THE GAA has distanced itself from a series of commemorative events set to remember eight IRA men shot dead by the SAS in 1987.
Next month four specially organised events are set to take place across Mid-Ulster and into South Derry to mark the 25th anniversary of the Loughgall Ambush.
Organised by the Tyrone Commemorative Committee, the celebrations include a lecture and a ‘Walk of Freedom’ trek across the Sperrins.
But it was the advertisement of a boxing match in Clonoe GAA Club that forced Gaelic officials to distance themselves from the commemorations following criticism from a Mid-Ulster MLA.
Last month promotional material, including posters and information on the organiser’s website, was distributed promoting that the anniversary tournament would be held at the County Tyrone club on Friday, May 4th.
Mr McCrea condemned the decision, calling on the GAA to pull-the-plug on what he called a “Republican Terrorist” event.
The DUP Assemblyman said: “Over the past few years a number of events have taken place across Mid-Ulster on GAA grounds and the excuse was given that they didn’t know about it.
“I make a genuine appeal to the GAA to make a ruling that no Republican Terrorist commemorations can be held on any of their grounds and show once and for all that they are a sporting organisation with no links or support for terrorists.”
In response to the DUP man’s comments, the GAA said that no such events would be taking place on the organisation’s grounds and any promotional material stating otherwise was down to an ‘advertising mistake’.“Following queries made by officials of Ulster GAA this morning we can confirm that there is no Commemorative activity taking place on GAA property as stated by Cllr. Ian McCrea MLA,” a GAA spokesperson told the MAIL.
“We have established that the event is taking place in the Clonoe Community Centre and not on GAA property as alleged by Mr Crea.
“The GAA has strict protocols and rules in place regarding the use of property for Political purposes.”
“The Association is committed to a shared future based on tolerance for the different identities and cultural backgrounds of people who share this Community and this island.”
When asked about the advertising material stating the boxing event was to take place in Clonoe GAA club the GAA spokesperson continued: “The event on 4th May was never taking place in a GAA facility it was taking place in a Community Hall and the event in question is not linked in anyway to the GAA Club or the GAA.
“We have contacted the organisers who have corrected their mistake in the advertising of this event.”
Eight members of the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade were shot dead by the SAS in a fierce gun battle at Loughgall on 8 May 1987.
They were killed as they approached the station with a 200lb bomb, its fuse lit, in the bucket of a hijacked digger.
The IRA men who died were East Tyrone IRA ‘Commander’ Patrick Kelly, 32; Declan Arthurs, 21; Seamus Donnelly, 19; Michael Gormley, 25; Eugene Kelly, 25; James Lynagh, 31, Patrick McKearney, 32 and Gerard O’Callaghan, 29.
A civilian, Anthony Hughes, 36, was killed and his brother badly wounded when they were caught up in the crossfire.
Last year as investigation by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report concluded the IRA unit opened fire first in the incident at Loughgall RUC station. It had previously been believed that the SAS had fired first. The findings of the report have since been questioned by the IRA men’s relatives.
Speaking in response to the GAA’s comments, Mr McCrea said yesterday: “It is welcome news that the GAA have accepted that this or any other terrorist related event should not be held at a GAA facility but I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not in the business of making unfounded allegations and the facts speak for themselves that this event was advertised for Clonoe GAA Club not the Clonoe Community Centre as stated in the GAA’s response.”