GAA may reconsider use of tricolour and Irish national anthem

The GAA's Aogán Ó Fearghaíl with DUP Belfast lord mayor Brian Kingston earlier this year officially opening the refurbished Woodlands Playing Fields in west Belfast. Picture by Ann McManus

THE GAA may reconsider its use of the tricolour and national anthem, the association's president has said.

Aogán Ó Fearghaíl said the flag and anthem "mean a lot to the GAA and will continue to do so", adding: "but who knows in the future?"

He accepted the Irish brand, with particular reference to the tricolour and Amhrán na bhFiann, "causes more difficulty.. at home" – meaning largely in Northern Ireland.

"We have to learn from our international units that we should never have closed minds about things that we always thought were precious and sacred," he said.

Speaking in Dubai on the GAA/GPA Football Allstars tour, Mr Ó Fearghaíl said that any such breaks with tradition would only come in an "agreed Ireland".

"In the future, if there are different agreements in place for the whole of Ireland, of course the GAA would be inclusive in that," he said.

Mr Ó Fearghaíl was responding to a question based on former GAA director general Liam Mulvihill once saying that the growth of non-national members would force the association to reconsider the use of the flag and anthem overseas, which are stranger aspects to members who aren't Irish.

In response, the GAA president immediately made reference to their use within Ireland as well.

"Well, it'd be time to look at it in our own island too in terms of an agreed Ireland, which everybody in Ireland and everybody in the GAA looks at," he said.

"You certainly cannot look at these issues in advance of an agreement, that's for sure."

Such agreement may appear a long way off but the GAA president said: "There could be further agreements politically at home.

"There is a massively changing world at home. Brexit is going to affect the GAA the same as it's going to affect everyone else and it does cause concerns.

"There might well be political re-alignments on the island of Ireland and if there are then, the GAA, just as it did when Nickey Brennan was president at the time and before him Sean McCague, they welcomed the Anglo-Irish agreement. Every successive president has done that. I've done that.

"In the future if there are new agreements and new arrangements we'd be open-minded about things like flags and anthems – but not in advance of agreements."

Mr Ó Fearghaíl pointed to the rebranding of 'Europe GAA' to 'Gaelic Games Europe'.

"I think that's an inclusive title that they have chosen deliberately to include their camogie and their football. They've changed their logo so I don't think the Irish brand is a difficult brand overseas," he said.

"I think at home it causes more difficulty as such but everything is very possible and that's something I said at the start.

"We have to learn from our international units that we should never have closed minds about things that we always thought were precious and sacred. They may well be that, but we have to have open minds as to where this could go."

Former Ireland rugby player Trevor Ringland, who set up the One Small Step Campaign towards peace-building, welcomed Mr Ó Fearghaíl's remarks.

"It's a discussion for the GAA but it's certainly one I welcome," he said.

"I think it shows the GAA have been working very hard at seeing how they can be more inclusive and build on the good principles that are in there."

Mr Ringland said that the GAA changing its use of the tricolour and anthem could "remove that barrier" for some unionists.

However, he said he understood how many within the GAA could be reluctant to change.

"I can understand the difficulty that they have, but I think the prize is something that is building on peace and stability and building a society together," he said.

Jarlath Burns sparked debate on the issue last year when he said he would support removing the Irish tricolour and national anthem from games if it helped reach out to Protestants.

However, the former Armagh captain last night said he could not see the GAA's position changing.

"I would doubt if we would ever see it happen. I wouldn't necessarily vote against it because while the flag and anthem are very important to us, the GAA is a bigger organisation than that," he said.

Mr Burns said a change would perhaps happen within the context of a "new Ireland".

But he added: "At the moment people are very proud of the flag and the anthem. I don't see a situation where that is going to change."

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