The truth is that there can only be a United Ireland with the consent of unionists in Ulster and no amount of nationalists and republicans talking to other nationalists and republicans will alter the views of unionists. There were two unionists on a panel later in the day but essentially this was about nationalists taking to nationalists.
Nevertheless the reports of the conference provide some interesting insights. The opening speaker was Gerry Adams MP, president of Sinn Fein, and he was followed by a session chaired by the Labour MP Diane Abbott. The contributors included Conall McDevitt MLA of the SDLP, Margaret Ward, who was described as an author and historian, and Jarlath Burns, a former GAA player, a former Daily Ireland columnist and now a GAA commenator on BBC.
The GAA is a critical element in the conversation about Irish unity. You see, the GAA has never accepted partition. Some of our clubs straddle the border, Ulster consists of nine counties and the desire to seek Irish unity is enshrined in the Official Guide of the GAA. There is a commitment to the use of the Irish language and the promotion of Irish culture that is discrete yet honourable, inclusive, not intrusive and at all times, full to the neck of integrity that is to be admired and learnt from.He also spoke about the pan-nationalist aspect of the GAA:
Within clubs, it can be just as fraught with the GAA having to be equally relevant to the SDLP and Sinn Féin in the north.You can't get much clearer than that - 'the desire to seek Irish unity is enshrined in the Official Guide of the GAA' - and his choice of the word 'enshrined' is significant. Not only is it there in the Official Guide but it is enshrined in the Official Guide. There is no place for unionists in the GAA and there probably never will be. Those who speak of the GAA reaching out to unionists and opening the door to unionists need to realise that the GAA is a nationalist organisation.
But that is not the end to the nationalist rhetoric of Jarlath Burns and he even manages to launch an attack on me personally:
And bringing us right up to date; this week Bryansford GAA are having their expansion plans thwarted by a particularly bigoted piece of political chicanery from the DUP minister of culture, a man who hadn’t even the guts to mention the GAA Ulster championship last summer in a statement promoting the summer of sporting activities in the six counties. And we are still in trouble because some of our grounds are named historically and emotionally after what we would term irish patriots, but who others would call terrorists. Off the field, we just can’t seem to win and this is why we are distinctly uncomfortable in the political arena and nowadays try to avoid it at all costs.Jarlath Burns accuses me of 'a particularly bigoted piece of political chicanery' in relation to Bryansford GAA. In fact I have had no role in relation to Bryansford GAA or their expansion plans and his personal and erroneous attack tells us more about his own prejudice than anything else. It might be argued that his false accusation should be ignored, especially since it is on a Sinn Fein website, but Burns is a well-known figure who appears regularly on BBC television. I intend to look into this matter further, especially since what appears once on the internet has a tendency to get repeated elsewhere.