Republican Sinn Féin president Ruairi O Bradaigh delivered a letter of protest to the headquarters of the GAA as part of an extremely high-profile demonstration at Saturday’s rugby international at Croke Park in Dublin.

A ring of steel had been thrown up around the north inner city stadium in a huge security operation following outlandish suggestions in the mainstream media that riots could erupt at Croke Park in the manner of the provocative loyalist ‘Love Ulster’ parade through the city centre last year. Garda police raided the homes of a number of known republicans living in the area last week, with some told to stay away from the event.

Most of the controversy centred on the playing of the British national anthem and flying of the Union Jack at Croke Park, the site of the original Bloody Sunday massacre, where British forces fired into the crowded stands of the same stadium 87 years ago.

Other issues included the failure of the British government to make a gesture in memory of the killings, and the continuing symbolic ‘normalisation’ of British rule in the North of Ireland.

While Sinn Féin made no comment ahead of the event, RSF rode a wave of publicity as controversy raged in the national media, and hundreds turned up to support their protest at the grounds.

The Gaelic Athletics Association, which only recently dropped which prevented foreign sporting codes on its grounds, came in for significant criticism for its role in the affair. Other commentators claimed the move represented the ‘maturity’ of the 26 County state in coming to terms with the partition of Ireland.

In his protest letter handed to GAA official Brian Kileen, Mr O Bradaigh said the handling of the rugby clash at Croke Park was designed to make British rule in the North of Ireland appear acceptable.

“We view this event as but one in a series designed to normalise British rule in our country,” he said.

“The dropping of Rule 21 by the GAA, the playing of Gaelic football matches between 26-County police/army teams and teams representing British forces, British royal visits, so- called ‘courtesy’ visits by British naval vessels to 26-County ports, are all part of the agenda of normalising the continued British occupation of Ireland.

“This occupation can never be normal or acceptable and such events will always be opposed by Irish Republicans.

“Pairc an Chrocaigh [Croke Park] is a place of huge cultural and historical significance for the Irish people. The senior All-Ireland hurling and football finals each year are a showcase of which the Irish people are rightly proud and are a symbol of our nationhood. Indeed many of our members are also members of the GAA and rightly take pride in the association’s contribution to the sporting, cultural and social life of communities throughout Ireland and the Irish community abroad.

“The events of Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920 when British forces murdered 14 people still have a deep resonance for the Irish people.

“However the political context within which the events of Bloody Sunday occurred is not a matter of history. In 2007 British rule in Ireland remains a reality. As Irish Republicans we strive for a just and lasting settlement for all of the Irish people. The lesson of Irish history is that British rule must be removed before this can happen.

“Our protest today is to highlight the fact that whilst the British government continues to occupy part of Ireland, the relations between England and Ireland cannot be normal.”

The rendering of ‘God Save the Queen’ was observed with silence in the stadium, but the Irish team appeared to be highly emotionally charged by the event, and emerged easy victors, 43 points to 13.

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© 2007 Irish Republican News