30 April 1998 Edition

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Groundswell against GAA rule change

The executive of Fermanagh County Board GAA has been forced to issue a statement denying it had made a decision to support GAA president Joe McDonagh's move to scrap Rule 21 prior to internal consultation.

Rule 21 bans members of the crown forces from joining the association. It will be debated at an extraordinary GAA congress on 30 May.

Fermanagh SF councillor Robin Martin has confirmed that despite the rumours that the Fermanagh County Board would move to back the leadership's call at an extraordinary county meeting on Monday, ``ordinary members are against any change''.

Roslea SF councillor Brian McCaffrey has spoken to people from different clubs across Co Fermanagh. He has said that people are ``concerned that the move is being considered too soon''. McCaffrey said ``only one or two clubs are in favour but most say that the first thing needed is for a look at the RUC before this rule can be changed.''

Eilish McAnespie whose brother, GAA man Aidan McAnespie was gunned down by the British Army in cold blood ten years ago on his way to a football match in Aughnacloy Co Tyrone, has condemned the move as premature. She said, ``Aidan was constantly harassed by the British Army before they murdered him. The family is absolutely disgusted at this coming up now, it is totally premature.''

Eilish who carries on the GAA tradition as a member of the Aghaloo club said her objection to lifting the ban was based on, ``the RUC and British Army responsibility for the deaths, the harassment, the shoot-to-kill, plastic bullets and the collusion with the UDA and UFF. All of which was highlighted in a recent UN report.''

Eilish McAnespie pointed out that the day the crown forces accepted that the GAA actively promotes the Irish language, has no recognition of partition and plays under a tricolour and stands to the Irish national anthem she, ``would have absolutely no problem lifting the ban.''

This was reiterated by Mrs Ann Sands, the first woman to hold the top GAA job on the Derry city GAA board. She stressed that, ``many GAA activists are still being intimidated because of their work to promote Irish culture and until that is a thing of the past then, perhaps, this rule [21] should be kept.''

Ms McAnespie also said that human rights organisation Relatives for Justice would be calling for a meeting with the GAA Ulster Council (nine-county) and the All-Ireland Committee. She said, ``the onus is on the GAA to listen to the views of nationalists who have suffered first hand.''

In a statement the Relatives for Justice group called for ``members of the GAA to retain the ban until a police force that is acceptable and representative of the whole community is in place. We ask members of the GAA to retain rule 21 and only accept change when justice and human rights have been seen to be done - not some vague promises for the future.'' It went on to say, ``any change before this is in place would be premature. We need guarantees that security force human rights violations are never repeated.''

Mid Tyrone SF Councillor, Mickey McAnespie, an uncle of Aidan McAnespie, said this week that he can sense ``a growing determination among GAA members in Tyrone to support the retention of Rule 21''.

Councillor McAnespie, a strong supporter and member of the GAA, said that Rule 21 ``amounts to common sense''. He said, ``How can one take an oath of allegiance to the British Queen, indeed take up arms to promote British interests in Ireland and at the same time profess to be a true Gael, loyal to the objectives of the GAA?

``To be truthful, and to call a spade a spade, the RUC and British Army will never be acceptable to nationalists. British forces will have to give way to security forces which we all can have confidence in. People should stop trying to reconcile the impossible.''

A County Down GAA member told An Phoblacht, ``every player I've talked to from the senior teams around Kilcoo and Castlewellan was very unhappy with the [proposed] rule change.'' Pressure from the rank and file has forced the County Board to allow the clubs to decide on the issue.

GAA members from Crossmaglen are also angry that the lifting of the ban on RUC, RIR and British Army personnel has been linked to the return of the occupied Crossmaglen Ranger's pitch in County Armagh. A spokesperson for the Crossmaglen Rangers said, ``we should not be used as a trading tool - we have been the victims of injustice for 26 years.'' Demanding that the issue of Crossmaglen and rule 21 should not be linked he said, ``rule 21 is a matter for the association in general.''

Following reports in the Sunday press it also seems unlikely that the British military will abandon the Crossmaglen site, regardless of Bertie Ahern or Marjorie Mowlam's show of support for the GAA leadership.

Meanwhile, the reality of life for GAA members in the Six Counties was seen on Sunday evening 19 April. Following an incident that occurred the day after the GAA president backed an end to rule 21, the Shane O Neill's GAA club in Camloch is to officially complain through the Armagh GAA County Board about treatment handed out to players and club officials as they travelled to a game.
A car containing players and club officials was stopped at a British Army checkpoint just outside Scarva as they travelled to an Armagh County League clash with Eire Og in Craigavon. All those in the car including an under 14 player were forced out of the car and searched. Thier details were noted, the car was rigidly searched and two of the party were verbally abused. They were held for 30 minutes. After the incident, club spokesperson Pat McGinn said, ``those in the car explained they were travelling to a football match and were as co-operative as possible but they have been subject to uncalled for harassment and delay.''

An Phoblacht
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