Mediation sought in row between ex-PSNI officer and GAA club
Sean Kelly urges resolution of Kickhams Creggan club dispute with Peadar Heffron
Sean Kelly MEP: “I do know that Peadar and those who joined the PSNI at the time are owed a great debt of gratitude from the country. They are heroes . . .” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
A former president of the GAA has called for an independent mediator to try and resolve a bitter dispute between former PSNI officer and bomb survivor Peadar Heffron and his home GAA club.
The Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly was president of the GAA between 2003 and 2006, when the organisation first gave official backing to a club that was formed by the new police service of Northern Ireland.
Mr Kelly said he had read with “disappointment and dismay” the interview Mr Heffron had given to GAA analyst Joe Brolly in which he said he was shunned by his GAA club, Kickhams Creggan, after he joined the PSNI in 2002. He continued playing but was made to feel unwelcome and, after a 2010 bomb attack by dissident republicans in which he lost a leg and suffered other very serious injuries, he was shunned completely.
In a statement issued last weekend, five days after the interview, the Co Antrim club said it condemned the attempted murder of Mr Heffron “unequivocally and without any ambiguity”.
On Tuesday, Mr Kelly said that a mediation process was required.
“It should be in everybody’s interest for the GAA through some intermediary to bring them [the club and Mr Heffron] together, look at the issues, say it was very wrong and he was a legitimate member of the club. It would also look at the issues that led to divisions and blinkered views.
“In view of what he suffered they should have a meeting of minds maybe and try to draw a line under it in a way that would be satisfactory to Peadar and to the club.”
Mr Kelly said there should be special recognition for people like Mr Heffron who were among the first Catholics to join the newly established police service after the RUC, which was viewed as a sectarian force by nationalists, was disbanded.
“I do know that Peadar and those who joined the PSNI at the time are owed a great debt of gratitude from the country. If they had not joined at the time, we would never get an acceptable police force and peaceful and stable institutions.
“They are heroes in the same way that it took years to recognise those who fought in World War One.
“Only in years to come will we appreciate the significant role they played in ensuring we got a police force in Northern Ireland up and running that was acceptable to both communities.”
Mr Kelly said he had encouraged the setting-up of the first GAA club in the PSNI and said he was surprised at the initial negative reaction (members of the RUC had been banned from playing Gaelic games in the past). He said he had met the Ulster Council in Carrickmore, Co Tyrone, at the time, to emphasise that it was a legitimate GAA club.
Mr Kelly attended matches the PSNI team played against the Garda and UCD, and against the London Police and Neasden Gaels in London.
Recalling the 2010 attack, he said it was “a bad day for sport, for the GAA and for all involved.
“Thankfully he survived but not with the quality of life he should expect.”