Wednesday 29 March 2017

Dublin poised to hold joint reception for Republic and Northern Ireland football teams following Belfast objections

Republic of Ireland players celebrate during the Euro 2016 play-off victory over Bosnia
Republic of Ireland players celebrate during the Euro 2016 play-off victory over Bosnia

Suzanne Breen

Dublin could be set to host a historic joint reception for the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland football teams following political objection to a civic event in Belfast.

A proposal for the ground-breaking reception to celebrate both teams' success in qualifying for Euro 2016 was due to be debated tomorrow night at a council meeting, but will now be sent for consideration to the strategic policy and resources committee which doesn't meet for another three weeks.

There has already been vigorous opposition to the idea from some unionist councillors and it appears more likely that any reception is more likely to take place in Dublin

Dublin City Council is likely to next week approve a motion to invite the two teams to the Irish capital for a reception.

It is the first time in football history that the two have qualified for the European championships at the same time.

Labour councillor Dermot Lacey  has confirmed that he would be proposing a motion for a joint reception at a council meeting which will be held next Monday.

"When I heard of the SDLP motion in Belfast, I thought it was a great idea and something that we should do down here too," he said.

"There are 16 parties on Dublin City Council but I'm still hopeful that the motion will be approved. I don't think there's anything controversial about it so I'm not anticipating any objections.

"I'm not a nationalist at all. I fully respect everybody's differences. I see this as an all-island concept, not an all-Ireland one, and I hope to get it through."

SDLP councillor Declan Boyle, who is proposing that the reception is staged in Belfast City Hall, has described the unfolding events as "sad and embarrassing".

"It looks like Dublin will have approved the motion and invited the teams while we're still squabbling about it up here," he said.

"I find that sad and embarrassing. I wish the Dublin motion well but it would have been refreshing if Belfast could have led the way on these things for a change. I was hoping the issue of the joint reception could have been sorted this week, certainly on this side of Christmas.

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A row kicked off last week when it was revealed that Councillor Boyle's motion with unionists uniting against it. DUP councillor Brian Kingston said it would be inappropriate for the council to stage the event.

"Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland team is our national team. We have already hosted a very enjoyable reception for them at City Hall."

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers questioned the motive behind the proposal and said he would prefer a reception for "the British Isles teams" which would include England and Wales. "I fear the SDLP is playing politics with sport and I don't like that," he added.

Jim Boyce, the former Irish Football Association president and FIFA vice-president, said that politicians should stay out of sport.

"I've tried consistently to stop politicians from making comments about sport because, sadly, when some of them open their mouths the wrong things come out. It is a great achievement by both countries to reach the finals of the Euros," he said.

"If someone wants to honour the achievements of people in sport, then surely people should put aside their political differences whatever they may be."

Former Northern Ireland player Gerry Armstrong has also supported the proposed joint reception and expressed dismay at the political row.

"I think it's a great idea and whoever came up with it should be applauded," he said. "Unfortunately, politics in Northern Ireland tends to get in the way."

Belfast Telegraph

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