Joining PSNI 'should not affect GAA membership' Ulster Council says

Former PSNI constable Peadar Heffron who lost his leg in a dissident attack pictured with with former GAA player and radio presenter Joe Brolly at the Dub in Belfast during a PSNI v Gardaí match. Picture by Stephen Hamilton, Presseye

GAA players should be able to join the PSNI without any impact on their club membership, the Ulster Council's chief executive has said.

In a hard-hitting speech yesterday, Brian McAvoy said reports that maimed former PSNI officer and GAA player Peadar Heffron had been shunned by his club after he joined the force in 2002 "sent a shiver through our spines".

Mr Heffron, who lost his right leg when a dissident bomb detonated under his car near his home in Randalstown, Co Antrim, in January 2010, said last month he was "very bitter" over his treatment by his former club Kickham's Creggan.

The fluent Irish speaker said he had been shunned by boyhood friends, was not picked for teams and, while in the club's changing room, was handed a leaflet by four republicans warning of the dangers of joining the PSNI.

Mr Heffron, now a member of the Ulster GAA wheelchair hurling team, said that following the attack two members of the club's committee did visit his parents' home but said they were only there "in a personal capacity".

Speaking at a GAA conference in Armagh yesterday, Mr McAvoy said he hoped those responsible for the "terrible atrocity" would be caught.

He said Kickham's Creggan had been "the subject of some over the top and unfair criticism" since Mr Heffron's interview.

But he admitted that not every GAA member was supportive of the decision in 2001 to scrap the association's Rule 21 which banned members of the British security forces from playing Gaelic games.

"Peadar Heffron got to realise this first hand when he was treated less than respectfully by some of his team-mates and club members when he joined the PSNI in the spring of 2002," he said.

"I would like to think that we have matured as an organisation in the intervening period and the GAA at all levels works closely with the PSNI across a range of initiatives."

Mr McAvoy said the GAA owed it to Mr Heffron to fully support members who joined the PSNI.

"Peadar Heffron is a proud GAA man – the GAA is in his blood and always will be," he said.

He added: "He was also a proud PSNI officer".

"If any good can come of this sorry tale let it be that the message should be heard loud and clear that any GAA member who wishes to consider a career in policing should do so free in the knowledge that it will not impact in any way on the membership of their local GAA club.

"We at least owe that much to Peadar."

Mr McAvoy's comments were welcomed by Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin, one of several senior PSNI officers who attended yesterday's Ulster GAA forum.

"Unequivocal statement of support from @UlsterGAA for their members who choose a career in the PSNI," he tweeted.

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