SDLP and SF clash over H-Block GAA club event
THE SDLP and Sinn Féin have clashed over the holding of a H-Block commemoration on Sunday in the grounds of the Galbally GAA club in Co Tyrone.
SDLP deputy leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell accused Sinn Féin of “hijacking” the commemoration, while Sinn Féin accused him of attempting to demonise the memory of the 10 men who died in the 1981 hunger strikes.
Dr McDonnell made his criticism after he and a senior party delegation met top GAA officials yesterday. Holding such events on GAA grounds is against the rules of the organisation. Dr McDonnell said that “like thousands of fellow members of the GAA” he was angry the “Provos had hijacked a GAA premises to cynically deflect attention from Sinn Féin’s internal problems”.
He said it was also part of Sinn Féin’s attempt to divert attention away from Sinn Féin “allowing a number of the hunger strikers to die” to serve the party’s electoral ambitions in 1981.
“GAA grounds should not be prostituted or used politically,” he said. He added that he respected the rights of family and friends of the hunger strikers to commemorate them but that it should not be done in GAA grounds.
A Sinn Féin spokesman said that in relation to the hungers strikers that Dr McDonnell would not be able to “produce a shred of evidence to back up his bogus claims about the circumstances surrounding the men’s deaths as none exists”.
The Sinn Féin spokesman added, “republicans are justifiably proud of the hunger strikers and their families. We make no apology to McDonnell or anyone else for commemorating their sacrifice. The Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee event on Sunday saw up to 10,000 people gather to pay tribute and to remember. That is what the focus needs to remain on, rather than deliberately constructed arguments by anti-republican elements in the media and elsewhere aimed at taking away from the purpose of the day.”
When contacted GAA headquarters referred the matter of the commemoration at its ground in Galbally to the organisation’s Ulster Council which said it had no comment to make on the matter at this time.
GAA sources acknowledged, however, that holding the commemoration on its ground in Galbally is contrary to rule 7 (a) of the organisation.
A similar situation arose in 2006 when a major commemoration was held in Casement Park in Belfast on the 25th anniversary of the hunger strikes.
The instruction from Croke Park not to hold the commemoration in Casement Park was ignored. Subsequently, the GAA refused to make tickets available to senior Sinn Féin members for the 2006 hurling and football All-Ireland finals, a decision Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described as “childish”.
In the past year or so the GAA has made a determined effort to engage in “outreach” with the unionist community and unionist politicians. In June DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and the GAA leadership broke new ground when they met at Stormont.