Belfast Telegraph

James McClean poppy decision thoughtful, respectful and dignified, says Sinn Fein's McGuinness

By John Porter

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has offered his support to James McClean after the footballer refused to wear a poppy during his team's game against Bolton Wanderers at the weekend.

The Londonderry-born Wigan Athletic midfielder, in an open letter to his club chairman, described how he would support the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal if it was solely for those who fought and died in the First and Second World Wars.

However, he said the Army's role in the Troubles - and in particular its actions on Bloody Sunday in Derry - meant that for him to wear the symbol would "be seen as an act of disrespect to my people".

The Creggan man said: "I believe everyone should live side by side, whatever their religious or political beliefs, and ask for people to respect mine.

"I just cannot do something that I believe is wrong.

"In life if you're a man you should stand up for what you believe in."

There were mixed reactions to his letter and the poppy's omission on the winger's shirt on Friday night.

During the game against Neil Lennon's Bolton, sections of the crowd booed the Republic of Ireland international.

On social networks the 25-year-old was warmly praised by some and heavily criticised by others for his stance.

On Monday, Sinn Fein's Mr McGuinness aired his thoughts on the matter on Twitter.

Alongside a picture of the footballer, he said: "James McClean - Thoughtful, respectful & dignified. A credit."

Reaction to the Deputy First Minister's tweet was, as in McClean's case, mixed.

One response slammed those who jeered the footballer during his side's 3-1 defeat to Bolton.

"The people who booed him should hang their heads in shame," said one user.

"Pity there's not more like him," said another.

"Did the men who fell in the world wars not fight for freedom of speech and a democratic country?" another user tweeted.

Others were critical of both McGuinness and McClean, branding the footballer's actions and the Deputy First Minister's comments as "disgraceful".

Others said the incident was an affront to the Irish soldiers who fought and died in the two World Wars. One tweet criticised McClean for "enjoying the benefits brave people earned for him paying with their lives".

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said McClean had a "right to chose", but also a "right to be criticised".

Background

James McClean is no stranger to controversy. He sparked criticism by not to wearing a poppy for Sunderland last year, and took to Twitter to vent his anger at this newspaper over an article on the 20th anniversary of the controversial World Cup qualifer between NI and the Republic at Windsor Park. The former NI youth international received death threats after he was selected in the Republic's senior squad in 2012.

Belfast Telegraph

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