Belfast Telegraph

One statement after eight years of icy silence will not get Peadar Heffron's former club off the hook

Kickhams Creggan's indifference to ex-PSNI officer's plight brings shame on them, writes Alban Maginness

Joe Brolly is an entertaining - and sometimes provocative - Gaelic football commentator. He was in his day an outstanding footballer for Derry and is still a committed member of the GAA. Joe has done great service by highlighting, in the written media, the shameful treatment meted out to ex-PSNI member Peadar Heffron by his own club, Kickhams Creggan, in Randalstown.

Peadar joined the PSNI in 2002 shortly after the new police service was set up following the Patten Report and its extensive programme of reform.

He was 25 years old, came from a Catholic background and was a keen Gaelic footballer. He was an enthusiastic and prominent member of his local club, being at one stage their team captain.

He made no secret of joining the PSNI and did so to assist in the process of creating a new and reformed police service in Northern Ireland, which would be representative of the whole community.

As he told Brolly in his Sunday Independent interview, the reaction of his fellow club members to his joining the new police service was to shun him and to deliberately refuse him games.

At one point he was approached by republicans in the club changing rooms, where they tried to intimidate him and give him anti-police leaflets. As a result he left, never to return.

But much worse was to happen eight years later when, in January 2010, he became the victim of an under-car bomb planted by dissident republicans

While he drove to his work as a policeman in Belfast a bomb exploded under his vehicle, causing him horrific injuries. He lost a leg and sustained other ghastly wounds. He now has to use a wheelchair.

He has been naturally hurt by all of this, and has candidly outlined his dismay to Brolly. He is bitter about the hurtful treatment he received from club members after joining the police. But, perhaps more contemptible, was the failure of his former club members, or indeed the club itself, to express any condemnation of the dissident republican attack.

Apart from two club committee members, who independently visited his family home while he was in a coma in hospital, nobody else in the club bothered. The two that visited said they did not officially represent the club.

The rest of the club, it would appear, blithely ignored his ghastly injuries and failed to show solidarity with him or his family.

Despite the fact that he had almost been killed in the course of his duty to protect the public and enforce the law on behalf of the whole community, including the members and families of Kickhams Creggan, he was treated with cruel indifference.

It is little wonder that Peadar felt angry and badly betrayed by his former colleagues in the GAA.

But, in fairness, the GAA itself has played a central role in attempting to positively attract young men and women to join the new police service.

It is firmly committed in its community outreach programmes to develop better relationships within our society for all, and the PSNI is part of that outreach. In its own official literature it carries recruitment adverts for the PSNI.

The GAA, therefore, has played an important and pivotal role in creating a new police service in Northern Ireland. It should be given credit and encouragement for its important contribution.

Let us remember that the creation of the PSNI was an outstanding achievement of the Good Friday Agreement.

The success of the PSNI would not have been possible without the personal self-sacrifice and heroism of young men like Peadar Heffron.

He and other young men and women need our active support and personal affirmation in the difficult role they play as police officers on the ground, serving our communities.

The treatment accorded to Peadar brings no credit to the club and besmirches the name of the GAA, which continues to provide so much good in the community.

By their callous indifference, they have brought great shame onto the club. After a prolonged period of icy silence the club have at long last issued what Brolly has described as a "self-serving" statement, belatedly condemning the bomb attack on Peadar.

But the statement is still silent as to the ostracising of Peadar in the first place for joining the PSNI, and there is no explanation for the presence of republicans distributing intimidatory, anti-police literature on club premises.

Until these issues are addressed, the club need not feel that they have put this matter to rest.

We need more Peadar Heffrons and we need to affirm - not ignore - his courageous service to the whole community.

Belfast Telegraph

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