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Funderland defends position after refusing entry to dad wearing Northern Ireland tracksuit

By Laura Athernethy and Claire Williamson

Published 13/10/2015

Stuart Meikle and the Northern Ireland tracksuit he was wearing when barred
Stuart Meikle and the Northern Ireland tracksuit he was wearing when barred

Funderland has defended its position after a football fan was left outraged when he was refused entry to a funfair because they said his Northern Ireland tracksuit was "sectarian".

Stuart Meikle wore his black tracksuit with white and gold stripes and the badge of the Northern Ireland national football team printed on the chest and leg to Funderland at the Titanic Quarter on Sunday.

However, he said that after he bought tickets for himself, his partner and two-year-old daughter, he was told that he wouldn't be allowed inside unless he covered the badges with tape or turned his clothes inside out because the emblem was "sectarian".

He said: "I was wearing it quite proud after last Thursday night. There was nothing on my part of being sectarian. It's a national team.

"I've never had any problems with a Northern Ireland top before. I'll be able to travel to France with it next year but I can't take my two-year-old daughter to a funfair in Northern Ireland with it on. I think it's totally wrong."

He said he then had to sit in the car while his partner, who is six months pregnant, took their daughter inside the funfair. The day was meant to be a treat to celebrate her second birthday.

Mr Meiklesaid: "It just ruined the whole family day out."

Responding to the incident Funderland's marketing manager John Magee said the funfair "don't intend to cause anybody offence" and added that their policy applies to "all team colours".

Mr Magee told the BBC's Stephen Nolan show: "It's not just northern Ireland or indeed specifically Northern Ireland it's all team colours. So if somebody turned up for example with an Irish ruby shirt and Ireland have qualified for the quarter final of the Rugby World Cup, we would apply the same policy."

However, Stuart said that it was not clear that team colours were not allowed at the fun fair and there are pictures on Funderland's website of other people wearing football tops.

Marketing Manager for Funderland John Magee said: "Firstly, we don't intend to cause offence to anybody and this policy has been in place since we arrived in Northern Ireland 34 years ago

"Nothing has changed in that regard.

It's a broad policy which we were originally in the early days advised by the police of no team colors. We apply that policy in our advertising on TV and our print advertising and down through the years we've never had a sectarian incident on our ground of anything arriving out of sportswear of any kind.

"It's not just northern Ireland or indeed specifically Northern Ireland it's all team colours. So if somebody turned up for example, with an Irish rugby shirt and Ireland have qualified for quarter final of Rugby World Cup, we would apply the same policy.

"We are as delighted as anybody at the outstanding performance of Northern Ireland."

Mr Magee said the policy is in place to create a "safe and secure environment".

He said: "Perhaps now millions, literally, have come to Funderland and Belfast in the 34 years we have been there in all of that period of time we have created a safe and secure environment

"A lot of teenagers come to Funderland without their parents, they come with their friends I think their parents expected us to be extremely caution in creating that safe environment, we try to do that the best we can.

"We are not in the business of turning people away."

 The incident sparked anger from other fans on social media and North Belfast DUP MLA William Humphrey said the company had "got this matter badly wrong."

He added: "They need to apologise to Mr Meikle for ruining his family day out and for causing gross offence to people across our country, particularly at a time when Northern Ireland is celebrating qualifying for a major tournament for the first time in 30 years. It is frankly outrageous.

"I commend Mr Meikle for standing his ground on this as a matter of principle.

"The Northern Ireland kit is not sectarian and should never be accepted as such.

"I am seeking an urgent meeting with Funderland management to highlight the offence caused by this inappropriate refusal and to press for a change of policy."

PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnston added: "It is disgraceful that the organiser would ban the wearing of the national football shirt, particularly given the euphoria around qualification for next year's European Championships in France."

Councillor Corr Johnston added: "For the father to be prevented from celebrating his daughter's birthday because he was wearing the national football shirt was very upsetting for him and the young daughter.

"He should not have been put in a position where he was made to choose between a matter of principle and celebrating his daughter's birthday. This was absolutely disgraceful."

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