Nelson McCausland: Jarlath and Joe have confirmed what unionists knew all along, that the GAA is a nationalist body
The organisation may not be party political, but it is undoubtedly in favour of a united Ireland, says Nelson McCausland
Recently two former and prominent GAA stars spoke out on the subject of the organisation, a border poll and a united Ireland.
Their comments provided a valuable insight into the political dimension of the Gaelic Athletic Association.
All of this came in the context of whether or not, during such a poll, the GAA would support a campaign for a united Ireland.
Jarlath Burns, a former Armagh star and the county delegate to the Ulster Council of the GAA, was the first to speak about it.
He told RTE's This Week programme that the basic aim of the GAA is to strengthen national identity in a 32-county Ireland.
"That doesn't make us neutral on the issue of a border poll, it gives us a position," he said.
He was quoting from the GAA constitution, and he was right.
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The former Orchard County captain said: "I, as a GAA member in a border county, would like to think that, from a logical as well as an ideological perspective, the GAA would have a strong position."
There was a similar approach in the Sunday Independent from barrister and pundit Joe Brolly, who said that the GAA's "endorsement and support for a unity poll... is entirely legitimate and reflective of our membership's views".
Brolly argued that the GAA has "never been non-political, rather we are non-party political", and he cited the example of the old Rule 21, which banned members of the RUC and Army from being members of the GAA. "What could be more political?"
Brolly is no stranger to controversy and I disagree with him on many things. But he is absolutely right in saying that the GAA has never been "non-political", rather it has been non-party political.
In other words, the membership of the GAA includes members and supporters of the SDLP, Sinn Fein, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and other nationalist and republican parties.
In that sense it is non-party political, and indeed Rule 1.11 requires that: "The Association shall be non-party political." That is why, from time to time, there have been disputes over the occasional use of GAA property by Sinn Fein.
However, it is certainly not "non-political", as Brolly states, and its political aim is that of a united Ireland.
The GAA is an Irish nationalist organisation and always has been.
The GAA constitution states that the GAA is "a means of consolidating our Irish identity. The games are more than games - they have a national significance - and the promotion of native pastimes becomes a part of the full national ideal."
It then goes on to say that the GAA seeks to "create a national-minded manhood": "The Association is a national organisation, which has as its basic aim the strengthening of the national identity in a 32-county Ireland through the preservation and promotion of Gaelic games."
There can be no doubt that the GAA is a nationalist organisation, when it states on the same page that: "Since she has not control over all the national territory, Ireland's claim to nationhood is impaired."
The aim is a 32-county independent Ireland, with all the "national territory" and Northern Ireland is simply an "impairment" of that vision.
Indeed, under Rule 2.1.c of the current constitution members must subscribe to the aim of a 32-county Ireland, and so it would be impossible for a unionist to join a GAA club.
The three major sporting organisations in Northern Ireland are the GAA, the Irish Football Association and Ulster Rugby. Two of those organisations are open to both unionists and nationalists, and there are football teams whose supporters are overwhelmingly nationalist.
Only one of the three organisations excludes people on the basis of their politics and that is the GAA, which, through its constitution, excludes unionists.
So, thank you to Jarlath Burns and Joe Brolly for confirming that the GAA is a nationalist organisation. It is something that unionists have always said, because it is true.
But now prominent figures in the GAA are openly admitting and affirming the very same thing.