Wednesday 23 October 2019

Game over: PSNI GAA team expected to fold as decline in Catholic recruits hits player numbers

Peadar Heffron (right) pictured playing gaelic football for the PSNI
Peadar Heffron (right) pictured playing gaelic football for the PSNI Newsdesk Newsdesk

THE PSNI GAA team is expected to fold as a result of a steady decline in new players since the end of 50/50 recruitment.

It's said the PSNI Gaelic Athletic Club (GAC) could fold within the next year after not being able to compete over the past six years due to falling numbers.

It's lead to the cancellation of planned games because they couldn't organise a full team, according to the Irish News.

Just two games were played during the 2019 season. The end of 50/50 recruitment in 2011 saw a decline in the number of Catholic recruits.

That policy required that 50pc of recruits to the PSNI must be Catholic, with the remainder being of other religions.

The police services GAA club made history after Rule 21 - which prohibited British security force members from joining the GAA - was lifted in November 2001 when the changeover from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to PSNI was made.

One officer who has been a long-standing member of the PSNI GAC said the club provided a "safe haven and home to many Gaels unable to continue playing with their own clubs for various reasons, not least security".

"Like any GAA club, it has given its members lifelong friendships and memories," he said.

Former PSNI constable Peadar Heffron with Joe Brolly Photo: Stephen Hamilton
Former PSNI constable Peadar Heffron with Joe Brolly Photo: Stephen Hamilton

The officer, who cannot be identified for security reasons, said that at its peak the football team had 35 players - "most of whom had previously played at a reasonable club level".

He said the attempted murder of Catholic officer Peadar Heffron in January 2010, who was the then-captain of the team, and the murder of Ronan Kerr, who was from a GAA family, the next year, hit the team hard.

READ MORE: Peader Heffron's GAA club condemn 'despicable attack' but claim they've been the subject of 'undeserved controversy'

It led them to consider closing PSNI GAC, which fields both football and hurling teams, due to fears for players'[ lives.

"At that time, each member of the club had to decide whether they wished to continue their association, identifying themselves as Irish Catholic police officers," he said.

"Defiantly, when the time came for the next football training a few months later we had a massive turn out, not matched before or since.

"We have played twice on the hallowed turf of Croke Park and competed against our colleagues An Garda Síochána, London Metropolitan and NYPD every two years in an international police tournament whilst also playing local club teams in Antrim and Down.

"Devastatingly, there has been a slow decline in the club's fortunes in recent years.

Members of the PSNI Gaelic Athletic Club team pose for a photograph in Croke Park before the McCarthy Cup game in 2011. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Members of the PSNI Gaelic Athletic Club team pose for a photograph in Croke Park before the McCarthy Cup game in 2011. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

"Since the end of 50/50 recruitment, the football team has had little to no new blood. Our most recent signings have been open-minded colleagues from non-GAA backgrounds willing to give the sport a go.

"They have been brilliant for us and it must be said, very talented footballers," he added.

"With no police officers coming from a GAA background or willing to try the sport, our team has grown old. The average age of the team is now in its mid- to late-thirties, with a core of players that have been together for the last decade.

"We struggle to get games at the best of times, as clubs have reservations about playing us and also have their own season fixtures to contend with.

"This is the first year in memory that we have had to cancel organised games because we cannot field a team, let alone a squad."

The officer also criticised what he described as "aggressive and rude" treatment by civilian staff when attending training.

"I have literally watched a number of them approach my car smiling and friendly, only to become rude and obnoxious, treating me with suspicion as they set eyes on my GAA gear [PSNI GAA gear] as I attend for training.

"However... you will see a number of civilian soccer teams using the facilities whilst wearing their Glasgow Rangers soccer jerseys without issue."

Around 32pc of PSNI officers are from the Catholic community, while Catholics make up around 50pc of the population of Northern Ireland.

In August, Chief Constable Simon Byrne said the PSNI was "not yet back at the point" where 50/50 recruitment of Protestant and Catholics was needed.

READ MORE: Joe Brolly: The result of all of this insanity is that a United Ireland is now inevitable

The Chief Constable said he wanted to "convince the people that hold me to account that we have tried every means possible to encourage people from both the Catholic community and also the working-class loyalist community, who I think need a stronger voice in policing".

The PSNI officer who did not wish to be named said: "It is no exaggeration to say that at least 90pc of all new recruits placed in my district since the end of 50/50 are from a Protestant and/or unionist background.

"With the lack of Catholic recruits presently, the number of Gaels joining the PSNI is non-existent".

He said despite requests and other sports receiving financial support, players due to travel to New York this year for the Police Games have funded the trip themselves to the tune of £1,100 (€1,200) each, which is subsidised by a small amount of sponsorship from GAA-supporting businesses.

"All of these ongoing issues will bring an end to the PSNI GAA club," the officer said.

A police spokesman said: "PSNI officers are encouraged to join the GAA club, as well as other sports clubs, within the service. The GAA club has seen an increase in support in recent years and continues to play matches against other blue light services and organisations."

Belfast Telegraph

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