Horan: It’s ‘pretty clear’ where GAA would stand in Irish unity poll

Horan: It’s ‘pretty clear’ where GAA would stand in Irish unity poll
GAA president John Horan watches as juveniles from St Colmcille’s GAA Club, Bettystown, Co Meath, play in a game prior to the unveiling of the new GAA manifesto, which is in Irish and English. Picture: Stephen McCarthy

GAA president John Horan has given his clearest indication yet that the association would back calls for Irish unity in the event of any future border poll.

The subject has been widely discussed since Jarlath Burns — who may succeed Horan as GAA president — said that the nature of the GAA’s Official Guide would hold that it would take the position that partition should end in Ireland if any such poll occurred.

His views were backed up by RTÉ Gaelic games pundit Joe Brolly, who wrote: “It is time for the most important community and cultural organisation on the island to show leadership, to show loyalty to its northern members, and ready itself to support the poll for Irish unity which is coming down the tracks in the next 10 years.”

In his first public mention of the issue, at the launch of a pitch project at Derry club Limavady Wolfhounds, Horan said: “We look upon ourselves as a 32-county organisation, so I think it’s pretty clear where the GAA would stand if such a poll came.

“It’s somewhat speculative, there’s not even a hint of a date or timing or anything like that, so we just need to wait and see what happens.”

Various political parties are pushing for a border poll, especially in the event of a ‘no-deal Brexit’, which warns of huge harm to the six counties of Northern Ireland, as detailed by economic studies, including one advising the British Conservative Party.

Asked if the GAA would actively promote voting in favour of unity, Horan said: “Well, we are apolitical so… we’ll do anything that helps the 32 counties play our games across the country, but we are an apolitical organisation.”

Uncertainty surrounding Brexit continues, with the ‘Flextension’ leaving Britain within the EU until October 31 while the Conservatives attempt to negotiate a trade deal, but Horan has stated that the GAA has no concrete plans to deal with such a fallout.

The potential for difficulty is enormous. For example, the Ulster final of 2017 was played between Tyrone and Down, with thousands all making a frictionless border crossing between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for the game played in Clones, Co Monaghan.

With the development of Casement Park still in a state of inertia, situations such as these will continue for many years.

Horan: It’s ‘pretty clear’ where GAA would stand in Irish unity poll

Last year’s final between Donegal and Fermanagh also saw Donegal fans enter Northern Ireland on their way to Clones and Fermanagh supporters also crossing the border.

Horan cited his own experience of travelling to Derry: “Even you take it myself coming up here. I was able to sit in the car and say, ‘right, that’s the length of time I am driving and I will get there’, because there are no roadblocks or checkpoints coming up the road.

“There’s no point us exercising energy on this at the moment. For the very good reason, I was listening to it on the radio coming up, nobody knows what is going to happen, so we will just have to wait and see.

It would be a disaster to have to revert back to what went on before, but we will exert as much influence as we can. At the same time, I think it’s ultimately above us, in a way.

A hard border would impact in a number of areas, including TV rights; transport to and from games, with potential checkpoints on the border; and even the exchange of information through email.

In a feature running in tomorrow’s Irish Examiner Weekend Sport, a number of GAA figures outline their concern with the prevailing political situation, and appeal to the GAA to at least have some contingency plans in place.

However, for now, Horan states he is content to play a waiting game and see how Brexit plays out.

“To me, it would be a very speculative exercise that may not give us any outcomes and ultimately, will there be another referendum in Britain? Will they change?

"And you could exercise a lot of energy into it and nothing could come of it.

"Ultimately, as an organisation, we wouldn’t want to see any border coming back.”

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