GAA to issue warning over abortion campaigning

Organisation to remind county boards of its neutrality as players voice support for both sides

The launch of GAA Athletes for a No Vote on Saturday, in Ballyfermot, Dublin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The GA will remind its county boards this week that the organisation has strict rules against political involvement and that no club or county facilities should be provided to either campaign before the forthcoming referendum on abortion.

The reminder comes after groups of GAA players came out in support of both Yes and No campaigns in recent days.

A Dublin club disassociated itself from an event in its area over the weekend, though it is understood that the launch of GAA Athletes for a No Vote, which took place in Ballyfermot on Saturday, did not use any GAA facilities.

The group said the Government’s proposals on abortion are not inclusive and “seek to exclude one group of people – the unborn – from society”.


Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte who attended the launch and is a well-known anti-abortion campaigner, said people will have to choose between voting for a "culture of death or a culture of life" in the abortion referendum.

Meath footballer Joe Sheridan, Antrim footballer Patrick Gallagher, Derry camogie player Aoife Cassidy and Galway footballer AnneMarie McDonagh were also in attendance.

Political neutrality

On Friday night, Donegal all-Ireland winning footballer Eamon McGee launched a Yes campaign in his native county, and it is understood that the Yes campaign has been seeking support from a number of high-profile players and former players.

The GAA is anxious that the campaign should not impinge on the organisation’s strong tradition of political neutrality, which is enshrined in the organisation’s rulebook. GAA players or members are not precluded from campaigning in the referendum, but they may not use club facilities or promote their views at GAA events.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar launched the Fine Gael campaign on Saturday in Dublin, and pledged that if the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution is repealed, the Government will introduce a "safe, regulated doctor-led" system in Ireland.

Responding to some of the No campaign claims, Mr Varadkar said some assertions during the 1995 divorce referendum proved to be false.

“In 1995, and I remember it well, there was a referendum on divorce in this country that was passed by the narrowest of margins. At the time there were placards that read ‘divorce aborts marriage’,” he said.

“We were told that if we introduced divorce in Ireland we would soon have a divorce rate like Britain, of 30 or 40 per cent. But marriage in Ireland was not destroyed and in the years that followed the numbers of Irish people who got divorced did not skyrocket. All we did was give some people a second chance at happiness,” he said.

‘Come clean’

The Love Both campaign accused Mr Varadkar of keeping the public in the dark about what repeal of the Eighth Amendment, which protects the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn, would mean.

Commenting on the Taoiseach's remarks, Dr Ruth Cullen of Love Both said: "It doesn't matter how many times the Taoiseach says his proposal is restrictive, it won't change what the proposal provides for which is abortion on demand and nothing else.

“Either the Taoiseach himself is not clear about what the proposal contains, which is hard to believe, or else he is simply not prepared to come clean with the Irish people about how extreme the proposal is and how it provides for unrestricted abortion in the first three months of pregnancy and even at later stages too on very vague ‘health’ grounds.”

An opinion poll in the Sunday Times mirrored the findings of The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll on Friday, showing a strong lead for the repeal campaign.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times