independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

GAA'S RULE 21 November 17, 2001

History is made as 'foreign games' rule is abolished

It was a momentous decision which shone a positive light on a unique sporting movement so closely linked with Irish nationalism.

On November 17, 2001, a special congress of the GAA took the decision to abolish Rule 21, which banned members of the British security forces from playing Gaelic games.

It was by far the most controversial rule in the GAA's official guide, and the decision to revoke the prohibition on members of the British Army or RUC from playing football or hurling was brought about largely because the Ulster counties decided it was time for the contentious ban to go.

Previous attempts had been made, most notably in 1998 when the Ulster Council was strongly opposed to its deletion.

But changes in the politics of Northern Ireland brought about a change in attitude, and a sense that it was time to move on from the practices of the past.

Rule 21 stated: "Members of the British armed forces or police shall not be eligible for membership of the Association.

"A member of the Association participating in dances, or similar entertainment, promoted by or under the patronage of such bodies, shall incur suspension of at least three months."

Removing it required a two-thirds majority of delegates, and in the end it was overwhelmingly passed.

It was seen as a significant boost to the peace process, and paved the way for young men and women who played Gaelic games to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which replaced the RUC.

Had it been retained, recruits would have been forced to give up their sport.

The GAA later went on to open Croke Park to "foreign" games including soccer and rugby, and memorably hosted an Ireland-England Six Nations' fixture in 2009 which saw the home side trounce their opponents 43-13.

Irish Independent

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