Belfast Telegraph

Gail Walker: How GAA scored an own goal over SF demonstration

Just because it's Nelson McCausland, it doesn't mean he's wrong. The events surrounding that Hunger Strike anniversary rally at Galbally GAA grounds pose very disturbing questions for the organisation.

Since McCausland's measured statement about his concerns, we've had a lot of flack raised in a bid to make the issue ‘just go away'. The DUPer's refusal to attend Catholic services; the admission that he doesn't follow the sport; and, well, he's Nelson McCausland.

Nelson McCausland measured? Well, yes. In his statements, he’s made it clear that he thinks many in the GAA will be horrified with the rally. He calls for a rapid investigation.

He hasn’t foamed at the mouth, called for the GAA to be banned or hit by the withdrawal of public funds, just that it bring forward recommendations to ensure this won’t happen again.

McCausland was simply reflecting the concerns of many here —and not just unionists.

Yet SF's defence of the rally has been surreal. While the military-style parade is beyond question following publication of photographs of men on the pitch, the balaclava'ed men with the guns were on the streets outside.

Anyway,according to SF, it was — and it would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic —‘street theatre' put on by actors. (Actors? Were they Equity members or are we talking AmDram? “No, we're not doing Run For Your Wife this year, but something more edgy, Armed Struggle. Frank, you're the Quartermaster ...”) Oh, and lack of facilities in Tyrone meant the republicans had nowhere else to go.

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Let's be blunt. This wasn’t a vague cultural demonstration, but a Hunger Strike commemoratation, sponsored by Sinn Fein, addressed by Gerry Adams and celebrating the struggle not just of the Hunger Strikers but of the IRA itself.

Theatre or not, inside the ground or not, the pictures on the internet glorify terrorism. And yet we're meant to believe that somehow this isn’t party political and flying in the face of the GAA's own constitution.

Party political? No, cry |the event's defenders, it also |commemorated INLA hunger strikers. And any part of the wider republican ‘family' — left, mainstream SF or, er, dissident — were welcome to come along.

It was a broader ‘community event'. So, er, 7A hasn't technically been breached.

Imagine the response to a rally at Windsor Park commemorating the sacrifice of UDA and UVF ‘volunteers', complete with paramilitary trappings?

Linfield out of the Irish League? The NI footballing authorities in crisis? A withdrawal of public funds? A campaign to ban Northern Ireland from international sporting events?

None are ridiculous scenarios, yet we’re meant to believe that it’s ‘just different' when it comes to the GAA.

The Association's response to the crisis has been less than convincing. After McCausland's complaints, the organisation made a terse ‘No Comment'.

It was only after SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell complained to the GAA leadership in Dublin that the organisation creaked into action, changed tack and said that they were “not aware” of the event until afterwards and had determined to find out what happened and “the involvement of the association in these events, if any”.Doesn't exactly sound like anyone's been given 24 hours to crack the case, does it? And what's this “if any” business?

Are the GAA seriously suggesting the Galbally ground was somehow “taken over” by republicans without the association's permission? Even though the event had, apparently, been advertised for weeks.

Good relations cut both ways. It isn't just up to unionists to be nice to nationalists. It works the other way round too. Many — and, yes, mainly unionists (but unionists are, in the final analysis, human beings too) — will not remember hunger strikers as ‘martyrs' but as part of an organisation dedicated to low level ethnic cleansing. They will ask why is the GAA giving its blessing to Sinn Fein’s version of the Troubles?

We’re constantly being reminded by our betters, that it's time to move on, and it is. But that applies as much to the GAA — or (weary sigh) ‘elements within it’ — as anyone else. Instead of playing host to a sinister version of the Commemoration Game, it should get into the 21st century.

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