by Stephen McCourt
In the heart of the vibrant communities of North Belfast, the lack of dedicated Gaelic games pitches has cast a shadow over the rapidly growing interest and participation in our cherished codes. Belfast City Council, as the custodian of public sporting facilities, has a vital role to play in providing and maintaining inclusive and accessible spaces for all sports. This institution has a responsibility to meet the needs of their evolving sporting landscape. Recent developments underscore the alarming gap between the promises made and the pitches provided, leaving local clubs grappling with reality of having no dedicated facilities. The urgency to address this issue is further heightened by the impending integration of the GAA, LGFA, and Camogie Association, which demands a proactive approach to create fair and inclusive facility development.
In an era of expanding Gaelic games participation, the strategy set forth by Belfast City Council a decade ago has fallen short of adequately meeting the demand for proper pitches. The essence of Gaelic games thrives on community engagement and inclusivity, yet the inability to provide suitable facilities undermines these values. The North Belfast area needs multiple spaces where local Gaels can play their games. The need is no longer up for debate.
The growing momentum of Gaelic games across the Council area calls for visionary action. With the integration of associations on the horizon, the need for dedicated Gaelic games pitches will only intensify. The unity of GAA, LGFA, and Camogie Association will herald an era of shared goals and greater cohesion, requiring appropriate infrastructure to accommodate the combined demand. Belfast City Council must seize this opportunity to pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable future for all service users.
To address this issue effectively, political will and commitment from Belfast City Council is required. It is crucial for Council to recognise the importance of Gaelic games in our community and the need for equitable resource allocation. By demonstrating their commitment to investing in suitable facilities, Council and its Councillors can pave the way for the growth and inclusivity of Gaelic football, hurling, and camogie in North Belfast.
The concept of parity of esteem cannot be underscored enough. It is imperative that local clubs are treated with fairness and impartiality, regardless of the sport they represent. The prioritisation of a single-sex soccer club with a significantly smaller membership over a thriving Gaelic games club with diverse participation is a disheartening reality facing Gaelic games clubs in North Belfast. This must be rectified by Council laying out the objective criteria for securing pitch developments. The demand for dedicated Gaelic games pitches should be met with a sense of urgency and a collaborative spirit between Councils and local clubs. As a first step, Belfast City Council should grasp the opportunity to create Gaelic games pitches in the Grove, Alexandra Park and Mallusk. This would facilitate local clubs Ardoyne, Pearses’ and Wolfe Tones in providing for their current membership bases and expanding their current offering in a sustainable way.
As the vibrant communities of North Belfast and beyond embrace Gaelic games as an integral part of their cultural identity, Belfast City Council must rise to the occasion. The time has come to translate promises into action, to invest in the growth and development of Gaelic games, and to create an environment where every athlete, regardless of gender, age, or background, can thrive. Gaelic games have always held a prominent place within Irish culture, serving as a medium that unites communities and encourages camaraderie. It is no longer feasible for Gaels to rely on friendly landowners to create playing pitches, but as rate payers and service users, they are entitled access the same level of development as other sporting codes within the City Council’s investment framework.
Club members must harness their passion and commitment not only for the sport but also as catalysts for change within their community. Through determined activism, they can embark on a mission to advocate and create the necessary conditions for the development of Gaelic games facilities by engaging with the Belfast City Council. Their unified efforts, fuelled by a shared vision, can transform them into formidable advocates, leveraging their influence to drive the establishment of dedicated facilities that will not only nurture their beloved sport but also serve as vital community spaces. By channelling their dedication into lobbying and advocacy, these individuals are not just contributing to the growth of Gaelic games; they are actively shaping the future of their community and fostering a legacy for the Gaels who follow.