Yet another bitter sectarian squabble has broken out at the Causeway Coast and Glens council, this time over funding for a community centre in County Antrim.
Councillors debated whether the GAA should be considered a “single identity” organisation, the naming of a GAA pitch after two IRA men killed in 1922, as well as general sectarianism in the Causeway Coast and Glens council.
The fierce and lengthy row broke out largely between Sinn Féin and DUP Councillors after the DUP’s Trevor Clarke questioned a decision to award funding for a community centre in Glenariff, on land used by a GAA club whose pitch is named after two IRA men killed during the Irish War of Independence in 1922.
The decision to award some £180,000 worth of funding towards a new Glenariff community centre had been previously approved during an earlier meeting of the Leisure and Development committee.
However, the decision still needed approval during a full meeting of council and when Councillor Clarke highlighted the fact that the gates to the land bear the names Charlie McAllister and Pat McVeigh, two IRA men killed in 1922 - some seven months before the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
The debate lasted long into the night. Mr Clarke said: “The park on which that facility is to be developed is, in fact, named after two IRA terrorists. Either we have missed something here or we are going against our own guidance.
“The gated entrance to the site we have been asked to provide funding for the community centre on bears the inscription ‘Memorial Park’ for two IRA terrorists. I was there this afternoon. I have done some background reading to find out that Messrs McAllister and McVeigh were IRA men and 94 years ago they were preparing to launch an attack on security forces when their ambush failed and they were killed.
“They were members of the IRA and that’s the difficulty I have. We need to make sure we don’t take ourselves down a route that will see us mixed up in what Newry has been involved in for years.”
After a recess, DUP Councillor George Duddy said: “It will not be inclusive, given the name that is on the gates. We have a policy in this council where we don’t fund single identity groups. We are almost flying in the face of our own policy.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Philip McGuigan said: “Councillor Duddy said a few things about single identity groups - certainly in the fortnight after a Protestant former president of the GAA, he couldn’t be talking about the GAA. I think there are people out there who have moved beyond some of the naked sectarianism we have to listen to in this council chamber. I would flap around it but there are people in this chamber who make decisions on no other basis than anti-Catholic sectarianism.
“Unionist councillors know that because of their majority that very few GAA clubs in this Borough will see one dime. Unionists in this council won’t vote for it because they make their decision based on sectarianism. They know they get no votes in Glenariff...no votes in Dungiven... no votes in Lough guile or Dunloy. Maybe if the unionist Councillors, instead of bringing up nonsense, encouraged young Protestant boys and girls to play GAA there would be less sectarianism and less trouble.”
Sinn Féin councillor Cara McShane said: “To find anything, clutching at straws to make sure that no money goes in - not one brass penny - it is disgusting. Thy can sneer and smirk all they like - I have watched their body language tonight - and it is disgusting.”
DUP Councillor Sam Cole said: “Naked sectarianism - that’s a big one coming from Sinn Féin - that’s what’s demonstrated on the gate of Glenariffe hurling club. Identifying with one section of the community, that’s naked sectarianism. You tell me what us Protestants feel going through those gates with two IRA men on them. I won’t take any lectures. You can try and say ‘you’re the baddies’ and talk about good relations. I don’t know a single Protestant that goes to Gaelic matches. Go back and tell them why a gate with two IRA killers is offensive, remove the gate and come back again.”
After a vote, the proposal to award the funding was approved despite the opposition of the DUP, TUV and some UUP Councillors. The UUP were divided on the issue as some voted in favour, along with the SDLP, Alliance, the Conservative and Sinn Féin.