It's time to kick out politicians
Published 14/12/2007 | 09:10
Football is a sport which provokes more passion among supporters than any other. In Northern Ireland that passion sometimes boils over into sectarianism, but the Irish Football Association has tried manfully, and with quite a degree of success, to give the bigots the boot.
But now politicians are getting involved with the sport and the ugly spectre of sectarianism rears its head again.
The issue is a planned rule by the sport's global governing body, FIFA, to allow players born in Northern Ireland to play, if they so wish, for the Republic of Ireland.
Naturally unionists and nationalists at the Assembly have lined up on opposite sides of the pitch on the eligibility rule.
Unionists argue that introducing this rule will harm relationships between the two international football teams in Ireland. Nationalists argue that the rule will only give players a choice and that the Good Friday Agreement enshrined the right of players to choose to play for either international team, no matter what part of the island they were born in.
Of course, the politicians should get offside on this debate as soon as possible. They have little or no influence with FIFA and their comments, no matter how guarded, will always be interpreted as sectarian.
They are in danger of inflaming the situation, rather than helping. The number of international class players in the province who will opt to play for the Republic is small. Almost all international standard players play in the English leagues. There the motivation is money, not creed. I doubt if any international players care which foot their team mates kick with. It is only those of us who remain in Northern Ireland who continue to be obsessed with religious and political viewpoints.
FIFA is due to make its final decision on the matter soon. If, as anticipated, it allows Northern Ireland born players to opt to play for the other Irish international team, so be it. Why would any side want a player who had no real desire to play for it?
To continue to make a lot of noise about this issue is to attach too much importance to it. The real danger is that passions could become so inflamed that more players would think of by-passing the Northern Ireland side.
The Northern Ireland team, at present and in the past, has shown that it can perform well above expectations when made up of the best eligible players, no matter what their religious or political beliefs.
There was a sickening episode a few years ago when Neil Lennon, a Catholic and Glasgow Celtic player to boot, was booed by his own Northern Ireland fans, even though he was an integral part of the team. He also received death threats from some lunatics masquerading as Northern Ireland die-hards.
At that time there was concern that Catholic players might boycott the team as did many Catholic supporters. That shows the real dangers to the sport when sectarianism is given an opportunity to rear its ugly head. Thankfully, the IFA acted promptly and effectively against the boo boys.
No one wants to go back to those days. The recent European Championship campaign has restored pride in the Northern Ireland team and the fan base for the team is expanding. We don't need politicians sparring along sectarian lines on a rule that really doesn't matter.
Northern Ireland has always relied on team spirit to make up for any lack of skill. The fans want players who will give their all for the team. FIFA's proposed rule will not change that. Bring it on.
Raid victim suffers double mugging
A friend of mine recently was the victim of a terrifying robbery.
She was in her home preparing to go to work when two hoods burst in, held a weapon to her throat and ordered her to hand over the keys of her car.
As they fled from her house, they also grabbed some other personal belongings and cash. Later that day her car was found burned out - a complete write-off. When she later contacted the Driver and Vehicle Agency to claim a refund on her road tax she was mugged again.
She explained very carefully and very slowly to agency staff that she couldn't return her tax disc because it had been attached to her car as required by law and was now merely a pile of ashes.
In that case, agency staff told her, she would have to pay £7 so that they could issue her with a replica tax disc on which she could then claim a refund.
Is the DVA not supposed to keep a record of all cars, their owners and if they are taxed or not?
Since this driver had taxed her car that information must be stored somewhere.
What then was the problem of simply giving her a refund after her car was torched instead of taking more money from her?
Needless to say, my friend was not impressed with the attitude of the DVA and there was little sympathy from her when the agency was forced to admit earlier this week that it has lost the personal details of 6,000 people and nearly 8,000 vehicles.
The details were on two discs which were sent from the DVA in Northern Ireland to the agency's headquarters in Swansea. The chief executive of the DVANI Brendan Magee said the agency has just completed a review of how it transmits information.
I hope he didn't spend too much money on that review. Anyone could have told him that email is a good way of sending information and much cheaper, safer and quicker than by post.
Ringing in good changes
How times have changed in Northern Ireland. Last night saw the world premiere of a film shot in and around Belfast, Closing the Ring. Among those treading the red carpet were Hollywood legend Shirley MacLaine, actress Mischa Barton, actors Pete Postlethwaite and Christopher Plummer and director Lord Dickie Attenborough. Any city in the world would have been proud to host that gathering of A-listers. If the Assembly gets its act together and finds some reasonable money for the arts, we could even have a proper film industry here.