HC Deb 12 May 1983 vol 42 cc909-10
14. Sir John Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if the Department of Education for Northern Ireland will discuss with the Gaelic Athletic Association the withdrawal of its rule 15 in respect of the Province; and if he will make a statement about the ban on British soldiers, Navy men and police.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

The Government have repeatedly stated that they deprecate the GAA rule which limits its membership. I have no reason to believe that it would be responsive to further representations at this time.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

But is there not a new development? Has not Captain Fitzgerald of the Irish Army become captain of the British Lions rugby football team, and does not that provide an opportunity to take up the matter afresh? While my hon. Friend is about it, will he ask the president of the GAA to reply to the very courteous letter that I wrote to him several years ago?

Mr. Scott

I will certainly make sure that that message is conveyed in one way or another and I will discuss with the Sports Council in Northern Ireland whether any further representations would be appropriate in the near future.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Will the Under-Secretary confirm that there is grave anxiety about this matter in Northern Ireland? While the rule remains, with its discriminatory approach, many are concerned that large Government grants are being given to the GAA? Does the hon. Gentleman know of any other country where such a situation would be allowed to continue?

Mr. Scott

It is worth reminding the House that grants have been paid to the GAA since 1962 and that the rule has been in existence for the whole of this century and for some time previously. Stopping grants to the GAA would require a change in the law and I should prefer to keep up pressure and persuasion on the association to get rid of its offensive rule.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the first rule and the basis of the GAA is the political objective of bringing about a united Ireland? As it mixes its politics with its sport, surely he should not be negotiating with it at all.

Mr. Scott

I am sure that the Government of Northern Ireland between 1962 ad 1972 bore that in mind as well.