herald

Tuesday 14 August 2018

GAA doesn't deserve to be dragged into referendum debate

‘NO’ CAMPAIGN: Mickey Harte. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
‘NO’ CAMPAIGN: Mickey Harte. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

This column is in the business of offering opinions. Without them, the very concept of column-writing is all rather pointless.

Yet today I am breaking with tradition by NOT offering any opinion on the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment. Not just because I'm happy to wrestle with my own conscience in private … but also because it's not sport so it's not my place.

There are even more compelling reasons for the GAA, as a national movement, to keep shtum; to remain totally apolitical.

The GAA may espouse Gaelic culture in all its glory but its function, first and last, is the playing and promotion of sport.

True, GAA 'politics' can be as cloak-and-dagger as the real thing. But that's a world removed from elections and referenda, be they relatively non-controversial or as polarised as the abortion issue.

Reports that the GAA will remind county boards of its strict rules against political involvement, or the use of its facilities to promote either campaign, were no surprise given weekend developments.

Whereas 2012 All-Ireland winner Éamon McGee helped launch the 'Donegal Together for Yes' campaign, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte was the most high-profile face of 'GAA Athletes for a No Vote'.

The stance taken by either is no surprise. Moreover, as private citizens, they are entitled to express their strongly-held opinions in public. It's called democracy.

However, waters are muddied when attempts are made to use the GAA as a weapon of influence. And this seems to have happened with the 'GAA Athletes for a No Vote' launch in Ballyfermot.

Harte was joined on Saturday by Meath's Joe Sheridan, Antrim's Patrick Gallagher, Derry's Aoife Cassidy and Galway's Anne-Marie McDonagh. GAA crests and 'Níl' stickers were sported on the same tops; a skills session was organised for local children. Was this to promote GAA participation or Save the Eighth?

The former is the domain of Ballyfermot De La Salle GAA Club, which felt compelled to issue a statement stressing its non-involvement in an event held on non-GAA property.

Inappropriate

"It would be wholly inappropriate for the club to be associated with the launch as the GAA and its clubs do not become involved in political matters," De La Salle clarified.

Clearly, the club was put in an awkward spot. Of even graver concern to Croke Park should be the statement issued by the 'GAA Athletes for a No Vote' which seeks to conflate the aspirations of the GAA ("We are an inclusive organisation") with their own campaign ("In keeping with those principles, we are coming together today to ask the Irish people to vote No.")

Harte is entitled to his views. "We" in the GAA are equally entitled to be kept out of it.

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