Chancellor/Vice Chancellor it is a privilege to introduce Danny Murphy, Provincial Secretary and Director of Cumann Luthchleas Gael Uladh, the Ulster Council of the GAA, in recognition of his outstanding and sustained leadership roles in the fields of sport and community relations over several decades.
Danny has had a lifelong association with the GAA from his playing days with the famed Burren club in county Down to his involvement as manager and selector with Down U-21 and senior teams, including the 1994 All Ireland side that claimed the Sam Maguire trophy for the second time inside 4 seasons. Yet arguably it is in the field of sport governance that Danny’s contribution has been most pronounced and has defined a career marked by an unparalleled evolution of the GAA in Ulster, specifically the development of strategic partnerships to address wider social and community issues and a recognition of the role the GAA can perform as a key civic institution in Ireland towards fostering greater community cohesion, better understanding of contrasting cultural identities and a recognition of our shared traditions and heritage. Danny started on the ladder of GAA governance when he served as Assistant Secretary of Down GAA in the early 1980’s before being elected Chairman of Down GAA in 1990 just in time to see Down win the All-Ireland in for a forth time in 1991. In addition to serving as Treasurer, Vice President and Finally President of the Ulster Council of the GAA Danny Murphy became the Chief Executive of Ulster Council of the GAA in 1997.
A former Vice President of the GAA, Danny has also been Chair of several key Central GAA Committees include the first GAA ICT Committee and Committee on the Amateur status of the GAA. Recognising the important family and community elements of the GAA Danny was the driving force behind the GAA’s integration process, which encouraged different male and female Gaelic Games Club to amalgamate at community level in to one overall Club structure this resulted in the 3 organisations (The Ladies Gaelic Football, Camogie and GAA) coming together with one membership structure.
He was also a member of the Ground breaking Strategic Review Committee established to develop a blue print to guide the future of the GAA in 2002. Danny has overseen the development of major infrastructural projects throughout Ireland, notably the redevelopment of Ulster’s nine County Grounds all of which have been upgraded significantly and was also highly involved in the redevelopment of Croke Park. Danny currently leads the ongoing programme of work that will see Casement Park here in Belfast transformed into one of the leading sports stadiums on this island. In the last 6 years Danny has secured more than £120 million worth of investment for Ulster GAA, which in turn has helped secure approximately 3000 full time jobs at a time of much needed employment. He was also a key supporter of the construction of a multi-sports stadium at the former Maze Prison site, which sadly failed to materialize, but again his advocacy on behalf of this project merely reflected his desire to establish enhanced working relationships between all governing bodies of sport in Northern Ireland, principally the Ulster Branch of the IRFU and the Irish Football Association.
Danny also overseen the significant rule change approved by the GAA at its 2008 Congress which saw the Association move from an non sectarian and non racist stance to an active anti sectarian and anti racist policy
Indeed when one considers that it is not very long ago that sport served as something of a proxy for community identity in Northern Ireland, the transformation around how the GAA is now viewed by those that would not typically have formed its membership represents a lasting legacy to the leadership of Danny Murphy. Nowadays young Protestant children are as likely to derive as much enjoyment from playing Gaelic games as their Catholic contemporaries and whilst there is undoubtedly still more work to be done what has been achieved to date has been truly remarkable. Indeed on hearing of the conferment of this honorary doctorate to Danny his close friend and colleague Senator Dr Martin McAleese confirmed that “Danny has led the GAA's community engagement work for over a decade and has played an important role in promoting reconciliation and friendship across the Community.” He continued “Danny has done this work in a quiet and respectful manner and has never sought recognition of any kind and that is why today's award is particularly fitting.”
It is this concept of respect that goes to the heart of Danny Murphy’s unparalleled influence as a sports official in the field of community engagement and activism. A respect borne out of his Irish identity but with an upmost regard for his friends and colleagues, amongst them the Most Reverend Norman Hamilton and former Irish rughby international Trevor Ringland, who display a proud sense of Britishness, the importance of family life, a concern for the welfare of one’s neighbour and a commitment to a shared future in which all are regarded as equal inform and underpin Danny Murphy’s philosophy, his work with the GAA and in wider civic society. Along with President Mary McAleese and Senator McAleese Danny has worked quietly behind the scenes in promoting greater inter-community understanding, through his membership of the Church’s Consortium, and by encouraging the broader GAA membership of the merits of removing aspects of its rules, such as Rule 21, from its statutes and strengthen the organization’s standing in Irish society still further. Danny has also been in the vanguard of the GAA’s transformation from a non-sectarian/non-racist sporting body to an anti-sectarian/anti-racist federation and whilst such a change may appear subtle it is nevertheless reflective of an absolute commitment on the part of the GAA, and by people like Danny Murphy, to the importance of all civic bodies in Northern Ireland playing their part in a better and brighter future for our young people both here and throughout Ireland as a whole.
Thus we are delighted today to recognise Danny Murphy - his vision, his unrelenting desire for improvement and enhancement, his strategic and professional expertise, his honesty and his integrity – and in so doing remind ourselves that it is these qualities upon which a better future for us all is to be founded and encouraged. Upon hearing of this well deserved recognition the First and Deputy First Ministers of the Devolved Assembly confirmed that “Danny has played a significant and important role in promoting reconciliation, tolerance and respect across our Community by outreaching and engaging with many different groups and individuals. We both pay tribute to him and we look forward to working with him in the years ahead.” Indeed Danny has no intention of slowing down as he nears a well earned retirement with plans for a Law degree and a monograph in the pipeline his tireless commitment to self- and community improvement shows little sign of abating.
Thus it is with particular pleasure Vice Chancellor that I present Danny Murphy to you for the award of the Degree of Doctor of the Science, honoris causa.