The PSNI have been accused of taking Catholics in the north of Ireland “back to the dark days” after several young people were stopped in the street by members of the force for playing Gaelic games.
The Antrim chairman of the Gaelic Athletics Association said he will seek a meeting with senior PSNI and GAA officials after a student was fined for playing hurling on a south Belfast street with a friend.
West Belfast man Thomas Thibodeau received a fixed penalty notice for 85 pounds after he and a friend were confronted by two policemen while playing hurling at Jerusalem Street in the Holyland district at around 5pm on wednesday.
The student disputed PSNI claims that he was warned about his behaviour before the penalty notice was issued.
“I thought it was a joke at the start,” he said. “I could not take it seriously that she was trying to do me with disorderly behaviour for hitting a hurling ball.”
“There were people playing football and throwing an American football on the street and i doubt any of them were handed a caution,” the 20-year-old added. He also asked if police stop “as many people carrying hockey sticks and cricket bats.”
Sinn Fein said the party is aware of other incidents when people holding hurls were stopped by police. In one, a 19-year-old man refused to hand over his hurl after he was approached by police in the Finaghy Road north area of west Belfast and told he was not allowed to carry an “offensive weapon.”
In another incident, a 14-year-old girl was stopped by the PSNI as she walked through Ballymurphy in west Belfast and told she could only carry her camogie stick if she had a ball and helmet. After producing a ball she was allowed to go.
Antrim board chairman Jim Murray said: “I thought those days had gone.” It’s something we will be taking up ourselves and we will be arranging a meeting with the PSNI. It’s not on and is taking us back to the dark days.”
Sinn Fein Policing Board spokesman Pat Sheehan said Mr Thibodeau’s experience is not an isolated incident.
“At best there seems to be a degree of ignorance when it comes to the PSNI’s attitude to Gaelic games,” he said.
“At worst this behaviour is a throwback to an attitude which treated all things Irish as alien.
“The PSNI leadership needs to ensure that any hint of discrimination among officers towards Gaelic games is stamped out immediately.”
A spokesman for the PSNI explained their policy by describing the problem with carrying a hurl as the “associated behaviour.. i.e. anti-social behaviour and criminal damage”.