The sponsors of a new cup competition that will be played between the winners of the League of Ireland and the Irish League have expressed the hope that in the wake of Lyra McKee's murder in Derry football can be used to bring the people of Ireland together.
Unite Regional Secretary, Jackie Pollock, said his union was delighted to sponsor the new ‘Unite the Union Champions Cup’ for three years.
“At a time when Brexit has the potential to sow division, Unite shows how ordinary people can come together. In the context of recent events, including the murder of Lyra McKee, Unite is determined to help foster the peace process, and we believe football can be central to that.
“Local football clubs bring our communities together, North and South. These clubs all have their own identities and links into their local communities, with all the opportunities and challenges this brings.
“As well as seeking to advance respect for different cultures, and unity in sport and community development, Unite aims to proactively tackle issues that can cause division”, said Mr. Pollock.
The new competition will see the SSE Airtricity League Champions play the winners of the Danske Bank Premiership in a two-legged final.
The first edition of the competition will take place in November 2019.
Unite have signed a three-year deal to sponsor the cross-border tournament with €50,000 set to go to the winners, €25,000 for the runners-up and a further €25,000 ring-fenced for community-based projects in the competing team’s local areas.
The first edition of the competition will feature current Danske Bank Premiership Champions Linfield and they will face the 2019 Champions of the SSE Airtricity League, with the season set to conclude in October.
Fran Gavin, FAI Competitions Director, said: "We're delighted to formally announce the Unite the Union Champions Cup and we're extremely excited for the competition to begin.
"I'd like to thank the IFA, in particular Patrick Nelson, who have been fantastic to work with on the project and it's great to see a cross-border tournament return. The clubs and players in the SSE Airtricity League are incredibly excited to see a competition like this back on the domestic calendar.
"I'd also like to thank Unite, in particular Brendan Ogle and his colleagues, for their sponsorship of the tournament and the community work they're committed to as part of the competition, both north and south of the border. It's a unique sponsorship and we're looking forward to help promote Unite's equality agenda."
Patrick Nelson, Chief Executive of the Irish FA, said: “This is a fantastic new cross-border competition and one that I am sure will capture the imagination of football fans right across the island of Ireland.
“I would like to thank Unite the Union for their sponsorship, especially for ring-fencing a significant sum for community projects. This is a competition that will bring people together and one that will have lasting benefits for clubs as well as fans.”
Brendan Ogle, Senior Officer in the Republic of Ireland for Unite, said: "Our union has a strong anti-sectarian and anti-racist ethos, and we support gender and sexual equality campaigns.
We salute the work done by civil society organisations to tackle racism in sport, and we hope to work with such groups to promote equality and diversity through the Champions Cup.
"Local communities and local clubs need support now more than ever, and Unite wants to provide some of that support while sending a clear message: we can celebrate our own identities while respecting others."