GAA a market leader for “bridging divides” (Irish News)

[I intended to publish this on the NIF Blog, until I saw the quotation by Margaret Ritchie, “While the loyal orders have some progressive people around … they remain, unlike the GAA, sectional and sectarian.” Unsurprisingly, this resulted in several letters to the editor.]

GAA a market leader for “bridging divides”
Brendan Breen (Irish News)
17 November 2008

Social development minister Margaret Ritchie has told a GAA conference that there can be no equivalence drawn between attacks on the sporting organisation and those on the Orange Order.

The South Down assembly member was addressing the Ulster GAA Community Development Unit, the second annual event at Belfast’s Europa Hotel on Saturday.

Her remarks follow cross-community condemnation of recent high-profile attacks on both GAA clubs and Orange halls.

Tanaiste Mary Coughlan and the Republic’s minister for community, rural and Gaeltacht affairs Eamon O’Cuiv were special guests of the event which focused on supporting club and community development right across Ulster GAA.

Ms Ritchie said that 2008 had brought successes both on and off the pitch but particularly with the exciting and innovative progress in the area of community development.

Highlighting initiatives including the founding of the Belfast Chuchulains, the north’s first cross-community hurling team, she said it was unfortunate that ther was still a “small minority” hostile to the GAA.

“I want to condemn, unreservedly, the arson attacks on GAA facilities in Castlewellan, Edendork and Cookstown and elsewhere,” she said.

“These facilities will be restored, bigger and better than ever.

“I also want to condemn the arson attacks on Orange halls around the north which are equally despicable and cowardly attacks.”

She said while all attacks should be equally condemned, the growing tendency in the media and elsewhere to suggest an equivalence between the GAA and the Orange Order was “deeply concerning”.

“There is no such equivalence in my mind,” Ms Ritchie told the delegates.

“While the loyal orders have some progressive people around who wish to move them forward to a better place, they remain, unlike the GAA, sectional and sectarian, and deeply divisive in our community.”

She added that in contrast, the GAA had always shown great leadership to make progress in “bridging divides”.

“It was one of the first to support the new start for policing and it has had the courage to take a series of difficult decisions in order to accommodate the interests of other traditions, sporting and otherwise,” she said pointing to Saturday’s historic Ireland versus New Zealand rugby match at Croke Park.

But she challenged the organisation to continue to make strides.

“I want to encourage you, as you branch out from your sporting and cultural roots into community development activity, education and regeneration.

“Along the way, I know you will challenge the traditional misconceptions that many people hold of the GAA.”

GAA president Nickey Brennan told the conference that equal respect must be shown to all communities and he condemned uneuivocally the recent arson attacks on GAA clubs and Orange halls.

Noel Doran, editor of The Irish News, which sponsored the initiative, said it was appropriate that it took place at such a prominent venue in the heart of Ulster’s capital city, emphaising the central role which the GAA played not just in a sporting context but in wider terms.

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