Tuesday, 3 June 2008

IFA vs. FAI. Integration vs. Segregation.

Just to flesh out yesterday’s post regarding the re-stated eligibility criteria which were accepted by FIFA at the weekend. The IFA and the FAI are adopting predictably divergent interpretations. It seems, unless the two organisations can reach an agreement between themselves, that an actual instance, in which FIFA is required to intervene, will be needed to clarify exactly what the position is.

Ironically for nationalist politicians, who have been arguing most stridently that Republic of Ireland passport holders from Northern Ireland should be allowed to represent the breakaway association team, to sustain this position under FIFA’s rules, it may be necessary to acknowledge that all those born in Northern Ireland, to a Northern Irish parent, automatically accrue British citizenship.

This is the effective dual citizenship criteria which would allow players to circumvent the requirements of Article 16. To facilitate this interpretation it must be argued that those who hold Republic of Ireland passports and play for Northern Ireland, are entitled to do so only because they are also implicitly citizens of the UK. In other words, northern nationalists who do not explicitly reject their UK citizenship are British citizens, and if they hold only a Republic of Ireland passport, this still confers upon them dual citizenship, rather than exclusive citizenship of the ROI.

Of course this interpretation would be contrary to every nationalist argument regarding nationality and the Belfast Agreement. It also requires a rather tortuous mangling of FIFA’s rules which, on the surface at least, are attempting to simplify the issue of eligibility.

Nationalists have argued that the section of the GFA which recognises, “the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as British or Irish, or both, as they may so choose”, refers to actual citizenship of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, as opposed merely to perceived identity. In other words British citizenship cannot be inferred and a Republic of Ireland passport holder from Northern Ireland can only be assumed to be a Republic of Ireland citizen.

However the outworking of nationalist argument as regards eligibility is that anyone who is an Irish passport holder and who wishes to play for Northern Ireland must be forced to implicitly acknowledge his British citizenship! Not only is this approach rank hypocrisy, it is also the very definition of football segregation. This constitutes an obvious attempt to foster a clear division in football terms between those who consider themselves primarily Irish and those who consider themselves primarily British and to force players to align themselves by reference to those nationalities.

The ethos of the mixed IFA teams is that all those from Northern Ireland, whether they consider themselves Irish, British or both, can play for these sides, if they are selected, whichever passport they hold.

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