Belfast Telegraph

Ulster's new GAA chief reaching out hand of friendship to unionists

By Declan Bogue

The new GAA chief in Ulster has said that sport will continue to break down sectarian barriers as he vowed to reach out to children in unionist communities.

Michael Hasson insisted that cross-community outreach is best achieved through the sport's ongoing work at grassroots and youth level.

The Antrim man - the newly-elected Ulster Council GAA President - revealed to the Belfast Telegraph that an example in his own Rasharkin club continues to bear fruit.

"We are a cross-community organisation and that is borne out by what we do at local level. Even my own club Rasharkin, we have had a co-operation between ourselves and Ballymoney rugby.

"We go to them three times a season, train with them, and then they come up to us," he explained.

"We then entertain each other. Ballymoney took the Rasharkin under-16s to the first Ulster match this year against Ospreys.

"We had Ballymoney down at Croke Park (last summer) for the first round of the Leinster Championship, where all players met the Dublin players. It was a great atmosphere and that has been going on now for five years."

Mr Hasson is a veteran of 18 years' service to the Ulster Council and has served in roles such as a provincial public relations officer and county delegate.

He succeeds previous president Martin McAviney after an annual convention in Owenbeg.

Mr Hasson was keen to emphasise how work at youth level and grassroots is the most effective way to gain a deeper understanding of other cultures, sporting or otherwise.

"There are schemes like that going on all over the province. It breaks down barriers.

"The fact is, it does work at grassroots. That's what we have to look at and work towards," he added.

At provincial level, the Ulster Council have an ongoing dialogue with representatives of other cultural and sporting bodies. Various talks and lectures are delivered on the history of the association, and the range of activities continues to grow.

Other gestures, such as a visit by St Paul's, Bessbrook school to an Orange Order museum, led by headmaster and prominent GAA figure, Jarlath Burns, have been appreciated.

"Under my term, we will continue our outreach programme. That gets wider all the time," vowed Mr Hasson.

"We go into the Cú Chulainn programme where we go into schools that do not play Gaelic games from across the divide, and we stage the competition.

"That's that level of it. The winners, we take them to a competition in England, I think that is good."

He continued: "Then we have more and more outreach programmes and we tie in with rugby and soccer. We are in constant communication over how we best sell our games and how we move forward together. That's a good, solid structure there."

He cited the successful 'Game of Three Halves' programme, where children of all backgrounds get to sample a multi-sports exhibition game of playing rugby, soccer and Gaelic games.

"That has been running for a considerable time at provincial level with the other sports. That has been there for quite a number of years," he explained.

"We have the 'Sport Uniting Communities' framework and that was launched in December at the Stormont Hotel. That's the project with the three main sports getting together and working together through cross-community."

Belfast Telegraph


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