Wednesday 18 October 2017

Taoiseach calls for all-Ireland soccer team to play England in children’s charity match

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Michael McHugh

AN ALL-IRELAND soccer team should take on England every two years to raise money for children, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has suggested.

The games could be played at Wembley in London or Croke Park in Dublin and could help fund research and facilities at specialist hospitals in Belfast and Dublin.

Mr Kenny said the idea could be attractive to everyone.

"It would be a gesture from the sports people that would have a profound impact," he added.

Queen Elizabeth visited Croke Park in 2011 as part of a trip aimed at helping to reconcile Ireland and Britain.

Mr Kenny was in Armagh City at a conference on sport boosting reconciliation in the North.

He said the Government wanted to build a hospital for all the children of the island of Ireland.

"We could take on the might of England entirely for charity, for the children's hospitals (of Belfast and Dublin), for the children of the island, for research and development of what can impact on their little lives," he added.

"It is just a thought, it might be something that could become a reality."

He was asked whether he would be involving Prime Minister David Cameron.

"The Prime Minister is a very engaging person but this is for the sporting organisations.

"The sport is about the children of the island. Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if we could have an all-island soccer team playing England, perhaps on a bi-annual basis, playing in Ireland and England, the purpose of which would be the development of research and the development of both children's hospitals on the island of Ireland."

He said it could be a unique integration of sport and services for the children of Ireland.

Irish Football Association president Jim Shaw said: "There is no objection to it. It would be very difficult to organise it, to get these sort of players from the two associations.

"It is a difficult proposition but I am sure at some level it can be achieved if the desire is there."

The sporting codes of rugby, soccer and Gaelic Games came together for a special conference on reconciling Northern Ireland's divided communities through sport today.

The meeting was also attended by Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Eamon Gilmore, Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Mr Kenny suggested the quartet attend games in Belfast and Dublin, of whatever code, to show they can build on what sporting organisations are doing.

Mr Robinson said sport can be the "bonding agent" which leaves no barriers.

"I want the Northern Ireland of tomorrow to be a place in which everyone can live, where they can learn, work and socialise free from prejudice and free from hatred. Where better to start than on our playing fields and arenas?" he added.

In July 1973 Brazil played a team made up of Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland internationals. Brazil won by four goals to three.

The match was played at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland and intended as a gesture of friendship.

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