BALLYMONEY’S DUP mayor Ian Stevenson says he has shown he is representative of all in the borough following his attendance at an All-Ireland Senior Hurling semi-final in Dublin.
Cllr Stevenson travelled to Parnell Park for Saturday’s clash between Loughgiel and Limerick side Na Piarsaigh along with local SDLP councillor Harry Connolly.
The move came just two weeks after First Minister Peter Robinson attended the Dr McKenna Cup GAA football final in Armagh between Derry and Tyrone.
Cllr Stevenson said as mayor he was anxious to show he is representative of the entire community.
“I should be mayor for everybody and I want to be seen as being mayor for everybody,” he told the Times.
“I disagree with people not being tolerant of another tradition.
“In different contexts, different people might have problems with other beliefs but people should tolerate other people’s opinions.
“Other people such as the chair of Moyle and mayor of Belfast have not done things they said they didn’t believe in in the past.
“I believe I have shown how it should be done.”
There were scores of messages posted both in support and against Cllr Stevenson’s visit to Dublin on social networking sites Twitter and Facebook over the weekend.
He said so far the balance “is around 60/40 in favour” of his attendance at the game.
Cllr Stevenson said he hoped his willingness to attend the hurling match will promote greater tolerance and determination to resolve problems when it comes to tackling contentious issues in the borough of Ballymoney in the future such as band parades “as that is the way forward”.
And he said his attendance at the game was not an endorsement of the GAA as a whole.
He said he disagrees with a number of aspects of the body - including the naming of clubs and grounds after Republican figures - but hopes steps can be taken in the future to make Gaelic games more accessible to all.
“A few years ago I had the opportunity to speak to the former president of the Gaelic Athletic Association Nicky Brennan as deputy mayor at Our Lady of Lourdes school in Ballymoney,” he said.
“I was able to outline concerns I had and he could see where I was coming from.
“I believe if GAA is interested in dialogue and they make moves to keep it moving forward and make it more inclusive for everybody that would be a good thing.
“By going there it doesn’t mean I accept the GAA, or the non-sporting aspect of GAA in particular.”
Last summer Cllr Stevenson also broke with tradition when he issued a joint statement with a local priest ahead of a controversial parade.
Along with Fr John J Murray he appealed for calm ahead of a contentious march in Rasharkin.
The ‘statement of belief’ before the parade stressed their common beliefs – such as ‘freedom of religion’, opposition to all criminal behaviour and a belief in the 10 Commandments.
A spokesman for the DUP said Cllr Stevenson had shown leadership in north Antrim, where sectarian tensions have simmered in recent years.
“Mr Stevenson recognises that the people in north Antrim want to move on,” said the party spokesman.
“Throughout his year as mayor in Ballymoney he has worked to improve community relations and this is another step major forward.
“The party leader [Peter Robinson] has said he wants to see an end to the ‘us and them’ mentality and Mr Stevenson has followed through on this policy.”
Other senior DUP politicians to have attended GAA matches include Edwin Poots and Nelson McCausland.
Asked if he will pitch up at the All-Ireland Final, Cllr Stevenson said: “I was very courteously treated and I am thankful for that.
“I was impressed at the match as it is a highly skilled sport.
“It’s too early to say whether or not I will be at the final.”