NI secretary accused of snubbing Irish national anthem

James Brokenshire attended GAA game but did not take seat until after Amhrán na bhFiann

Northern secretary James Brokenshire has been accused of snubbing the Irish national anthem after he was absent for the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann at the McKenna Cup final.

Mr Brokenshire attended the Derry vs Tyrone game in Newry on Saturday night at the invitation of the GAA, becoming the first Northern secretary to attend a GAA game in Northern Ireland.

Mr Brokenshire, however, did not take his seat in the stand until after the anthem was played. It is understood that he remained in the stadium control room as the anthem was played.

A Northern Ireland Office spokeswoman said that Mr Brokenshire "was delighted to attend the match on Saturday evening, and did so in spirit of friendship and was genuinely touched by the warm welcome he received from GAA officials".

“Saturday night’s football game was about sport not politics,” she said.

In 2013, the former Labour shadow Northern Secretary Vernon Coaker attended an Ulster championship game between Derry and Down and did stand up for the national anthem.


Conor McGinn, his former adviser and now a Labour MP for St Helens, described Mr Brokenshire’s absence for the playing of Amhran na bhFiann as “regressive” and a “snub”.

"It has been 10 years since God Save the Queen was played at Croke Park during a Six Nations game between England and Ireland. We have since had reciprocal state visits where both the Irish and British national anthems were played in Dublin Castle and Windsor Castle," said Mr McGinn.

“I have asked the Northern Ireland Office and the Cabinet Office to urgently clarify the government’s policy on ministerial attendance at events where the Irish national anthem is played, including on the many occasions when this occurs at events held in Britain,” he told the BBC.

Former DUP first minister Peter Robinson attended a McKenna Cup final in 2012 - his first GAA match - and did not take his seat until after the anthem was played.

The former Sinn Féin sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín also was absent for the playing of God Save the Queen when she attended a Northern Ireland soccer game at Windsor Park in 2011.

Mr McGinn said he was “not naïve” about unionist and nationalist feelings on such occasions but that Mr Brokenshire was representing the British government.

“James Brokenshire should be there as the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, a co-guarantor of the (Belfast) agreement and someone who is above the fray, in a sense. He should observe proper respect and protocols for the Irish national anthem, in the way that I would expect the Irish foreign minister to observe the protocols of the UK national anthem,” he added.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times