Former Armagh senior football captain Jarlath Burns and current chairman of the Rules Committee in GAA headquarters at Croke Park has said he would be prepared to drop the tricolor if it expands the game into Unionist communities in Northern Ireland.
Mr Burns, the principal of St Paul’s High School in Bessbrook, south Armagh and secretary of Silverbridge Harps GAC is a fluent Irish speaker and widely regarded as one of the most progressive voices in Gaelic sport and Irish nationalism.
He was a member of the Eames-Bradley group that produced a controversial report on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.
In July, he praised the outreach work of the Orange Order – and defended the Order after complaints that an Irish tricolour was not flown at the reopening of its Belfast museum.
He told Irish TV’s Eamonn Mallie Meets that the GAA needs to reach out to Unionists.
He said that symbols usually associated with the GAA now meant less to him than they once did and losing them could help build bridges with unionism.
Asked if that meant he’d be prepared to remove the tricolor from games in Northern Ireland, he replied: “Yeah, it wouldn’t cost me a thought, and you know this, flags are divisive. Do we need to say that any louder?
“If somebody was to propose in the morning that they were going to get rid of them all, it wouldn’t bother me at all. It’s not one of the core values that I have.
“It’s an overtly political thing, it’s something which is specific to national borders, it’s nothing to do with cultural – if I thought for a moment that suddenly (Unionist Stormont Assembly member) Tom Elliott would become our greatest fan I would get rid of them surely.”
But, he cautioned, “you could do all of those things and there would still be a section of unionism that would still feel repelled by the GAA because of our love of the Irish language for example”.
He also admitted that while he personally found flags and anthems divisive, getting rid of them “is not going to happen in the GAA” in the short to medium term future.
Read more recent GAA news in our article Historic vote clears Army to play GAA in London.