Paddy Barnes MBE: We're in your corner over award, locals tell Olympic medal winning Belfast boxer
Family, friends and the wider community in a mainly nationalist area of north Belfast have voiced overwhelming support for boxer Paddy Barnes' decision to accept an MBE from the Queen.
It is understood his family circle are delighted the boxer - who twice won Olympic bronze medals for Ireland and took gold for Northern Ireland in the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games - has been recognised for his boxing prowess.
The 27-year-old, whose family lives just off the Cliftonville Road, was keeping his own counsel yesterday as a war of words erupted on social media about his decision to accept the award.
Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh, the party's group leader on Belfast City Council, said on Facebook the fighter should reject the honour. He wrote: "Love Paddy Barnes but he should reconsider his decision to accept an MBE. His choice though and I will still be a fan no matter what."
People in the Cliftonville area said yesterday the boxer was at a training camp preparing for a fight in Azerbaijan.
Insiders said Paddy's family was "delighted" he had been honoured for his sporting excellence, but they didn't wish to add to the boxer's earlier statement in which he said he was "pleased" to have been recognised in the Queen's honours list.
"I am a proud Irish sportsman, a proud sportsman from Belfast, and I take a great pride in representing everyone in Ireland, north and south, in whatever way I can," he said on Tuesday.
Yesterday, former boxer Barry McGuigan, who has an MBE, didn't wish to comment, but Belfast IBF World Super Bantamweight champion Carl Frampton retweeted Barnes' statement.
Beside a mural in tribute to Barnes on Oldpark Avenue in north Belfast eight out of 10 people asked welcomed Barnes' acceptance of the MBE. One didn't wish to comment and another said it was up to Barnes himself.
Tracy Bradley (49) told Barnes: "Don't be listening to that old social media. Anything like that is good. The community could do with a lot of Paddy Barneses. He deserves it, I hope he gets all positive comments."
Michael O'Neill (62) said: "Absolutely brilliant, he had done well for The Bone and the cross-community and everything in this area. He deserves it, a great family, a good family."
Katie McCann (21) said: "It is really good and he deserved it. We are all proud of him."
But one man said: "I don't mind if he takes it or not, it is up to himself. Personally, I wouldn't."