money, as it could, holding the Department for Communities, on making Casement Park even grander.

"That would cause huge concern amongst the unionist community given the sectarian and republican nature of the GAA."

Brian McAvoy, chief executive of Ulster GAA, speaking on Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster, said that it was "not a surprise" that Mr Wells was not the "biggest fan" of the GAA.

He said GAA volunteers had been at the forefront of the community response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"They have been delivering food parcels and delivering pharmaceuticals to our most vulnerable in our communities," he said.

"I am quite certain we were not asking people their religion or political persuasion before we were knocking on their doors.

"On this coming Friday, in Croke Park, we have the Muslim festival of Eid taking place. Because of restricted numbers and restricted venues, they have chosen Croke Park to hold this, so I think that shows that we are certainly not sectarian."

Sinn Fein's South Down MLA Sinead Ennis called on Mr Wells to retract his comments as the GAA "could not be further from that".

Following the debate, SDLP MLA Justin McNulty, a former All-Ireland winner, said there were "hundreds" of people in GAA clubs across Ireland who have done more to reconcile communities and bring people together than Mr Wells.

"It is incredibly disappointing that he continues to use divisive, offensive language to label our community of volunteers who are working hard, including throughout the pandemic, to support people," he added.

Meanwhile, the DUP have been challenged to act on comments by DUP MP Gregory Campbell mocking the Irish language.

The East Londonderry MP made the remarks on his Facebook page on Sunday in relation to a BBC programme about a suspected Nazi spy who lived in Donegal during the Second World War.

He said: "I'm informed that BBC 2 NI had a programme on tonight about a suspected German spy who lived in the RoI during the war. The humourous bit was that he was supposed to have spoken Irish with a German accent.

"I vill not be tempted to ask vot is dis curried yoghurt mein herr."

Sinn Fein labelled the remarks "crass and offensive" and the SDLP called on Mr Campbell to apologise for his comments.

The DUP has been asked for a comment.

Belfast Telegraph