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Belfast reception for Republic and Northern Ireland teams still up in air

By Rebecca Black

No vote took place last night at Belfast City Council over a controversial motion to hold a joint reception for the successful Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland football teams.

Instead it has been referred to the strategic policies and resources committee for further consideration.

During discussions a former Sinn Fein Lord Mayor said he had no affiliation with the Northern Ireland football team.

Niall O Donnghaile made the statement as councillors discussed the proposal to invite both teams for a historic joint reception to celebrate their qualification for the Euros next year.

He told the council that Ireland was his team, and that he neither supported the Northern Ireland team nor felt any affiliation with it.

Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed a war of words between unionist and nationalist members ahead of last night's December meeting of the council over a proposal by the SDLP's Declan Boyle to invite both teams for a reception.

Last night he urged unionists to heed the words of Princess Anne at Belfast City Hall on Saturday night that sport can unify.

"This motion, which is a genuine attempt at reconciliation and to send out a positive message, has met with such resistance," he said.

"This resistance has shown the world that we haven't - or that we find it very difficult - to move on. This is an extremely unique situation and must be recognised. To not invite Martin O'Neill, who played for a team on the Ormeau Road, was one of our best footballers and captained the international team, sends out a very, very poor signal

"Sports know no bounds, and very often is an extremely unifying vehicle. In the words of Princess Anne in this building on Saturday night, 'sport unifies and gives everyone the opportunity to savour and celebrate the success of the sporting talent coming from this small country'."

The motion was seconded by Mr O Donnghaile.

"I think it is only right and proper that we extend a civic invitation to both teams to come back, because the reality is that both teams in this city have large swathes of support," he said. "I don't support Northern Ireland, they are not my team, I have no affiliation with them, but I have no ill will upon them whatsoever. I hope they have a good time and I hope they do well.

"Ireland is my team, it is the team of a huge proportion of citizens of Belfast. I think it is only right, and mature and reflective of Belfast in 2015 that we are able to invite them up to this city to acknowledge their achievements."

Meanwhile, the Belfast Telegraph also revealed earlier this week that Dublin City Council may beat Belfast to the punch, having already voted to invite both teams for a joint reception.

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