Following recent reports of spontaneous instances of PSNI harassment towards young Gaels carrying hurling sticks across Belfast city, Sinn Fein Youth (Mairéad Farrell Republican Youth Committee) have set about formulating and organising a direct campaign to highlight the clear disregard for Irish sporting heritage and culture from elements within the PSNI.
However, it is common knowledge that this is not a new issue for young nationalists. In July 2009, the then Chief Constable Hugh Orde was forced to clarify the position regarding the PSNI’s attitude to Gaelic Games following an incident in the Waterside area of Derry when a group of teenagers were told that their hurls constituted “offensive weapons”.
At the time policing board member Martina Anderson (MEP) said, “I raised this matter directly with the Police Ombudsman and the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde. “He has now confirmed to me that a hurling stick is not – in itself – regarded as an offensive weapon. “Like any other instrument, it can only be regarded as an offensive weapon if the person in possession of it intended to use it as such. That could be true of a hockey stick or a golf club, just as much as it could be of a hurl. “Any suggestion that police officers would attempt to criminalise Gaelic games would be entirely unacceptable and I hope Hugh Orde’s response will communicated to the rank and file in the PSNI so that there is no repetition of this incident. I also welcome the fact that the local Area Commander has offered to meet the family concerned in order to address their concerns.”
Unfortunately, nearly five years on from this one case, the PSNI continue to discriminate and threaten young hurlers with prosecution for no more than simply going about their business with hurl in hand.
On Saturday March 8th following reports of a 14 year old girl being stopped for possession of a hurl in the Ballymurphy area of West
Belfast, well over 100 attended the “Hurling Is Our Heritage” rally organised by the Mairéad Farrell Sinn Féin Youth Committee. Speaking at the protest policing board member and West Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan said, “As a matter of urgency we will be raising the issue with the PSNI at the highest level. Gerry Kelly and I discussed the issue yesterday and we intend to raise it at the next Policing Board meeting with the Chief Constable and his senior executives.
In early February of this year, an Antrim minor hurler & MFRYC member was harassed by the PSNI in similar circumstances. In this instance, the young man and his friends were approached by four PSNI officers who proceeded to quiz them and later threaten said young man with expulsion from college and told that he would “never leave the country again”. As the Republican Youth of this Island we deem it as our responsibility to highlight this disgraceful approach from the PSNI and to give the youth of our communities a platform to voice their anger.
Mairéad Farrell Republican Youth Committee Chairperson Eóin McShane outlined this anger at the rally & subsequently at a meeting with the most senior PSNI officers in West Belfast on Monday 10th March.
“I met the PSNI on Monday afternoon along with MP for West Belfast Paul Maskey and Belfast Sinn Féin Chairperson Sam Baker. I made our sincere anger and frustration known and the PSNI assured me there and then that they would brief their officers on the issue and carry out internal investigations into the information we received from our public appeal for information, with feedback to follow.”
At the meeting the question about hockey sticks, tennis rackets and the PSNI’s attitude towards other forms of sporting equipment was posed.
“It is my view that the onus is on us as not only as Irish Republicans, but as the voice of the Republican Youth of this city to defend our peers with integrity and to ensure that our culture is at all times respected. Respect and equality are at the fundamental bedrock of what it means to be an Irish Republican.”
It is with regret that we were contacted on Wednesday 12th March around tea time following another recorded approach from PSNI officers in similar circumstances, this time however, in the Holylands area of South Belfast. In this instance, the PSNI threatened a group of young males whilst they had a poc about and proceeded to issue one young man with an official PSNI caution for “Disorderly Behavior” for “Playing ‘Hurley’ in Street”.
That evening Sinn Féin activists and supporters took to twitter to outline their condemnation and disgust to what had happened. Pat Sheehan MLA later released a statement and on Thursday (March 13th) appeared on Radio Ulsters’ Talkback programme.
“What happened on Wednesday evening is a despicable act of disregard and disrespect for our national identity. The ‘Hurling Is Our Heritage’ campaign will continue until our national sport is accepted and respected by members of the PSNI” said Eóin McShane.
Urging all gaels and the GAA to endorse the campaign, U21 All-Ireland Hurling finalist & MFRYC member Cónall Morgan said, “It is a very live issue. It is clear from the publicity it has received this week alone that there is a very real sense of frustration at the PSNI right across the board”