Joint reception for Republic and Northern Ireland Euro 2016 teams may be lost to Dublin
A historic joint reception for the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland football teams could be lost to Dublin - while Belfast councillors bicker over whether they should host the event.
An SDLP motion to hold the groundbreaking reception to celebrate both teams' success in qualifying for Euro 2016 will not now be debated at tomorrow night's council meeting as expected.
Instead, the proposal is to be sent for consideration to the strategic policy and resources committee which doesn't meet for another three weeks.
While unionist councillors vigorously oppose the idea of honouring both teams together, Dublin City Council is likely to next week approve a motion to invite the two teams to the Irish capital for a reception.
It is the first time in football history that the two have qualified for the European championships at the same time and under managers who are both from Northern Ireland.
SDLP councillor Declan Boyle, who is proposing that the reception is staged in Belfast City Hall, said: "It looks like Dublin will have approved the motion and invited the teams while we're still squabbling about it up here.
"I find that sad and embarrassing. I wish the Dublin motion well but it would have been refreshing if Belfast could have led the way on these things for a change. I was hoping the issue of the joint reception could have been sorted this week, certainly on this side of Christmas.
"But everything is now being deferred until the strategic policy and resources committee meets which isn't until December 18. I anticipate that the proposal will then go back before a full council meeting next year."
Dublin Labour councillor, Dermot Lacey, told the Belfast Telegraph that he would be proposing a motion for a joint reception at a council meeting which will be held next Monday.
"When I heard of the SDLP motion in Belfast, I thought it was a great idea and something that we should do down here too.
"There are 16 parties on Dublin City Council but I'm still hopeful that the motion will be approved. I don't think there's anything controversial about it so I'm not anticipating any objections.
"I'm not a nationalist at all. I fully respect everybody's differences. I see this as an all-island concept, not an all-Ireland one, and I hope to get it through."
A row kicked off last week when the Belfast Telegraph revealed Councillor Boyle's motion with unionists uniting against it. DUP councillor Brian Kingston said it would be inappropriate for the council to stage the event.
"Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland team is our national team. We have already hosted a very enjoyable reception for them at City Hall."
Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers questioned the motive behind the proposal and said he would prefer a reception for "the British Isles teams" which would include England and Wales. "I fear the SDLP is playing politics with sport and I don't like that," he added.
Mr Boyle denied the claim: "My proposal was a genuine attempt at reconciliation. It would have been easy for the SDLP to have just invited the Republic of Ireland team to City Hall given that there had already been a reception for Northern Ireland.
"But we thought that, in the spirit of moving forward and making this place inclusive, we should have a joint reception. We never for a moment believed it would meet such strident opposition especially given that Martin O'Neill captained and played for Northern Ireland for many years."
Mr Boyle added that he was extremely disappointed "that an idea which would be non-controversial anywhere else" had "led to such an unholy mess".
Two legends of Northern Ireland football have criticised the row. Jim Boyce, a former Irish Football Association president and FIFA vice-president, said that politicians should stay out of sport.
"I've tried consistently to stop politicians from making comments about sport because, sadly, when some of them open their mouths the wrong things come out. It is a great achievement by both countries to reach the finals of the Euros," he said.
"If someone wants to honour the achievements of people in sport, then surely people should put aside their political differences whatever they may be."
Former Northern Ireland player Gerry Armstrong has also supported the proposed joint reception and expressed dismay at the political row.
"I think it's a great idea and whoever came up with it should be applauded," he said. "Unfortunately, politics in Northern Ireland tends to get in the way."