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No need to drop God Save The Queen at Northern Ireland matches, says Arlene Foster

By Michael McHugh

Published 15/01/2016

New First Minister Arlene Foster meets Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
New First Minister Arlene Foster meets Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
New First Minister Arlene Foster meets the Republic’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Charles Flanagan at Stormont Castle yesterday

Stormont's new First Minister Arlene Foster has said there is no need to "tinker" with the national anthem played before Northern Ireland's football matches.

DUP leader Mrs Foster added that the tradition of playing God Save The Queen before Northern Ireland fixtures would not change.

The team is preparing for this summer's European Championships in France - their first major tournament for 30 years.

Mrs Foster said: "We have a national anthem. I don't think there is any need to tinker with that. I don't see any reason to change it."

MPs debated whether England should adopt its own official song when Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins took his English National Anthem Bill to Parliament on Wednesday.

Mr Perkins has argued that England competes as a country in its own right and that a song celebrating England rather than the United Kingdom would be more appropriate.

Mrs Foster, who was named First Minister at Stormont on Monday, said: "We have a national anthem. I am also very conscious that we don't want to get into the politicisation of sport.

"Sport is something that unites people right across Northern Ireland. People are getting behind our sporting heroes and we are very much looking forward to the European Championships. Sport is something that unites us."

She also pointed out that the vote related to the English football team, not Northern Ireland.

While many in Northern Ireland will support the Windsor Park-based side during this summer's tournament in France, many others will be cheering on the Republic, who have also qualified.

A bitter row has broken out at Belfast City Council over a proposal to invite the Republic and Northern Ireland teams to a reception at City Hall recognising their achievements in qualifying for France, with unionists insisting the other UK qualifiers should also have been invited.

While God Save The Queen is the anthem of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in some sporting events the constituent countries of the UK play as individual nations.

Labour MP Mr Perkins stressed he was not a "republican, nor an atheist, nor an English nationalist" and that he had no hostility "toward God, Her Majesty the Queen, to God Save The Queen or to the United Kingdom".

"I was at the England-Wales game at the Rugby World Cup and I was struck that the Welsh were singing the Welsh national anthem while the English were singing the British national anthem," he said. "We will be playing Wales this summer in the (football) European Championship. I think it is time to have a conversation to see what people think."

Mr Perkins said his proposal had already generated a "huge level of interest" and that he would now like to see the Government launch a consultation to find out what the public thinks.

He said that many England fans now took the flag of St George to matches where in the past they would have taken the Union flag.

While his own choice for an English national anthem would be Jerusalem, he indicated that other options could include Land Of Hope And Glory and There'll Always Be An England.

Mr Perkins further suggested there could be an "X Factor-style programme" to look at the available options.

But he acknowledged, however, that many people would like to retain God Save The Queen as the anthem.

If Northern Ireland was to have it's own anthem would should it be?

Send us your suggestions to digital.editorial@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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