The British government may be forced to make a gesture to mark the killing of 14 civilians by British Crown forces at Croke Park in 1920 when British Direct Ruler Peter Hain attends the Ireland v England rugby match there next week.

Republicans are set to mount a protest at the match, which is also controversially expected to see the Union Jack raised and the British national anthem played at the home of Gaelic sports for the first time.

Since the massacre, no British minister or representative has attended the stadium in north Dublin, the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletics Association and a citadel for Irish sport and culture.

The shootings took place on November 21st, 1920, known as Bloody Sunday. Crown forces converged on Croke Park with the declared intention of searching male spectators as they left a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary.

Instead, RIC police began firing randomly at the crowd inside the stadium, killing seven people immediately and fatally wounding five more. In the panic that followed, two people were trampled to death by the crowd. Among the dead was Tipperary footballer Michael Hogan, after whom the Hogan Stand is named.

Mr Hain declined to speculate on the nature of a possible act of commemoration or if it would involve laying a wreath in memory of those who died. Speaking in Washington, where he has been briefing the Bush administration and US legislators on the political situation in the North, he said that both the Dublin and London governments believed his attendance at next week’s game was significant.

“The Taoiseach has invited me personally. The prime minister has asked me to go and I’ve changed my diary with some difficulty to attend. And I’m looking forward to it, backing Ireland to beat England,” said Hain.

Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson accused the British government of ‘monumental stupidity’ in contemplating the wreath-laying ceremony:

“I sincerely hope this plan is dropped immediately, as it would outrage thousands of rugby fans, not only in Northern Ireland but also across this island,” he said.

Republican Sinn Féin warned that playing the rugby match at Croke Park was “part of a process to normalise the occupation of Ireland”.

Confirming the party’s plans to hold a demonstration at the venue, Des Dalton, RSF’s vice-president, said: “The political symbolism of inviting the national team of a country which forcibly occupies part of Ireland to Croke Park is something Irish republicans are determined to publicly protest against.”

We have a favour to ask

We want to keep our publication as available as we can, so we need to ask for your help. Irish Republican News takes time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe it makes a difference. If everyone who reads our website helps fund it, our future would be much more secure.

For as little as £1, you can support Irish Republican News – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

© 2007 Irish Republican News