Northern Ireland

Gregory Campbell supports Robinson's attendance of GAA match

Martin McGuinness, Aogan Fearghail, Peter Robinson
Image caption Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, Ulster GAA president Aogan Fearghail and First Minister Peter Robinson

First Minister Peter Robinson has attended his first Gaelic football match.

The DUP leader was a guest of the Ulster Council for the final of the Dr McKenna Cup between Derry and Tyrone in Armagh on Saturday night.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell welcomed the "symbolic gesture" of Mr Robinson attending the game.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was also at the game. Mr Robinson got a "warm reception", he said.

He said that Mr Robinson's attendance was evidence of his "inclusive approach" and was "another little piece of history".

"Peter got a very warm reception from everyone he met at the game. It was wonderful to have him there," Mr McGuinness added.

Mr Campbell told Good Morning Ulster that he would not have accepted an invitation to attend the game but did admit the first minister going was progress.

"I think these issues are more about gestures. This is about symbolism and a gesture," he said.

"I think if it is offered in that context and received in that context then I would not quibble about it.

"The GAA has been travelling in the right direction for some time now."

'Moving forward'

But the East Londonderry MP believes there is still more work to be done by the organisation.

"There are issues that are still outstanding, there are still grounds, there are still clubs named after IRA terrorists that obviously have to be changed," he said.

"In a modern democracy where people are taking part in a purely sporting environment you wouldn't name your ground or a competition after, for example, one of the bombers from Gibraltar."

The DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the first minister's attendance showed how Northern Ireland had progressed.

"It doesn't in any way compromise Peter Robinson's political principals or the political principals of the DUP," he said.

"It demonstrates a very clear message and signal to people that we are moving forward in Northern Ireland, and moving forward together."

During the Troubles, many unionists mistrusted the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), which banned members of the security forces from being members.

That rule was lifted 11 years ago.

BBC Northern Ireland sports reporter Mark Sidebottom said that Mr Robinson had taken his seat just after the throw-in.

He added that security was low-key for the first minister's visit and that his attendance caused "barely a ripple" among the crowd.

Four years ago, Mr Robinson's party colleague Edwin Poots was the first DUP politician to attend a GAA game in an official capacity when he also went to a Dr McKenna Cup game.

And last year, the Queen went to the headquarters of the GAA, Croke Park in Dublin, during her historic first visit to Ireland.

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