New film showcases project which brings together communities on the Island of Ireland

Left to Right - Diarmaid Marsden (Head of Club and Community Development, Ulster GAA), Alison Grundle, Brian McAvoy (CEO, Ulster GAA), Prof Colin Coulter (Maynooth University), Prof Pete Shirlow (Director, Institute of Irish Studies) , Ian Marshall OBE (Queen's University, Belfast), Geraldine McTavish (GAA Diversity and Inclusion officer), Michael Geoghegan (Vice President, Ulster GAA)

A new film has been launched today (Wednesday 10 July) which showcases a successful project led by the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies and the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).

The project Thinking Futures: Building Recognition, seeks to remove barriers to discussion, discourse and debate, and aims to foster parity of esteem and mutual respect between communities.

Launched last year (shortly before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement) Thinking Futures saw four events, open to people from all communities in each province of Ireland: Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht.

These events brought together representatives of the pro-Union community in Northern Ireland with those of the GAA to talk about identities, challenging sectarianism and what the future holds for the Island of Ireland in a post-Brexit world.

One participant said: “Coming here with an open mind and speaking to people from different backgrounds with different ideas and perspectives made me think about ways we can progress in the future and all come together for a better Ireland.”

Overall, those involved in discussions across the four events agreed that the core values of anti-sectarianism and respect were key to developing the next generation of reconciliation on the Island of Ireland.

The GAA is Ireland’s biggest sporting organisation with 1,600 clubs in all 32 counties in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It encourages the playing of Gaelic sports, such as Gaelic football and hurling, on an amateur basis and also works where there are large Irish communities around the world where there almost 500 active clubs.

Commenting ahead of the initiative, Professor Peter Shirlow, Director of the Institute of Irish Studies said: “At the University of Liverpool we’re really pleased to have helped facilitate a project which reduced barriers between communities and showed that we can create a stronger inter-community voice that challenges prejudiced behaviour and attitudes.

“Conversations where people can share their lived experience do much to aid the GAA community in developing an understanding of barriers to engagement and participation.  As project participants agreed, prejudice is rarely based on fact, but conversations and events such as these narrow the ground between communities and provides new and healthy ways communities can understand each other.”

GAA President Jarlath Burns said: “The Thinking Futures Project was an extremely beneficial initiative and one that participants found both enlightening and educational. It helped facilitate and foster conversations around the future direction of the island and its people, which may not otherwise happen organically.

“The co-operation of both the University of Liverpool and the Department of Foreign Affairs helped us to bring the programme to all four provinces and afforded those involved the opportunity to better understand the nuances and challenges that this topic of discussion is going to give rise to in the months and years ahead. We can only be better for that.

“I laud all of those who engaged and I look forward to future collaborations of this kind which reflect our values of diversity and inclusion and bolster our efforts to connect with those communities who may not be familiar with our games and activities.”

Brian McAvoy, Ulster GAA CEO and Provincial Secretary said:  “Inclusiveness is a core value of the GAA and this must be reflected in our behaviour and in our actions.  ‘Where We All Belong’ is the mantra of the Association; ‘A Future for All’ is the title of Ulster GAA’s current Strategic Plan.  These are much more than words.  They are a living embodiment of what we stand for and of our onward direction of travel.

“The ‘Thinking Futures ‘Project is an integral part of that journey.  It has taken us on a path of learning, shared understanding and mutual respect.  Our deliberations have demonstrated that most people simply want to enjoy a better future for all and dialogue is an integral part of achieving that goal.  At a time when the constitutional arrangements on this island face an uncertain future, these conversations are more important than ever.”

You can watch the full film and vox pops with participants here.