Sport bridging divides in our communities
Political leaders both North and South today descended on the Ecclesiastical Capital of Ireland, Armagh to explore the role of Ulster’s three main sporting bodies Ulster GAA, IFA and Ulster Branch IRFU in developing good relations and reconciliation.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Ministers Martin McGuinness were joined by Ministers north and south and senior representatives from the three sporting bodies in celebrating the role of sport in breaking down barriers and building peace.
Speaking at the event Taoiseach Enda Kenny said, “Over the years, and especially over the difficult years of the troubles, each sporting body played their part in giving their communities a positive outlet, encouraging young people to get involved in sport rather than violence. Now in Peace times, it’s significant that the three main sporting bodies are working together to develop peace and reconciliation and helping to bring our communities together in a spirit of unity. Sport is deep in our hearts, our families, our communities, our culture. It teaches us discipline, teamwork, perseverance. It is the heartbeat of community and it creates heroes and legends, of which this island has many.”
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said, “It’s very important that community-based organisations are supported in their efforts at reconciliation. Through our Reconciliation and Anti-Sectarianism Funds, my Department is a strong supporter of organisations working to build better relations within and between the traditions in Northern Ireland and I’ve witnessed some of this good work myself on recent trips to Derry and Belfast. Sporting organisations are amongst the best placed to break down barriers at the local level. Ulster GAA, the IFA and the IRFU (Ulster Branch) reach into every community in Northern Ireland and have enormous potential to change community relations for the better”
The First Minister Peter Robinson said “I commend the continuing cross-community and good relations contributions the IFA, Ulster Rugby and the GAA make to society in Northern Ireland and the opportunities they provide for engagement and learning through sports.
“The Northern Ireland Executive, in its recently published Together: Building a united community strategy recognises that sport is an integral part of our society and is committed to developing a substantial cross-community sports programme. Sport has the power to foster and maintain good relations and our strategy acknowledges the positive impact sport has in all areas of our society.”
“I am confident the leadership shown by the IFA, Ulster Rugby and the GAA will inspire everyone to create the peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland we all want and deserve.”
The deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “Today’s conference marks another significant milestone in our engagement with the three main sports in our community. The GAA, IFA and Ulster Rugby are to be congratulated for their work to promote reconciliation, integration and cohesion through sport.
“The Executive aims to provide the framework, where sporting organizations and groups on the ground can continue, to work together.
“We want to build on the wealth of experience and expertise that has been developed over the years in many areas and promote a shared future through the Executive’s strategy, ‘Together: Building a United Community’. At its heart is the vision of a society built on the twin pillars of equality and good relations.
“Sport provides an excellent vehicle to help achieve our aim of a united community with improved good relations across our society.”
The conference, was organised jointly by the three sporting bodies IFA, Ulster Branch IRFU and Ulster GAA, and was supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Ulster GAA Chief Executive Officer Dr. Danny Murphy said, “It is timely that the three largest governing bodies of sport host a conference on the topic of Reconciliation while Dr. Richard Haass and the panel of parties are in negotiations to deal with some of the outstanding issues regarding the peace process. The three governing bodies have played a significant and important role in promoting respect and community cohesion and it is fitting that this conference was hosted on the fringes of the NSMC plenary.”
Irish FA Chief Executive Officer Patrick Nelson said, “The conference was a wonderful opportunity for sport to showcase its social and economic impact, as well as its contribution to the wider Peace Process.”
The Irish Rugby Football Union (Ulster Branch) President John Robinson said, “IRFU (Ulster Branch) is delighted to continue working with Ulster GAA, the Irish FA and government ministers in actively promoting sport throughout the community. We believe passionately that sport can make a real difference to building peace, understanding and a better future for all. This conference is yet another important step in our progress and will spur us on to making even greater efforts.”
The three sporting bodies work together in developing volunteering best practice, community development and good relations through the Department for Social Development’s Sport in the Community Programme. Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland was proud to attend the conference to highlight the impact of sports on volunteering.
The Sport and Reconciliation Conference, which was held in the Marketplace Theatre in Armagh explored the social and economic impact of sports, the role of sport in creating peace and reconciliation, and an in depth discussion about the work of the three governing bodies in community development.
Academics Dominic Bryan and Duncan Morrow delivered two lectures on the role of sport within our communities while Sports Minister North and South Carál Ní Chuilín and Leo Varadkar emphasised the importance of sport within our communities.
Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure Carál Ní Chuilín said, “DCAL’s top priority is to promote equality and tackle poverty and social exclusion. It is important that all sectors of society, including sporting organisations, use every available opportunity to develop excellence in their code alongside equality in society. I am delighted with the committed manner in which gaelic, rugby and soccer have embraced these important values. Improved societal relations and intercultural understanding are built on enhanced social justice and inclusion. Sport is a wonderful process for promoting these objectives, and we should all redouble our efforts in this regard in the time ahead.”
The Republic’s Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar closed the conference and said: “Today’s conference is a celebration of sport and its role in building peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. Sport breaks down barriers like nothing else can. The presence here today of politicians, academics and representatives from the three main sporting governing bodies in Ulster is a good example. Sport unites us all as players and spectators. And it helps to bring people together and create pride in our communities.”
For further information:
Sharon Haughey-Grimley (Ulster GAA): (028) 3751 7180
Heather Wright (IFA): (028) 9068 8425
Neil Brittain (Ulster Branch IRFU): (028) 9049 3111