Ed Jacobs looks at what can be done to solve Northern Ireland's footballing exodus - if it's even a problem
A senior DUP MP has called for action to stop the “haemorrhaging of talent” which has seen many Northern Ireland footballers opting to play in the Republic instead.
Under rulings by both Fifa and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, players born in Northern Ireland can opt to decide which side of the border they play on, in line with the Good Friday Agreement allowing those born in the North to choose between holding British and Irish nationality.
A number of Northern Irish footballers, including Everton’s Darron Gibson, Stoke’s Marc Wilson, Preston North End’s Daniel Devine and Sunderland’s James McClean have used the rulings to opt to play instead for the Republic, leading to concerns over the talent heading south.
Outlining his concerns, the DUP Deputy Leader, Nigel Dodds MP has called now for action to address the problem from both the British and Irish Governments. He concluded over the weekend:
“Action should now be taken to stop the haemorrhaging of talent from Northern Ireland. The British and Irish governments should now work to address this injustice which sees footballing talent developed in Northern Ireland, at some considerable cost, lost to compete at international level with the Republic’s team.
“No one should be opposed to the idea of talks to resolve this issue, and there is a degree of irony about the demands for free eligibility.
“The creation of two international teams was brought about when the FAI split away from the Irish Football Association, and indeed the original restrictions of eligibility were introduced after complaints by the FAI after players had played for both teams.
“The IFA put considerable resources into the development of players through the youth system, which is lost when players then declare for another association.
“In club football there are compensation arrangements in place in such circumstances when a player transfers to a different club, but obviously this isn’t possible in international competition.
“There simply is no point in thoughtless calls for an all-Ireland team to resolve this issue as that is not going to happen.
“What is required are discussions at a higher levels between the British and Irish government as well as a recognition by FIFA that the current situation isn’t sustainable and a change is required to bring an end to this ongoing problem.”
Responding however, Sinn Fein has used Dodd’s calls to put forward its own case for a united Irish team, with its MLA, Pat Sheehan declaring:
“This debate has been ruled on by FIFA’s executive committee, who very clearly indicated that soccer players in the North can choose to play for either international team on the island.
“Nigel Dodds cannot force people to play for one team or another just as he cannot force people to choose whether they choose to identify themselves as Irish or British. He would be better calling for talks between the two governing soccer bodies on the island in the hope of having one team represent Ireland.”
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• How does Northern Ireland achieve reconciliation in 2012? – Ed Jacobs, January 3rd 2012
• SNP’s anti-sectarianism bill unites the opposition – Ed Jacobs, December 15th 2011
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