Belfast Telegraph

Pubs must rethink Northern Ireland shirt ban, says SDLP man who has worn top himself on football pitch

By Cate McCurry

A nationalist MLA who played in a Northern Ireland shirt has said bars here should review their "rigid rules" on fans wearing the tops following the international team's recent success.

The SDLP's Dominic Bradley said that as more fans from both sides of the community joined the Green and White Army, the Northern Ireland emblem was becoming less and less of a political football.

His comments come after 1982 World Cup hero Gerry Armstrong described a ban on fans wearing the team's jersey in certain premises as "political correctness gone wrong".

The Northern Ireland football legend was reacting to news that one fan was barred from a fun fair, while others have been stopped from entering bars and pubs.

Mr Bradley, an MLA for Newry and Armagh and a member of Stormont's culture, arts and leisure committee, commended the Irish Football Association for making the team more attractive to nationalists.

"I think they have got some success in that, and personally I don't consider the Northern Ireland top to be a badge of one community or another," he said.

"In fact, I have worn it myself playing in an inter-parliamentary competition for the Northern Ireland Assembly, so I have no issue with the top.

"And I think, considering the growing success of the team, more and more people are embracing the Northern Ireland team, supporting them and wishing them well, and I expect to see more people wearing the top across the whole community."

After the team secured their place at next summer's European Championship finals in France, some fans felt left out in the cold after they were blocked from bars while wearing IFA branded clothing.

Mr Bradley said: "The whole community rejoices in their success and premises might want to take that into account when they are considering their policy on sports tops.

"Perhaps premises need to exercise a certain flexibility in response to prevailing circumstances which are celebration and rejoicing in their success; perhaps premises should take that into consideration where there are rigid rules."

Meanwhile, DUP MLA William Humphrey and councillors Frank McCoubrey and Brian Kingston have met senior managers of Funderland and their security company after a supporter was refused entry.

Mr Humphrey claimed that the company managers accepted that Belfast man Stuart Meikle had been treated "very badly" at the weekend and apologised for what happened to him.

"They reiterated their policy in Northern Ireland of not allowing any team colours on site, saying this was to prevent sectarian incidents, though they accepted that this policy is not always well communicated," he added.

"We challenged that policy, saying they should scrap it due to the offence it is causing and they agreed to consider that.

"We reiterated that our national team colours should never be considered sectarian, pointing out that support for the Northern Ireland team is growing hugely across the community."

A spokesperson for the IFA would only say: "It's a matter for bars and Funderland on what their policies are."

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