Belfast Telegraph

MP Dodds calls for action to stop Northern Ireland players opting for Republic

The British and Irish governments need to intervene to prevent talented young footballers “haemorrhaging” from Northern Ireland to the Republic, an DUP MP has said.

The DUP’s Nigel Dodds said talks between British and Irish ministers were needed to end the “injustice” that has seen players including Darron Gibson and James McClean make the switch.

The 22-year-old Sunderland winger McClean had been tipped to be included in the team for the friendly clash with the Czech Republic in Dublin on February 29.

Speaking about his omission from the squad, Republic manager Giovanni Trapattoni said: “I think all the squad deserve to come with us. We have four or five other names because we have no time to change. One is McClean.

“I told him 100 per cent he will be with us for the future.”

Sinn Fein dismissed Mr Dodd's plea, saying a single Ireland team was a better option.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, people born in Northern Ireland can claim either British or Irish nationality.

And previous rulings by FIFA and the Court of Arbitration have said that Northern Ireland-born players can opt to represent the Republic, provided they have not already played in a competitive international match. This has meant that some players who are trained and developed in the Northern Ireland youth set-up are lost to the national side.

Mr Dodds said: “Action should now be taken to stop the haemorrhaging of talent from Northern Ireland.

“The British and Irish governments should now work to address this injustice, which sees footballing talent developed in Northern Ireland, at some considerable cost, lost to compete at international level with the Republic’s team.”

Compensation arrangements that exist in club football cannot exist in the international game, he added, calling for “discussions at a higher level between the British and Irish governments”.

Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan said players who choose not to play for one or the other should not be disadvantaged.

“This debate has been ruled on by FIFA's executive committee, who very clearly indicated that soccer players in the North can choose to play for either international team on the island.

“Nigel Dodds cannot force people to play for one team or another just as he cannot force people to choose whether they choose to identify themselves as Irish or British. He would be better calling for talks between the two governing soccer bodies on the island in the hope of having one team represent Ireland.”

Footballers whose allegiances have switched to the Republic include Everton midfielder Darron Gibson, recently signed from Manchester United, and Stoke City’s Marc Wilson.

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