Joe Brolly is someone who has led great strides forward in the GAA and its cross-community activities, but his record was somewhat blemished on Friday by his entirely unnecessary rant about the naming of GAA clubs being “[no]body else’s business”.
In fact, if the GAA is serious about being a cross-community organisation, it is absolutely other people’s business.
To be clear, I am consistent on this. I really wonder, when we already had the Queen’s Bridge and the Albert Bridge, whether we really also needed a Queen Elizabeth Bridge; I don’t like road names like “Cromwell Highway” in Lisburn, and there are far too many named after English royals rather than Northern Irish role models; I supported the naming of the new Toome Bridge after Roddy McCorley; I would have no difficulty with a “Hume Expressway” or a “Magennis Building”. Indeed, I believe such things would give a truer flavour to Northern Ireland as it is (and was) – in much the same way as Seamus Heaney’s descriptions of his Nationalist upbringing are every bit as quintessentially “Northern Irish” as (leftist-Unionist) John Cole’s or (Orangeman) Alan Campbell’s.
However, if you choose to name your sports grounds after terrorists, you needn’t expect people who opposed that terror (still less people who were victims of it) to play in your sports grounds; if you are specific enough to name them only after terrorists from one side of the traditional divide, you may forget about anyone waiting on the other side when you reach across the divide.
To suggest the names are “nobody else’s business” is, of course, to suggest there is a “somebody else” – in other words there is a “we” (implicitly the “Gael”, the “Nationalist”, the “Republican”) and a “they” (the “somebody else”). But in a truly shared society, we are all “we” – there can be no “somebody else”. The naming of a facility would, in a truly shared society, be everybody’s business – and it would be unreasonable to choose names which are exclusive, still less outright offensive.
I can well believe many people in Dungiven are proud of Kevin Lynch. We can all agree he was a man of some courage, prepared to die for his beliefs, however misguided, delusional and damaging many of us may find them. Yet are men of violence really the best role models for communities, and therefore for the naming community facilities? The answer is at best arguable; and in a shared society, it is a definitive “no”.
Sorry Joe, it is somebody else’s business. So it goes for Unionism, so it goes for Republicanism – if you are serious about sharing, you have to put your house in order and cut out the stuff you know fine rightly to be offensive to huge numbers of your fellow citizens. That is, of course, a very big “if”…