Belfast Telegraph

Republic of Ireland v Northern Ireland: Fans to record 'secret' football clash with drones

By Claire McNeilly

Football fans will attempt to spy on the 'behind-closed-doors' match between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland using sophisticated camera drones, it can be revealed.

Earlier this week the Irish Football Association announced that the two Euro 2016 hopefuls would meet up at Dublin's Aviva Stadium on June 4, as part of their preparations for crucial qualifying games later that month.

Fans and the media, however, will not be allowed in to see the two Ulster-born managers, Martin O'Neill of the Republic and Northern Ireland's Michael O'Neill, go head-to-head for the first time.

But the Belfast Telegraph has already been approached by a Belfast-based fan offering exclusive video footage from the 'O'Neill v O'Neill' encounter which, he said, would be taken from a DJI Phantom camera drone, navigated remotely by a smartphone.

The man claimed he had been in touch with several other drone operators who were planning similar ventures.

But the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) - which regulates Irish air space - said the use of drones in these circumstances was against the law.

"It is illegal to operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) over built-up or urban areas or over an assembly of people on the ground, nor closer than 150 metres laterally from such an assembly, except with the permission of IAA Flight Operations and permission from Air Traffic Control," said an IAA spokesman.

"Such permissions would only be considered for operators of RPAS who have already obtained an aerial work permit from us.

"In order to obtain a permission, the RPAS operator would have to supply detailed documented procedures for the operation of RPAS, including a safety risk assessment, to the IAA."

The spokesperson added: "Any unauthorised use of RPAS may be referred to An Garda Siochana for investigation."

A spokesman for the Garda said: "We will investigate any complaints." The high-tech GPS-assisted drones have become widely used for commercial and recreational aerial photography over the last three years.

They have also, however, built up a notorious reputation when it comes to football matches.

Interest in the behind-closed- doors unofficial cross-border international is considerable, with both teams in with a great chance of qualifying for next year's Eurofinals in France.

The two countries last met in the Carling Nations Cup tournament at the Aviva on May 24, 2011, when the Republic, then managed by Giovanni Trapattoni, defeated an understrength Nigel Worthington-led Northern Ireland 5-0 in front of 15,083 fans.

But this latest clash - officially billed as a 'training exercise' - would almost certainly have been a 50,000 sell-out had it been granted international status.

It comes just nine days before Northern Ireland take on Romania at a patched-up Windsor Park. The Republic, meanwhile, host Scotland at the Aviva on the same date, June 13.

Martin O'Neill's men will, however, have an official, high-profile friendly with England at the Aviva three days after their 'secret' run-about with Northern Ireland.

Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters Club spokesman Gary McAllister said fans should not try to attend the behind-closed-doors game.

"It's not a full international match, it's a training game so I would advise supporters to stay away from Dublin," he said.

DebateNI, page 25

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