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Page last updated at 14:24 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 15:24 UK

GAA must 'reach out' to unionism

Colm Bradley
Colm Bradley in action against Tyrone last summer

Fermanagh GAA player and journalist Colm Bradley has said further steps should be taken to encourage unionists to play gaelic games.

The Ulster GAA Council started an initiative two years ago to entice more unionist participation in the sport but Bradley believes more can be done.

"I don't believe those documents go far enough," Bradley told the BBC.

Bradley added that "certain political language" within the GAA's rulebook should be removed.

"There are good things in the documents but more can be done," said Bradley, who is currently taking a break from intercounty football.

"First of all to educate unionists that they can be involved in the GAA and two, we have to look at some aspects of our own rules, which may need to be changed to become more accommodating.

"I should also point out that you don't have to dilute the Irishness or to dilute the gaelic culture. Some rules can be changed quite simply."

Bradley believes that the GAA should consider changing the text of its Rule 2, to the wording used prior to 1971.

"Rule Two states:'The association is a national organisation which has a basic aim of the strengthening of the national identity of a 32-county Ireland through the presentation of gaelic games and pastimes'.

606: DEBATE

"That phrase 'through the strengthening of the national identity of a 32-county Ireland' does rankle with unionism. That came in in 1971.

"Before that, the Rule (merely) talked about the 'preservation of Ireland's games and pastimes'.

"That is a lot less political but it is the exact same thing (in practical terms). You are preserving the games and pastimes which are indigenous to this island.

"I don't see how any unionist could have a problem with that - nor could anybody who has the GAA at heart could say they have a problem with that."

Bradley acknowledged that certain members of the unionist community "will never accept the GAA".

"You are never going to convert them no matter what you do.

"But I do believe (more can be done to entice others) and I'm talking about people who I know, who are of my age, who would call themselves unionist, who would also call themselves Irish.

"That is the way society is going and I think the GAA could do a little bit more to entice these people to play our games."

A regular unionist criticism of the GAA is the fact that a number of clubs and grounds have been named after former members of the IRA and other republican and nationalist figures.

There is a gaelic culture in the GAA and you don't want to remove that

Trevor Ringland

Bradley believes that clubs "shouldn't be forced" to change their names.

"Part of the problem is that people can pick an isolated case and use it as a rod to beat the GAA's back.

"Conversely, the GAA can take an isolated case of cross-community work and say:'We're doing enough'.

"Instead, there needs to be a much bigger picture looked at here."

Former Ireland rugby international Trevor Ringland said that he "welcomed" Bradley's contribution to the "ongoing debate" within the GAA.

Ringland, who has been a strong proponent of cross-community ventures in Northern Ireland for many years, said that the GAA has changed for the better in recent years.

"The opening up of Croke Park, the removal of Rule 21...those changes have had an impact and have resonated in the unionist community as well.

"There is a gaelic culture in the GAA and you don't want to remove that from the sport because that's very much at the heart of it.

"But what you maybe don't want is to have to buy into a political philosophy or a religious philosophy."



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