Joint City Hall reception for two Ireland teams moves a step closer
A joint reception at Belfast City Hall for the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland football teams has moved a step closer after a council committee backed the proposal.
The motion was passed by 12 votes to seven at yesterday's meeting of the council's strategic policy and resources committee.
There are hopes that, if agreed at a full council meeting next month, the reception could coincide with a friendly between the two sides at Windsor Park.
It is understood that discussions are under way about the two playing a friendly after Northern Ireland's planned fixture against Poland was cancelled after the two countries were drawn in the same group for Euro 2016.
The vote at committee yesterday came following weeks of rows about the original proposal put forward by the SDLP's Declan Boyle.
He said it was "a genuine and long-overdue attempt at inclusiveness and reconciliation" in recognition of both teams' historic qualification for next year's European Championships.
But unionists have opposed it, and yesterday committee members from the DUP, UUP and PUP voted against it.
Ulster Unionist Jim Rodgers accused the SDLP of playing politics with sport.
The DUP's Brian Kingston said he believed it would be inappropriate to hold a joint reception for the Northern Ireland squad and a team from another country.
Mr Boyle's original motion called for a joint civic dinner for the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland teams. However, at the committee meeting Alliance's Nuala McAllister proposed an amendment that the event be a civic reception. Ms McAllister said her amendment sought to recognise both teams, while also addressing concerns around the logistics and cost of hosting a formal civic dinner.
"Across Belfast and Northern Ireland there are supporters of both teams, giving Belfast City Council the unique opportunity to lead the way in celebrating our dynamic, cross-community society," she said.
"I'm delighted the proposal passed, but it is disappointing that, in 2015, the DUP, UUP and PUP couldn't get behind a proposal to unite our city."
Mr Boyle said he was very happy the motion had passed, but cautioned it still needed to jump a further hurdle - being passed by the full council, which meets in January.
"I am pleased that sport has won out in the end," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"But it is unfortunate that unionist councillors did not support it - sport should be about uniting people."
However, Belfast may be pipped to the post after Dublin City Council agreed plans to invite both teams to a reception several weeks ago.