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Editorial: Sinister targeting of East Belfast GAA can't be allowed to stop club flourishing

It is almost exactly three years since East Belfast GAA signalled its arrival with a tweet, sent on May 31 2020, appealing for players, coaches and administrative support from "all ages, genders and backgrounds".

Since then, the club has made an enormously positive impact. Central to its ethos is bringing together people from different communities – including those who would not traditionally have been introduced to Gaelic games – and it is striking that the club's motto, 'together, le chéile, thegither', includes English, Irish and Ulster-Scots to reflect different identities.

As David McGreevy, one of East Belfast GAA's founders, said when the fledgling club started to take flight, the aspiration was for "young kids from all backgrounds mixing and making friends with each other and growing up playing sport together".

It can therefore only be regarded as hugely dispiriting that the club continues to encounter difficulties from those intent on frustrating its entirely laudable aims.

The latest shameful episode involves a security alert at the Henry Jones Playing Fields in Castlereagh, which also forced the closure of Lough View Integrated Primary School and Nursery.

Space at the playing fields has been earmarked by Belfast City Council for a GAA pitch – the first such facility in east Belfast.

Previous efforts to establish a pitch at Victoria Park in the Sydenham area were halted after attracting online criticism from loyalists, while GAA taster sessions hosted at Strandtown Primary School in the Ballyhackamore area had to be abandoned earlier this year following intimidatory messages.

TUV council candidate Anne Smyth – who recently sought to justify the cancellation of the taster sessions – was emphatically rejected by the electorate in last week's election, and it is encouraging that the majority of political representatives in the east of the city have rallied to the club's support.

SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite, for example, shared a picture of the Prince and Princess of Wales taking part in a hurling session, pointing out" "If a future British king can pick up a hurl, anyone can."

Prominent Irish language activist Linda Ervine, who was East Belfast GAA's first president, said those responsible had appeared to target "a cross-community GAA club". While people were working hard "to move forward", there was "a small minority who want to return to the Northern Ireland of the 1970s".

The correct response is not to give in to the threats and abuse but for the community to encourage East Belfast GAA to flourish and for children and adults from all backgrounds to find common cause through sport.

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