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Martin McGuinness to watch Northern Ireland and Republic during Euro 2016 trip

Published 20/06/2016

Martin McGuinness pointed out that Ireland's rugby and cricket teams played on an all-island basis and suggested footballers should form one united team too
Martin McGuinness pointed out that Ireland's rugby and cricket teams played on an all-island basis and suggested footballers should form one united team too

Martin McGuinness has said he is "absolutely" looking forward to attending his first ever Northern Ireland match.

But the veteran republican, who believes there would be greater success with an all-Ireland football team, does not know how some fans will react to his presence at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday.

He said: "I don't know if there will be opposition to my presence.

"But, it has been in the media that I am going and I have not heard anybody utter any discordant notes about it."

Despite being an avid sports fan, Mr McGuinness has never attended a home game at the national stadium in Windsor Park.

Sinn Fein's Caral Ni Chuilin was the first senior party figure to go to the venue when, as Sports Minister she watched Northern Ireland, play the Faroe Islands.

"It will be the first time I have ever attended a game," he added.

"People will no doubt read into it whatever they want but I am the Deputy First Minister and I want to be a Deputy First Minister for everybody in our community."

He insists his attendance should not become a distraction from activities on the pitch where he hopes Michael O'Neill's men can hold to at least a draw against world champions Germany in their final group game.

"I don't think there's anybody looking to turn this into a political event," he said.

Mr McGuinness also plans to watch the Republic of Ireland take on Italy on Wednesday.

He said: "I work on the basis that sport is a great unifier and what I am trying to do by attending both games is to show that I fully endorse and support the two teams in their quest for glory at the European Championships.

"It is a real opportunity to show people what has been achieved by both Michael and Martin O'Neill.

"It is something to be recognised and appreciated because it has given an awful lot of enjoyment to sports fans like myself and I think it is certainly something when it comes to a major championship like the Euros to acknowledge and, if possible, to be part of."

Northern Ireland are celebrating playing in their first major tournament for 30 years.

Mr McGuinness believes there would be more success if there was a n all-island football team.

"I think everybody knows that we have a rugby team which represents the whole island of Ireland and has done so successfully; we have a cricket team that is from all over the island and we have boxers from all over the island.

"This is not a political point, this is a sporting point I think we would be much stronger if we had one team and a manager who was able to draw from the best of talent that we have north and south.

"We probably would go further in these competitions that we have done previously. That is purely my sporting analysis of it."

Last week First Minister Arlene Foster attended Northern Ireland's opening game against Poland where they were defeated 1-0.

Mr McGuinness said it would have been impractical to have accompanied the DUP leader because he was taking questions in the devolved Stormont Assembly the next day.

Meanwhile he also praised the behaviour of fans from both sides of the border adding: "It is something to be proud of. They have rightly be identified as some of the best fans in the competition. They are good humoured, they are focused on their sport."

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