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North's Football Association rejects growing calls for all Ireland soccer team

The Taoiseach and senior ministers have joined growing calls in political circles for the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association to unite.

John Aldridge (R) and Gerry Taggart (L) battle for the ball in one of the most famous clashes between the Republic and the North in 1993
John Aldridge (R) and Gerry Taggart (L) battle for the ball in one of the most famous clashes between the Republic and the North in 1993
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

THE IRISH FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION (IFA) has said that it does not envisage uniting with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) to form an all island soccer team despite growing calls from government ministers in the south.

The government has said this week that it supports the idea of an all Ireland soccer team with one Minister saying that he wished he could see the situation in rugby replicated in soccer.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s remarks in the Dáil this week echoed those of a Fine Gael senator and senior figures within Sinn Féin including the North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness that the island’s two international football associations unite.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that he would be a “big supporter” of the idea while the Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring also said that he would be supportive of the idea subject to both football associations agreeing to the proposal.

But the IFA told TheJournal.ie that they did not see it happening. “We’re here for football, not for politics,” a spokesperson for the association said.

Shatter was speaking in the context of his reference to the city of Derry as Londonderry saying that he alternated between the two names but more frequently used Derry because of its League of Ireland soccer team.

He said in the Dáil this week: “I tend to use Derry more frequently than Londonderry simply because of my interest in soccer and… what Derry City do on occasions and if my interest in soccer could bring about a situation where we had one international team representing the island of Ireland in soccer, as we do in rugby, I wish we could see that happen. I know other people have expressed that view.”

Earlier this month, his party colleague Senator Catherine Noone said that it was time for the issue to be considered, joining recent calls that the idea be considered at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis.

In a statement The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport said: “This would be a matter for the FAI and the IFA, but Minister Ring would be supportive if both organisations agreed on the proposal.”

Historic split

Historically, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) was formed in 1921 out of a split from the IFA by the then Leinster Football Association, following a series of disputes about the alleged Belfast bias of the IFA.

Since the split, both international sides have had varying degrees of success. While Northern Ireland made a notable appearance at the 1986 World Cup in Spain, it has been the Republic of Ireland that has been more successful in recent years qualifying for three World Cups and two European Championships.

Relations between the two associations have not been helped by a provision in the Good Friday Agreement which allows anyone born in the North to be allowed to become a citizen of either Northern Ireland or the Republic.

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This ties into a clause in FIFA rules which allows players to change their footballing nationality once before they play a senior competitive match if they were born on the territory of the relevant association.

And it is this which has allowed players such as James McClean to opt to play for the Republic of Ireland instead of the North.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie a spokesperson for the Irish Football Association said the idea was not on their agenda, pointing out that the IFA was the fourth oldest football association in the world and is focused on issues such as the redevelopment of Windsor Park in Belfast.

He said: “Its fine that the other people are talking about different things but we have to look after our own interest. We’ve got a lot of heritage. We don’t see that (uniting both associations) happening.

“Our mission is to develop, foster and promote football for all in Northern Ireland. That is why we are here as an association. That’s what we need to focus on. We’re here for football, not for politics. Playing on the green grass with the white lines is our game.”

Read: Fine Gael senator echoes calls for all Ireland soccer team

Read: Calls for all Ireland soccer team at Sinn Féin Ard Fheis

Read: Martin McGuinness wants an all-Ireland soccer team

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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