GAA must move on Rule 21

14th November 2001

THE GAA has played a blinder on Rule 21 so far. This rule forbids British army and police personnel from joining the association (if you didn’t already know).

If the GAA didn’t have this rule then no-one in their right minds would propose it. But we have it (I’m a member) and we have to decide what to do with it.

Back in 1998 in the aftermath of the Belfast Agreement, the then president Joe McDonagh made a rash attempt to change it.

If the GAA had changed the rule then, the association would have effectively endorsed the RUC. That would have been completely wrong and a huge mistake.

The RUC was created and maintained in a situation where there was no cross-community agreement on policing. During its 70 odd years, relations with the GAA and the wider nationalist community were fraught to say the least.

Some people argue that the GAA should have made a goodwill gesture. Policing is far too important for goodwill gestures. When the dust has settled on the various tedious political disputes, it will be the outcome of policing that will determine whether the peace will work or not.

Three years have gone by and what has changed? Practically everything.

We have had the Patten inquiry and report, written by an internationally neutral commission. We have had new legislation. We have had the Mandelson balls-up. We have had the Weston Park negotiations and the revised implementation plan. Every political party in the South and the SDLP and independent nationalists in the North have signed up for the new Policing Board. We have had a new name for the Northern police service.

Sinn Fein refuses to nominate members to the Policing Board. You could put that down to contrariness. In fact, SF is right to point out that the new policing arrangements fall short of Patten, notably in the area of accountability and control.

But you can’t have everything. In reality, it won’t be the small print that counts but how the PSNI is held to account from here on that matters.

Deleting Rule 21 in these circumstances won’t be a case of the GAA endorsing the new service as no one knows how the new service will turn out. It will be a case of the GAA taking itself out of the debate at the right time. A case of ridding itself of a problem that should be sorted out elsewhere.

I fear that the votes of the clubs in the North will not be a true reflection of GAA opinion on that side of the border. Monthly meetings rarely attract more than a handful of club members and those most concerned about the politics of the situation are the likeliest to turn up.

This could be a tragedy for the GAA, where the 26 counties say delete and the six counties say keep.

Even so, we are a 32 county organisation and the majority must prevail. It would be a disaster for the GAA if Rule 21 is not deleted now.

As well as that…

Drama missing something

THE dressing room scenes in ‘On Home Ground’ really miss something.

Something like: “You are a f****** waste of f****** time. They are f****** running f****** circles round ye and all you useless f****** can do is stand around f****** watching them.”

Now that’s a bit more accurate.