Northern Ireland news

Embarrassing climbdown by unionists after claim that GAA tournament in Co Tyrone named after an IRA hunger striker

Francie Hughes pictured making a presentation to Kerry legend Pat Spillane in Coalisland in 1985
Connla Young

Unionists have been forced into an embarrassing climbdown after falsely claiming an underage GAA tournament in Co Tyrone was named after an IRA hunger striker.

The Francie Hughes memorial Tournament, which is for children aged under seven and a half, is due to take place in Coalisland later this month.

Mr Hughes, who died years ago, was a highly regarded former chairman of Coalisland Na Fianna GAA club.

Mr Hughes, whose daughter Niamh plays with the Tyrone ladies GAA team, shares a name with 1981 hunger striker Francis Hughes, who was from Bellaghy in Co Derry.

Controversy erupted yesterday when DUP councillor Clement Cuthbertson accused the GAA of continuing "to idolise convicted terrorists".

Mr Cuthbertson posted on Facebook about the upcoming tournament, which will involve clubs from Tyrone and Armagh.

"Disappointing, but unfortunately no longer surprising, that the GAA continues to idolise convicted terrorists," he wrote.

"This would be unacceptable in any other part of the world.

"I would ask Parents to think twice before allowing your children to support such events."

Mr Cuthbertson added it was "disappointing to see a local business sponsoring it" and suggested that by their silence that Ulster GAA and elected representatives "are in support of this blatant glorification of terrorism".

He later removed the post.

In a statement UUP councillor Mark Glasgow said he condemned "this hurtful act of naming a sporting event after a convicted IRA terrorist".

The UUP later recalled the statement claiming it was "issued in error".

Na Fianna secretary Vinny McCann last night said Mr Cuthbertson should apologise.

""He would probably owe the family of Francie Hughes an apology. He would need to get his facts right before spouting off on Facebook," he said.

"Francie Hughes, who we named the tournament after, was a stalwart member of our club over many years," he said.

Aontú councillor Denise Mullen also suggested the family of Mr Hughes deserve an apology.

"I think Clement Cuthbertson owes them a heartfelt apology publicly and privately."

Sinn Féin assembly member Linda Dillon said Mr Cuthbertson's comments were "hurtful and were wrong and totally out of context".

The SDLPs Malachy Quinn also called for an apology - a call echoed by independent councillor Dan Kerr

Asked if he would be willing to apologise, Mr Cuthberston told the Irish News: "I'll check to see to see, I'll check it and if it's wrong I'll take it down".

Pressed on whether he would apologise he said, "we'll need to see what happens first".

Northern Ireland news