The Gaelic Athletic Association has become the first Irish winner of a European Union award aimed at celebrating groups that create closer integration across international borders. The European Citizens’ Prize 2013 was awarded to the GAA in Brussels in honour of its work uniting communities north and south of the border.
The accolade comes despite complaints from unionists that the move was “premature” and could actually harm the peace process. Speaking when the GAA was first nominated for the prize earlier this year, DUP MEP Diane Dodds warned that “many in Northern Ireland see the GAA as a political organisation as much as a sporting one.”
Ms Dodds said several GAA sports grounds and trophies had been named after terrorists, citing a Sinn Féin-sponsored hunger strike rally at Casement Park and a GAA grounds in Dungiven named after INLA criminal Kevin Lynch. She also accused Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly of “electioneering” by nominating the GAA for the prestigious award. However Mr Kelly, former GAA President and now Honorary President of Belgian GAA, spoke out in defence of the organisation this week.
He described the GAA’s “key role in the peace process and in fostering better relations between Ireland and the UK.”
“The elimination of Rule 42 paved the way for rugby and soccer to be played in Croke Park. This and other conscious efforts by the GAA saw clubs and members reach out across cultural and religious divides in Northern Ireland to bring citizens together,” said Mr Kelly.
He said the awarding of the European Citizens’ Prize was an international tribute to the GAA’s “massive contribution” to citizens in Europe, describing the association as a “wonderful example of our European ideals of volunteerism and citizenship.”
The GAA will be presented with a special medal during a dedicated European Citizen’s Award ceremony to be held in Ireland later this year. The GAA will also be showcased at a further ceremony at the European Parliament in Brussels in October 2013.