Northern Ireland news

`Peacekeepers' in on-pitch GAA brawls to face penalties in `draconian' new proposals

Brian McAvoy warned `players must realise that what happens on the field doesn't always stay on the field'. Picture by Hugh Russell

GAA players will face harsher penalties for taking part in mass on-pitch brawls - "even in a 'peace keeping' capacity" - as part of "draconian action" to tackle escalating violence at matches, Ulster Secretary Brian McAvoy said.

Mr McAvoy warned "players must realise that what happens on the field doesn't always stay on the field" and they may face court action as he revealed plans to clamp down on violence.

It follows several high-profile fights during matches in recent months.

In his annual report ahead of the 2019 Ulster Convention, Mr McAvoy states "the offence of `contributing to a melee' should be broadened to include anyone who is any way involved in a melee... as numbers arriving at `the scene' more times than not inflame the situation.

"The `cover' of a mass brawl doesn't make you invisible and the courts largely take the view that take the view that an assault on the field of play is no different to assault on a street corner," he said.

"This may seem draconian but if we are serious about tackling this major blight on our games then we need to take draconian action.

"...the disciplinary committees should stand firm in the knowledge that they are acting in the best interests of the association and indeed all who play and support our games."

His wide-ranging report also touches on the county's blighted plans for the redevelopment of Casement Park, which he said "is in the hands of the planners to give their verdict".

Mr McAvoy acknowledges "clarification... is required as to what level of decision-making can be made in the absence of a minister", but said "progress... (has) been made in respect of safety, emergency planning and alignment with emerging best practice in the sector".

On Brexit, he notes "Ulster GAA have had to register to be allowed to transfer goods to and from the EU, something that we currently take for granted as both jurisdictions are within the EU".

In addition, "the weakening of sterling has meant a de facto ticket price increase in the `Six Counties' as euro is the default currency for the setting of GAA ticket prices".

"Will more of our young people emigrate in search of work, thus impacting on the ability of some of our smaller clubs to continue to field?These are the known unknowns and there are no doubt unknown unknowns.

"No one knows the full impact that Brexit will have on the GAA but it is potentially one of the greatest challenges that the Association is likely to face in the coming years."

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