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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 20:05 GMT
Rule 21 is history
GAA's Rule 21 bans members of the British army and RUC
BBC Sport Online's John Haughey says the GAA's ban on British security forces playing gaelic games will be removed on 17 November

Most of Ulster may continue to say `No'.

However, it's becoming markedly apparent the rest of the GAA will say `yes' to the removal of Rule 21 at the association's special congress in Dublin on 17 November.

GAA president Sean McCague is much too wily a campaigner to have been so upfront about his desire to get rid of the controversial regulation unless he was sure his view was going to carry the day.

A source close to McCague, who predictably didn't want to be named, told the BBC on Wednesday that Rule 21 "is gone".

"Everybody knows Sean has the votes in the bag. The six counties may all vote against its removal but it isn't going to make any difference," added the GAA insider.

Donegal's vote on Monday in favour of the removal of Rule 21 was a boost for McCague.


It's a little bit like when Gerry Adams asked the IRA to decommission recently
Donegal Democrat journalist Michael Daly

OK...Donegal is not one of the six Northern Ireland counties but McCague can legitimately claim that there is Ulster support for his stance.

Obviously, the ideal scenario for McCague is that Down, long regarded as the most moderate of the six Northern Ireland counties, will row in behind him.

A number of Down clubs made attempts in the mid-1990s to kickstart a campaign to get rid of the controversial rule.

Their bold attempt failed after a little bit of lobbying which included having goal-posts on their club pitches chopped down.

Support from one of the six counties would give the president's campaign increased credibility and allay the worries of the few remaining waverers in the south.

Armagh, Derry and Fermanagh have already rejected McCague's proposal and Tyrone and Antrim are certain to adopt a similar stance.

GAA president Sean McCague
GAA president Sean McCague wants rule deleted

These counties point out the harassment and on occasions, worse suffering inflicted by "Crown Forces" on GAA members.

They insist Rule 21 should be retained until the new police structures are firmly in place.

But in one sense, there won't be any losers at CityWest Hotel on 17 November.

The Northern Ireland counties will be able to register their protest by voting against McCague's proposal.

McCague will win the day without having to bully the Ulster counties into agreeing with his proposal.

Even the Ulster counties set to vote against the change, privately accept that Rule 21 will be in the dustbin of history come the evening of the 17th.

McCague has his homework done as Donegal Democrat journalist Michael Daly remarked on Wednesday.

"It's a little bit like when Gerry Adams asked the IRA to decommission recently.


People from our own county could be applying for a job with the new police force
Donegal GAA PRO Paddy Mullan

"McCague has a very good inkling that the result is going to be `yes'," said Daly.

Donegal's 34-4 result was significant given that less than four years ago, the county voted unanimously to retain rule 21.

But times have indeed changed.

Young Catholics, including some from the Republic of Ireland, are joining the new police.

"People from our own county could be applying for a job with the new police force," said Donegal GAA public relations officer Paddy Mullan.

"Are we supposed to turn around and tell them that they can't play?" added Mullan.

Not likely.

There is also the small matter of certain sponsors becoming more than a tad uneasy at being associated with an sporting body that has such a regulation in its rule-book.

Stand by for some rare positive headlines for the GAA in the news sections of the Sunday papers come 18 November.

Sean McCague knows this.

And with Bertie Ahern very well-disposed towards Ireland's biggest sporting organisation, the move could pay major dividends financially even in the short-term.

Yes...a done deal.

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Donegal Democrat journalist Michael Daly
"There's also a bit of pragmatism in this Donegal decision"
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