Wednesday 13 December 2017

Row brewing over proposed joint reception for Republic and Northern Ireland football teams

A political storm is brewing over plans for a historic joint reception for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland football teams after both qualified for Euro 2016.
A political storm is brewing over plans for a historic joint reception for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland football teams after both qualified for Euro 2016.

Suzanne Breen

A political storm is brewing over plans for a historic joint reception for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland football teams.

Both sides have qualified for next summer's European Championships in France and a motion is to go before Belfast City Council next week proposing the two teams are honoured at a ground-breaking City Hall event.

However this has been met with resistance by some Unionists.

Councillor Jim Rodgers questioned the motives behind the proposal and said he would prefer "a reception for the British Isles teams which would include England and Wales".

Brian Kingston said the DUP was unlikely to support the motion.

"I welcome the success of four teams from the British Isles qualifying but it would be inappropriate to hold a joint reception for the Northern Ireland squad and a team from another country," he said.

It is the first time in football history that both teams have qualified at the same time.

The motion is being proposed by the SDLP, with Declan Boyle stating it was "a genuine and long-overdue attempt at inclusiveness and reconciliation".

"The reality is that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland support one of the two teams.

"You just don't see local people going to the pub in England or Wales jerseys. Michael O'Neill and Martin O'Neill were born within a few dozen miles of each other in Northern Ireland.

"The Republic has Northern Ireland players in its ranks. We should be celebrating all this. Everybody talks about shared space, well having a joint reception for both teams would show that Belfast City Hall is open to everybody. It would be a great advertisement to the world."

"I'd be surprised if anybody could vote against it."

"In light of this unique situation, where both teams have achieved this international success and brought happiness to their supporters throughout the whole of Ireland regardless of football affiliation or geography, I move that a joint dinner be hosted for both teams."

The motion continues: "In light of recent tragic events in Paris, we need to show that through sport we can rise above conflict and unify people."

Mr Rodgers said that the Ulster Unionists Party would have to discuss the issue before deciding how to vote and feared that the motion was an example of "playing politics with sport".

"If this is the road we are going down, then we must invite the English and Welsh teams as well. Sadly, we can't include Scotland as they didn't qualify. But it should be celebrating the success of the British Isles teams."

DUP councillor Brian Kingston said his party was unlikely to support the motion. "I welcome the success of four teams from the British Isles qualifying but it would be inappropriate to hold a joint reception for the Northern Ireland squad and a team from another country.

Martin O'Neill's side booked their place at Euro 2016 with a 3-1 aggregate play-off victory over Bosnia Herzegovina while Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland topped Group F which also contained Romania and Hungary.

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