CONTROVERSIAL GAA pundit Joe Brolly has ignited a storm of criticism from unionists after saying he is proud of the INLA hunger striker that his home club is named after.
Mr Brolly's comments on Friday that it is "nobody else's business" if GAA clubs or tournaments are named after dead republican paramilitaries came after the North's First Minister Peter Robinson acknowledged the organisation's role in "peace building" at a Co-operation Ireland dinner. Mr Brolly said that it was important that Peter Robinson had attended the event but said that subsequent criticism by other unionists that the GAA glorified terrorism by honouring dead terrorists was "just a sideshow".
The outspoken former Derry player said he was "proud" that a hurling club in his home town of Dungiven was named after the INLA hunger striker Kevin Lynch who had been a club member.
"It's nobody else's business – it's as simple as that. People can either like it or lump it. That's the way societies and communities work. Kevin played hurling for Dungiven and for Derry, and the hurling club was named for that reason. We're very proud of him," he said.
But the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice, Jim Allister, said Mr Brolly was wrong to suggest that it was nobody else's business that a GAA club or tournament was named "after a dead terrorist".
"It would not be the business of the public if the GAA was not holding out its hands for public money by way of grants. Figures I obtained in 2010 show that the Kevin Lynch hurling club got £245,000 of public money, so it's naming after a dead terrorist most certainly is the public's business.
"On their website, the club says Kevin Lynch 'epitomises the spirit that embodies the great hurling tradition in Dungiven'. So a convicted terrorist epitomises the spirit they wish to be inspired by, with the help of generous public funding, of course!" Mr Allister said.
Mr Brolly said it was important that Mr Robinson had attended the event. "The GAA is working furiously at cross-community relations, as far as that's possible," he said.
In his speech, Mr Robinson said that in previous years Co-operation Ireland had celebrated the role of rugby and football in peace-building and it was fitting that the role of the GAA was acknowledged.
"It is a testament to the progress that we have all made that tonight we can acknowledge the GAA's role in peace-building by inviting a First Minister from the unionist tradition to the lectern.
"We are all on a journey. Although I think we each recognise that there is still some distance to travel.
"For my part, I want to see my party reaching out further in the years to come and I am certain that the GAA leadership will want to do the same."
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams last night welcomed the remarks made by Mr Robinson. Speaking at an event in London, Mr Adams said it was time to "refresh" the peace and that solutions were needed to solve a number of difficult issues.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also praised the Robinson speech, calling it "timely, significant and courageous".
In his address, Mr Robinson said he remains committed to power-sharing.
Lynch was tried, convicted and sentenced to 10 years for stealing shotguns, taking part in a punishment shooting and conspiring to take arms from the security forces, and was sent to the Maze Prison in December 1977. He later became involved with the blanket protest, joining the Hunger Strike on 23 May, 1981 and he died 71 days later on August 1, 1981.