First Minister attends dinner honouring work of GAA

Robinson says attendance at such an event ‘not so many years ago’ would have been unimaginable

First Minister Peter Robinson broke further community and political ground last night when he attended a Co-operation Ireland dinner honouring the peace-building work of the GAA.

As keynote speaker at the event in Queen's University, Belfast, Mr Robinson commended the GAA's involvement in the National Citizenship Programme in Northern Ireland.

"It is a sign of just how much things have changed that the GAA plays such a positive role as a delivery partner in this worthwhile project. I believe that this programme is making a real contribution to the lives of young people in the province and I believe that the buy-in of the GAA ensures that it has a reach right across the community," he said.

'Unionist tradition'
With Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and senior GAA officials in attendance Mr Robinson acknowledged his presence at the event carried a cross-community significance.

“It is a testament to the progress that we have all made that tonight we can acknowledge the GAA’s role in peace-building by inviting a First Minister from the unionist tradition to the lectern,” he said.


“Not so many years ago it would have been unimaginable that I would have been invited to speak at an event of this kind – or that I would have accepted,” he added.

"By speaking here tonight I want to encourage those in the GAA who have been making the case for change and are reaching out to those beyond their natural constituency.

Praised GAA officials

“I do so not from the comfort of an armchair but knowing just how difficult this can be. In a country so steeped in religion too many skip over Christ’s exhortation, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’”

Mr Robinson praised the outreach work of GAA officials Danny Murphy and Ryan Feeney, who were also at the dinner. He said he did not take any of the progress for granted.

“I believe that the hand of reconciliation needs to be extended by all of us and at every possible opportunity,” he said.

“Of the many challenges that we face in Northern Ireland today none is more important than improving community relations and building a shared and united future for all our citizens,” he added.

“The task for politicians and indeed wider society is to reach out beyond what has been seen as ‘our own community’. It’s always easier and more comfortable to retreat to safe and familiar ground, but that’s not the ground upon which progress will be made.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times