Tuesday 22 January 2019

Don Mullan: 'McClean deserves support in conscientious stance on poppy'

James McClean. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
James McClean. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Don Mullan

For seven years, a vocal minority of Premier League and Championship fans have subjected James McClean to annual abuse around the Armistice Day commemorations over his decision not wear the Royal British Legion poppy.

Whether one agrees with him or not, his right to opt out of wearing the poppy based on his beliefs and conscience should not only be respected but defended.

The poppy is a symbol adopted by the Royal British Legion to honour the fallen of all British military campaigns.

It is not exclusive to commemorating the fallen of World War I and World War II, conflicts in which thousands of Irishmen perished alongside their British comrades.  

There are wars that the British military have engaged in that Irish and other nationalities, in conscience, cannot support.

This goes beyond anti-British sentiment.  It includes, yes, the British campaign in Ireland, but also Palestine, the Malvinas/Falklands War and the illegal invasion of Iraq, predicated as it was on lies.

James McClean, therefore, in not wearing a poppy is exercising a right that even the Royal British Legion respects. The right to freely choose. The right to be a conscientious objector.

Far more offensive than McClean choosing not to wear a poppy has been images circulating in recent days of British nationalists wearing the poppy while giving the Nazi salute and sporting swastika tattoos.

Let's shift focus for a moment and imagine if the Easter Lily (a popular symbol for Irish Republicans to commemorate the fallen of the 1916 Easter Rising and other campaigns against British rule in Ireland) was adopted by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and the League of Ireland, with the expectation that it should be emblazoned as a corporate brand on team jerseys throughout Ireland.

Imagine if a young English footballer playing for a League of Ireland team showed the same courage as McClean and opted out of wearing it for personal conscientious reasons. Would we condemn him as being disrespectful? I sincerely hope not.

And I would hope we Irish people would support his right to say, as James McClean consistently says, "Thank you, but no thanks." I for one would certainly support his right.

There are many British people who refuse to wear the Royal British Legion poppy.

Some prefer to wear the white poppy, considering it a more inclusive symbol honouring as it does all victims of conflict, including innocent civilians who, more and more, are the "collateral damage" of global conflicts.

It would be good to hear understanding voices throughout Britain and Europe raised in support of McClean's right to be a conscientious objector.

Where is the FA? Where is the PFA? Where is the FAI?

Where is Uefa? Where is Fifa? Where is the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace?

Where is the British prime minister? Where is the leader of the opposition?

Where is the Taoiseach and Irish Minister for Sport?

Where is the Archbishop of Canterbury? Where is the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster?

In all the annual furore, I am left wondering why the young Irishman is left so isolated, especially in the face of vile and anti-Irish abuse, with few having the courage to defend his absolute right to follow his conscience.

The English FA successfully challenged Fifa's ban on the right of its national teams to wear the Royal British Legion poppy.

Fifa must now be asked to intervene in defence of footballers throughout British leagues to have the right to choose freely whether they wish to wear a symbol that is broader than commemorating the fallen of World War I and World War II.

Irish Independent

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