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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 08:26 GMT
Armagh and Derry back Rule 21
GAA's Rule 21 bans members of the British army and RUC
The county boards of Armagh and Derry have voted against scrapping Rule 21 which bans members of the RUC and British army from joining the Gaelic Athletic Association.

A special congress is being held on 17 November to decide whether the controversial rule should be retained.

The majority of southern counties are in favour of abolishing the ban on British security personnel from playing GAA.

But a change is not possible without the backing of the Ulster counties.

A two-thirds majority is needed for the rule to be changed.

GAA president Sean McCague
GAA president Sean McCague wants change

Crossmaglen Rangers chairman Eddie Hughes said the Armagh decision had been clear cut.

"What we are being asked to do by removing Rule 21 is to endorse the new police force which is yet to come into operation," he said.

He added that it was up to GAA members who wanted to join the service to make their own choices.

It is understood GAA president Sean McCague has held talks with officials from all nine Ulster counties with a view to removing Rule 21.

An attempt by previous president Joe McDonagh to abolish the rule in 1998 was scuppered by opposition from Ulster.

New police force

However, recent movements on policing within Northern Ireland have been backed by the SDLP and the Catholic Church although Sinn Fein have rejected the proposals.

Rule 21 has been the most controversial regulation in the GAA's rulebook.

Opponents describe it as outdated, but previous attempts to scrap the security forces ban have met with fierce resistance from the GAA's grassroots in Ulster.

McDonagh's 1998 attempt to abolish the rule resulted in a compromise.

The GAA agreed to scrap Rule 21 when steps were taken to introduce a new police force in Northern Ireland.

The Fermanagh county board is to debate the rule on Monday with Tyrone making its decision the following day.

Dungiven GAA chairman Francie Brolly
"The timing is bad because the nationalist community is split"
GAA analyst Des Fahy
"Ulster counties could find themselves cut adrift"
Newsline report
BBC NI's Mervyn Jess finds out more about the Rule 21 debate
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