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James Brokenshire's decision to avoid anthem at GAA match ‘offensive'

James Brokenshire alongside GAA Ulster Council president Michael Hasson at Páirc Esler. Picture by Seamus Loughran

JAMES Brokenshire's decision to avoid observing the Irish national anthem at his first GAA game has been described as "discourteous, offensive and embarrassing".

The Tory MP became the first British secretary of state to attend a GAA match north of the border when he watched the Dr McKenna Cup final in Newry on Saturday evening.

However, he did not take his seat at the Derry-Tyrone clash until after Amhrán na bhFiann.

It is understood Mr Brokenshire deliberately waited until the anthem was played and was in a control room at the ground at the time.

It was decided that because the match was played north of the border and not in the Republic that he would not observe the normal protocol.

After the match, he said: "The welcome I've had tonight has been absolutely incredible.

"Just to see the speed, the talent, the passion of the game has been brilliant for me as the first secretary of state to watch a GAA match here in Northern Ireland."

In November GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail suggested it would be "open-minded" about the anthem and flags in the context of "new political alignments" in Ireland, although he later said they "won't be scrapped".

In 2012, then First Minister Peter Robinson attended a McKenna Cup final in Armagh and also took his seat after the anthem was played.

Former Sinn Fein culture minister Caral Ní Chuilín also avoided the playing of God Save the Queen at a Northern Ireland soccer game at Windsor Park.

However, when then shadow secretary of state Vernon Coaker attended the Derry v Down Ulster Championship quarter-final in 2013, the Labour MP was present for the Soldier's Song.

Mr Coaker's Co Armagh-born former adviser last night described the secretary of state's actions as "offensive and embarrassing" and a "snub".

Conor McGinn, now a Labour MP for St Helens, said: "It has been 10 years since God Save the Queen was played at Croke Park during a Six Nations game between England and Ireland.

"We have since had reciprocal state visits where both the Irish and British national anthems were played in Dublin Castle and Windsor Castle.

"I have asked the Northern Ireland Office and the Cabinet Office to urgently clarify the government's policy on ministerial attendance at events where the Irish national anthem is played, including on the many occasions when this occurs at events held in Britain."

Campaign group Relatives for Justice meanwhile voiced concern about Mr Brokenshire's presence at the game, saying it will have caused upset to families of people killed by British forces.

"In our view until the British government changes its approach to legacy and starts showing respect to victims by meeting their legal obligations to families there should be zero tolerance shown."

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