Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness made a historic visit to Windsor Park last night to watch Derry City take on Linfield and encouraged others to do the same to build community relations.
It was the first time that Mr McGuinness had visited Windsor Park - regarded as the home of the Northern Ireland football team - for fifty years.
For many years throughout the Troubles, many nationalists and republicans avoided games at Windsor Park, which was often the scene of anti-Catholic sectarian chanting. However in recent years, as a result of initiatives by the Irish Football Association, and a zero-tolerance policy on sectarianism, the ground has attracted more nationalist visitors.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ before attending last night’s game, Mr McGuinness said he was “very happy” to travel to Windsor Park.
“I have been a supporter of Derry City all of my life. I am very happy to attend their Setanta Cup match with Linfield at Windsor Park.
“The last time I attended Windsor Park was over fifty years ago, in the company of my late father and brother Paul when Derry City won the Irish Cup after defeating Glentoran in the final,” he said.
The senior Sinn Féin leader also encouraged other nationalists and republicans to visit the Belfast stadium. “I think it is wonderful to see teams from throughout our country compete against each other in the Setanta Cup.
“Encouraging and building sporting and community relationships are very important to me. Games such as this must not only be encouraged but enjoyed,” he said.
Despite his promotion of improving community relations by his visit, Mr McGuinness, a Candystripes fan, was partisan in his hopes for last night’s game.
“I am of course hoping for a Derry victory for Declan and his team, mostly made up of youngsters from Derry, Donegal and the north west,” he said.
The move comes just weeks after First Minister Peter Robinson attended a GAA game alongside Mr McGuinness.