James McClean, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland: eligibility and divided sympathies

IrelandImage: NASA Goddard

Monsieur Salut writes: it began, so far as Salut! Sunderland was concerned, as a straightforward defence of James McClean’s decision to make himself available for Republic of Ireland selection and not Northern Ireland. It provoked the longest and most animated discussion thread in months. As a gesture of goodwill, I have removed an anecdote from the original article; it dealt with lowlife sectarianism but although the incident occurred at Windsor Park, home of NI football, it concerned a club, not international, game. Otherwise, I stand by the thrust of my article. But I did invite Andrew Rodgers, easily the most rational of my critics from the other side of the Irish Sea, to set out his own views …

As many Northern Ireland supporters will relate to, it is more than often the case that when reading an article regarding the GAWA (the collective name often associated with our supporters) or our team, whether online or in print, the underlying message is a picture of negativity.

Whether it be stories of our supporters singing sectarian songs, our former players being forced off social media sites, a call for an all conquering All-Ireland team to be formed or my personal favourite, a former media personality criticising us due to him not being offered “any kind of greeting by our supporters”, who also failed to “engage in a bit of craic” with him when attending Windsor Park (I kid you not on the last point), the portrayal is usually not good.

Therefore, it was most welcoming when I opened my inbox to find mail from M Salut asking if I would like to contribute to his site and offer the views of a Northern Ireland football fanatic (my wife’s words, not mine).

My immediate thoughts were as to why any Sunderland fan would have even a passing interest into the views of a fan supporting a neighbouring country that has, let’s face it, hardly set the world on fire of late.

Perhaps they don’t; however, if they are anyway like myself, once they know the topic is football they will automatically be drawn in, no matter which aspect of the game is being discussed.

The Northern Ireland – Sunderland Connection

As a youngster, my earliest introduction to NI-Sunderland connections came during a local end-of-season five-a-aside competition, when one of the most talented teams competing were named Roker Roar.

On questioning the team’s name, I soon learnt that a number of Northern Ireland legends, such as Billy Bingham, Johnny Crossan and Jimmy Nicholl, had adorned the famous shirts of both teams in the past.

They of course have been joined of late by the likes of Phil Gray, George McCartney, Jonny Evans (on loan), our messiah Sir David Healy and obviously Martin O’Neill, one of my personal heroes, who is now of course manager of the Black Cats.

More recently however, another player has been getting all the headlines for his on the field antics, and, unfortunately, off it as well.

The player in question is of course James McClean. A 23-year-old, who less than a year ago was only preparing to sign for Sunderland AFC. and noting how honoured he was to be getting called up to the Northern Ireland senior squad for their forthcoming qualifier against the Faroe Islands..

As the saying goes, what a difference a year makes.

One minute running down the wing at the Brandywell, to doing the same at the Stadium of Light the next. One summer sitting in the Creggan wondering what to do with his time, the next at the European Championships, inside wonderful stadiums and ready to dazzle onlookers with his skills on the pitch.

Only McClean was not waiting to take to the field adorning the kit of the country of his birth and the one he had worn previously as a youth, rather it was that of their near neighbour, the Republic of Ireland.

And it was on this very topic, the switching of allegiances in international football that first drew M Salut’s site to my attention, following his article entitled “Shades of green: Northern Ireland should respect McClean’s Republic of Ireland choice”. An article that was produced in response to quotes made by the former Newcastle and Northern Ireland ace Keith Gillespie on to his thoughts that “if you’re born in Northern Ireland you should not have the option of playing for the Republic”.

Now, I don’t want to spend the rest of this article going through the entire McClean saga; that is something I have already documented in another blog on the matter, which can be viewed using the links below.

What I would prefer to do is provide an insight into the average Northern Ireland supporter’s mindset on the eligibility issue as a whole, something that potentially could affect the existence of the football association that has been represented in the past by world legends such as Best, Blanchflower, Gregg, Jennings and Whiteside.

I guess from the outset, I would like to make it clear that in no way am I attempting to make out that I speak for every Northern Ireland fan out there, or indeed they share the same views as me.

These are simply my own thoughts based upon personal beliefs and my experience of watching Northern Ireland both home and abroad.

The “Defectors” Issue

A quick glance through articles online regarding the eligibility issue throws up names such as Daniel Cairns, Darron Gibson, Eunan O’Kane, Mark Wilson and of course McClean.

Examining the list, one would not be surprised if in future years we hear the question in a pub quiz, “What do they all have in common?”

While the obvious answer may be that they all switched allegiances between NI & the ROI, a more detailed response might be that in addition to the above, none of them was born, or has parents of grandparents born, in the Republic of Ireland.

This may lead to the question, how do they qualify for the Republic?

Well, surprisingly enough it is not the Good Friday Agreement that grants them this “opportunity’”, as a lot of the media continually try to make out. In fact, this option has been available to those born in Northern Ireland since the 1950s, when the Republic changed its Nationality and Citizenship Act to afford anyone Irish nationality from birth on an island-wide basis.

What this effectively did was enable the Republic of Ireland to select any player born on the Island of Ireland, whether they are from Northern Ireland or the Republic itself.

GEORGE BESTAndy Welsh ‘s image of a Northern Ireland legend

NB: I cannot guarantee this, but apparently the rumours that you only have to drink a pint of Guinness to become an Irish National are untrue. Although Tony “I didn’t qualify for Ireland. I was a fraud. A fake Irishman” Cascarino may be able to confirm! (I say in jest!)

With this in mind, the obvious question would be as to why this issue only appears to have arisen now; a fair question indeed!

To understand one possible reason, one has to delve into the history of the Irish Football Association (IFA), one of the oldest in the world and formerly the governing body for football across the entire island of Ireland, and that of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).

According to the FAI’s own official website, the story goes that there were tensions between Northern and Southern Ireland clubs in the early 1900s. After the 1916 Rising and the rise of Nationalism, the “southern affiliates, such as the Leinster FA, began to take an aggressive approach in their dealings with the IFA”, which culminated with them breaking away (hence the nickname the “breakaways”) to form the current Football Association of Ireland.

Indeed, the FAI’s recollection of events around that time were that …

“The matter reached crisis-point when later that year, the IFA reneged on a promise to play the IFA Cup final replay between Shelbourne and Glenavon in Dublin and scheduled the match for Belfast. Shelbourne refused to comply and forfeited the cup. A meeting of southern associations and clubs was arranged and on June 1 1921, the Football Association of the Irish Free State (FAIFS) was formed in Molesworth Hall in Dublin.”

Further examination of the FAI’s website provided some interesting reading, with their “History” Section, which they suspiciously changed around the time of CAS 2010/A/2071 IFA v/ FAI, Kearns & FIFA hearing, stating …

“At the time, both the FAIFS and IFA selected players from all over Ireland meaning that many footballers won caps for both Associations. It wasn’t until 1950 that FIFA intervened.”

and

“1950 was also the year that the problem of players playing for both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland was finally solved, with FIFA directing both Associations to only pick players from within their own boundaries.”

The IFA has long argued that the above statements related to a “gentleman’s agreement” that was in operation between the two Associations, which they presented to the CAS.

Unsurprisingly, however, the FAI denied any such agreement was in place, with their defence stating that …

“In the beginning of the 1950s, the two associations accepted that they could no longer regard all players on the island as being under their jurisdiction and agreed that the IFA was the governing body of football in Northern Ireland and the FAI in the Republic of Ireland. In any event, there was no discussion about the status of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland and FAI has never accepted that Irish citizens could not be selected for its representative teams, whether they were living in Northern Ireland or elsewhere.”

Without any official documentation to prove that an agreement actually existed and the FAI’s refusal to admit such, the CAS had little choice but to rule against the IFA and therefore give a seal of approval for the floodgates to be opened.

Regardless of the decision, however, given the statement made by the FAI on their website and the fact that they did not pick players from the IFA’s jurisdiction until recent times (Alan Kernaghan being one of the first in the ‘90s), it does not seem inconceivable that there was an understanding in place that stopped such selections occurring.

What is also worth noting from the CAS case is that FIFA noted that “the [IFA] is exposed to a one-way situation, where players can choose to play for your association teams but the vice versa is not possible. This circumstance is rather unique and the FIFA Statutes and regulations do not provide for a solution”.

Recognising the unfair disadvantage to the IFA, the FIFA legal committee went as far as inviting the FAI to voluntarily “confine itself to selecting for its association teams Northern Irish players who meet one of the following requirements: a) the player was born in the Republic of Ireland, b) his biological mother or father was born in the Republic of Ireland, c) his grandmother or grandfather was born in the Republic of Ireland, or d) he has lived continuously, for at least two years, in the Republic of Ireland”.

Needless to say the FAI rejected the invitation, leaving us in the current situation.

From a Northern Ireland supporter’s position, this is of extreme concern as it puts the very existence of the IFA at risk; even more so than the fears many have regarding the threat posed to the footballing independence of the four Home Nations by Team GB.

Indeed, with the FAI already in a position to field an All Ireland Team, what is to stop FIFA instructing the FAI and IFA to compete jointly under the banner of Ireland?

To some, this alone may be enough to understand why there is increasing disdain among Northern Ireland supporters towards the FAI. However, if you add in the fact that the latter are now actively targeting members of the IFA youth squads who are showing potential, players in whom they had never previously shown any interest, then a true understanding of the situation can be gained.

In regards to the latter, I believe Dave Hannigan of the Irish Echo summed it up perfectly when he stated:

“Essentially, the FAI are the magpies of underage football, waiting and watching before prowling.”

On a personal note, living in the country we do, I can understand that some players will not feel any form of affinity with the Northern Ireland football team due to their politics. That, I have no issue with. If they declare from the start that they want to represent the FAI, then I wish them all the best.

What I do object to are those who are content to represent the IFA throughout their youth, but then when the time comes to make the step up to the senior squad and tie themselves in, they suddenly develop issues with the anthem sung, the flag flown, and the stadium internationals are played in, while also noting that they have “always wanted to play for the Republic of Ireland” and that this was “their dream”.

To put this in the context of Sunderland AFC, imagine the scenario whereby your club was bringing a lot of youth players through who were born in the local area. These players were happy to play for the team right up until they were about to make the senior squad and then suddenly Newcastle FC came calling.

After the move, the players were then coming out and saying they never wanted to play for Sunderland and their dream was always to play for Newcastle.

Not only that, they didn’t like the flags of your club, made unfounded allegations about the songs that were sung by your fans and stated that the Stadium of Light was a cold house for players with such inclinations.

If any football fan replaced Sunderland AFC in the above with their club/country’s name and Newcastle FC with their nearest rival, I doubt any of them could say honestly that they did not feel sympathy with the position that we in Northern Ireland find ourselves in.

James McClean by Jake


Our Wee Country – a cold house for Catholics?

I can foresee that my words on the subject of eligibility will provoke comments along the lines of Windsor Park being a cold house for Catholics due to the National Anthem being sung and the Union Jack being flown.

Indeed James McClean attempted to justify his decision to switch allegiances, with quotes such as …

“You don’t really feel at home. I think any Catholic would be lying if they said they did feel at home, seeing all those flags and hearing the songs and chants.”

Reading comments like this, I can see how many looking in from the outside could feel some empathy with McClean and players like him from a Nationalist background born in Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately for us Northern Ireland supporters, the media are only too happy to report headline grabbing comments like the above, yet do little to actually investigate whether there is any truth in them.

If they did, then they might have requested McClean explained his comments given the reception the likes of Pat McCourt, Niall McGinn and recent captain Sammy Clinghan get each time they step out onto the Windsor Park pitch in their Northern Ireland shirts.

They may have engaged with Chris Baird who is known to have talked about the good natured “banter” that existed between Northern Ireland players from different community backgrounds and who “genuinely thinks the Northern Ireland fans are something very special”. Or perhaps even a word with his brother who previously stated: “Thanks very much for all the kind words and support for Chris and all the family, it is very much appreciated and just confirms that NI fans are a class act.”

Further to that, they could even have got the views of the likes of current Celtic manager Neil Lennon who previously stated that “fans like Stewart have made the atmosphere at Northern Ireland football games in recent years the envy of fans across not only Europe but World Football’ or Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chulin, who stated that she recognised “the very real efforts that have been made by the IFA to tackle sectarianism at their matches”.

Despite the comments above, I can still take on board that some parts of our community cannot relate to the Union Jack or God Save The Queen. That is only too evident when our teams line up at the beginning of a game and a number of players keep their heads bowed down until the formalities are completed.

In regards to this, I don’t mind putting it on record that it would be my preference if we had our own sporting anthem, similar to that of Scotland and Wales, and a flag to match.

First and foremost I look at myself as being Northern Irish, so why not have something that formally represents our country alone?

Nevertheless, I do not feel that the current flag or anthem should be used as something to try and throw scorn on the IFA or their supporters about.

If Ulster Protestant rugby players and fans can stand in Dublin under the Irish Tricolour, while the Soldier’s Song is blasted out, then why can the same not be done by Ulster Catholics, for the Union Jack and GSTQ?

Yes, we need change in order to break down any perceived barriers, but for that to happen we need players and supporters alike to demonstrate that it is acceptable to respect each others traditions.

Crusades to try and discredit the IFA and its supporters, like the one McClean and certain elements of our media (the Belfast Telegraph’s Amanda Poole springs to mind) appears to be on, will certainly not help to achieve this.

Similarly, by continuing to act like “magpies”, prowling our youth teams looking to take our most glittering prospects, the FAI will only cause further division within our fragile society and cause relations between our supporters to fall to an all time low.

Tcartsba Galf ShiriImage: Kevin Dooley

The Future

Moving forward, we as fans must continue to work hard to ensure that the remarkable transformation we have been part of in the last ten years remains on track.

We need to ensure that the bad old days, when sectarian songs were once the norm in the stands, never return.

To continue to promote Football For All and explore avenues to break down perceived barriers must remain high on our objectives.

This of course will not be easy and for that we need the help of those in the media, whether that be from the mainstream papers to those who write blogs.

Continuing to refer back to incidents in our past, while ignoring were we are currently, will do little, but stir up old prejudices. Quoting 16-year-old kids, who most likely haven’t set foot in a Northern Ireland match, on comments made on social media outlets, needs to be done only after the bigger picture has been examined.

And as for the FAI, well let’s just hope that they do their bit for community relations and work with the IFA to come up with some form of agreement. An example to this might be that the FAI agrees not to select any player that has represented the IFA above U18 level.

Surely the benefits a small step like this would achieve far outweigh any gains the FAI would make by continuing in their guise of the “magpies of underage football”?

* Additional thoughts on NI Football, including James McClean can be found at http://coachers.blogspot.co.uk

Andrew Rodgers, 'Coachers' to friends
** Andrew Rodgers on Andrew Rodgers: my love for football can be partly attributed to childhood memories of my beloved Northern Ireland competing in the 1986 World Cup and the inspirational Liverpool teams of the 80s. Despite hanging his boots up last season, his keen interest in the game has been maintained through his roles of club and league secretary, whilst also following NI at home and, as life permits, abroad.

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39 thoughts on “James McClean, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland: eligibility and divided sympathies”

  1. Andrew,

    re.”What a retweet from a Northern Ireland politician, who has nothing to do with the IFA or indeed Northern Irish football, has to do with the topic above, one can only wonder.”

    Have you read what he said ? Presumably not or you wouldnt have asked the question above. Of course he too could have claimed that he was merely making reference to activities related to the Jack Charlton era – but perhaps he didn’t think anybody would swallow that one – to be fair to Jimbo he at least got that right.

    … I’m looking forward to you telling us that the similairty in racist abuse from Jimbo and what is to be found on OWC is just a coincidence?

    In relation to Norn Iron football I thought they could have snatched it but Finland looked technically pretty good and I think Norn Iron will need to shore up their defence to get anything in Russia.

  2. Hi Sammy,

    I can only be grateful to you for your latest post, which I am sure the majority of readers will see for what it is and only highlights too well your particular agenda.

    What a retweet from a Northern Ireland politician, who has nothing to do with the IFA or indeed Northern Irish football, has to do with the topic above, one can only wonder.

    I guess if I wanted, I could produce numerous links to actions undertaken by republican politicians, which resulted in people of all religions and backgrounds ending up in coffins, however I certainly won’t be belittling myself to those standards; especially if they bring nothing to the eligibility debate.

    It’s further amusing that you have once again attempted to portray me in a negative fashion, yet to my knowledge we have never met for you to be able to judge me or have the grounds to make assumptions on my personal beliefs.

    I trust you enjoyed watching Northern Ireland last night, given your enthusiasm for commenting on matters in regards to them.

  3. This has been an interesting, intelligent debate on what is a sensitive subject and I thank all the contributors for putting their views across in a well argued, civilised manner.

    Malcolm (on behalf of M. Salut who has had more pressing concerns of late.)

  4. Is it coincidence that it disappeared for a week or so, and only came back the other day? I am probably just too paranoid……

  5. I see OWC Facebook have updated their profile pic with a shot from the Dutch V NI match, with orange heavily dominating the photo.
    Is this just coincidence that the update coincides with marching season?
    Nobody objects means nobody thinks it’s a problem…..

  6. Andrew,

    re. “which again I must re-iterate I have no control over and am not in anyway responsible for. ”

    I never suggested you had.

    re. ‘obsesion’ with OWC, is there a better/fairer barometer of Northern Ireland ‘moderate’ fans attitudes you can suggest I refer to?

    Your explanations for the terms (still nothing on taramckers I see) is not accepted either by Daniel above -but clealry and perhaps understandably you stick with it.

    Northern Ireland games are not for me thanks, but I wish them well and hope the IFA can continue with their good work in making Windsor Park as inclusive an environemnt as possible.

    I’m looking forward to a really good season for the boy McClean in red and white and particularly in Green – the latter possibly a step too far for many Northern Ireland fans such as yourself?

  7. Hi Sammy,

    You appear to have an obsession with the OWC website, which again I must re-iterate I have no control over and am not in anyway responsible for.

    I have explained on several occasions the historical context of the terms that you allege to be ‘sectarian/racist’, yet you continually refuse to accept what I know to be fact.

    If anything, I guess I should be humbled that the only thing you can take from my articles to try and undermine me, is some terms that you disagree with, that were not posted by myself and were posted on a website I have no control over.

    To bring the matter to a conclusion, can I suggest that if you believe ‘sectarian/racist’ terms are being used on the site, you take it up with the admin of the site itself or perhaps report them to the appropriate authorities?

    In terms of your comments that I have come on here and argued ‘that all is rosy’, can I suggest, once again, that you actually take the time to ready my article, especially the section ‘The Future’.

    To see how far things have come, why not attend the next home friendly in August?

  8. I have not been on the OWC website for a few years now since it became a subscription site, but I have read terms such as gypies, Mexicans, and beggars on the OWC and from time to time on the Ulster Rugby forums.

    Unfortunately being referred to as a gypsy isn’t the nicest thing, whether anything is meant by it or not. Mexicans I am assuming is those “south of the border”. Whether a certain amount of Northern Irish folk would put themselves in the same place as Americans is not for me to say, but, hey, why not, if it makes them feel good! 🙂

    Beggars. Is that because we were always poor or that the RoI is broke? Tarmackers. I know exactly what is meant by that, and ironically enough, most of the people doing tarnacking down my way would have Northern Irish reg plates.

    I don’t think an English person would put up with being called a “tan” all the time, nor would I put up with being called a “mick” all the time.

    I am sure there are people using the above terms who genuinely think they are only having a bit of fun.

    I suppose you can’t really use the online comments of 15 year olds on Facebook to tar everyone with the same brush.

    Way off topic though.

  9. Andrew,

    “‘Sadly Andrew I’m afraid we are of a similar mind on much of this – I will have to pick a fight with someone else’.

    As I made clear to you a number of times – that remark was made in jest to and as a reflection of our different backgrounds.You have chosen to ignore that presumably for the purposes of deflected.

    Regarding your statement

    “While you may want to try and pour scorn on my character by making unfounded allegations of ‘defending racist/sectarian abuse by Northern Ireland’, I feel confident that anyone who reads any of my articles, and indeed posts, will know that this is not the case.”

    I agree largely with that statement with the exception of your justification of racist/sectariain terminology used against the (southern) Irish.

    I also feel confident that most people reading terms such as gypsies, tarmackers, Mexicans, beggars would rightly conclude that these are racist/sectarian terms – in fact you have now been told this on this site by 2 other individuals.

    You are indeed a reasonable egg in the vast majority of your utterings but have placed yourself in the diffiuclt positon of seekingto defend the indefendisble.

    To suggest that my allegations are unfounded – is to use my favourite D word – disingenuous.

    • Hi Sammy,

      It is quite interesting to see how you are now attempting to distort the content of my posts.

      If you remember correctly the original made on the matter was

      ‘What you have failed to address is that it is deeply uncomfortable for a player to turn out for a team when a section of the support is opposed to his racial or religious/national group. The references on the OWC website to ‘beggars’ and ‘gypsies’ when referring to the South suggests that racial/religious intolerance is not confined to the few. I dont consider myself easily offended but I consider the use of these terms offensive’.

      In reply to this, I provided an explanation of why the terms were aligned to the FAI numerous years ago, which went as follows

      ‘Just to be clear though, the terms ‘beggars’ and ‘gypsies’, were assigned to the Republic of Ireland team during the Charlton era when they were ‘begging’ any player under the sun to play for them.

      If you want to read more into it, then I guess there is little I can say, but that is the historical context to it.

      I guess it is something akin to calling Hartlepool supporters ‘monkey hangers’.’

      Seemingly not content with my reply, you have now carried this matter forward and accused me of being disingenuous regarding my explanation of why the term is often used by NI supporters in regards to the FAI.

      While it may be your opinion that the terms are being used in a sectarian or racist manner, I have simply highlighted the origins of the terms.

      I am not privy to all the posts or conversations that you have read/heard the terms used and therefore cannot comment on the manner the terms were used. In my experience the terms have been used simply in the context of where they originated in relation to Chartlon’s practises.

      • Andrew,

        “I am not privy to all the posts or conversations that you have read/heard the terms used and therefore cannot comment on the manner the terms were used. In my experience the terms have been used simply in the context of where they originated in relation to Chartlon’s practises.”

        For fecks sake – you are a contributor to the OWC website – so playing the hear no sectarianism, see no racism line, in relation to the use of those terms (and others) simply does not wash.

        re. “distort the content of my posts” I haven’t tried to distort anything, I’ve drawn attention to an inconsistency between what you are saying here which is moderate and reasonable and the Northern Ireland fans website environment, to which you contribute, which is not.

      • Hi Sammy,

        I am not playing any line, apart from highlighting the historical contexts of the terms and why some posters may feel fit to use them.

        As highlighted several times, you may see the terms as been sectarian/racist, however others will feel differently. Who is to say who is it right or wrong?

        Having been a member (please note, simply as a contributor not an admin), the use of such terms is extremely minimal. In fact, most posters these days would refer to the ROI as Team 33, which is due to them looking for the extra place in the WC due to the infamous Henry incident.

        Similarly, Rangers F.C. have now become known as Club 12 to many.

        Would you refer to these terms as being sectarian/racist as well, given the reasons behind them?

        Is the use of the term ‘bindippers’ by Man U fans in reference to Liverpool supporters’ racist/sectarian? Man City fans sometimes refer to Man Utd fans as ‘rags’, is that racist/sectarian? Or indeed, perhaps more relevant to this site, Newcastle fans refer to Sunderland fans as ‘Mackems’ which I am led to believe is in reference to Sunderland workers making goods (make ‘em) for Newcastle people, who would take ‘em’? (N.B. Happily be corrected on the last one!)

        You appear to be trying to make out that all NI fans are sectarian due to the terminology used by some on a fans site.

        If that is the case, should we then be looking at all ROI fans as being sectarian/racist due to some of the comments made on the ROI forums or indeed the GAA towards Northern Ireland fans?

        What about twitter, where a poster under the name ‘Paul Ruddy’ commented to Andy Little only the other night ‘Ya fucking dirty rottan orange cunt, I’d blow you up ya rat!’? Or Karl McGurk who posted ‘Hope Jelavic dies on the pitch the hun bastard’?

        Or indeed Youtube and the ROI support in the following clip ‘http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdECNA9S8RU&feature=relmfu?

        I am not looking to get into a game of he said/she said, merely pointing out that the actions of some and their language used or indeed behaviour, should not be used to try and demonise an entire grouping of supporters.

      • Andrew,

        re. “You appear to be trying to make out that all NI fans are sectarian due to the terminology used by some on a fans site.”

        No, I’m not – I’m suggesting that sectarian/racist terms are used regulalry on that site to which you contribute (I dont believe that the majority of Northern Ireland fans would use these terms).I am suggesting that you are in denial about this and therfore undermining your statements here about Northern football being a comformtable place for Nationalists.

        In relation to Southern fans / GAA websites – if someone comes on here and argues that all is rosy and it transpires they contribute to a website which regualarly uses sectarian language then should they fail to condemn that – I would accuse them of also being in denial.Simples.

        p.s. Are you going to tell us that Jackie Charlton was also a noted road builder in order to justify the use of the term ‘tarmacker’?

  10. Daniel,

    I think it reasonable to observe, in relation to the impact of the GFA legislation, that the fact that Britain no longer contested the granting of Irish citizenship to those living north of the border may well have encouraged Northerners to opt for the South and strengthened and future proofed the position of the FAI – although pre-GFA the option to opt for the South was there.

    Andrew,

    I agree that the existence of the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ does indeed strengthen the IFA’s moral case and is a genuine cause of some of the bitterness surrounding the issue – but it was not in itself sufficient to alter the legal position on eligibility as reflected in CAS judgement.

    It was perhaps naïve of the IFA to assume it would.
    As mentioned above, the CAS remarked about the IFA submission that

    “It gave no consideration, and provided no exposition to the Panel, of how the situation has evolved since the 1950’s and, in particular, how the FIFA regulations have developed between the 1950 and the 2010. This is particularly important as this period of time was marked by significant political changes in Ireland and elsewhere”

    In relation to the issues of Northern Football being an inclusive environment for Nationalists I think it fair to observe that you are in denial about the nature and appropriateness of the abuse dished out to McClean and Irish fans on the OWC website and – defending racist/sectariain abuse by Northern fans clealry undermines your credibility on this issue.

    Sectarianism, is obviously still prevalent, particularly in the working class Northern Ireland communities and whilst it would be unfair not to commend the IFA for their excellent work in combatting it, as this exchange highlights, there is still some distance for Northern soccer to travel before it could be described as a comfortable place for Northern Nationalists.

    • I think that’s quite possible, Sammy. I took the possible extra-legal or socio-psychological effect of the GFA into account, along with other possible contributing factors, in the piece to which I’d linked in an earlier comment. I wrote:

      “Although the GFA changed nothing of legal substance as far as eligibility to play for FIFA associations was concerned, it is certainly possible that the spirit of greater recognition for communal identity that prevailed during the peace process alerted the nationalist psyche to certain rights it might previously have overlooked or failed to consider. Perhaps the GFA’s express acknowledgment and legitimisation of the birthright to Irish nationality for those born north of the border engendered a more confident and emboldened nationalist identity; one that was more sure of expressing itself as non-British or as exclusively Irish and one that was more at ease with exercising its rights.

      The GFA might even have reassured the FAI that facilitating northern-born Irish nationals who sought to declare for them was an entirely legitimate enterprise given the extra-territorial application of Irish nationality law was now undisputed insofar as international relations were concerned. Indeed, Brian Kerr, who managed FAI youth sides between 1997 and 2003 before taking the job of senior team manager, stated in August of 2011 that he “did not make it easy” for northern-born Irish nationals to declare for the FAI when he was managing at youth level prior to the GFA’s passing. He spoke of actually attempting to dissuade some northern-born players from declaring for the FAI. Meanwhile, the current official position of the FAI is one that contrasts with Kerr’s late-1990s take on matters; it is one that is happy to facilitate those northern-born Irish nationals who seek to exercise their right to declare for the FAI.”

      With regard to this supposed gentleman’s agreement strengthening the IFA’s moral case, it does no such thing insofar as no agreement ever existed. The FAI denied one existed, FIFA were unaware of anything of such a nature existing and the IFA could not offer proof of any agreement effective upon Irish nationals born north of the border existing, nor could they argue why what they thought was the gentleman’s agreement should have effect over Irish nationals born north of the border. Read the wording of the letters (what the IFA believed constituted an agreement) and you’ll see that they mention nothing in relation to the eligibility of Irish nationals born north of the border. In fact, they offer guidance to only the IFA insofar as player selection is concerned. The FAI were already operating within FIFA’s article 21, al. 2 of the Regulations of the FIFA at that point in time so didn’t require any guidance. It would therefore be illogical to assume an agreement existed when all indications point towards one not having existed.

      At paragraph 56 of the Kearns judgment, CAS stated:

      “What the IFA calls the “1950 FIFA ruling” is no more than an exchange of letters between the FAI, the IFA and/or then the General Secretary of the FIFA. The FAI [sic] has not been able to demonstrate that (or how) such letters have the force of law or that (or how) they have a binding effect on the rights and duties of the member associations of the FIFA. Furthermore, the General Secretary of the FIFA took his position on particular issues that were brought to its attention; but the exact nature of those issues is unclear, notably whether they were linked to matters of citizenship or nationality. The FAI for its part contends that the status of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland has never been discussed and that the FAI has never accepted that Irish citizens could not be selected for its team, whether they were living in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. Moreover, as appears from his letter, the FIFA General Secretary based his position on “Art. 21 al. 2 of the Regulations of the F.I.F.A.” which stated that the players must be “subjects of the country they represent”. Such a wording does not on its face exclude the possibility that a player may be selected on the basis of his citizenship alone and without any other connection to the country he represents.”

      Furthermore, CAS made clear at paragraph 90 that any inter-associational agreement stifling the right of Irish nationals born north of the border to switch to the FAI would have contravened the right accorded to such players by FIFA’s statutes anyway:

      “In any event, the alleged tacit agreement may not be used to defeat the claim of Mr Kearns, who was of course not a party to any such agreement and who, in any event, is entitled to exercise his rights as provided under Article 15 and 18 of the 2009 Application Regulations. ”

      It is not possible then that such an agreement could have existed even if the associations had wanted one to exist between themselves.

    • Hi Sammy,

      To be perfectly honest, I find it hard to take seriously a comment regarding my credibility from someone who previously made the following comment towards myself when discussing the eligibility issue.

      ‘Sadly Andrew I’m afraid we are of a similar mind on much of this – I will have to pick a fight with someone else’.

      As per my previous response to you, I will not be participating in the game, or perhaps ‘fight’ as you term it, that you are trying to initiate.

      While you may want to try and pour scorn on my character by making unfounded allegations of ‘defending racist/sectarian abuse by Northern Ireland’, I feel confident that anyone who reads any of my articles, and indeed posts, will know that this is not the case.

  11. I think it’s also unfair to paint the FAI as “magpies” in the sense that they don’t coerce any player into playing for them. Ultimately, the choice rests with players who are cognisant individuals able to make their own decisions. Everything is within the rules and fully above board here.

    The FAI, just like any other association, are acting in their own interests in utilising players eligible and willing to play for them. Nothing wrong with that. It’s up to the IFA to convince eligible players that their interests are best served playing for NI, and fair play to them; that now appears to be the approach they’re taking through the work of Gerry Armstrong and Michael O’Neill, rather than trying to stifle the right of Irish nationals born in NI to play for the FAI.

    Likewise, the FAI aren’t the only association in world football to utilise players who have previously played for another association. In fact, current IFA players Ryan Brobbel and Johnny Gorman once played with the FAI.

    • Hi Danny,

      It’s good to hear your comments.

      I have read a number of your articles on the matter and while I do not always agree on some of the points you make, as you don’t mine, they provide a valuable insight into an opposing, articulate, view on the situation.

      I think it is worth pointing out that given the CAS judgment and my understanding of the situation, I am not looking to argue in my articles that the FAI are breaking any rules (as they currently stand).

      As you rightly state, and was the opinion of the CAS composition, things have developed since the 1950’s in not just terms of the FIFA statutes, but also life in Northern Ireland itself.

      What I don’t adhere to is the FAI’s act of innocence in regards to the so-called ‘gentleman’s agreement’ of the 1950’s.

      As per my article above, in their submissions to the CAS the FAI stated that

      ‘In the beginning of the 1950’s, the two associations accepted that they could no longer regard all players on the island as being under their jurisdiction and agreed that the IFA was the governing body of football in Northern Ireland and the FAI in the Republic of Ireland’.

      This is something they both agreed upon and was instigated to stop each other selecting players from each others jurisdiction, which they both adhered to.

      At the time of course the issue of Irish citizenship was not relevant and did not become so until 1956; therefore it is understandable that it was not discussed.

      I find it inconceivable, however, that the FAI were not of the same thinking as the IFA in regards to what it meant, i.e. the FAI could not select players born in Northern Ireland, regardless if they looked at themselves as being Irish and similarly the IFA could not select players born in the Republic of Ireland, regardless if they looked at themselves as being British.

      Indeed, given the nature of the change in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, it effectively meant that the resolution proposed by FIFA, and agreed to by both Associations, to remedy the issues between them, effectively became void. That is, the FAI once again had free reign to select players from either jurisdiction.

      The very fact that the FAI refrained from going down this route until the 1990’s, cements my thoughts that a common understanding was in place between the two; however they have now abandoned the accord that once existed.

      Yes, as you point out there are a number of factors that have brought the matter to the attention of the wider public, however that does not explain why the FAI did not look to capitalise on the situation, which was technically within the rules, beforehand.

      This of course is irrelevant now in any case, due to the development of FIFA’s rules and the very fact that the disputed accord would have little binding, unless sanctioned by the Governing body.

      In my eyes, it does indicate that the FAI have acted immorally towards its nearest neighbour; something that does not sit well with myself and, although reluctant to put words in their mouths, a significant number of other Northern Ireland supporters.

      In regards to painting the FAI as “magpies”, I believe in the context noted in my article it is a fair analogy. It is a well known fact, although some try to deny it, that FAI representatives are actively targeting IFA players who are currently involved in their set up.

      As Hannigan put it, they are ‘waiting and watching before prowling’ on the IFA’s players; players who they have shown little interest in previously until they start appearing to be decent prospects.

      Indeed, I find the comments from former ROI Manager Brian Kerr quite telling on the matter, when he noted that the FAI’s current practices ‘doesn’t seem right and it doesn’t sit right with me’.

      One thing that I feel I must re-iterate from my article, as it appears to have been missed by you, are the following two paragraphs

      “On a personal note, living in the country we do, I can understand that some players will not feel any form of affinity with the Northern Ireland football team due to their politics. That,I have no issue with. If they declare from the start that they want to represent the FAI, then I wish them all the best.

      What I do object to are those who are content to represent the IFA throughout their youth, but then when the time comes to make the step up to the senior squad and tie themselves in, they suddenly develop issues with the anthem sung, the flag flown, and the stadium internationals are played in, while also noting that they have ‘always wanted to play for the Republic of Ireland’ and that was ‘their dream’”.

      With that in mind, I believe it is reasonably clear that I agree with you that we should not be trying to ‘stifle the right of Irish nationals born in NI to play for the FAI’.

      I do feel strongly, however, that players should be showing respect to the IFA, something which the FAI should also be doing, given the history between our two countries.

      Perhaps a different way at looking at the situation would be for the FAI to work harder at developing their own talent, opposed to trying to stifle the flow of talent being developed by the IFA and those involved within?

      • Just getting a chance to respond to this now.

        “‘In the beginning of the 1950’s, the two associations accepted that they could no longer regard all players on the island as being under their jurisdiction and agreed that the IFA was the governing body of football in Northern Ireland and the FAI in the Republic of Ireland’.

        This is something they both agreed upon and was instigated to stop each other selecting players from each others jurisdiction, which they both adhered to.”

        This acceptance was upon FIFA’s instruction or guidance in order to ensure that the two associations would, from then on, know to maintain compliance with the eligibility regulation (article 21, al. 2 of the Regulations of the FIFA) that was already in place, for the IFA hadn’t been adhering to it prior to that; they were selecting players based upon what they viewed as their island-wide jurisdiction for British Home Championship games rather than selecting players based upon their status as British citizens connected to Northern Ireland. FIFA’s guidance did not amount to a gentleman’s agreement between the associations and I don’t see how it could be viewed as such – even the IFA in their submission to CAS referred to the instruction in their own terms as a “ruling” from FIFA rather than as some form of inter-associational agreement between themselves and the FAI – nor did it even remotely indicate that Irish nationals born in Northern Ireland would be ineligible to represent the FAI, never mind for forever more. What was the time-frame of this supposed accord? Was it indefinite or what? Surely agreements should operate within agreed frames of time. Even if an agreement was to exist indefinitely, such could no longer be deemed binding if circumstances later change from those under which terms were first agreed, as they did in this case. Indeed, if FIFA had intended for what the IFA called a “ruling” to render Irish nationals born north of the border ineligible to play for the FAI, FIFA would have submitted such to CAS. It is clear that what the IFA misunderstood to be the effect of FIFA’s instructions was not what FIFA had meant or intended to be the effect.

        As we know, FIFA’s instruction mentioned nothing of the future status of potential Irish citizens. Their status was not relevant to this instruction as the island-wide right to Irish citizenship only became a reality in 1956. If one can acknowledge that – that the status of Irish citizens was never discussed – then I’m not sure how one can go on to argue that an agreement was in place governing the eligibility of Irish nationals, irrespective of the future conduct (or lack thereof) of the FAI.

        It is also not clear that the FAI’s submission quoted above actually relates to eligibility to play for the FAI either. Eligibility was already being governed by article 21, al. 2 of the Regulations of FIFA. It merely mentions jurisdiction because the IFA were operating outside of theirs in selecting players who would otherwise have been ineligible to play for them. The FAI were then unable to select players born north of the border, not necessarily because of their birthplace, but because they would not have been Irish citizens at the time.

        “The very fact that the FAI refrained from going down this route until the 1990’s, cements my thoughts that a common understanding was in place between the two; however they have now abandoned the accord that once existed.”

        It’s incorrect to frame anything as an accord between the two associations when there is nothing whatsoever to indicate that the FAI ever discussed the then or future status of Irish nationals born north of the border with the IFA. The fact that the FAI didn’t select Irish nationals born north of the border up until the 1990s doesn’t mean they were upholding an accord; amongst other possible factors explaining why they may not have selected such players, it perhaps indicates that they themselves didn’t fully understand the extent of their rights under FIFA’s regulations. Just because they didn’t select such players for a lengthy period of time doesn’t mean we can automatically assume there was an accord in place with the IFA, especially when other factors can explain this phenomenon without needing to assume there was an agreement in effect. As mentioned earlier, I outlined those possible factors here: http://backpagefootball.com/so-what-did-prompt-northerners-declarations-for-fai/34570/

        It is possible that even the FAI, who were more-or-less run by volunteers up until the mid-1980s, might not have been fully aware of the effect of the rules governing player eligibility in terms of the rights accorded to them as an association. In RTÉ’s recent documentary, ‘Green Is the Colour’, Johnny Giles and Eamon Dunphy spoke of the selection committee who selected FAI squads during that period as being a loose and shambolic group of businessmen whose lack of footballing knowledge, never mind their lack of knowledge pertaining to FIFA’s statutes and the realm of player eligibility, made them woefully inept at fulfilling the role with which they had been entrusted.

        Besides, passivity (neglecting to call up certain eligible players) or silence cannot be construed as consenting to an agreement, nor does it necessarily indicate the existence of an accord. Connacht has been poorly represented in terms of player selection for the Irish senior team but it would be incorrect to infer from this that the FAI had some sort of policy in place whereby they would refrain from selecting players from Connacht or from certain counties in Connacht.

        Bringing all of the above into consideration, I don’t see how the FAI can be seen as having acted immorally towards the IFA in the sense that you’ve failed to make clear what they owed the IFA in terms of behaviour and conduct. It is not the fault of the FAI that the IFA misunderstood FIFA’s instruction and governing regulations.

        Brian Kerr’s comments are odd and hypocritical insofar as he selected the likes of Ger Crossley for the FAI at under-age level. His writings have also betrayed a residing bitterness towards the FAI ever since he was sacked from his role as manager of the senior team in 2005. He may have a right to feel aggrieved but he’s no longer part of the FAI set-up so I’m not sure why his comments should be accorded any significant deal of weight, especially when contrasted with those of John Delaney who states that the FAI wait for contact to be initiated from elsewhere.

        In fact, I know that Sean McCaffrey did not select Shane Duffy until Duffy’s father contacted the FAI to alert them to his son’s interest in playing for them. The reason for McCaffrey’s reluctance was because, although he was perfectly within his rights to select Duffy, he didn’t want to inflame the sensitivities of the IFA. Likewise, Niall Quinn told Ryan Tubridy on a recent ‘Late Late Show’ how James McClean informed Sunderland representatives of his intention to represent the FAI. Quinn then got in touch with the FAI to alert them to McClean’s intentions.

        Whether the FAI watch and wait for eligible players or not, the FAI can only select players so long as they want to play for the FAI. They cannot force anyone to play for them or to switch association. In this sense, they’re merely facilitating players’ wishes. Use of the word “prowling” is not only melodramatic, but wholly inaccurate. I’ve seen NI fans on OWC call for the IFA to chase after the likes of Sean Scannell and Connor Wickham. In fact, it’s entirely possible that Gerry Armstrong has been in touch with such players, still active in the under-age set-ups of other associations. And yet these same people continue to hypocritically lambast the FAI on a moral basis. If an association wishes to contact players eligible to play for it, I don’t see the problem so long as the association isn’t coercing the player to do anything against his will. If the player makes a decision he’s entitled to make, what’s the problem?

        “What I do object to are those who are content to represent the IFA throughout their youth, but then when the time comes to make the step up to the senior squad and tie themselves in, they suddenly develop issues with the anthem sung, the flag flown, and the stadium internationals are played in, while also noting that they have ‘always wanted to play for the Republic of Ireland’ and that was ‘their dream’”.”

        There isn’t necessarily anything inconsistent in this. Their preference would be to play for the FAI, with whom they’d feel more culturally comfortable. Otherwise, players have appeared able to overlook certain issues and play for the IFA for careerist or pragmatic reasons. Think of Niall McGinn, for example. The issues with symbolism aren’t necessarily all-of-a-sudden.

        I also understand that the IFA have continued to select and offer “carrot caps” to players who have made it clear that their ultimate goal would be to represent the FAI. If the IFA is happy to select such players, your issue ought to be with them. Why don’t they try to find out where players’ loyalties lie by asking them a simple question and work from there?

        Besides, international selection is not a one-way process by which only one party in the relationship benefits. Players selected by the IFA voluntarily give up their time to represent the association. They’ve given something back in value to both association and fans, not that they necessarily owe the association anything anyway.

        “Perhaps a different way at looking at the situation would be for the FAI to work harder at developing their own talent, opposed to trying to stifle the flow of talent being developed by the IFA and those involved within?”

        I do have my own issues with the FAI’s farcical developmental infrastructure but that’s a separate matter insofar as I believe Irish nationals born north of the border should be fully entitled to represent the FAI if they wish and are good enough to do so. The nature of the FAI’s own developmental infrastructure should not have any bearing on their eligibility. It’s something I naturally feel strongly about due to my own background. The will comes from players and the FAI facilitate. I’d be insulted if the FAI, in full knowledge of an Irish national’s eligibility, refused to call up such a player, otherwise clearly good enough to play, for the solitary reason that he was born north of the border.

  12. Fair play on taking the time to deal with the issue. Understanding the complexities is something in which I’ve invested a lot of time myself. The media’s dealings with this topic, both north and south of the border, have been very poor and I feel the most helpful insights into the issue beyond CAS’s Kearns judgment are to be found online on forums and the blogosphere. A few quick points, however…

    What the IFA argued was a gentleman’s agreement effective upon both the FAI and IFA was described by CAS at paragraph 56 in the Kearns judgment as “no more than an exchange of letters between the FAI, the IFA and/or then the General Secretary of the FIFA”. The IFA misunderstood the nature of these letters if they were of the belief they constituted an agreement prohibiting Irish nationals born in Northern Ireland from declaring for the FAI. If these letters had constituted terms by which the associations and Irish nationals born in Northern Ireland were to be bound, FIFA would have confirmed such to be the case. As it was, CAS made clear that any inter-associational agreement between the FAI and IFA would have been in breach of Kearns’ right to switch to the FAI under FIFA’s statutes anyway.

    The quoted excerpt from the FAI’s website does not necessarily contradict the FAI’s current argument or stance. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 had not come into effect in 1950 and the then-or-future status of Irish nationals, irrespective of where they were born, was never discussed with the IFA or FIFA at the time.

    You claim it is not inconceivable that a gentleman’s agreement may have existed, but I feel there are better reasons to explain the lack of NI-born Irish nationals declaring for the FAI in the period before the mid-1990s. I wrote a piece myself here outlining why I believe the phenomenon is a relatively recent (largely post-Good Friday Agreement and especially post-2004) one: http://backpagefootball.com/so-what-did-prompt-northerners-declarations-for-fai/34570/

    Of course, Irish nationals born in Northern Ireland played for the FAI before the Good Friday Agreement was agreed.

    Just one last point… As you mention, in March of 2007, FIFA viewed the right of Irish nationals born north of the border to play for the FAI as exposing the IFA to a “one-way situation”. CAS, in paragraph 70, interpreted FIFA as having viewed this supposed situation as “unfair” on the IFA. FIFA never described anything as “unfair”. After later analysing the matter in greater detail at the end of 2007, FIFA came to the conclusion that their existing statutes were in fact sufficient to deal with the matter of Irish player eligibility. I think it is then fair to say they acknowledged their statutes were operating as intended.

    Whilst the situation may appear to be “one-way” on the face of it, I believe such to be a simplistic and lazy analysis (yes, FIFA were guilty of such in March of 2007 prior to more thorough consideration) in that only Irish nationals, and not those in possession of only British nationality (the prerequisite to playing for NI), are eligible to play for the FAI. Dual British and Irish nationals born north of the border cannot be simply designated as default IFA players. The two nationalities are to be treated as two distinct entities and no association can lay claim over those players in possession of both (until such players become tied to either association, of course). Eligibility for one association is not dependent on eligibility for the other.

  13. Andrew,
    A well written article – but as you might suspect a few points arising…

    Re. the Good Friday Agreement

    It is something of a tactical position by the IFA (and yourself) to concentrate on the 1951 ’agreement’ and play down the significance of subsequent events as evidenced by the Court Of Arbitration in Sport statement.

    “In the present appeal, however, the IFA limited its presentation of the historical facts to the events surrounding the FIFA letter dated 17 April 1951. It gave no consideration, and provided no exposition to the Panel, of how the situation has evolved since the 1950’s and, in particular, how the FIFA regulations have developed between the 1950 and the 2010. This is particularly important as this period of time was marked by significant political changes in Ireland and elsewhere”.

    In our previous exchange on this site you disingenuously tried to suggest that referring to people form Ireland(South) as beggars and gypsies (standard practice on the OurWeeCountry ‘moderate’ fans website) was simply a reference to the selection policy of Jack Charlton. I think it fair to categorise these remarks as casual sectarianism/racism. If any doubt about that – try using the term the next time you have a pint on the Falls. If Northern fans want to present an inclusive environment they will have to do better than go into denial mode.

    Most/Many Nationalists in Northern Ireland feel more comfortable playing/supporting Ireland(South) under the tricolour than playing for Ireland(North) under the union Jack. I just don’t think you accept that – and when James McClean attempts to explain that – he is demonised for so doing.

    The personal abuse levelled against McCLean for exercising his right to choose, and explaining his reasons is a disgrace – this is a battle between the IFA and the FAI and those Northern supporters who indulge in this abuse must realise they are making it MORE likely for Nationalists to opt for the South. Don’t you agree? Do you condemn the abuse of McCLean over on OWC?

    ps I notice you made reference to our previous exchange on the OurWeeCOuntry website – where I don’t have the pright to reply

    • Hi Sammy,

      In what appears to be becoming an apparent style to your posts in reply to my articles, you seem reluctant to read the content within, but more fixated in continually asking the same questions in a hope to get the answer you want.

      That is, an answer that you can in someway try to twist to fit in with the picture that the IFA and Northern Ireland supporters are sectarian and in no way can a player from a Catholic background feel at home representing Northern Ireland.

      As an example, in your latest comments you refer to me as being disingenuous, due to me providing the background behind why the FAI are often referred to as the ‘beggars’ or ‘gypsies’ . You go on to say that these remarks are a form of ‘casual sectarianism/racism’.

      While you may want to believe this is the case, I can assure you that the terms came about during the Charlton era, as a result of the FAI’s practices employed in securing players. Derogatory terms, perhaps. Sectarian/racist, no.

      I can appreciate you may not agree with everything I write, and I certainly don’t expect everyone to, but to refer to me as being disingenuous is quite disrespectful.

      In regards to your last two points, I have already answered to for you in my articles and previous posts on this site. Now, while some may be content to embark in such games, I find it adds little to the debate and rather tedious.

      I am however, prepared to comment on your point regarding the GFA and the remarks by the CAS, as I believe it adds to the debate.

      To begin with, there is no doubt things have changed since the 1950’s in Northern Ireland; as has things all over the World. Indeed, I am sure those reading will readily agree that England has become a lot more multi-cultural, as an example.

      As you will note (if you take time to read my article), I believe the GFA is a red herring on the matter, hence why I relate back to the events of the 1950’s, which I feel are the most relevant in the debate.

      I can assure you I have read through the CAS report several times, but am not sure what point you are trying to make with your quote from it.

      • Are derogatory remarks acceptable just so long as they’re not sectarian or racist?

        To be honest though, I also perceive racist undertones in the use of such terms as “beggars” and “gypsies” to describe Republic of Ireland fans and those associated with the FAI. I’ve also seen “tarmackers” and ‘Mexicans’ used on OWC; where did those derogatory terms originate?

        Whether or not they are indeed relevant to the current day, you fail to establish how a consideration of events around 1950 should make any difference to the modern-day interpretation of the general eligibility issue.

  14. Could it be now a case that people from a nationalist/Catholic background will get heaps of support when they line out for NI, as a result of a bunch of them declaring for the RoI.

    Let us assume that those from a nationalist/Catholic background in NI identify more with a different flag and anthem to what is in Windsor. But if they still line out for NI, then could it be that the fans will get behind them even more, as in, they will want to play for NI even though they know full well they could declare for RoI…..?

  15. France has something of the same, Bazza. Players with ethnic origins in the Maghreb or subSaharan Africa may go through all the youth formation and then opt to represent the country of their parents/grandparents. And of course you have the halfhearted singing of the Marseillaise – which always makes me think ‘wish we had an anthem like that’ – and it, the anthem, has been booed in stadiums, eg by French-Algerians when France played Algeria.

    The parentage issue makes it different from NI, where nationalists may simply regard themselves as Irish, not British. Provided they don’t back up that preference with bombs and bullets, it is a choice I respect. And I don’t think in a real world it matters a jot if, growing up in what they regard as the Six Counties or the North or Ireland, they are mentored within the footballing system that prevails where they happen to live.

    But what you see above is, as others have commented here and elsewhere, a great read and a powerful contribution to what should be a reasoned debate.

  16. Very good article. Has there ever been an underage player born in NI who opted to play for the RoI underage instead of NI?

    I would love to read an article with McCourt’s and especially Clingan’s opinions on this subject.

    I would also like to read Ulster rugby player’s views on this thing as well. They stand for the soldier’s song in Dublin for the rugby matches. I never actually noticed if they bowed their heads at all! From what I see at international games, Ulster rugby supporters would wear either the Irish jersey or the Ulster jersey, and maybe have an Ulster or sometimes an NI flag as well.

    I can see how they would have issues with the soldier’s song. In theory, I think an All Ireland rugby team is a great idea, just a pity we couldn’t have a more stirring song than “Ireland’s Call”. Maybe “Danny Boy” or “There is an Isle” (fairly sure There is an Isle has no political themes?) . Failing that, a song by Therapy? would suit.

    Has there ever been a NI/Ulster player who played underage rugby for Ireland, then wanted to play for Scotland for example? I suppose you can’t compare the two sports really.

    Is there any other football association with the same issue as NI. Possibly France? I am sure Belgium is a country where people are divided linguistically and culturally, they still manage to get an international team together. Though you never hear of Belgians opting to play for France or Holland, or do you?

    • Ger Crossley, Gerard Doherty and Marc Mukendi are just three examples of Irish nationals born in NI who played for the FAI at youth level without having done so for the IFA. In fact, Crossley played for the FAI before the Good Friday Agreement was passed.

      As an aside, Muzzy Izzet and Kâz?m Kâz?m were/are eligible to play for Turkey by virtue of their Northern Cypriot ancestry. Turkey grants Turkish citizenship extra-territorially to individuals born in what only it amongst the international community of nations recognises as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

      Of course, one significant difference between this and the Irish situation is that the extra-territorial effect of Irish nationality law over Northern Ireland was bilaterally approved by the UK and citizenry of NI upon the passing of the Good Friday Agreement, so whatever complaints people might have had about its unilateral operation prior to then, such complaints have much less, if any, validity in the current day.

  17. Not actually a Sunderland fan, but stumbled across this article on Newsnow. I have to say it was refreshing to come across an article on this issue by a NI fan that was so well thought and argued such a good case. However as an Irishman myself I’m going to have to debate you on parts of it.

    My main issue with this article (and indeed many other articles on this topic) is regarding the point that it is wrong for players who have represented NI at youth level to switch allegiance to ROI at full international level.

    What people seem to forget when they make this point is that these are children of about 14-15 doing all they can to get noticed and signed up by a big team. As such, one of the best available avenues for them to get noticed is in youth international matches. So at this young age when getting noticed is vital to actually becoming a professional football is it really fair to judge children who consider themselves Irish for grabbing the opportunity to play for NI with both hands? It would be a very risky move for them to say “No, I’m waiting for a ROI call-up instead” at such an early stage in their career.

    The second point I would make is regarding the efforts the IFA have made in trying to make supporting Northern Ireland more welcoming for both sides of the community. I appreciate that the IFA has done a good job in this regard, however I can’t help but feel it has come a little too late for a number of football fans.

    In my youth I was a fan of both the ROI & NI national teams (admittedly more biased towards ROI) as I view myself as an Irish person living in NI, so supporting both made sense to me. However following the death threats made to Neil Lennon and the lack of support Lennon received from the IFA during this period this made me decide to cease my support for NI. This was the particular trigger that made me feel that my support as a Catholic was unwelcome and I’m sure many other Catholics felt the same way following this and other seemingly anti-Catholic events in the past.

    So despite the fact the IFA are now making great strides in eliminating sectarianism in Irish football it may be coming too late for this generation. However I do hope that future generations of Catholic football fans can feel welcomed into supporting the NI football team should they wish to do so

    • Now that the IFA are making strides to eliminate the bad elements, would you ever consider going back to supporting NI? What is Neil Lennon’s relationship with them now?

      Can kids in NI just opt to play underage for RoI?

      • I can certainly see myself supporting NI again in the future, however I still feel there is still much to be done before I would consider it.

        As a Celtic fan I personally appreciated how Paddy McCourt & Niall McGinn were welcomed into the team by NI fans and indeed I have found my interest in NI football increased as a result. I think the IFA are unfortunate that McCourt has failed to make more of a breakthrough at Celtic because he is the type of exciting player that might have attracted a number of Catholic fans to go to Windsor Park.

        As for Neil Lennon, I’m not 100% sure. I have seen quotes in the past to suggest he is very much behind the IFA’s attempts to decrease sectarianism within Irish football, however as for his feelings towards the IFA themselves I am unsure.

        I don’t know off the top of my head any players from NI who have been asked first to play for ROI at youth level, but I think that both Shane Duffy & Marc Wilson both switched to ROI while still at youth level

    • Hi Kevlat,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my article and hear a differing point of view to the issue of eligibility on our Island. Comments are more than welcome; as I said in the body of it, these are just my views and I don’t expect everyone to agree.

      On your first point regarding children around the 14-15 years of age mark, I guess some counter arguments would be as to why the IFA should devote time to players who have no intentions of representing them when they come of age. By taking the place of a player who is fully committed to the IFA, they are not only robbing that child of his opportunity, but also being detrimental to the success of the Association moving forward.

      Looking at the bigger picture, a little known fact is that the International game in our country is one of the main revenue sources for keeping the game at all levels functioning. Without success on the pitch, these revenues dry up, therefore resulting in cuts in the likes of grassroots coaching etc.

      I am sure you will agree that with this in mind, the implications for kids using and abusing the IFA are considerable.

      By simply using the IFA as a stepping stone to enhance their own career, in my eyes, goes against the very fabric of what International football should all be about, i.e. representing your country and being proud to do so. If this is not the case, then what is the point in the International game?

      It is worth noting that I personally feel that 14-15 is too young for a child to make his decision, however giving that it is widely felt that 18 is the age one becomes an adult, I believe that a line in the sand should be drawn there.

      This is something I noted at the end of my article when I put the example that ‘the FAI agrees not to select any player that has represented the IFA above U18 level’.

      In regards to your second point, I can fully appreciate the point you are making.

      What happened with Lennon was a disgrace. It must be noted, however, that the vast majority of NI supporters shared this view and made their feeling known after the event. Unfortunately that does not make for a good story and went mainly unreported.

      In my article I stated that ‘Continuing to refer back to incidents in our past, while ignoring where we are currently, will do little, but stir up old prejudices’

      The Lennon event is probably an excellent example of what I am talking about above. Is it right to continually look at an organisation negatively for something that happened approx. 10 years ago?

      While we need to look back on our past to learn from our mistakes, we will never be able to move forward if we are continually reminded of them.

      As you noted, ‘the IFA are now making great strides in eliminating sectarianism in Irish football’. With this in mind, then why not give the next generation of supporters and players a chance?

      The only way we can bring change about, is for those who feel there are barriers to help break them down. That will not be achieved by staying away due to events that some of the current crop of players are barely even able to remember.

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