Calls have been made for a GAA club to apologise to a former Catholic police officer who claimed he was spurned by his team-mates and club officials after joining the PSNI.
Peadar Heffron suffered devastating injuries when he was targeted in an under-car bomb attack in January 2010 as he drove to work at Grosvenor Road police station in Belfast.
The blast caused severe damage to his lower body and his right leg had to be amputated.
Now confined to a wheelchair and forced to use urostomy and colostomy bags, the former Gaelic football player has spoken publicly for the first time of his anger at those responsible for the attack.
In a hard-hitting interview with GAA pundit and columnist Joe Brolly in the Sunday Independent, Peadar also opened up about how he was ostracised by his former club, Creggan Kickhams GAC, when he announced plans to join the newly formed PSNI in 2002.
And he claimed that, in the seven years since the brutal attack, the club has never attempted to make amends.
Creggan Kickhams, based near Randalstown, Co Antrim, told the News Letter yesterday it did not wish to comment on Peadar’s remarks.
Meanwhile, the Ulster GAA Council issued a statement reiterating its “long-standing and publicly stated policy of opposition to violence”, adding: “It is difficult to understand how anybody could attack a fellow human being in this way.”
But reconciliation activist and lawyer Trevor Ringland has said the onus is on Peadar’s former club to “take a hard look at itself”, reach out to its former player and issue an apology.
In a tweet yesterday, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton paid tribute to Peader, stating: “Powerful account by Peadar Heffron of journey & sacrifice – he attempted to serve his community within his community.”
Peadar, an avid Irish language speaker, had played Gaelic football for Creggan Kickhams since he was a child.
He was a rising star in the club, having helped them to win the Antrim intermediate championship.
But that would all change at the age of 25 when he made the fateful decision to join the PSNI.
Mr Ringland told the News Letter that Peadar had “paid a heavy price for attempting to make Northern Ireland a better place”.
He added: “He was marginalised by those within his own club and then suffered a horrific attack at the hands of dissident republicans.
“It is right for him to challenge the attitudes of those who are stuck in the past.
“The club needs to challenge its prejudices and say sorry for the way Peadar was treated.”
However, Mr Ringland also cautioned against “allowing the actions of one club to define the entire GAA”.
He added: “If the club is not willing to take steps to reach out to Peadar, I am sure there are others in the GAA community who are willing do it.
“There are many clubs across Northern Ireland who do a lot of good work to build bridges and bring young people from different backgrounds together.”
In a statement issued to the News Letter yesterday evening, the Ulster GAA Council said that, since the removal of Rule 21 by the GAA Congress (which banned members of the British security forces from membership of the organisation), it has ” worked closely with the PSNI to promote a range of initiatives to benefit all of the community”.
A spokesperson added: “In this time, many GAA members have joined the PSNI with advertisements for PSNI recruitment carried in GAA publications, including All-Ireland finals match programmes.”
The Province’s ruling GAA body also said it was working with Peadar and other members of the PSNI in “developing better relationships for all in our society”.
It added that in recent weeks an International Police Gaelic football tournament involving four police teams (An Garda Síochána, London Metropolitan Police, New York Police Department, and the PSNI) was held in Belfast.
“This would not have been possible some years ago, which reflects the positive ongoing efforts of the GAA and PSNI,” a spokesperson added.
As a consequence of his life-changing injuries Peadar, now in his early 40s, was invalided out of the PSNI, and is still suffering the after-effects of the blast.
Pieces of foam from his car seat and other shrapnel have been making their way out of his body, most recently last December when a rusty lump of metal was removed from his pelvis by the surgeons.
Although a prosthetic was not possible due to the extent of the damage caused by the explosion, Peadar remains involved in sport, playing wheelchair basketball, tennis and hurling.
When asked about his life, Peadar said: “It’s a life. But it’s not my life.”
Now living in north Down, he added: “When I joined the PSNI we were promised peace. A new beginning. I thought I’d remain part of my community, a community I loved.
“I thought I’d play football for Creggan. That we’d have children and I’d take the underage teams. Now I’m in a wheelchair. It wasn’t supposed to happen.”