Thursday, 22 July 2010

The IFA is on the right side of identity argument

With the football eligibility argument hitting the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, in today's Belfast Telegraph I defend Northern Ireland players right to be considered Irish.
Careful reading of FIFA's statutes shows that, if the FAI position is upheld, it denies the right of players born in Northern Ireland to consider themselves Irish only. FIFA asks that a single nationality, qualifying a player to compete for more than one international team, is held in conjunction with certain territorial or family requirements. A dual national, meanwhile, qualifies, as of right, for teams representing either of his nationalities.
If the FAI wants to take its pick of players born in the north, irrespective of any other criteria, it must rely on an inference that they possess dual nationality and are British citizens, whether they like it or not.
Currently a player who carries an Irish passport can use it as proof of nationality, if he plays for a Northern Ireland team. A few years ago nationalist politicians justly fought a suggestion from FIFA that a footballer could be compelled to produce a British passport in order to confirm eligibility.
Although, to the letter of UK law, everyone from Northern Ireland possesses British citizenship unless it is renounced, the IFA, quite rightly, does not require any of its players to acknowledge British citizenship or carry a UK passport.
The Belfast Agreement has been bandied about to support the Republic's position. In truth, it is the IFA which is working with the grain of the agreement and the FAI and FIFA playing fast and loose with identity rights.
The CAS can't rule for the FAI without accepting that nationalist players, choosing to play for Northern Ireland, are automatically British, whether or not they claim that nationality. That would run counter to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
There are numerous valid objections to the FAI's strategy. Is it ethical for a neighbouring association, on friendly terms with the IFA, to poach young players after they benefit from considerable coaching and investment in Northern Ireland? Is it right to target players from one community background?
The identity issue, however, is the most powerful argument.
Requiring young nationalists to acknowledge British nationality, if they are to represent the Northern Ireland football team, is a fundamentally illiberal notion. If it were the IFA's position, there would be uproar - and rightly so.
Indeed, if the logic were extended further, participation in all Northern Ireland's teams, institutions and the Northern Irish identity itself would depend on an acceptance of Britishness, with Irishness the exclusive preserve of the Republic. That is a recipe for segregation, rather than sharing.


O'Neill said...

It's a good piece but I suspect your logic has flown far and high over the typical Tele reader judging by the quality of the majority of the comments following.


a) Rem. Lennon. Yez are all bigots
b) Splutter...GFA...Splutter.
b) Wouldn't it be grand to have an "all-Ireland" team

kensei said...

The entire argument boils down to assigning "Irish" and "British" simply as cultural labels. They are not. They are differing citizenships and the right to each is guaranteed by the GFA. Cultural arguments and the like are basically bukkum. It's nothing to do with how you feel.

It is indeed possible to be both British and Irish - you may have dual nationality and neither country disallows that. People are, whether they like it or not, British citizens implicitly even if they do not carry a Passport. However, the *key* thing about the Irish nationality is that you do not have it until you do something that implies you want it - like apply for the Passport - it is taken that you have it from birth, not from that moment. This is a beautiful piece of framing by Irish legislators, which satisfies everyone.

So, it is not the case that anyone with Irish citizenship from the North is acquiring a new nationality. That only leaves the possibility that their nationality confers them the right to play for more than one country. This is not the case. An Irish Passport only qualifies you to play for the ROI team. A simple thought experiment (and possible loophole in any negative ruling confirms this. If a person was to renounce their British citizenship could they play for what is very differently a British team? A. No, obviously not. The Irish passport may have been used previously, but it is acting as a proxy to prove British citizenship. The kick up was a first class case of pandering to idiots. If you cannot handle playing under GSTQ, they,um, you picked the wrong team.

So, don't know why you are moaning. The outcome is Ulster is British. That having separate teams is divisive on the island may be true, but that division comes from having separate states rather than anyone who wants to play for the team whose nationality and citizenship he holds and values. You might find it annoying that nationalists don't wish to play or support your team, but much less than we find the separation from the rest of our fellow Irishmen on many other issues. Throwing into doubt the quality of our citizenship and an "ours or no-ones" attitude generates ill will and is counter productive.

Hopefully the Court of Arbitration for Sport will deliver the final blow for this nonsense and the IFA can focus on football and people who want to play for them. They have a valid issue over the small part of the money they invest in players (most will be the clubs) and I'd be happy to see them compensated.

kensei said...

Comments zone has just killed my response, so hopefully shorter.

1. "Irish" and "British" are not cultural labels. They are separate citizenships, and this is what is protected. They are not mutually exclusive as you can hold dual citizenship but no part of Irish Republic citizenship relates to the British state. Wishing hard does not change this.

2. The citizenship legislation for Nordies in the South is a beautiful piece of legislating. You are not a citizen until you do something that proves it, like get a passport. When you do, your citizenship is from birth. You do not acquire new nationality. It is birthright. But no one gets offended. So that route is out.

3. Irish passports used at any time for id purposes for NI is as a proxy to British citizenship. The original kickup was a first class piece of pandering to idiots. If you can't handle playing under GSTQ, your in the wrong team. A simple thought experiment confirms this: if British nationality is revoked as it can be, would an Irish passport qualify you for NI? Nope. That is also a possible loophole in any ruling, by-the-by.

4. Ulster is British, be happy. If you find this divisive, partition is divisive and it stems from this. Honestly, nationalists get the short end of the stick here. Focus on people who want to play for you. Telling people who they are and under which flag they will play for or else generates ill will

5. The IFA have a reasonable claim for compensation for the small part they invest in players. Happy to see them get something.

Vimes07 said...

You said the IFA should “focus on players who want to play for them”, but that’s the problem, the players who end up in the FAI squads are players who originally indicated they wanted to play for Northern Ireland.