Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The GAA and the gunman

There has been some progress by the GAA in divorcing itself from militant republicanism but a recent incident has shown just how much still needs to be done.

Galbally Pearse's GAA Club in Tyrone organised a 'Gaelic football blitz' for children under 12 and then presented the children with a medal depicting an IRA terrorist.  Each of the medals carried the face of Martin McCaughey, a member of the Provisional IRA.

MCaughey and another IRA man, Dessie Grew, were shot dead by the SAS while they were carrying out a terrorist operation on 9 October 1990.

The two IRA men, who were armed with AK47 rifles, were wearing gloves and balaclavas as they approached an isolated farm building near Loughgall.  There was a stolen car which it was thought was to be used in a terrorist operation and the shed was believed to be an arms dump.  As the IRA reached the shed the SAS opened fire and the terrorists were killed.  Subsequently the families of the two men accepted that they were on an IRA operation.

McCaughey was not only an IRA terorrist at the time of his death, he was also a former Sinn Fein councillor, having served on the Dungannon and South Tyrone Council.

Recently an inquest jury ruled that the SAS had been justified in their actions and the creation of the medal by the Galbally club follows closely behind that decision.

There has been some progress with the GAA and recently the Ulster Council intervened when Sinn Fein advertised that they were going to hold an advice centre in a GAA Club in the Craigavon area.  The GAA club in question was the Wolfe Tone GAC, although Sinn Fein managed to spell it 'Wolf Tone'!  (That is particularly amusing when both the Education Minister and his sister are named on the leaflet.) When the leaflets advertising the advice centre were distributed the matter was raised with the Ulster Council of the GAA who accepted that the use of GAA premises for party political purposes was not permitted.

However the response of the Ulster Council of the GAA to the Galbally medals has been less than adequate.

It is true that McCaughey, who was twenty-three years old, was a member of the Pearse's GAC and had been selected by the Tyrone minor team, but the decision by the GAA club to present children with medals depicting an IRA terrorist is totally wrong.

It was reported by the BBC (4 June) that a parent of one of the children was angry about the medal and the woman, who did not wish to be named, passed on the information to the BBC, who were able to publish a photograph of the medal.  However a spokesman for Tyrone GAA said, 'If the mother has a comment, she should make it to Tyrone County offices, they would obviously look at it.'  A spokesman for the Ulster Council said, 'The Ulster Council has no comment to make until we receive official notification from the individual involved.'  Both responses throw the onus back on the parent and in this way seek to evade the issue.

The truth is that action by the GAA should not be dependent on a complaint from the mother, who may well be reluctant to be identified and such reluctance would be perfectly understandable.  The GAA can easily confirm that the medals were distributed and they have a duty to act because it is the right thing to do.

Ryan Feeney who is the head of public affairs for the GAA Ulster Council is now a member of the Policing Board and involved in a number of cross-community initiatives.  But at the same time the GAA sends out a very different message by its tardiness in relation to the McCaughey medals.  The action of the Tyrone club and the inaction of the GAA simply undermine any progress that has been made.

It is interesting that the club concerned is the Galbally club and many people will remember the name Galbally from earlier controversies.  It seems that while some elements of the GAA want to move forward there is a recalcitrant element, especially in Tyrone, which wants to cling to the past.

Tyrone seems to be a backward county in this regard and it is worth remembering that in Tyrone last year another nationalist organisation, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, elected a convicted IRA terrorist Gerry McGeough, as its president.  In February 2011 McGeough was convicted of attempting to murder Sammy Brush near Aughnacloy in 1981.  The victim, who was an off-duty member of the UDR, was a postman and was delivering mail when he was shot.  He is now a DUP councillor.  McGeough was actually elected president by the Tyrone AOH while he was in prison.

But back to Galbally and two things need to happen:

1. The Ulster Council of the GAA has a duty to act against the club and, at the very least condemn their action.

2. The matter has been reported in the media but how, for example, will the BBC pursue this matter.  Will it become the subject of a Stephen Nolan special?  Will the leaders of the GAA be summoned on to his programme?  Will the BBC demand answers from the GAA?  Will the BBC commission a Spotlight special?  Or will it be passed over lightly, in the same way that the BBC and other media passed over the election of McGeough as AOH president in Tyrone.

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