Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville boss backs Finucane for North Belfast

By Allan Preston

The chairman of Cliftonville Football Club has thrown his support behind John Finucane's bid to become MP for North Belfast.

In an online video, Gerard Lawlor said he was backing the Sinn Fein candidate.

The endorsement follows Ballymena United's manager David Jeffrey backing Tom Elliott, the Ulster Unionist candidate for Fermanagh-South Tyrone.

Chris Hazzard, Sinn Fein's South Down candidate, has also had a boost from the Fermanagh GAA manager Pete McGrath.

Although all three sports figures were speaking as individuals, their high profile in the sporting world has led some to insist that politics should be kept out of sport. Mr Lawlor, who was also recently elected as a board member of the Irish Football Association, announced his candidate of choice in a video message.

He said: "I think John will make an amazing MP for North Belfast. I think he brings so much to the community, I know what he's about as a person.

"I know what he's about professionally and I would ask everyone to come out and support John and give him your vote."

Mr Finucane replied: "Thank you to Cliftonville FC chairman Gerard Lawlor for the great endorsement. Momentum building. Let's do this."

The IFA said the comments were "an individual's political views" and the body did not have a political stance.

A spokesperson for Cliftonville said: "This is not a matter for Cliftonville as Mr Lawlor was acting in a personal capacity."

Mr Elliott spoke of his delight to get Mr Jeffrey's support after they met up in Fermanagh.

"It was a pleasure to have David back in Fermanagh and South Tyrone again and I'm delighted to receive his support," he said.

"He's always up for the challenge no matter the obstacles put in his way and he never gives up so it was great to have him come down and meet the team. There'll always be a welcome for David in Fermanagh and South Tyrone."

Speaking to the BBC's Talkback programme, Tom Kelly, a PR consultant and a former GAA club chairman, said the endorsements did drag their respective clubs into the political arena.

"It's kind of a departure in Northern Ireland. The South has had a bit more exposure of high-profile political figures moving into political careers from a GAA background," he said.

"The reality for many people is that we like to leave politics at the gates of GAA grounds, that's certainly the approach of the association and perception is everything. This does become a ground-breaking move.

"It's different for former players or administrators going into politics, it's an endorsement and like it or not a county manager is a public face of the association for many supporters."

Mr McGrath has since stated he was contacted by Sinn Fein to endorse Mr Hazzard, something he said he had no problem doing.

Mr Kelly added: "When you're in an association that is apolitical and you're a public face of it, you should be more circumspect about endorsements."

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