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Ulster GAA gives women an equal opportunity, say bosses

By Declan Bogue

Two of Ulster's leading ladies' Gaelic games administrators have stated that Ulster GAA has nothing to fear despite the threat of public funding being pulled over gender quotas. Irish government Minister of State for Sport Patrick O'Donovan caused a stir when he announced plans he wishes to introduce in the new year, with sporting bodies facing cuts to their state funding unless at least 30% of their board positions are filled by women.

The GAA, along with the IRFU and FAI, were under immediate threat, but the heads of Ulster camogie and ladies' Gaelic football have insisted that there is nothing to fear in the province.

"At the end of the day when you go into any club in Ireland, most of the secretaries are probably ladies. There are also ladies involved as PROs or treasurers," said Ulster ladies football Chairperson Michael Naughton.

The Donegal man, who also manages his county at senior ladies level, continued: "If you were looking for 30%, you might already have a couple of females involved in your club or county board, so all it would take is one more.

"It might take a year or two and some counties might struggle in that some of these jobs have a lot of commitment and time required to do them.

"But I don't see a problem making the quota. It's not a huge leap."

While ladies Gaelic football and camogie are run by different governing bodies, there has been significant work carried out in Ulster to integrate members of each body under the main GAA umbrella.

Naughton serves on the integration board of the Ulster Council that meets five times annually. He points to Ulster ladies' Championship games being played as curtain-raisers to Ulster men's Championship games as triumphs of co-operation, helping the ladies' game gain a greater audience.

The same can be said of camogie, believes the Camogie Association's Ulster Chairperson Kathleen Woods. Prior to the Ulster club hurling final this year between Loughgiel and Slaughtneil, the same two clubs played out an enthralling draw in the camogie final, the second year this double-header was staged.

Asked if Minister O'Donovan's comments were unfounded, Woods replied: "The only way I could answer that is to say that the Ulster ladies players are integrated into the GAA in this province."

She invoked the work of current GAA President Aogan ÓFearghail, who began a process of taking in the three strands of Gaelic games and getting them under one umbrella while he was the Ulster Chairman.

"He kicked it off and got the ball rolling nicely. He appointed the then deputy Martin McAviney (now President of the Ulster Council) to work with the camogs and the relationship took on a life of its own," she said.

"Ulster camogie is part of the Ulster Child Protection committee, we do all our work through them. We are part of the fixtures, part of the administration, we have representation on all the sub-committees that we want or that we request. We are also the first province to appoint an integration officer onto our board.

"Personally, in Ulster I would say we are past integration. We just all work as a team.

"In Ulster, there is no such thing as 'them and us'. It is a code of Gaelic players."

As for whether camogie and ladies' football will eventually become another strand of the GAA, she commented: "If we were to start off this today we would be of a different mindset, we wouldn't have all these different associations.

"We are working towards the ultimate level of integration without loss of identity. Where that leads to, I don't know. In Ulster, we haven't recorded any terms and conditions. It's just the way it is."

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