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28 May 1998 Edition

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Sportsview: Ulster says No!

The debate draws to a close on Rule 21. With the special conference due to debate the rule in Dublin's Burlington Hotel on Saturday 30 May, the weekend's and week's papers were full of the pros and cons of the move.

In the Sunday sports paper The Title, Martin Breheny called for a Yes vote at the special conference. His was one of two articles suporting the dropping of the rule, the other from long-time supporter of the rule Tom Woulfe from Dublin. Breheny called for the GAA to be ``brave, bold, and positive on the issue... Debate Rule 21 simply on its merits and it has no chance of surviving. Allow it to be discussed on emotive terms and the issue becomes clouded.''

It is however an emotional issue for GAA members in the Six Counties. The record of the crown forces' treatment of the GAA and its members is there for all to see, as is the collusion with the death sqauds used to murder them.

But it is also a political issue. Dropping the rule before the Crown Forces have entered into the kind of changes contained in the Good Friday Agreement would send all the wrong signals. It would reward them for something they may not do. GAA members know only too well that there is massive resistance to change within the Crown Forces.

The Yes lobby uses the arguments that it should be debated against the background of the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement has to prove its worth, and until then the rule most definitely should stay.

The most prominent coverage to the lobby during the week was in the Irish Independent's Sports Supplement on Monday. Interviews were afforded to members of Ardoyne Kickhams, a club at the coal face of crown forces' harassment, and were they have lost ``more than a whole football team'' to loyalist death squads over the past 30 years.

Members have strong views on any changes in the rule: ``The ironic thing is that Rule 21 has grown on the back of the Good Friday Agreement which is all about establishing democracy and parity of esteem. But you've the exact opposite happening now in the GAA. They're trying to stop this thing even being debated. They're putting gags on members, on clubs. I think it's incredible,'' said one club member. Another stated: ``People up here have been murdered and butchered just for playing Gaelic games. Now they're trying to buy and sell us.''

GAA President Joe McDonagh's handling of the issue has also come in for criticism. McDonagh promised to meet the family of Aidan McAnespie, a GAA member murdered by British soldiers in 1988, according to Aidan's sister Eilish McCabe. The family later received a letter from the GAA admitting McDonagh agreed to meet the family, but the GAA Management Committee agreed not to meet any groups in advance of the special conference.

A compromise to the deletion could also be on the table from the Six-County lobby, under which the rule could be `suspended'.

A lack of democracy and consultation seems to be the main area of grieviance with the GAA's higher echelons in Croke Park. Southern delegates should listen carefully to representatives from clubs such as Ardoyne Kickhams and people like Eilish McCabe. Until political change, most importantly in the areas of policing and demilitarisation, is proved to result from the present situation, Rule 21 has to stay.

Michelle Smith: Guilty?


And what about Michelle Smith de Bruin? Doubts are starting to develop everywhere about her transformation from also-ran to champion swimmer in such a short space of time. UTV's Insight gave us an excellent programme on the issue last week, posing some interesting and hard questions on her recent performances, interviewing former swimming coaches and colleagues. Maybe all is not what it seems to be with Smith. I remember being berated at the time she `won' the three gold medals in Atlanta, for saying exactly what she is being accused of now.

BY CIARAN HEAPHEY


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