Jim Allister recently asked the Stormont Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry to:
“outline any discussions he has had with the University of Ulster regarding concerns that the proliferation of GAA tops on campus leads to an intimidating atmosphere for many students”
Jim has apparently been approached by unionist students complaining about the “chill factor”. Similar concerns, though specifically related to GAA tops with the names of IRA terrorists on them, were raised by Drew Nelson last year. On that occasion the university responded by stating it was committed to promoting “equality of opportunity and good relations”. The Students’ Union said: “We are currently investigating the complaint about sportswear on campus and how we can make our university a welcoming place for all.”Now, however, Stephen Farry has responded to Jim Allister’s question as follows:
My Department answered a written assembly question on a similar matter in July 2013. At that time the University of Ulster advised that it did not have a policy in relation to the wearing of sport shirts. However there were plans to develop a good relations policy, in conjunction with the Students Union.
The University of Ulster has now advised that a working group has been established to develop this policy. An action plan has been developed, which will be presented to the relevant University committee in April. The policy will cover, inter alia, political expression, culture, language and dress code.
It is unclear what the university has done regarding this over the last nine months. Phil Flanagan of Sinn Fein has responded:
“The University of Ulster should not involve itself in this anti-GAA campaign. The university needs to promote diversity in sport and treat all codes with equal respect. The GAA is open to people from all traditions and ethnic backgrounds who take part and enjoy the many sporting and cultural events the GAA provides.”
In turn Jim Allister has replied:
“I wouldn’t expect Mr. Flanagan to care about Unionist students feel about the GAA. The question was asked because I was approached by a group of students from a Unionist background who felt that the proliferation of GAA tops created a chill factor.”
“I for one can understand this feeling as it is a fact that throughout its history the GAA has been associated not just with Nationalism but with the violent Republicanism which is still defended by Flanagan and his party.”
“If he wanted to find evidence of why the GAA isn’t a welcoming organisation for Unionists Flanagan wouldn’t need to look further than the comments of Joe Brolly who recently told us he was “proud” that his home club in Dungiven was named after convicted terrorist and INLA hunger striker Kevin Lynch.
This may be an issue with some way to go as Jonathan Craig appears to have tabled a question on a similar theme yesterday.