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Tyrone ace Gemma heads new GAA drive to tackle homelessness

By John Campbell

Gemma Begley, one of Ulster's leading ladies football players, is currently a driving force behind a new player-led social movement group 'Gaelic Voices for Change' which has been set up to support the most vulnerable in society.

Begley, who has been a member of the Tyrone senior squad for the past 13 years, is passionately committed to seeing the GAA become more involved in combating issues such as homelessness, racism and drug abuse.

For the past two months, the new body's steering group has been meeting on a weekly basis, and already plans have been formulated that will allow it to throw its weight behind the ongoing efforts to deal with major social issues in Ireland.

"Our aim is to try and help make a difference. We want to give support where we can, particularly to those who are homeless and sleeping rough," explains Begley.

"We feel that by making the wider GAA membership aware of the seriousness of problems then this might help precipitate solutions to those problems."

A member of the Carrickmore club, Begley, a 32-year-old marketing executive, has undertaken a close study of social issues and believes that the GAA through the 'Gaelic Voices for Change' group can ultimately help to pave the way to a better society.

"My business sees me make contact with various bodies and agencies in Dublin and obviously the extent of the homeless problem there is really serious but it is also very marked in other areas including in Ulster," she stresses.

Already a number of well-known Ulster GAA personnel have undertaken to engage in an all-Ireland solidarity 'sleep-out' from 6pm to 6am on Saturday, December 16 that is designed to draw attention to the homelessness crisis, raise funds and call for action.

The sleep-out will take place in Belfast, Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Portlaoise, Waterford, Wexford and Carlow.

All-Ireland winners Ross Carr (Down) and Steven McDonnell (Armagh), along with current Antrim footballer Conor Murray and Saffrons hurler Christy McNaughton, have intimated that they will be taking part, as have Slaughtneil's Eilis Cassidy and Armagh ladies footballers Caroline O'Hanlon and Sharon Reel.

"It is hoped to have subsequent undertakings in Newry and Derry," says Begley.

"There is huge concern that Ireland now has the highest rate of child homelessness in Europe and this is an issue to which we are giving particular attention," she adds.

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