23 August 2007 Edition

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IFA try to block Northerners playing for Irish soccer team

Sinn Féin MLA Paul Butler, has warned the Irish Football Association “to step back from putting obstacles in the way of nationalists opting to represent Republic of Ireland soccer teams at international level or run the risk of being labelled anti-Agreement unionists”.
His message comes after it emerged that the IFA have been attempting to prevent Northern nationalists holding Irish passports from representing the Republic of Ireland. The IFA Chief Executive, Howard Wells, has written to FIFA, the world football governing body, in an attempt to secure a ruling blocking Northerners from representing ROI teams.
Butler said:
“Sinn Féin is naturally very concerned that the IFA appear to be trying to prevent young Northern nationalists from representing their country. Sinn Féin will be contacting both the IFA and FAI to ensure that the rights and entitlements of Northern nationalists as full Irish citizens are respected. This type of behaviour will not be acceptable.
“Nationalists in the North of Ireland, like most of their fellow countrymen and women across the island and the Irish diaspora give their allegiance to the Irish football team.
“Nationalists do not seek to deny unionists the right to support or play for the national team of their choice and neither should nationalists be denied, or face obstacles, in attaining their dream of representing their country at international level.
“Sinn Féin is greatly concerned by the actions of IFA Chairman, Howard Wells, in contacting FIFA after a number of young nationalists exercised their right to opt to play for Ireland.
“In the past, there has been great anger caused in the nationalist community by political pronouncements from the Irish Football Association. There must be no confusion on this matter, and no private lobbying from the IFA to deter representatives of the Football Association of Ireland from either selecting or approaching young players in the six counties who may wish to represent their country at international level.
“The IFA must send out a clear message that it will respect the rights of Irish nationalists as Irish citizens in their own country. The Good Friday Agreement recognises the right of Irish people living in the North to their identity it is not up to the IFA to deny them that right.”

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