Belfast Telegraph

Call for boxer Michael Conlan suspension over ring walk song 'glorifying terrorism'

Michael Conlan’s entrance at Madison Square Garden
Michael Conlan’s entrance at Madison Square Garden
Zara Ferguson
Alan Ferguson, who was murdered by IRA
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A young Co Fermanagh woman whose family was devastated by IRA violence has called for Belfast boxer Michael Conlan to be held accountable for "glorifying terrorism" during a St Patrick's Day bout.

Zara Ferguson (20) from Enniskillen wasn't born when her uncle Alan Ferguson (23) was murdered on June 25, 1978, the night of the World Cup Final.

"My grandparents lost a son just a few miles from their house and my dad and uncle lost a brother. I might not have been alive but it still affects me," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It's not funny, it's not cultural and it's not acceptable to sing 'Ooh ah up the 'Ra'.

"The IRA is a terrorist organisation. It was illegal then, it is illegal now."

Her uncle, a part-time member of the UDR, had been allowed to leave early from a border patrol to watch hosts Argentina play Holland in the showpiece.

But the young farmer never arrived home. He died when his unit was hit by an IRA bomb and came under fire from a hail of bullets near Scribbagh post office.

Yesterday his niece described her disgust at former amateur world champion and Olympic bronze medallist Conlan, who walked to the ring in New York on Sunday night accompanied by The Wolfe Tones song Celtic Symphony.

Many in the crowd chanted along to the republican lyrics as the 27-year-old father-of-two made his entrance at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden.

"It was disgusting and he should be suspended," Ms Ferguson said.

"Anyone who glorifies terrorism should be held accountable."

The University of Liverpool student said boxing had always been a cross-community sport and praised stars such Carl Frampton and Barry MaGuigan for working hard to maintain that image.

"It's really sad that Michael Conlan did not do the same," she added. "Glorifying the IRA is not showing your culture. It's certainly not what being an Irishman is about.

"My family are victims of IRA terrorism, to bring that into the boxing ring is shameful."

Ms Ferguson said her grandmother Betty never got over the death of her son, which also affected her father Robin and his brother Ronald.

She warned that Conlan's "sickening" behaviour had the potential to erode young people's efforts to move away from orange and green tribalism.

"If Carl Frampton walked out to The Sash I would be equally offended," she added.

Ms Ferguson has twice represented victims and survivors group South East Fermanagh Foundation at the US Peacebuilding Conference and has met young people from all over the world whose lives have been torn apart by violence.

She said the fact that the boxer walked out to the pro-IRA lyrics in the United States only added to the "shame" he should feel. "If there were pro 9/11 chants at a major sporting event in Ireland it would be condemned and provoke global outrage," she added.

"I don't know where the confusion lies that makes Michael Conlan and others in the boxing world think a song that says 'Ooh ah up the 'Ra' is acceptable.

"New York City is supposed to be a progressive society, so why is a boxing ring being used in the city to glorify violence?"

She added: "I believe organisers should also be held to account."

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