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16 September 1999 Edition

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Sportsview: Patten Report targets GAA

by Dan O'Neill

Surprise, surprise, the GAA's infamous Rule 21, which bars all members of the crown forces from participating in our national game, gets a mention in the Patten Report on Policing for the Six Counties. Proposal 114 called for its deletion from the GAA's Official Guidebook.

In the quid pro quo world of northern politics, a change in Rule 21 was always going to seen as horse-trading for a name change or alteration to the oath of the RUC to placate unionists who fear they have now lost their military wing.

The GAA has faced a fresh round of criticism from the media. The organisation, which was condemned as ``failing the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement'' for not dropping the ban in the light of the British governments decision to close part of the joint RUC/British Army base built on Crossmaglen GAC's ground, is now blowing its chance to ``prove a force of conciliation'' according to Sean Moran of the Irish Times by remaining tight lipped as regards any response to the Patten Report.

These journalists forgot to mention that the Crossmaglen situation had nothing to do with Rule 21 and was instead a simple matter of a wrong having been done to them for which they were seeking to redress.

As regards the present set of circumstances, there is no onus on the GAA to provide a `knee jerk' reaction to the Commission's proposals. There is a failure to understand the context in which the Rule is seen in Ulster in particular. The British Army, the RIR and the RUC have been responsible for the killing of more than 400 nationalists during the past 30 years. The majority of those killed have been unarmed civilians such as Aidan McAnespie, a GAA member shot dead in cold blood on his way to a football match near Aughnacloy over 10 years ago. This was not an isolated incident. Players and supporters of Gaelic Games are constantly harassed and intimidated by the crown forces on their way to and fro from matches. In particular, high levels of harassment occurred at border checkpoints during cross border games.

The crown forces actively collude with loyalist death squads, who have killed nationalists simply because of their membership of the GAA. Rule 21, therefore, is a valid expression of the anger felt by thousands of GAA supporters towards the crown forces and their campaign of harassment against the GAA, rather than being a sectarian rule, as some commentators have suggested.

We must also bear in mind that the GAA is not simply a sporting body but an organisation whose central aim is to promote Irish culture and unity as outlined in Rule 2 of its Constitution and Rules. It's only logical that the GAA would exclude from membership people who actively attack both the Association and Irish culture.

In this light, the onus is on any new policing service to prove itself a force for conciliation, not the other way round.

More surprising in the Patten's Commission's proposals was its mention of the GAA and Rule 21 in its section on recruitment . In section 15.2 of the Report, there is the recommendation that ``all community leaders including... sport authorities should take steps to remove all discouragements to members of their communities to join the police and make it a priority to encourage them to apply''. Then comes the good bit. ``The continued existence of this rule in light of our recommendations can only be a deterrent to the recruitment to Catholics or a factor in separating the Catholics who do join the police from an important part of their culture.''

Just how should the GAA ``encourage'' its members to join the new policing service - recruitment posters in clubrooms, application forms available behind the bar, police visits to GAA clubs to speak to budding new recruits?

I wonder too does Patten believe that Rule 21 has hampered the recruitment of nationalists to the RUC in the past. Perhaps the harassment, collusion etc had nothing to do with it, after all.

The GAA has not yet issued any statement regarding the Patten Report and is unlikely to do so until the consultation period for the proposals has expired in November. In its statement, however, it did mention that the Report was still a political issue and subject to political considerations and decisions.

With the uncertainty of George Mitchell's Review still in progress, there is no certainty about the extent - if any - to which the Patten Report will be implemented.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the entire process itself, there are no guarantees regarding the Report's implementation, and in this scenario, there should no inclination on the part of the GAA to delete Rule 21.

The GAA's Rule 21 bears no responsibility for the sectarianism of the RUC and to mention it in the same debate is insulting to those nationalists and GAA enthusiasts who have been harassed by the crown forces in the past 30 years.

Rebels on for the double


So this young Cork side was good enough to win an All-Ireland this year after all. Many commentators (including yours truly) doubted Jimmy Barry Murphy's young guns' chances of capturing the last Liam McCarthy Cup of the millennium. As most of us rather patronisingly put it, their day would come - they weren't yet ready, you couldn't win anything with kids. But as all Cork folk knew, 1999 was to be their year.

I must say that with 15 minutes to go, Cork looked in serious trouble, with the Kilkenny defence and midfield rock solid. But out of nowhere they pulled off a stunning comeback. Seven points in the last ten minutes sealed an incredible win.

This final fling by the Rebels was the only excitement in a game which must rate as one of the worst All-Ireland in history. It was hardly a great advent for the game of hurling.

Kilkenny, who have played the best hurling of the year, kept their worst performance for the highest stage. The demons of last year came back to haunt them. DJ Carey and John Power were the biggest disappointments of the day.

Cork's youth and incredible self belief were the only high points in a poor final. For a side with nine players of 22 or under to show their mettle under pressure in the last 15 minutes was impressive. Brian Corcoran (26), the old man of the team, was outstanding again and fully deserved the `man of the match' accolade.

But the job is only half done. There's still that All-Ireland football final on Sunday week on the minds of Cork fans. Bring on the Meath!

An Phoblacht
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