Belfast Telegraph

After Nolan now Sinn Fein rounds on U105's Frank Mitchell show

Row kicks off between party and UTV's Mitchell over football allegiances of young players

By Suzanne Breen

TUV leader Jim Allister has accused Sinn Fein of "blinkered intolerance" after the party criticised a UTV presenter for urging young footballers to play for the Northern Ireland team.

During a live broadcast, U105 radio presenter Frank Mitchell urged teenage soccer talent to play for Northern Ireland rather than the Republic.

Sinn Fein senator and former Belfast Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile alleged the broadcaster had adopted "a partisan position running contrary to the Good Friday Agreement".

But last night Mr Allister claimed that the Sinn Fein man's argument was nonsense and that the Agreement didn't deny anyone the right to call for players to join the Northern Ireland team.

When the Belfast Telegraph contacted Mr Mitchell yesterday about the row, he said: "I am looking forward to discussing the issue (this) morning between nine and noon on U105."

Mr O Donnghaile is expected to be interviewed on the programme.

The dispute comes as Sinn Fein has been accused of orchestrating a campaign to boycott the Stephen Nolan Show - which the party denies - leading to claims that it is increasingly trying to censor the media.

Mr Allister claimed Sinn Fein's response to Mr Mitchell ran contrary to freedom of expression.

"This is but the latest example of Sinn Fein's blinkered intolerance," he said. "They demand universal respect for their rights but deny even the simplest rights to others.

"It is entirely legitimate for a citizen to advocate that young people play for the team of the country in which they live and are part of.

"If a Dublin presenter said the same as Frank Mitchell did and urged youth to join the Irish Republic's team, would Sinn Fein object to that?"

Mr Allister continued: "The Good Friday Agreement certainly does not state that citizens cannot try to sustain, support and grow the Northern Ireland football team. This incident shows Sinn Fein's double standards. Every time the party's platitudes on respect are put to the test, it fails spectacularly."

The row over the UTV broadcaster's comments began on Friday after he hosted a debate following an interview by Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill in which he slammed the Republic for asking young Catholic players here to switch allegiance to its team.

Mr Mitchell, who is a passionate Northern Ireland fan, highlighted Catholics who had successfully played for the NI team and said: "It's not as if it's going to be better playing for the Republic.

"Trust me lads, if you're young now, if you're 14 or 15 years of age, if you've got the skills, the qualities and the abilities, and you're looking to play international football, play it for us, play it for Northern Ireland."

Mr O Donnghaile tweeted: "Someone just told me Frank Mitchell on radio appealed 2 young people here 2 only play for the NI soccer squad & not declare for Ireland.

"But I struggle to believe UTV would allow a presenter to adopt such a partisan position running contrary to the GFA. No chance right?"

Mr Mitchell invited the Sinn Fein senator onto today's programme to discuss the issue, and Mr O Donnghaile accepted.

In the exchanges, Mr O Donnghaile stressed that he was objecting to what the broadcaster had said on air and not his "personal/individual support for the team - that's a matter for yourself".

Belfast Telegraph

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