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Dome Dispatch

A change in numbers is working; a change in mindset is preferable

By Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

How to spend three days in the Mayo monsoon: bring the voluminous minute books from Belfast City Council with you to while away the hours while appraising the last year’s goings-on.

It worked for me.

Just over a year ago, a new Council cohort, with its breakdown of 21 unionists  facing off against 30 members from Alliance, SDLP and Sinn Féin, came into office.

And a careful perusal of the minute books tells you that the vast bulk of matters which came before those councillors are resolved by unanimous agreement —  a full 95 per cent of issues brought before committees don’t, therefore, result in any division.

But those areas which split the Council tell you much about Belfast 2012 and how the unionist minority is struggling to come to terms with the concept of a shared city.

In particular, there remains a deep-seated animus towards the Irish language, based in equal parts on sectarianism of the Beach Boys variety and good old-fashioned ignorance.

And where An Ghaeilge is viewed as toxic, Gaelic sports will not be far behind. And so it has proved.



Over the past  year, there were successive attempts by unionists to derail plans to provide 21st century amenities for Gaelic games in Belfast.

A Council report in February 2010 found that football and hurling need another 64 pitches and camogie ten pitches in Belfast to meet the demand of the GAA. Soccer, meanwhile, according to the same report, is over-provided to the tune of 43 pitches.

It’ll be a while before that inequity, caused by decades of discrimination, is remedied but at least a start is being made with the Council’s current pitches strategy.

Under that strategy, new GAA pitches, partly-funded by the GAA, will be located across Belfast, including at Cherryvale, Woodlands and Falls Park, starting this year.

It would take a brass neck to oppose that strategy, considering it was founded on the recommendations of the Council-commissioned report.

But in fact, during the past year, unionists tilted at that particular windmill on several occasions.

In June 2011, unionists tried to carve off 20 per cent of the funding for new pitches to divert it from the area of greatest need: Gaelic games. They failed.

In July 2011, they returned to the fray and failed even more spectacularly.

In a sorry sidebar, unionists also voted down a proposal in November 2011 to facilitate Michael Davitts GAA with a lease agreement at Boucher Road playing fields.

For good measure, unionists attempted again in March 2011 to scuttle the progress of the pitches strategy. They came up short when their proposal was put to the vote.


Brief Head

There is something out of sync here. Peter Robinson gave his seal of approval to a shared society and to the GAA by attending a McKenna Cup game in January in the company of the deputy First Minister. Closer to the  ground, however, the unionists in City Hall are sending out a different message with their incessant attacks on efforts to provide the sporting facilities they are duty-bound to supply for the GAA.

For 100 years, unionists had the means to get away with this agenda. It’s getting more difficult today, thankfully.

But real change will only come not when the mindset alters. It’s not good enough for attacks on Irish culture to be thwarted because unionists no longer have the numbers to waive the rules. What we really need is for unionists to realise that when they discriminate against their neighbours they are in fact scoring an own goal against the shared city we are seeking to create.

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