Jarlath Burns: Casement Park just part of a broader agenda that includes tackling the future of football and reaching out - The Irish News view

While the GAA president attends a Northern Ireland match at Windsor Park, some unionists snipe at Casement redevelopment

GAA president has established a new hurling development committee
New GAA president Jarlath Burns says he sees himself as "neither a football nor hurling man, but a GAA man" (THOMAS MCMULLAN)

Jarlath Burns would probably have preferred that the first few days of his tenure as GAA president weren’t dominated by uncertainty over the funding of the Casement Park redevelopment.

The case for rebuilding the stadium has become only more compelling in the years that the west Belfast site has sat idle. The prospect of hosting Euro 2028 matches has not only added further impetus to the project but also, as Mr Burns says, put the Casement Park dream in “a race against time”.

Mr Burns is not to blame for the British government’s foot-dragging, nor can he do much about the sour sniping from some unionist politicians.

Those attitudes are in stark contrast to the values Mr Burns epitomises and of the association of which he is the first Armagh Uachtarán since 1957 and the first from Ulster for 30 years.

It is fitting that the Silverbridge man’s first major public engagement as president will be at Windsor Park tonight, where he will attend Northern Ireland’s promotion/relegation play-off against Montenegro in the Women’s Nations League.

There is a certain symbolism around these occasions, which is only magnified by the current intense focus on Casement Park.

Mr Burns well recognises the value of reaching out to traditions beyond his own; as principal of St Paul’s, Bessbrook, he has invited the Orange Order into the school to talk to pupils about British, unionist and Orange culture.

That sort of outreach and the spirit which motivates it ought to be reciprocated; it’s why so many from the Catholic, nationalist and GAA families are so dismayed at some responses to the development of what Mr Burns says will be “one of the best stadiums in Europe”, which will bring benefits to all communities.

While Casement Park is a pressing issue, Mr Burns has set out a much broader agenda.

This includes tackling the under the table payment of managers and coaches which compromises the GAA’s essential amateur ethos and the escalating costs of inter-county set-ups.

He has also established an all star panel of managers to come up with ways to make football more attractive, and wants to make it easier for hurling clubs to become established in football-dominated areas: “I see myself as neither a football nor hurling man, but a GAA man.”

As Mr Burns sets about his task, he does so with the warm wishes of Gaels in Ulster and beyond.