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Editorial: Tiny minority should not block progress

THE upsurge of interest in the GAA in east Belfast has been one of the most positive stories in community relations to emerge since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Having begun with a single tweet to gauge interest two years ago, East Belfast GAA is now among the biggest clubs in Ulster and has welcomed players from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities, many with no previous experience of Gaelic games.

Its crest, incorporating the red hand of Ulster, a shamrock and thistle, as well as the Harland and Wolff cranes, seeks to symbolise different communities coming together as one.

Its motto, written in English, Irish and Ulster Scots, is also 'together' – and it has provided invaluable opportunities for young people from all backgrounds to mix and make friends through healthy sporting activities.

In short, it represents an organic, volunteer-led initiative of exactly the type that decades of government funding for shared future projects has often tried but failed to deliver.

It was therefore deeply depressing to learn this week that work has been halted on the development of a badly-needed GAA pitch following an online backlash by loyalists.

Land at Victoria Park has been earmarked by Belfast City Council for use by the East Belfast club, which currently has no permanent base.

The council confirmed that preparatory work has now stopped "pending further engagement".

That east Belfast is home to staunchly unionist communities is undeniable, as evidenced by the murals that parts of the area. Some people are clearly not ready to accept the presence of the GAA and security alerts targeting the club show how far opposition can extend.

However, the idea that it is somehow intrinsically a 'unionist' area is dangerous.

The GAA has been active previously and east Belfast is now an increasingly diverse part of the city in which unionists and loyalists live alongside people from a range of other traditions and nationalities – indeed, it is this vibrancy that attracts many to set up homes and businesses there.

It is likely that only a tiny minority of voices, which are unfortunately amplified on social media, object to the presence of a GAA club.

Those voices should be heard and attempts made to engage. However, anyone who somehow feels threatened by children learning sport together should ultimately not be allowed to hold up progress for the vast majority who are embracing the new Belfast.

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