Footballers from Derry who choose the Republic of Ireland over the North are likely to have been put off by the prospect of having to observe ‘God Save the Queen’ while standing under ‘the defunct flag of the old unionist regime’, according to the former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Niall Ó Donnghaile.
Mr. Ó Donnghaile made the comments in Seanad Éireann after Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill controversially complained that the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) was poaching players from the North.
The Belfast-native rejected this suggestion and said the likes of James McClean, Shane Duffy and Eunan O’Kane were much more likey to have approached the FAI to volunteer their services for the Republic of Ireland (RoI) than the other way around.
Senator Ó Donnghaile said: “We must ensure we stand and act as guardians of the right of citizens in the North to be full and equal participants in the life of Ireland, including playing for the national soccer side unhindered and without the incessant and relentless abuse that, for example, has been levelled at people from the city of Derry who have dared to pull on the green jersey and do what I contest is an exceptional job for Ireland on the field.
“It is not up to Mr. O’Neill or anyone in the FAI to impose a perceived citizenship on anyone else.”
The Sinn Féin senator went on to suggest the creation of a national soccer team could resolve some of the issues raised by the row.
“An easy solution would be something for which we have called in this Chamber, namely, the creation of an all-Ireland soccer team in line with what happens in boxing, rugby, hockey, cricket and every other sport.
“Another way around it would be for the FAI to engage with young people in the North from an early age in order that these problems and issues will not present in the later stages of people’s careers.
“In many instances, it is not young people’s fault that they have to go through the Irish Football Association’s (IFA) structures in the North.
“That is the system in place. Let us talk about how to resolve this issue and open up participation in FAI sports to citizens across the country.”
Senator Ó Donnghaile said the performance of the United Kingdom’s royalist anthem before Northern Ireland matches represented a significant chill factor that discouraged nationalists from playing for the North.
“The reality is that for very many young people in the North, going to play at Windsor Park under the defunct flag of the old unionist regime and having to stand and observe ‘God Save the Queen’ as an anthem is a cold house. They do not want to do it.”