PROMINENT unionist assembly member John McCallister has addressed a major GAA conference in Cookstown.
Mr McCallister, deputy leader of the new unionist party NI21, called on the GAA to avoid an ‘us and them’ mentality.
Speaking at the Irish News Ulster GAA Volunteer Conference – Club Together - the MLA praised the GAA for its work in the community.
“The GAA has done much to address historic perceptions that have hurt this organisation,” he said.
“But - and I know you realize this - there is more to be done. There are still some out-standing issues to be addressed.”
He continued: “Let me share with you something of what the GAA means to me.
“It means local faces, local families - people I know, in the community in which I grew up and in which I live. Neighbours and friends who are passionate about Gaelic sports. It also stands for sporting spectacle. Spectating in any well-played sport, to see skill and determination displayed, is a joy.
“GAA also means something else to me - and I say this knowing that I risk alienating quite a few people here today ... When I hear GAA I think of the great county of Down ... A place I call home.”
The south Down MLA concluded by saying: “‘Us and Them’ sports is like ‘Us and Them’ politics - It’s self-defeating and, increasingly, totally alien to a new generation growing up free from the spectre of the Troubles.
“Surveys are consistently showing that when younger citizens are asked whether they are unionist or nationalist - the largest number say they are ‘neither’.
“They simply do not identify with old tribal divisions. Any organisation that allows old, tribal perceptions to endure does not demonstrate that it is part of shared future rather than a divided past.”