At the council’s monthly meeting on Thursday, September 22, Councilor Clement Cuthbertson was invited to apologize for comments he made on social media in August claiming “the GAA still idolises convicted terrorists”.
His comments were made in relation to the Francie Hughes Memorial Tournament for children aged seven and a half and under. The tournament is named after the respected former chairman of Coalisland Na Fianna who shares his name with one of the 1981 IRA hunger strikers.
Speaking at the meeting, Torrent councilors Dan Kerr and Malachy Quinn conveyed what they said was the hurt and anger the comments had caused in Coalisland and called on the DUP councilor to apologise.
UUP Councilor Mark Glasgow also issued a statement criticizing the tournament but has previously retracted his comments and apologized.
“On August 9, two unionist councilors made outrageous and embarrassing comments about my local GAA club,” said Councilor Kerr.
“Councillor Cuthbertson’s obsession with attacking anything remotely Irish seems to have led to him making a fool of himself while another Unionist councillor, without checking the facts, released statements to try to outdo him . Councilor Cuthbertson clearly spends his days scrolling social media looking for something to be angry about.
“This obsession with demonizing our culture has led to Councilor Cuthbertson attacking Coalisland a few times now and I call on him to explain how this embarrassing incident was allowed to happen and ask him to apologize to Coalisland Na Fianna and the Hughes family and stop attacking. my culture.”
SDLP group leader, Councilor Malachy Quinn told the chamber that the comments and lack of apology had caused a lot of anger in Coalisland and said the comments had “brought the council into disrepute”.
“There was a lot of anger in relation to these comments and more about the fact that he has not yet apologized for them,” said Councilor Quinn.
“He attacked people attending the event and the teams taking part, it wasn’t just one isolated incident and I got a lot of calls expressing anger that day.
“In my opinion, it brought the council into disrepute as this was a councilor attacking a local GAA event. Simple research would have shown that that is not what he claimed and I think it would be appropriate for the councilor to apologize for those comments.”
In response, Cllr Cuthbertson said he would not apologize and referred to pictures from two years ago, shared on social media, which appeared to show people at Dungannon Thomas Carke GAC that the social distancing guidelines in their place at the time and it is alleged that they used sectarian language.
“I will not apologize to the GAA. The GAA continues to idolize terrorists, whether that was in recent years, or 100 years ago,” said Councilor Cuthbertson.
“Just when we’re talking about social media, my feed flashed to two years ago today where Thomas Clarke supporters, and members of the public wearing Thomas Clarke shirts, were on video singing a sectarian, misogynist song . There is still no apology for this.”
At this point Councilor Corry told Cllr Cuthbertson “we are not here to break up organisations” and asked him to address the matter in question.
He told her he was responding as requested and went on to say that the GAA had “many tournaments named after the IRA” telling the chamber “the list goes on”.
The Chairman then told Councilor Cuthbertson that these issues had been raised previously so he would switch off his microphone and asked if the chamber “doesn’t want to hear about the past and how the GAA idolises terrorists” .
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The Council’s chief executive, Adrian McCreesh intervened at this point reminding the members that “the Chairman’s judgment is final”.
Quickly ending the discussion, Cllr Corry told Cllr Cuthbertson that he had been invited to address the matter in question. “It’s clear you’re not going to do that, so I’m going to move on,” said the Chairman.
Adam Morton, Local Democracy Reporting Service