Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: DUP leader Foster was magnanimous in going to Clones, only for it to be hurled back in unionists' faces

The GAA is an explicitly nationalist organisation with no tolerance of the pro-Union tradition, says Nelson McCausland

Last Sunday, Fermanagh faced Donegal in the Ulster GAA final at Clones. Most unionists have little interest in the GAA, mainly because of the political stance of the organisation. However, it plays an important role in nationalist communities, especially in rural areas, and is held in high regard by nationalists.

With the involvement of Fermanagh, it was inevitable that there would be pressure on DUP leader Arlene Foster, who is from the county, to attend the match.

She decided to do so, in what has to be recognised as an act of generosity.

That decision has caused some disquiet among some party members and evangelicals, but that has been because of the fact that the game, like most GAA games, was played on the Lord's Day, rather than because of her attendance per se.

Unfortunately, her act of generosity has been hurled back in her face by the Ulster GAA secretary and chief executive, Brian McAvoy.

He was asked on Radio Ulster about the naming of GAA clubs, grounds and competitions after IRA and INLA members, and whether this was compatible with being anti-violence.

It was the perfect opportunity to say, at the very least, that the GAA would consider the more problematic aspects of the organisation, but instead he told radio listeners that clubs that had named themselves after republicans would see them as "one of their own".

"I can understand how unionists feel, but you have to look at the broader picture. (The GAA) was formed back in 1884 at a time when a number of other organisations, such as the Gaelic League, the Land League, which were nationalist organisations, were coming together as part of a wider campaign."

That was a significant sentence, in that he acknowledged the Gaelic League, which is now spearheading the campaign for an Irish Language Act, as a "nationalist" organisation.

He also placed the GAA in that wider "nationalist" campaign and, indeed, the GAA constitution still contains an 1884 document that described the "Union Jack" as "England's bloody red".

Today, it remains a nationalist organisation, with a constitution that affirms its nationalism and practices which express that nationalism.

The GAA often attempts to downplay that reality, but it is the reality.

The flying of the Irish tricolour and the singing of the national anthem of the Irish Republic, as set out in the GAA constitution, are expressions of that political viewpoint.

Indeed, the GAA constitution, as approved on June 3, 2011, also states that: "GAA games are more than games - they have a national significance - and the promotion of native pastimes becomes a part of the full national ideal."

Its vision is the creation of a 32-county Gaelic Ireland and GAA games are an assertion of Irish nationhood. Paragraph 1.11 of the constitution states that the GAA is "non party-political", but that does not mean that it is non-political and, of course, its politics are nationalist.

A unionist cannot even join the GAA, because, according to paragraph 2.1, members of the GAA "must subscribe to and undertake to further the aims and objects of the GAA". To join the GAA, you must be a nationalist and you can't be a unionist.

Lest there be any doubt about it, the introduction to the GAA constitution states: "Since she has not control over all the national territory, Ireland's claim to nationhood is impaired." The very existence of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom is described as an "impairment".

Many people will have been deeply disappointed by Brian McAvoy's answer to the question of naming clubs and grounds after IRA members.

Before taking up his GAA post in October 2016, he was a principal information officer in the Civil Service, in both the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. That experience in the GAA, in the Civil Service and with the media makes his intervention on Monday morning all the more problematic. It was not the unguarded answer of an inexperienced and untrained official.

Here was an opportunity for the GAA to reciprocate an act of generosity and, instead, its Ulster secretary attempted to defend the utterly indefensible.

Belfast Telegraph

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