Monday 9 December 2019

Northern Ireland may be forced to stop using 'God Save The Queen' as their anthem

Northern Ireland players celebrate qualification for Euro 2016
Northern Ireland players celebrate qualification for Euro 2016

It has been one of the most divisive issues surrounding the Northern Ireland international football team.

Arguments have been raging for years over the playing of ‘God Save The Queen’ as the national anthem prior to Northern Ireland games.

Players, fans and pundits have all had their say.

Many are keen to keep it — proud of the fact they are standing for Queen and country.

Others, mostly from the nationalist community, insist it is not an anthem that represents them and they would prefer Northern Ireland to have their own — just like Scotland plays ‘Flower of Scotland’ and Wales ‘Land of our Fathers’ before every international.

The Irish FA seem reluctant for any immediate change — this despite the fact  if you look at the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games team, ‘Danny Boy’ is their official anthem

They claim that ‘God Save the Queen’ is the national anthem of Northern Ireland and until that changes — a decision which would have to be made by MLAs at Stormont — the status quo will continue.

Only a few years ago Northern Ireland legend Gerry Armstrong was commissioned to conduct an investigation to see if the changing of ‘God Save the Queen’ would prevent players from the nationalist community from opting for the Republic of Ireland. The overwhelming response was that changing the anthem would not persuade them to stay with Northern Ireland.

However, politicians may now decide what anthem is played when Northern Ireland perform at this year’s Euro finals in France.

For a decision by Chesterfield Labour MP Toby Perkins to bring a bill to Parliament on January 13  which will question the playing of ‘God Save the Queen’ at all England sporting events, could have serious implications in Northern Ireland.

He is asking his fellow members to debate the issue and then vote on whether England should have their own anthem. If he is successful, and ‘God Save the Queen’ is disbanded with, then there would be a public consultation on what song the people of England would prefer.

Prime Minister David Cameron has previously stated he would like ‘Jerusalem’ as the new English national anthem while others prefer ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.

Perkins insists he has no major issue with ‘God Save the Queen’, it’s just it is the national anthem of the UK and not England.

A keen sportsman, Perkins says: “I have nothing against ‘God Save the Queen’ but that is the national anthem of the United Kingdom.

“England is a component part of the UK but it competes as a country in its own right and I think a song that celebrated England rather than Britain would be more appropriate.

“There has been much talk about the union in recent years. I am English and I am British and I am proud of both of these things but they are not the same thing.

“And so I think part of the new settlement for Britain in these times of devolution is to more formally recognise that England and Britain are different entities and, just as we have different flags, so we should have a discussion about having a song for England.”

The English National Anthem Bill on paper has nothing to do with Northern Ireland but, as the Irish FA concede, it’s very unlikely Northern Ireland would continue with ‘God Save the Queen’ if they were the only country from the UK left using it ahead of international fixtures.

Irish FA President Jim Shaw (above)says: “The national anthem debate is one of the most divisive in our history. We’ve been debating it for years. If we keep it, we annoy people and we know if it goes, there will be plenty of angry supporters.

“But it’s not for the Irish FA to decide what the national athem of Northern Ireland is. That is for the devolved government at Stormont. The Scots and Welsh governments decided to change when they came into power. We didn’t.

“I think it would be very difficult for us to continue using ‘God Save the Queen’ if the English decide they want a new anthem. I think we would be duty bound to follow suit.”

As the Irish FA continue preparations for their first ever appearance at the Euro 2016 finals, this will be an undue headache they don’t need — especially if the bill goes through.

It is unclear whether Perkins has the support of the Commons but certainly regarding public polls, it seems change is wanted with  ‘Jerusalem’ the big favourite.

Danny Boy has often been put forward as a Northern Ireland alternative, while there are many fans who would like football fanatic and Snow Patrol front man Gary Lighbody to pen a new anthem.

However with Snow Patrol set to go on a huge tour, it’s unlikely he would have time.

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