Belfast Telegraph

Making bow at house of Windsor: Sinn Fein Caral proves she's good sport

By John Mulgrew

Controversial Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin made an unprecedented appearance at an international match at Windsor Park, the home of Northern Irish football.

She became the first senior republican politician to attend a Northern Ireland game, as the home team enjoyed a convincing 4-0 win over the Faroe Islands in a Euro 2012 qualifier.

Although the visit was unprecedented, the only booing heard from the enthralled crowd was when the home side was denied what appeared to be a clear penalty.

Ms Ni Chuilin, who was recently under the media spotlight after her appointment of IRA killer Mary McArdle as a her special adviser, returned early from holiday to make her appearance at the game.

She appeared enthused and entertained as she chatted casually with Irish Football Association chief executive Patrick Nelson in the directors' box, dressed in a smart yet casual black ensemble.

Unfortunately Ms Ni Chuilin's late entrance after the national anthem and early exit, only 15 minutes into the second half, meant the minister managed to miss all four of Northern Ireland's goals.

Despite her short stay, she appeared to get into the spirit of the game.

It looked as if her heart sank after a near miss from the home team towards the end of the first half. In spite of hate-filled sectarian posts on Northern Ireland football fan site 'Our Wee Country', the burly looking security men in sharp fitting suits weren't required as the night went off without a hitch, the minister slipping unnoticed into the stands.

Although she chose not to join the crowd of around 12,000 in chants supporting the home side, she did applaud on several occasions, along with her smartly dressed companions.

Also watching Northern Ireland's strong performance was Apprentice finalist Jim Eastwood, who sat several rows in front of Ms Ni Chuilin.

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott, too, made a brief visit to the directors' box during the second half of the Euro 2012 qualifying tie.

Tweeting shortly after the game finished, Ms Ni Chuilin said: "Back to the rest of what's left of my holiday, first visit to Windsor Park, enjoyed the game, well received, well done."

In a night of firsts, it was also the first occasion both a Celtic and Rangers player scored during a Northern Ireland match, with stunning goals from Steve Davis (pictured left) and Pat McCourt.

Profile

Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin was raised in the republican New Lodge area of Belfast. She was jailed for explosive charges in 1989. Her decision to appoint Mary McArdle, jailed over the 1984 murder of Mary Travers, as her special adviser sparked controversy after the Travers family expressed outrage. In June she told the Belfast Telegraph she'd gladly accept an IFA invite to watch Northern Ireland.

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