Trevor Ringland refused to visit Croke Park for many years because of the ban on members of the security forces playing GAA games, which has since been lifted.
Today he visited the ground to address a meeting of British and Irish parliamentarians, which included the DUP and other unionists.
“As we look to reconcile the future don’t ignore the tremendous grace shown by so many people to allow this process to develop – to create an opportunity to make sure what happened before never happens again.
“It is the majority quiet voices, we would be failing them if we did not make sure we bedded down the sort of relationships we should have between people on these islands.” He added: “We should never let those who hate the most determine our relationships again.”
Mr Ringland, who leads the Peace Players International organisation, said all-island sport was a good thing.
“The symbolism around some of those sports has to be looked at to make sure those all-island games are properly representative.
“It continues that theme of how do we make ourselves inclusive of identity on this island.”
What’s interesting (and welcome) is that other codes are now actively taking up the same kind of leadership shown by Ulster Rugby. For instance…
GAA president Liam O’Neill said a shared future was inevitable on the island.
“We share it whether we like it or not and we may as well share it as friends.”
He added: “I hope that Gaelic games can contribute to that in some way.”
Ryan Feeney, the GAA’s outreach officer, said the association was actively anti-sectarian.
The naming of GAA grounds after Irish republicans and the now dropped ban on members of the security services playing Gaelic games has historically contributed to divisions with unionists.
Mr Feeney said: “We are an organisation that can reflect on our past and say there are thing we could have done better.
“Our role as the largest sporting body in Ireland is to promote peace and reconciliation. We protect, we respect and we give space to those who share this island and this community with us.
“Instead of a shared future there is one future.”
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