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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
GAA 'bashed for political gain'
Hunger strike rally
The rally commemorated the hunger strikes at the Maze prison
A senior GAA official has accused some politicians of "bashing" them over a hunger strike commemoration rally solely to boost their own image.

John McSparran is head of the County Antrim Board responsible for Casement Park, where Sunday's rally was held.

Unionists and the SDLP criticised it, while the GAA's Central Council in Dublin decided it would break rules about staging political events.

Dr McSparran said the Croke Park body's decision came too close to the rally.

"The decision was taken within two weeks of the rally going to happen," he said.

I am quite certain that there are Orangemen who are members of rugby clubs as well, but no-one is out branding rugby as being sectarian
John McSparran
GAA County Antrim board
"We raised this issue with Central Council as far back as February and we are upset that it took so long for the decision to come out."

He said political parties in the Irish Republic held events on GAA premises, "yet an event which is described as non-political by its organisers causes so much controversy on a wider basis".

Thousands of republican supporters and former prisoners gathered at the rally, commemorating the deaths of 10 IRA and INLA inmates in the 1981 protest over political status at the Maze prison in County Antrim.

The DUP's Gregory Campbell told the BBC's Talkback programme that sports facilities which have received public money should not be used for political purposes.

The Northern Ireland Sports Council has asked for an urgent meeting with the Antrim board to discuss the controversy.

The GAA has received 800,000 in lottery funding, which is distributed by the council.

'Fact of history'

Dr McSparran said the hunger strike was a "fact of history" and it was "important for a large proportion of our population that they commemorate it".

"Whether or not you like it is another matter," he said.

"Members of the GAA are entitled to hold whatever political affiliations they wish, as is the case with rugby, which in this part of the world is deemed to be more predominantly from the unionist community.

"I am quite certain that there are Orangemen who are members of rugby clubs as well, but no-one is out branding rugby as being sectarian.

"Therefore, if we happen to have republicans who are also members of the association, I don't think that means the GAA should be bashed because of that."

The DUP said the rally was an attempt to "politicise" sport, while the SDLP said the GAA had been "used and abused" by Sinn Fein.

However, Dr McSparran said he was tired of "certain politicians trying to make political gain by bashing the association again and again over this particular issue".

Julian O'Neill reports on the row

Stadium rally 'politicised sport'
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01 Aug 06 |  Northern Ireland
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05 May 06 |  Northern Ireland
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05 May 06 |  Northern Ireland

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