Saturday, 3 June 2017

The GAA is an Irish nationalist organisation

In the course of the current Westminster election campaign, four candidates in Northern Ireland have received endorsements from prominent figures in the world of sport.

First of all the Fermanagh GAA manager, who is also a former manager of Down GAA, endorsed the Sinn Fein candidate in South Down.

This was followed by three endorsements from people associated with local football teams, with the Ballymena manager backing the Ulster Unionist candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, the Cliftonville chairman endorsing the Sinn Fein candidate in North Belfast, and the Linfield chairman supporting the DUP candidate in South Belfast.

These endorsements have been the subject of some comment in the media but there is one obvious point which I have not seen in any of the comments I have read.

The three endorsements from people involved with football were all for different parties - DUP, UUP and Sinn Fein.  This reflects the fact that football is indeed a sport for everyone, whether they are unionists, nationalists or neither.  It is open and inclusive.

Meanwhile the endorsement from a prominent figure in the GAA was for a Sinn Fein candidate.  Prominent GAA members can endorse Sinn Fein candidates, SDLP candidates or indeed any nationalist or republican candidates but they are not going to endorse a unionist candidate, from whatever unionist party.  

It's just not going to happen and there is a very simple reason for that.  You can only join a GAA club if you are an Irish nationalist or republican.  The constitution of the GAA includes a commitment to Irish nationalism and acceptance of that position is a requirement for membership of every club within the GAA.  In other words, unionists are barred from membership of the GAA.  A Protestant nationalist could join the GAA and there have been a few of them but every unionist is excluded.

For example GAA rule 1:2 states: 'The Association is a National Organisation which has as its basic aim the strengthening of the National Identity in a 32 County Ireland through the preservation and promotion of Gaelic Games and pastimes.'

This morning's editorial in the Belfast Telegraph commented that the recent spate of electoral endorsements were 'bringing sport into politics' and that is a matter for discussion.

What is beyond dispute is that throughout its existence the GAA has brought politics into sport in a way that no other sporting body has done, even to the extent of barring unionists from membership.

The GAA may talk about reaching out but until the GAA abandons its aspiration for a 32-county Irish republic its door is shut and bolted and unionists are shut out.

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