THE whys and wherefores of GAA (the Gaelic Athletic Association) are often lost on unionist politicians. The history and acrimony towards Gaelic games seems at time too ingrained.
No-one seems to recall that despite the flags and blandishments it is after all only a game.
True, it is a game that at times has trappings designed to wind up unionists. But by reacting with a sense of injury, even seeming as if it is a trap question posed by mischievous presenters, it is an issue that unionist leaders appear never to be able to cope with.
So, when new UUP leader Tom Elliott refused to countenance going to see Down in the All-Ireland final before his personal election night, or offer them words of encouragement, it was a case of lighting the blue touch paper and retreating to a safe distance.
For Mr Elliott it was a no-win situation. Be seen to show the slightest inclination towards backing Down (would it have been the same if Tyrone were in the All-Ireland final?) and some core backers would have recoiled. Be too intransigent and he would be seen as back woods unionist.
So, the MLA tried to steer a middle ground; no outright words to the GAA men, and no real complaints about the issue.
But, one wonders if Mr Elliott could have pulled a rabbit out of the hat with a simple statement along the lines of “well I’d rather a Northern Ireland team won!”
Of course, as it was there ensued a war of words within the UUP. Trevor Ringland said he would hand in his UUP membership card if Mr Elliott didn’t try and show the hand of friendship by attending a GAA game, while Lord Drumglass, Ken Maginnis, said Mr Elliott wouldn’t be going any time soon as he was of the ‘never on a Sunday’ religious persuasion.
We have a suggestion for Mr Elliottt: agree to attend a GAA game; make sure it is on a Saturday, make sure the PSNI are fielding a team; make sure they are playing against weak opposition; and make sure you have time to head off to an Irish League soccer/football game after the final whistle, and catch the Scottish football on Match of the Day (using the BBC Scotland Sky feed). Then issue a statement saying that whilst you enjoyed the GAA you thought that rugby was a more manly sport.
In a stroke the doubters could be silenced, your support for the PSNI demonstrated, and a controversy over which sport was the toughest would dominate The Nolan Show for weeks.
Alas, sport has become, as too often, a political football. Oh, how we sport fans in Northern Ireland look enviously at our cousins in England where a simple soccer star sex scandal can keep the politics off the news pages!