While the Secretary of State for Wales, etc, Peter Hain maintains that he had “never proposed doing anything other than attend and watch the match” – despite acknowledging, the day before, that the question of marking the day itself was “being considered and discussed” – in today’s Irish Times the GAA reveals that the suggestion that a wreath be laid at the ground was raised, “rather obliquely”, by the British ambassador.. about 2 weeks ago.. something they say was felt to be “unsuited to a sporting occasion and therefore inappropriate and inconsequential”[subs req]
“The circumstances and manner in which it was proposed weren’t acceptable for something we felt should be done a) in a non-sporting context and b) unequivocally. We weren’t inclined to be receptive to what was felt to be political opportunism.”
The basis for this strong reaction is that the idea of a formal gesture was not at any stage contemplated or encouraged by the GAA and the fact that it was nonetheless pursued even to the point where yesterday’s briefing implied that the issue was up for negotiation has clearly irked the association.
It is believed that the raising of the commemoration during the above courtesy visit was a surprise to the GAA delegation of president Nickey Brennan, director general Liam Mulvihill and Lynch, who says that this was an unwelcome development.
“The approach lacked sensitivity and understanding as to how this matter should be dealt with. Our belief was that it should be a stand-alone exercise conducted genuinely and unequivocally without any ambiguity about the gesture. The reality is that this was placed on the public agenda through leaks to try and pre-empt our reaction.”
And the report also sets out the GAA’s reasons for rejecting such an “inappropriate and inconsequential” gesture
One was the context of the weekend’s rugby match and the overtones of reconciliation in respect of an event for which the association clearly feels an outright apology is due.
Although the GAA has always maintained the significance of its members’ sacrifice on Bloody Sunday it has equally always distanced itself from the actions of Michael Collins’s agents in killing British military personnel that morning, which led to the reprisal at Croke Park.
After weighing up the situation, the authorities had decided to proceed with the Dublin-Tipperary challenge match that day in November 1920 precisely because it was felt that to do otherwise would in some way associate the GAA with what had happened earlier in the day.
The second reason for the reluctance is the stated belief that a sports fixture is not the appropriate time to come to terms with something that, although it took place during a match, has long ago grown into a broader political concern. Given that Saturday is an IRFU occasion, from which the GAA will deliberately step back, the weekend’s match is seen as an especially unsuitable platform for any such gesture.
Finally, there is a strong concern that the use of Croke Park by other sports shouldn’t be confused in any way with such a powerful political and historical context.