Former All-Ireland winner and Newry and Armagh MLA Justin McNulty has expressed his disappointment after a DUP Assembly member said the GAA had a “sectarian and republican nature” during a debate in Stormont’s chamber.
Assembly members were debating the Executive Committee (Functions) Bill yesterday when South Down MLA Jim Wells – who has had the party whip removed – made the remarks.
Richard Bullick, who served as special advisor to former First Minister Peter Robinson, warned the bill will reduce areas in which ministers’ power is constrained by the Executive as a whole.
During the debate, Mr Wells, who was calling for a delay to the bill to allow further scrutiny, used the redevelopment of west Belfast’s GAA stadium in his argument.
“Take Casement Park for instance, which is a planning decision,” he stated in the chamber yesterday. “Say Sinn Fein decided to spend a vast amount of money, as it could, holding the Department for Communities, on making Casement Park even grander. That would cause huge concern amongst the unionist community given the sectarian and republican nature of the GAA.
“Could we do anything to stop that? No, we could not, if Richard Bullick, I and [TUV MLA] Jim Allister etc are right. What will be the reaction of -?”
Sinn Fein’s South Down MLA Sinead Ennis immediately called on Mr Wells to retract his comments as the GAA “could not be further from that”.
“It is sad that he would label any sporting organisation, particularly one that is so rooted and relevant in the community as the GAA, as a sectarian organisation,” she added.
However, Mr Wells responded by stating that GAA clubs hold ‘Great Escape’ events in his constituency to eulogise IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.
Sinn Fein West Belfast MLA and former hunger striker Pat Sheehan said that Mr Wells’ “intemperate language” has led to members of the GAA being killed in the past and asked him to “desist” from such comments.
Mr Wells then stated that he will make no further comments about the GAA after being spoken to by Deputy Speaker Roy Beggs MLA.
Following the debate, Mr McNulty, who was a member of the Armagh team that beat Kerry to lift the Sam Maguire in 2002, said there were “hundreds” of people in GAA clubs across Ireland who have done more to reconcile communities and bring people together than Mr Wells.
“It is incredibly disappointing that he continues to use divisive, offensive language to label our community of volunteers who are working hard, including throughout the pandemic, to support people,” he added.
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