Tuesday, 5 January 2016

City Hall football reception is a cynical, political stunt

The focus should be on the achievements on Michael O'Neill and his team.
This evening Belfast City Council will vote on a motion proposing to invite both the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland football teams to a civic reception at the City Hall.  The joint event is a mischievous idea, conceived by SDLP councillor, Declan Boyle, which masquerades as an attempt to encourage reconciliation, but actually undermines efforts to ensure our national football team remains an inclusive, cross-community organisation, representing everyone here.

Northern Ireland’s footballers and their committed supporters, the Green and White Army, can look forward to 2016 with enormous optimism.  Under the leadership of Michael O’Neill, our team last year qualified for a major championship for the first time since 1986, topping its group in the process.  In June the squad travels to France to play Poland, the Ukraine and world champions Germany, in the European Championships - a month long celebration of the continent’s elite, dubbed ‘Le Rendezvous’.

The Irish Football Association (IFA), which organises football here, immediately launched a huge logistical organisation, to ensure that players, officials and thousands of fans have a great experience next summer.  Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland team, governed by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), eventually qualified for the competition too, finishing third in its group and winning a two leg play-off against Bosnia. 

In theory the idea of celebrating both teams’ achievements through a reception may seem harmless, particularly because Ireland’s two international sides have never before qualified for a major tournament at the same time.  The Republic is managed by Kilrea native, Martin O’Neill, who previously captained Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup, which means two men from our tiny country are in charge of Euro 2016 finalists.  However, the idea of staging such an event at City Hall in Belfast is freighted with political significance, as the SDLP knows very well. 

The IFA and FAI became engaged in a long dispute, after the Republic’s governing association decided to exploit an obscure FIFA regulation and persuade young Catholic players from Northern Ireland’s youth system to defect to the rival Irish team.  The two organisations even clashed at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland, which affirmed the FAI’s interpretation of the rules, but acknowledged that their application allowed an “unfair ‘one-way situation’” to arise.

FIFA’s statutes and the CAS ruling both made it clear that the players’ eligibility rested on their entitlement to citizenship of the Republic of Ireland, but politicians distorted the arguments to imply that the irrelevant (in this context) Good Friday Agreement created a new ‘right’ to play for either team or even that the FAI had jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, as well as the IFA. 

The SDLP’s motion is a transparent attempt to place the Republic of Ireland team on an equal footing with the Northern Ireland team, in the IFA’s home city, Belfast.  In other words, it has very little to do with reconciliation or community relations and everything to do with promoting the party’s nationalist ideas.  It is also designed to provoke a hostile reaction from unionist parties, which can then be portrayed as grudging and unreasonable.  The teams, their players, supporters and governing associations are being used as the archetypal “political football”.

Unionist parties, for the most part, responded with typical guilelessness.  Councillor Jim Rodgers, from the UUP, contrived the bizarre notion that the English and Welsh football teams should be added to the guest list.  Designed simply to derail any prospect of a reception, the Ulster Unionists’ stunt is even more transparent than the SDLP plan which prompted it.

The Progressive Unionist Party’s leader, Billy Hutchinson, went further, threatening that loyalists might stage demonstrations against the event, similar in style to the ‘flag protests’ which caused disruption in Belfast, after the council’s decision to fly the Union Flag only on designated days.  Mr Hutchinson is an unlikely champion of the Northern Ireland team, given his fondness for sporting England tops and his words carry an unhelpful undercurrent of menace.

The IFA worked tirelessly and successfully to eradicate sectarianism in the stands at internationals and persuade people from right across the community to attend matches at the National Stadium.  The association certainly doesn’t need to be linked, however tenuously, with a set of flag waving protesters, causing a ruckus outside the City Hall.

So far, the SDLP’s scheming appears to be going perfectly.  The motion has sewn discord among councillors and citizens and it is likely to be carried, with Alliance, which has the decisive votes, backing another divisive motion in the council chamber.

The party’s stance is ironic, because its policies are supposed to be based on the idea that Northern Ireland and Northern Irishness can bind British and Irish, unionist and nationalist, together.  Instead, Alliance is about to support a proposal which undermines the idea that Northern Ireland’s teams and institutions are for everyone, implying instead that ‘equality’ means according teams and institutions from the Republic the same status in this jurisdiction. 

They're endorsing a segregationist, nationalist outlook, while at the same time joining the SDLP and Sinn Fein to deliver a small and petty blow to Northern Ireland football and the Northern Irish identity. 


Daniel Collins said...

"The IFA and FAI became engaged in a long dispute, after the Republic’s governing association decided to exploit an obscure FIFA regulation and persuade young Catholic players from Northern Ireland’s youth system to defect to the rival Irish team."

Terribly disingenuous portrayal. That "obscure" regulation would be the general principle of FIFA's eligibility rules; article 5 (formerly 15) of the Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes.

And the religion of players is of little significance to the FAI; most players who have switched tend to be from a Catholic background because persons from Catholic backgrounds in the north tend to be more likelyto identify with the all-island Irish national identity and thereby culturally affiliate with the FAI team whereas unionists and Ulster Protestants will tend not to. The FAI would happily accommodate any Protestant who wished to declare; as is demonstrated by the selection of players like Alan Kernaghan, Alex Bruce and Adam Barton, all of Ulster Protestant descent.

And it's not so much a matter of persuasion; more facilitation. The decision is always entirely voluntary and willing. I have a recollection of Brian Kerr telling a story where he was actually trying to dissuade Ger Crossley from declaring for the FAI as he feared upsetting the IFA. Those who have switched have generally tended to express sentiment suggesting that being selected by Ireland amounted to the fulfilment of a boyhood dream.

For what it's worth, the FAI firmly deny making initial conact: https://twitter.com/DanielCollins85/status/684013300133326848

"The two organisations even clashed at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland, which affirmed the FAI’s interpretation of the rules, but acknowledged that their application allowed an “unfair ‘one-way situation’” to arise."

CAS didn't interpret the application of the present regulations as being unfair on the IFA. Someone clearly sympathetic to the IFA's cause in the BBC picked up on that phrase - an apparent morsel of light in an otherwise resounding, comprehensive and damning rejection - and wrote an article based on their misinterpretation of what CAS was actually saying.

Let's be clear; in March of 2007, FIFA provisionally 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, summarising or paraphrasing the FIFA position at the time in paragraph 70 of the Kearns judgment, interpreted FIFA as having viewed this supposed situation as “unfair” on the IFA. FIFA never described anything as “unfair” themselves, mind. After later analysing the matter in greater detail at the end of 2007, however, 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 and this suggestion now that either FIFA or CAS believe there to be an "unfair 'one-way situation'" in effect is grossly inaccurate and no longer applicable, if it was ever meaningfully applicable at all. Sure, haven't the IFA benefited from the exact same rule in the opposite direction?

Anyway, some of my own thoughts on the other joint reception matter, if at all interested: https://danieldcollins.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/inviting-the-two-irish-international-football-teams-to-belfast-city-hall/

The fear of any form of sharedness, togetherness or unity is palpable. Depressing stuff...

Anonymous said...

whos distorting?
have a wee look at the fai fans website and you will see they discuss the religion of evry young NI player coming through and are only interested in the Catholics - you can deny if you wish but just log unto yibg forum for clear evidence. Indeed foolow their discussions on Paddy McNair ir you want to laugh (or despair) They actually argue with each other that he must be a catolic with a name like Paddy - Thankfully they didn't get Paddy.
Thankfully they are losing their battle. The vast majority of kids nat or uni are throwing their weight behind NI.
Wasn't Sports Personality of the year a GEM. nationalist after nationalist expressing teir pride and love for NI
upwards and onwards. Lets leave the wine drinking cheese eating backwoods men of the fai and sdlp behind

Coachers said...

It is always amusing when Daniel comes along attempting to put forward his own interpretation on things as fact, when the actual truth of the matter is that he is simply making a number of assumptions to try and back up his own personal thoughts.

As an example, the CAS judgement clearly states

'On the contrary, the examination of the correspondence quite clearly reveals that: FIFA applied to the IFA/FAI conflict its then-applicable regulations, which resulted however in an unfair “one-way situation”'.

That is not the CAS 'summarising or paraphrasing the FIFA position', it is quite simply the CAS's viewpoint on the matter. It is there in black and white, regardless of what Daniel says.

His thoughts behind the FAI's own website stating that following a FIFA ruling in 1950, 'both associations selected solely from their own jurisdictions from then on' are always amusing to read.

Daniel's comments are indeed always interesting to hear, especially in regards to this all-inclusive Republic of Ireland teams he often talks about. Yes, that all-inclusive team who previously sang pro-IRA songs on their team bus, with their CEO doing similar in a public bar after an International fixture only several months back. Surprisingly he offered little to none condemnation for those events.

As always, excellent to hear from you again Daniel and good to hear you are still putting so much effort into discussing a team you cannot even bring to call by their official name.

On that note, you do remember that in 1950 FIFA formally decreed that the FAI should be known as the 'Republic of Ireland' in international competition and the IFA as 'Northern Ireland'.

Why is it that you cannot refer to the IFA as Northern Ireland?

Floreat Ultonia said...

Because he's a sectarian obsessive?

DC wants the NI team to cease to exist, but hasn't the honesty to say this outright, instead claiming that the South's team, FA and all that goes with it should disappear. It's delusional gibberish.

Daniel Collins said...

Anonymous; the comments of idly-speculating posters on YBIG have no effect or influence upon FAI policy, although I would guess that those posters engage in such discussion because a Catholic-background player is naturally more likely to feel an affiliation to Ireland than a Protestant-background player. And they're doing what supporters tend to do; talking about eligible players who, for whatever reason, they feel may be interested in playing for Ireland on account "clues" gained from their background. It's not an exact science and can be a bit crude, especially if people jump to conclusions or possess expectations based on prejudice, but it's not FAI policy. If a Catholic would rather play for Northern Ireland, that's fine; nobody has an issue with it. It's his choice and good luck to him. So long as the choice exists so that there is an outlet for national expression through both sides, virtually nobody at this end has an issue.

There's no shame in a northerner supporting Ireland rather than Northern Ireland either; thousands do it. It's simply a celebration of our own nation/identity. You're the only one here trying to claim people and gloat about it.

Daniel Collins said...

Coachers; indeed, great to hear from you again too and I'm glad you're amused. Let me amuse you some more.

If you observe the context of the sentence you quote there, CAS were clearly summarising FIFA's correspondence, but believe otherwise if you wish. I can agree to disagree. It is of little consequence either way and insofar as FIFA's opinion/understanding later changed within the space of a few months upon more thorough investigation of the state of play. The reality is that a one-way situation does not and never has existed; only players who are Irish citizens can play for Ireland and only players who are British citizens can play for Northern Ireland.

Irish nationality has had island-wide effect since 1956 and the general regulations in place since and before then have permitted the selection by associations of subjects or nationals based on nationality (rather than any territorial connection). No FIFA ruling ever dictated to the FAI that it could not select a certain category of Irish nationals.

I've outlined the chronology or evolution of the main eligibility regulation here, along with my understanding of its significance and confirmed correct by Yann Hafner: https://danieldcollins.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/north-men-south-men-comrades-all-part-one/

Daniel Collins said...

...Continued due to character restriction...

You're interpreting a line from an old history section on the FAI's website - it doesn't over-ride the regulation that was then in place or future regulations that were to come into effect, nor does it over-ride players' rights, then or after, under those regulations and may even be indicative of an incorrect presumption (this wasn't the information age, rules weren't followed as formally then and the association was run purely by part-time volunteers, as opposed to legal experts, who had to rely on being fed information from above and hope that their understanding of it was correct) - but if the FAI felt there was a legal restriction effective upon them from selecting northern-born players in 1950, it was probably because Irish nationality did not extend north of the border until 1956. Circumstances changed since 1950 in the sense both Irish nationality law and FIFA's regulations evolved, so it would be silly to think that how you feel (or how you assume the FAI felt) things were in 1950 should persist now or into the modern era.

Besides, CAS clarified the position with regard to northern-born Irish nationals historically as far as FIFA and the FAI were concerned. There's no need to go cherry-picking on a website that you think contradicts that. It's simply desperate. Lines from history sections composed by clerks on websites have no legal force. CAS on, the other hand, does possess legal force and is an investigative court of law that considers a wide array of presented evidence. You'll find reference to the website excerpt is made at paragraph 40 of the Kearns judgment. CAS considered the submission by the IFA in their full and comprehensive rejection of the IFA's case.

Just for your information, the likes of Alan Kernaghan and Ger Crossley played for the FAI under a regulation that was in place since 1962 and until 2004.

Daniel Collins said...


The Ireland team is open to any eligible Irish national. All are welcome and players from many diverse backgrounds have represented Ireland with distinction; not merely Catholics and Protestants. Of course, I appreciate that British-identifying unionists probably wouldn't feel all that comfortable playing under a tricolour or standing to 'Amhrán na bhFiann', but then the FAI are representing the independent, all-island Irish national identity. They don't profess or purport to represent the unionist or British identity. If unionists don't want to play for the FAI and would feel more at home with the IFA, that's entirely their prerogative.

How would you know what I thought of John Delaney's drunken sing-song? For the record, you're incorrect. I was more than happy to criticise him and even did so publicly. If you missed it, it doesn't make it fair to just assume my opinion and jump to the conclusion you just did. If you're really that interested, you'll find the full extent of my opinion on that matter here (and in some following posts): http://foot.ie/threads/193572-The-John-Delaney-Thread?p=1794446&viewfull=1#post1794446 and http://foot.ie/threads/147164-Eligibility-Rules-Okay?p=1851478&viewfull=1#post1851478

Matters of identity and politics have always fascinated me - I won't deny that nor need I be ashamed of it - but you'll more accurately find that I've been discussing the FAI and the team I support, as well as opinions that have been offered in respect of them. Because there is some secondary cross-over involving the IFA and Northern Ireland on account of historical or present-day interactions between the two associations, I'll inevitably mention the IFA and Northern Ireland too when discussing this aspect of the FAI's business, but I generally don't tend to expend effort discussing Northern Ireland otherwise, unless it relates to the business of my own team or sometimes to the business of the nationalist community in the north, with whom I identify.

Daniel Collins said...


As for referring to Northern Ireland team as Northern Ireland, I've been doing so throughout this comment. What gave you the impression I had some objection to using the term? The Northern Ireland team exists and I wish it no ill will, contrary to what Floreat Ultonia seems to suggest. I might as well take the opportunity to wish you all the best for the Euros seeing as I'm under suspicion! But, yes, good luck.

Anyway, Floreat Ultonia knows my feelings well on the matter and I have not been dishonest. I have been clear and transparent that my preference is a single, united team truly representative of all identities on the island, both theoretically and practically, achieved through dialogue and by total consent of all involved. There would be absolutely no coercion. I'd be prepared to compromise on our own symbols in pursuit of that. It's obviously not a perfect ideal as I have an attachment to my symbols, but no compromise is. That's the sacrifice I'm prepared to make. It would be towards what I feel would be a greater good. You purportedly celebrate sharedness and togetherness, but you only want it on your own terms; you want nothing to do with it when it actually comes to uniting all the people on the island and not just those in the north-eastern corner.

Once again, if you're actually interested in my thoughts on possible unity between the two sides, you'll find them here: https://danieldcollins.wordpress.com/2015/09/21/the-partition-of-irish-football-why-dont-we-have-a-single-all-ireland-team/

Some further discussion I've had on the matter here too: http://foot.ie/threads/147164-Eligibility-Rules-Okay?p=1851644&viewfull=1#post1851644 and http://foot.ie/threads/147164-Eligibility-Rules-Okay?p=1851690&viewfull=1#post1851690

But my position is undoubtedly very clear. It's perfectly legible. Floreat Ultonia is well aware of it and well aware of the fact that I am open to dialogue to ascertain just what sort of unity and togetherness Northern Ireland supporters are actually interested in. Not sure why he sees fit to call it "gibberish", but if having asked him questions to see if movement on it would be feasible is delusional, then call me delusional. I think it would be more accurate to call it idealistic, but that's what it is; a hope and future aspiration.

Anonymous said...

Well said Daniel.

Daniel Collins said...

Floreat Ultonia; now that's not nice, and in front of your NI-supporting friends!

I'm pretty sure what you describe as "delusional gibberish" here is the same thing you described to me elsewhere as an "articulate and extended case which is always worth reading". Or was that in another universe? :)