Brexit ‘possibly most critical event for the GAA in our lifetime’

‘Tyrone talks’ series will discuss issues on the eve of Article 50 being triggered

It is described in the publicity for the event as “possibly the most critical event for the GAA in our lifetime” and yet remains something about which virtually nothing is known.

By coincidence the “Tyrone Talks” series that grapples with various cultural issues is to look at the implications for the GAA of British withdrawal from the EU on the eve of the formal triggering of Article 50, to confirm that departure, which takes place next Wednesday 29th March.

The previous evening will see former GAA president and well-known business man Peter Quinn will give a speech on his thoughts on the matter at the Tyrone GAA Centre in Garvaghey.

One of those behind the "Tyrone Talk" series is Mark Conway, founder of both Club Tyrone, the county's GAA support vehicle, and "Of One Belief", the lobby group that opposed the introduction of government grants to intercounty players 10 years ago.


He acknowledges that the Brexit issue is too vague at the moment to devise solutions but believes that someone has to get the ball rolling in terms of identifying potential problems.


“What’s the impact going to be of a hard border? Will it be between north and south or east and west?

“We picked Peter Quinn because no one’s an expert on this stuff yet but there’s no one better than Peter given his background in business, construction and the GAA to give us his tuppence worth on what he thinks might be the nature of this and what might be the impact on us.”

The obvious worry about border controls stems from the memories of life during the Troubles when travelling between North and South could be very difficult and had regular implications for the GAA.

“Big long queues at the checkpoints,” Conway recalls. “That was to do with the conflict but it entered the consciousness of a generation of us. This event was organised to consider what impact this might have on us. Maybe it was a bit of Tyrone arrogance but we thought we’d run a wee session on it.

“There can be six or 60 at these meetings so we’ll see who turns up.”

The GAA has been represented at the all-island Civic Dialogue on Brexit in Dublin Castle but with everyone in the dark as to the precise provisions of British departure from the EU, even contingency planning is difficult.

There are already currency problems anyway, as for instance Croke Park grants are made in euro and their value in Ulster subject to exchange rate fluctuation.

Conway says that the experiences of the 1970s and '80s left their mark on the GAA in Ulster and makes the association in the North wary of anything that might replicate the isolation that was felt in those difficult decades when the conflict created a distance between the six counties from the rest of the island, an alienation that was felt on the playing fields with no Ulster county winning a senior All-Ireland between Down's 1968 and '91 victories, which all but book-ended the Troubles.

‘Hung up’

“People ask us, ‘why are you so hung up on the GAA? It’s not life and death’. One of the reasons is that if you lived through the bad times and for a generation the time of our lives was spent in the bad times, the GAA was the anchor. Others might have forgotten about us and others might have liked to push us into a corner but the GAA never did that. That isn’t forgotten and it’s why GAA values remain so important.”

He points out that anything which adversely impacts on the economic life of the community has obvious implications for the GAA. The biggest industries in Tyrone for instance are to do with building materials and food processing.

Even if the decision is taken to establish border controls on the coast of Britain that will have implications for those industries, which rely on export markets. It would also he believes impact on the GAA.

“When the Good Friday Agreement was all done and dusted one of the key areas was North-South relationships but there was also the question of east-west relationships and the GAA is one of the few organisations to do anything about that. They do in a simple way that doesn’t get much of a profile – the hurling-shinty connection.

“I think that has huge cultural value and is one way of bringing life to that east-west connection. If you stand in north Antrim today and the sun is shining you can see Scotland. There’s more affinity in the hurling heartlands of north Antrim with the west of Scotland than there is with the deep south of Ireland. That physical distance is hugely significant.”

Tyrone Talks Brexit@Garvaghey takes place in the Tyrone GAA Centre in Garvaghey at 8.00 next Tuesday evening, 28th March. Admission is free and all are welcome.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times