Northern Ireland news

Loyalist Jamie Bryson claims GAA not welcome in unionist and loyalist areas

SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite at Victoria Park
Connla Young

LOYALIST activist Jamie Bryson has been criticised for claiming the GAA is not welcome in unionist communities.

His comments followed a decision to halt the development of a Gaelic pitch at Victoria Park in east Belfast after online criticism by loyalists.

The land has been earmarked by Belfast City Council for use by East Belfast GAA, which has attracted cross community support since it was set up in 2020.

It currently has no permanent base and the site, which is owned by the council, had been identified for development as a GAA facility.

Work had already started on pitch markings when the halt order from council officials came earlier this week.

It is understood a flurry of activity on social media by loyalists contributed to the decision to stop the work.

Mr Bryson, who is based in north Down, claimed that GAA facilities were not wanted in east Belfast.

"There are many people in areas like Sydenham who have had enough," he said.

"They do not want the GAA - which continues to be linked to IRA commemorations - in the heart of their community, a community that suffered greatly during the IRA terrorist campaign."

He said many unionists and loyalists view the GAA as "toxic".

"The notion that a GAA (club) - an organisation seen as toxic by many unionists and loyalists - could be plonked in the middle of a traditionally loyalist area, without any prior consultation with the community, is for the birds," he said.

The GAA declined to comment.

But SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite hit back at the comments last night.

"The GAA, along with the other sporting codes, offer a positive vision of athletic co-operation across east Belfast for the benefit of everyone. It’s time for those stuck in the past to get out of the way," he said.

Meanwhile North Belfast MP and former Antrim Gaelic footballer John Finucane said he is "absolutely dismayed and disappointed that anyone would try to prevent children and young people playing any sport in a public park".

“There should be no place in society for discrimination against children and young people because of their choice of sport,” he said.

Northern Ireland news