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Saturday, 17 November, 2001, 15:54 GMT
Gaelic sport ends forces ban
GAA president Sean McCague is flanked by the organisation's PRO Danny Lynch (left) and director-general Liam Mulvihill
Sean McCague (centre) reveals the GAA's decision
The Gaelic Athletic Association has voted to scrap its controversial Rule 21 which bans members of the security forces playing gaelic games.

The organisation made the decision at a special congress in Dublin on Saturday.

Those in the GAA who wanted the rule deleted had been boosted by the decision of the County Down board to back the move.

A two-thirds majority was required in order for the ban to be lifted.

The GAA is the body which governs gaelic football and hurling in Ireland.

GAA president Sean McCague said as far as he was concerned, that the issue was "now history".

John Reid: Welcomed decision
John Reid: Welcomed decision

"We came here to do business. It was a one-item agenda. We did it. The rule was deleted," said Mr McCague.

The Monaghan man said that he had "great respect" for northern delegates who had voted against the change.

It is understood that delegates from Antrim, Armagh and Tyrone spoke out against deletion during the hour-long debate at the City West Hotel in Dublin.

"I have absolutely no doubt that despite their disappointment, they will continue to do what they always have done, and work for the association," added Mr McCague.

The GAA president played down suggestions that the decision was a personal coup for him.

"There's nothing personal in the GAA.

"Any decision you take is on behalf of the association," he added.

McCague also said that the decision should not be interpreted as an "endorsement of any political party...or policing service".

The decision comes at a time when Northern Ireland is moving forward on many fronts

Sports Minister Michael McGimpsey

The move has been welcomed by Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid who said it contributed "towards the creation of a more inclusive society".

"This is a progressive decision made by an association that plays a large and important role in community life north and south," he said.

Sports Minister Michael McGimpsey also welcomed the decision.

He said: "It comes at a time when Northern Ireland is moving forward on many fronts and will help us in our quest to build an inclusive society throughout the province."

Moves to have Rule 21 lifted were supported by virtually all the counties in the Republic of Ireland.

However, five Northern Ireland counties had been opposed to its deletion.

A small number of protesters carried placards outside the congress venue
Protesters call for Rule 21 to be maintained

On Thursday, County Down became the first Northern Ireland GAA board to vote to scrap Rule 21.

County Down's GAA board's decision to support deleting Rule 21 was particularly significant in that it broke ranks with the five other Northern Ireland counties.

All three Ulster counties which are part of the Irish Republic had voted to scrap Rule 21.

The vote on Rule 21 at Saturday's special congress was taken following the official changeover earlier this month from the Royal Ulster Constabulary into the Police Service of Northern Ireland, as part of measures under the Good Friday Agreement political accord.

The government has also promised to speed up a process of measures to normalise security in Northern Ireland.

The special congress was held behind closed-doors with the media not allowed to view proceedings.

This was a departure from the normal GAA practice where journalists were allowed into the hall at the annual congress.

A number of protesters held placards outside the congress venue calling on delegates not to support the change.

BBC NI's Shane Harrison
"The decision took less than an hour"
The BBC's Kevin Connolly
"This vote will be seen as an endorsement of the new police service"
Sean McCague, president of the GAA
"I have great respect for the delegates from the north"
See also:

16 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Down votes to scrap Rule 21
12 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Further backing to scrap Rule 21
31 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Armagh and Derry back Rule 21
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