John McEntee: Creggan Kickhams should not be tarnished for the actions of a few

Peadar Heffron, who lost his leg in a terrorist attack, pictured with Joe Brolly at the Dub in Belfast during a PSNI v Gardai match Picture by Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

THEY say the average person remembers 20 per cent of what they read but 30 per cent of what they hear.

This being so, it is apparent that the world of media can really influence how we think, what we think and why we think the way that we do.

The good journalists really burrow a message into your brain when they attach the message content to an emotion.

Emotionally salient cues really grab the public’s attention.

Written articles are shared on news programmes and on a plethora of social media sites.

People can actually begin to think that the article content is a factual record which then becomes a reference quote for others to use as they choose.

As an example, let’s examine Joe Brolly’s opinion in the Sunday Independent about former GAA player Peadar Heffron being ‘ostracised’ by his former club Creggan Kickhams GAC when he announced plans to join the PSNI in 2002.

This was a very powerful article, brilliantly written and difficult to read without squirming or wincing if you were a human being of any sort.

I mean, it is impossible not to feel sorrow and pain for Peadar or his family. It is saddening to hear of his friends distancing themselves and to read suggestions that people he knew maimed him for life.

It is disheartening to think local people would not reach out to apologise or show remorse for the vile actions of a crazy few within their society.

That is certainly one way to look at the issue.

There are others.

Let’s not forget that Rule 21 was recommended for abolition by a Special Congress in 1998 in recognition of a new Ireland following the Good Friday Agreement, but only after the RUC were transformed into the PSNI.

This occurred in late 2001.

This position adopted by the GAA was a legitimate yet controversial one.

Peadar would have been one of the first recruits into the PSNI the following spring. It was a new dawn, a new beginning for everyone, it seemed.

However, the north is a dreadfully backward place. People are slow to change. Memories die hard.

Back then, harassment and intimidation by a police service was an everyday occurrence in nationalist areas, none moreso than in west Belfast.

Peadar would have known this. However valiant his reasons were for joining the PSNI, surely he knew he would face a real struggle to win the hearts and minds of the people.

It will soon be 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement and sure we still twist and fight over the colour of flags and whether one section of the community respects the other’s cultural identity and so on.

And what about the GAA club in the middle of this storm? I’ve visited Creggan Kickhams on a few occasions as a spectator watching the Ulster U21 championship which they host.

I have nothing but praise for this club. They are hospitable people, friendly and courteous.

Since Brolly’s article, the perception has grown that they lack compassion and are un-Christian like.

Someone once said ‘what people think of you in the world is really none of your business’.

There is merit in this quote if you are a person of note who is obsessed with others’ views on social media.

You may remember hearing about Ed Sheeran quitting Twitter because he could not deal with the criticism his followers were levelling his way.

This is different. It seems to me so wrong to paint a picture of a whole community and a whole GAA club in a dim light.

We are referring to volunteers – people who give freely of their time to make better the lives of others in their community.

We are speaking of sportsmen, sportswomen and children whose skills and attributes gained on the playing fields richly contribute to society.

There is no recognition of the sterling work this club has done to avert anti-social behaviour or to prevent its members from falling foul of the law.

A previous manager once said of a team-mate of mine, ‘thank God he’s up here training, for if he wasn’t he’d be robbing my house’.

Every club has these sort of characters. Should the club be tarnished for the actions of a few?

I do not believe they should.

Should the club be tarnished for the views of some of their members? Again, I think this is wrong.

Sport and politics ought to be kept apart.

Sporting organisations, particularly the GAA, make great efforts to be fully inclusive of all religions and none.

As society evolves, so too will the people who make up organisations.

We still live in a time when the social circles of police officers are restricted and their out-of-work activities are secretive for obvious security reasons on both sides of the community.

The tide of change will ebb and flow. As people like Peadar stand strong to make a difference, others will follow.

If another storm rages, we should seek to be shorn of the rotten apples rather than uproot a healthy orchard.

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