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Red card for FIFA on North players' passports

FOREIGN Affairs Minister, Dermot Ahern, has shown world soccer's governing body the red card after they insisted footballers playing for Northern Ireland must hold a valid British passport.

Before each competitive international match each team's players must show their passport to the match commissioner in order to establish they are qualified to play for that country.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, citizens of Northern Ireland are entitled to hold either a British or Irish passport but the Federation of International Football Associations has now ruled they will no longer recognise the latter.

"The fact that a player holds an Irish Republic passport does not demonstrate conclusively, that he or she is eligible to play for Northern Ireland," said a FIFA statement.

FIFA's decision has earned them a stinging rebuke from Mr Ahern who accused them of failing to grasp the simple fundamentals of an international agreement which provide for dual-nationality.

"They appear to be immersing themselves in red tape when they should be giving the red card to this type of bureaucratic nonsense," he said.

"It is a simple fact that if you live in the North you can possess either passport which reflects the reality of the situation on the ground.

"Footballers don't seem to have a problem with this, the Irish Football Association don't appear to have any difficulty with this but someone at FIFA headquarters does."

Mr Ahern said the Irish embassy in Berne has raised the issue with FIFA and European soccer's governing body UEFA two months ago but are still awaiting a response.

"UEFA promised to provide us with a legal viewpoint but have failed to do so. Even a cursory read through the FIFA eligibility rules appears to provide for players representing the one team having different passports.

"We will step up our efforts to secure the legal opinion from UEFA and FIFA - if such an opinion actually exists."

FIFA's decision could actually help Ireland manager Stephen Staunton as Northern Ireland footballers who refuse to take out UK citizenship will have no option but to declare for the Republic if they wish to play international football.

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