Protests have been organised over an apparent collaboration between the British Army and Irish sportswear firm O’Neills, the primary manufacturer of Gaelic sports jerseys and school sports kits in Ireland.
Lasair Dhearg activists last week carried out a guerrilla postering campaign at bus stops to highlight a deal they say “whitewashes the crimes and pain the British murder machine has inflicted upon the GAA community”.
Among the attacks perpetrated directly against the GAA by British forces are the Bloody Sunday massacre of football fans at Croke Park in 1920; and more recently, the murder of Aidan McAnespie, shot dead by British soldiers on his way to a Gaelic football match in 1988.
Saoradh has also organised a demonstration on Saturday at O’Neills base in Strabane, County Tyrone, to call on the firm to cease its production of products honouring the British military.
Lasair Dhearg spokesperson Aindriú Mac Ruaidhrí said O’Neills has become synonymous with Ireland’s Gaelic games which have long been repressed and criminalised by British colonial forces.
“It therefore isn’t surprising that O’Neills has chosen not to advertise locally, within the communities they profit from, their collaboration with British armed forces. These same communities who have experienced extreme violence and murder at the hands of the British state,” he said.
Ironically, the GAA has made a considerable effort to mark the events of November 21, 1920. On that day, Bloody Sunday, a paramilitary police force consisting of former British soldiers fired at innocent civilians attending a football match, immediately killing 14.
One of those to die was Tipperary GAA player Michael Hogan, shot in the back as he crawled off the Croke Park pitch. The Hogan Stand at the stadium is now named in his honour.
The protest at O’Neills factory in Strabane at 2pm on Saturday takes place exactly one hundred years on from the shocking events of Bloody Sunday. The firm is also accused of refusing to produce commemorative jerseys for Irish martyrs.
A letter from the organisers to O’Neills read: “We highlighted this on some of our social media platforms and we were overwhelmed with the responses of disappointment, hurt and anger at your decision to carry this range of clothing.
“One common theme in the criticisms was that Irish people all over the world have traditionally bought O’Neills clothing as they felt they were supporting a home-grown industry and also wore the clothing as a badge of identity, celebrating their locality, their country and more generally, their Irishness.
“How could a company that has made their fortunes on the goodwill of people who often favoured your clothing out of a sense of genuine patriotism make such a decision. We urge you to think ethically as company and not turn your backs on communities in Ireland and further afield that have suffered at the hands of the British Army.”