Northern Ireland news

‘Sectarian' reference in Holylands report not about GAA shirts, says author

Police on patrol in the Holylands area of south Belfast. Picture by Rebecca Black/PA
Brendan Hughes

THE author of a report on the Holylands which described football shirts as "sectarian symbols" has insisted this was not a reference to GAA tops.

The Holyland Transition study looked at ways to tackle issues in the mainly student area of south Belfast.

Among its recommendations, it said: "Discourage the wearing of sectarian symbols in the area such as football shirts."

The report only makes one other reference to football shirts, where it cites a 2008 report from Belfast City Council which suggested young people "from nearby Protestant/unionist areas such as Donegall Pass" felt uncomfortable entering student streets due to the presence of "GAA shirts, Celtic regalia and flags".

Read More: How to solve issues in Belfast's Holylands area

It adds that while there is no detailed census of the Holylands, events such as St Patrick's Day give a "perception that the area is dominated by nationalists".

Commissioned by Forward South Partnership and published earlier this year, the Holyland Transition study was co-authored by Prof Paddy Gray and Ursula McAnulty.

Ian Knox cartoon 23/9/20 

Prof Gray, emeritus of housing at Ulster University, yesterday said the recommendations "culminated from interviews with a number of stakeholders that are outlined and reported in the document".

"The words 'football shirts' were anecdotally mentioned by residents and that's why this was included," he said.

He added: "I would need to look at the fieldwork again and chat to the co-author. From memory residents had raised the issue of Celtic and Rangers shirts being perceived as sectarian.

"The use of the words 'discourage the wearing of sectarian symbols in the area' was the purpose of the recommendation and football shirts used as an example.

"I can categorically confirm, however, that no-one suggested that GAA shirts were sectarian and this was never in the report."

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown, who sits on Forward South's board, said: "This report contains many positive ideas for how to improve life in the Holyland but the suggestion that football tops are sectarian is difficult to reconcile.

"The sports or teams which people support should not be used as a means to determine community identity or be interpreted as a demarcator of territory."

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