Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin call on Michael O'Neill to withdraw comments

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

SINN Féin has called on Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill to withdraw comments accusing Republic of Ireland soccer chiefs of targeting young Catholic players from the north.

Mr O’Neill, a Catholic from Co Antrim who was capped by Northern Ireland, expressed annoyance that the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) continues to recruit northern players perceived to be from a nationalist background.

Derry-based MLA Raymond McCartney last night claimed his comments were “divisive and unnecessary”.

"The Good Friday Agreement protects the right of every citizen in the north to assert their own identity and citizenship,” he said.

There are currently five players from the north who have played youth football for Northern Ireland but later declared for the Republic, including Derry men James McClean, Shane Duffy and Darron Gibson.

Under FIFA rules players born north of the border can opt to play for either international team, but Mr O'Neill claimed some young footballers have been asked to change their allegiance but then never been given a chance to play.

While he also said some players from a perceived nationalist background do want to line out for Northern Ireland, Mr McCartney claimed there is not enough being done to accommodate those who see themselves as Irish.

"If Michael O'Neill is concerned with the inability of the IFA to attract Irish players, he must first acknowledge its chronic lack of accommodation for the Irish identity,” he said.

"Irish players are denied their national anthem, their national flag, and are often the subject of fan chants in Windsor Park which target Irish players and their identity.

"I am calling on the Irish Football Association (IFA) to publicly refute Michael O'Neill's comments.”

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