Following the Good Friday Agreement, Crossmaglen Rangers GAA club in Armagh hope land commandeered for an extension to a British Army security base will be returned.

Since 1972 British Army helicopters have been flying in and out of the security base in Crossmaglen, County Armagh. To the anger of the Crossmaglen Rangers Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club, the British Army seized some of their land for a helicopter pad in the early 1970s. 

Since then the club has campaigned without success for the removal of the British Army post and the return of their land. The Army say they will only remove the post if the security situation demands it.

Suggestions that the British Army might be persuaded to leave the base if the GAA votes to remove Rule 21 were treated with scorn in Crossmaglen.

It’s two separate issues altogether.

Rule 21 Rule 21 bans members of the British army and police-force can as well as members of the security forces in Northern Ireland from joining GAA clubs and taking part in Gaelic games.

Clubs and county boards within the North will discuss the removal of Rule 21 before deciding which way to vote. Manager of the Down senior football team Pete McGrath is one of the leading figures who believe the time is right for change.

I don’t think the GAA is diminished by the continued existence of the rule, but I do feel that the time is now right given the tremendous potential that exists politically, socially and every other way, I think the time is now right for the GAA to take a very definite strong, courageous, positive look at it with a view to change.

A special GAA congress to discuss the removal of Rule 21 is due to be held in May 1998 a week after the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. By then it might also be clear that the British Army is also about to end its occupation of the Gaelic grounds in Crossmaglen.  

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 20 April 1998. The reporter is Brendan Wright.