GAA and inclusion: “Let them come in on our terms and if they don’t let them stay out”

Whatever you make of last week’s Sinn Fein sponsored rally at Galbally GAC, it leaves the GAA in a sticky position. Despite trenchant denials that there was any breach of rule 7a, the incident will have set back the image of association in Northern Ireland. Our Friend in the North lays out the problem, with some precision:

It will no doubt survive the hiccup triggered by the actions of a few halfwits in Galbally. Yet for all its achievements it remains flawed. The precise nature of these flaws and how they would be best addressed is a topic for another day, but until the GAA addresses them we can expect another Casement-style incident at some point in the future.

Liam Cassidy’s article in the February 1981 issue of Workers Life featured an interview with Tom Woulfe, then a senior figure in the Dublin GAA. The piece included a quote from Woulfe regarding what he, and I, consider as one of the Association’s flaws, namely the nature of its membership:

Let us not indulge in massive self-deception. The GAA includes practically nobody of the religious minority in this country – the minority which, by and large, coincides with the political majority in the north. It even excludes a significant section of the majority as well. Accordingly the co-religionists of Tone, Emmet, Davis, Mitchell and Parnell are outside the GAA.

If anyone says to me – and some have said it – ‘Let them come in on our terms and if they don’t let them stay out,’ my reply is that my vision of Ireland is the Ireland of Tone and Davis and I do not say let them stay out. I want them in. They are my countrymen. Let them who will differ from me at least have the grace to refrain from quoting Tone and Davis.

Those words were uttered back in 1965. A lot has changed since then yet almost half a century on there are still many in the ranks of the GAA that could learn a lot from the words of Tom Woulfe. The unity of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter remains an honourable goal. It will not, however, be achieved by displays of the crude macho brand of sectarian nationalism witnessed in Galbally on Sunday.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty