Northern Ireland news

Former Tyrone star GAA Sean Cavanagh sparks backlash after referring to north as part of UK

Former Tyrone star Sean Cavanagh in action for his county

FORMER Tyrone GAA star Sean Cavanagh has faced a social media backlash after referring to the north as being in the UK.

The three-time All-Ireland winner was speaking during an RTÉ Sport podcast last week.

The Moy clubman was taking part in a virtual panel discussion which included Kerry football great Pat Spillane.

Mr Cavanagh is a five-time All Star and was a key figure during the most successful period in his county's GAA history.

During the podcast the response of the GAA to the Covid-19 crisis and possibility of it lifting some restrictions was discussed.

While offering his view Mr Cavanagh said: “Certainly here in the UK it's a bit bizarre as well because we are all probably watching Leo (Varadkar) and watching the GAA's announcements and see ourselves as part of that.

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“But equally in terms of day-to-day living we are waiting on the announcement from Boris (Johnson).”

The GAA's official guide describes the association as "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".

While the north is legally part of the United Kingdom, many nationalists do not use the term and Mr Cavanagh's comment sparked an angry response from some.

Former hunger striker and Moy native Tommy McKearney, who had two brothers killed on separate IRA operations during the Troubles, as well as another brother and an uncle in a loyalist gun attack in the village, said Mr Cavanagh “should be asked to clarify his position in relation to what he said”.

“It would, however, be very disappointing if a GAA icon such as Sean were to genuinely hold this West Briton view,” he said.

“It is certainly not a position endorsed by a majority of people in Co Tyrone."

Sinn Féin Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew also tweeted about the controversy.

“I presume by that, Sean isn’t playing Pádraig Pearse in the forthcoming film on the #EasterRising then?” she said.

However, some also took to social media to defend the former Red Hand star.

Moy Tír na nÓg GAC chairman Francie McQuade said it was not a matter for the club.

“We don't speak on behalf of Sean and he doesn't speak on behalf of us,” he said.

“I am sure Sean will make comment on his own.”

In July last year Mr Cavanagh spoke out after a leaked video showed members of the Tyrone senior football squad singing Come Out You Black and Tans as the team bus made its way through Aughnacloy while a flute band parade was taking place.

It was reported he branded the incident a “clumsy embarrassing mistake” in a newspaper column.

The accountant also said neither he nor his brother, fellow Tyrone GAA star Colm, were politically minded and they would not know the words to the republican anthem.

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